5 reasons why Black Lives Matter is essential and necessary: Lessons from Pienel Joseph’s article “Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters”

coloredchristianity

University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph recently wrote an article for the New Republic entitled Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters. In this article, Joseph explores how the Black Lives Matter movement is establishing a new and unique form of civil rights activism and organizing that builds on the strengths of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 1960’s. He responds to criticisms of Black Lives Matter that suggest that the movement is devoid of goals and leadership by highlighting the intersectional nature and focus of this new movement. This article provides a timely and thoughtful analysis on the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights and Black Power movement in the 1960’s. Furthermore, this article, while not targeted specifically for Christians, provides some necessary and essential lessons for Christians interested in engaging in the struggle for racial justice in their church…

View original post 983 more words

5 reasons why Black Lives Matter is essential and necessary: Lessons from Pienel Joseph’s article “Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters”

University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph recently wrote an article for the New Republic entitled Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters. In this article, Joseph explores how the Black Lives Matter movement is establishing a new and unique form of civil rights activism and organizing that builds on the strengths of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 1960’s. He responds to criticisms of Black Lives Matter that suggest that the movement is devoid of goals and leadership by highlighting the intersectional nature and focus of this new movement. This article provides a timely and thoughtful analysis on the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights and Black Power movement in the 1960’s. Furthermore, this article, while not targeted specifically for Christians, provides some necessary and essential lessons for Christians interested in engaging in the struggle for racial justice in their church communities. There are 5 important lessons from this article.

  1. The necessity and impact of the Black Power Movement: In this article and in his book Dark Days Bright Nights, Joseph dispels the myths surrounding the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s. Many people refer to the Black Power Movement as the evil twin of the Civil Rights Movement and argue that the movement was violent, leaderless, and disorganized, accomplishing nothing. Furthermore, people canonize and embrace Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement while completely demonizing and rejecting Malcolm X and the Black Power Movement without any evidence or analysis of the movement. The Black Power Movement, like every other movement had many serious flaws and disorganized aspects. However, the movement was essential and had a significant impact on American society. The Black Power movement, which included the Black Panther Party for self-defense (not to be confused with the contemporary New Black Panther Party), forced a dialogue and understanding of racial consciousness and political power. The movement inspired black people to embrace their culture and identity, which created a space to advocate for greater black representation and value throughout society. The Black Power Movement inspired and fought for black representation in literature, art, politics, and intellectual scholarship which helped establish black studies programs throughout the country, black history month, and greater political power within the black community. The election of Barack Obama can be attributed to the push for greater black influence and representation in society by the Black Power Movement. This push has helped society better integrate black literature, art, and intellectual scholarship into the mainstream. While our academic institutions and public spaces are far from being inclusive and fully engaging of black intellectual, political, and artistic value, the movement forced a recognition of black achievement. Furthermore, the contemporary discussions around mass incarceration and police reform were in part inspired, not by Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, but by groups like the Black Panther Party within the Black Power Movement. Christians who are passionate about celebrating black culture and taking a stand against prison and mass incarceration must understand the vital role the Black Power Movement played in this discussion.
  2. The lack of inclusivity in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement: One of the biggest flaws of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement was its lack of representation and value of minorities within the black community. Leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X harbored some of the most vicious sexism of their era, where women were not valued and were reduced to submissive and inferior roles in the movements. Martin Luther King had once suggested that women had no place in the front line of the Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, gay Civil Rights champion Bayard Rustin critiqued the Civil Rights movement for it’s lack of inclusivity and extreme homophobia. In fact, Rutstin was often shamed and disrespected by other Civil Rights leaders for his sexuality. Many Christians look to the Civil Rights movement as a model for faith-based work around racial justice and other social justice issues. What many ignore is how the movement, with all its glories, failed to address other systemic issues including sexism and homophobia, and in so many cases, contributed to the oppression of marginalized groups within the black community.
  3. Why the intersectionality of Black Lives Matter matters: The Black Lives Matter movement embraces and values intersectionality, which highlights and focuses on the intersection between different social identities and the struggle against oppression. This focus has inspired Black Lives Matter to focus its policy agenda on issues that impact all of black identity. Rather than focusing exclusively on the voices and perspectives of black men, like movements of the past have done, Black Lives Matter engages with and addresses issues impacting black women, LGBT blacks, and others who have been traditionally excluded and ignored by the heterosexual patriarchy within the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded by 3 queer women, which is far more inclusive and democratic than the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. This intersectionality matters because a fight for racial justice must include fights against sexism, homophobia, classism, and other social injustices. One cannot be fully committed to racial justice if he/she is unwilling to recognize the complexity of structural racism and how it intersects with other forms of oppression.
  4. The need for multiple approaches: The Black Lives Matter movement rejects the either/or fallacy that suggests that they must adopt one perspective of black liberation. Many black Americans have tried to align themselves with one philosophy for racial justice, generally comparing Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The reality is that both perspectives are necessary and valuable and there needs to be multiple approaches to addressing racial issues. The Civil Rights Movement emphasized things that the Black Power Movement did not and vice versa. For Christians, this means recognizing the value of different perspectives in fighting racial justice and understanding their role in this struggle.
  5. Why Black Lives Matter is necessary: Black Lives Matter is necessary because it offers a new and unique approach to Civil Rights activism and represents a critical movement in the fight against institutional racism. This movement forges the nonviolent approaches of the Civil Rights movement and the substantive critiques of systemic racism in the Black Power Movement, upholding the strengths of both movements. While there are legitimate and understandable critiques of Black Lives Matter, the movement is necessary and essential.

Peniel Joseph’s article provides a solid understanding of Black Lives Matter and dispels many of the myths and misunderstanding surrounding the movement. This is an important article for Christians to read in understanding a significant movement to fight against injustices that black brothers and sisters face. The movement is not perfect and without flaws; however, it is necessary and it must be understood.

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be a Voice for the Voiceless

coloredchristianity

I majored in Social Work in college because I wanted to help people who were marginalized and discriminated against by society. I wanted to live out my Christian faith and “do justice” in our world. When speaking to many in my Christian college circle, I talked about my desire to be a “voice for the voiceless.” The phrase “voice for the voiceless” is a common cliché in both religious and secular communities that is used to express a deep desire and conviction to help others. It sounds like a good and noble thing and those in helping professions are often commended for using their career to help others. However, there is one problem. Attempting to be a “voice for the voiceless” is a toxic and counterproductive mission.

Many people who desire to be a “voice for the voiceless” are well-meaning and good-hearted. They are genuinely concerned about the plight of…

View original post 1,020 more words

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be a Voice for the Voiceless

I majored in Social Work in college because I wanted to help people who were marginalized and discriminated against by society. I wanted to live out my Christian faith and “do justice” in our world. When speaking to many in my Christian college circle, I talked about my desire to be a “voice for the voiceless.” The phrase “voice for the voiceless” is a common cliché in both religious and secular communities that is used to express a deep desire and conviction to help others. It sounds like a good and noble thing and those in helping professions are often commended for using their career to help others. However, there is one problem. Attempting to be a “voice for the voiceless” is a toxic and counterproductive mission.

Many people who desire to be a “voice for the voiceless” are well-meaning and good-hearted. They are genuinely concerned about the plight of the disenfranchised in our world. Unfortunately, many of them are ignorant about how paternalistic and oppressive social justice and mission work can be. They fail to recognize that their desire to save and “speak” for the “voiceless” can further harm the very communities that they want to help. As I mentioned in 6 Wicked Ways of the White Savior, many people who attempt to do good work domestically and abroad end up doing more harm than good because they reinforce systems of oppression. Being a voice for the voiceless is a good example of doing more harm than good. Below are 7 reasons why you should not be a voice for the voiceless:

1. Being a voice for the voiceless censors the voices of the oppressed: When people say that they want to be a voice for the voiceless, they mean that they want to stand up for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves. The problem with this idea is that it suggests that marginalized people are somehow incapable of speaking about their conditions in an articulate and concise way. Furthermore, it sets up a strategy that ignores the real perspectives, ideas, and worldviews of the oppressed. When you speak on behalf of a critical social injustice without actively engaging and connecting with people directly affected, you are using your privilege to achieve a social good through your own means.

2. Being a voice for the voiceless reinforces poverty and powerlessness: Many people define poverty exclusively through material lenses. What people fail to realize is that much of poverty is the feeling and reality of powerlessness. The very nature of oppression is to marginalize people in a way that they have little power. Systems of racism, sexism, classism, and imperialism are designed to marginalize and oppress people. Unfortunately, much of the charity and social justice work does little more than reinforce poverty. While social justice advocates and missionaries offer articulate and brilliant critiques about systemic issues (domestically and internationally), they are often unwilling to recognize how their very presence contributes to the oppression and marginalization. When you claim to be a voice for others who are suffering, you are reinforcing the very system that you want to fight.

3. Being a voice for the voiceless ignores and undermines that activism of oppressed communities: One of the biggest problems specifically with some of the mission work around the world is that many missionaries are ignorant of the actual work that is being done by communities overseas. Such assumptions result in many white missionaries going to other countries and advancing their own agendas. The same goes for churches that seek to do church planting in poor neighborhoods without understanding the dynamics of particular communities and learning about the churches that are centralized in key neighborhoods. When you ignore the work that is already being done to a dismantle a problem, you undermine, and in many cases, disrupt any movement and momentum to address a social problem. Furthermore, you prevent yourself from being an effective advocate with those who are affected by the injustice.

4. Being a voice to the voiceless prevents you from building relationships: When you try to simply be a voice for someone else, you are preventing yourself from building relationships and getting to know the “voiceless” people. Without relationships and actually understanding the problem, your work is meaningless. One of the problems with a lot of public policy work today is that proposals to fix a particular problem (criminal justice, homelessness, sex trafficking, ect.) is being proposed without any input, information, and instruction from people who are directly affected. When that happens, laws become passed without any meaningful impact.

5. Being a voice for the voiceless is selfish: It is selfish because it assumes and suggests that you are the right person and most moral human being to be that voice. People who think this way do not consider how they may be perceived (and the unintended consequences of their platform) or the reality that those who are marginalized need to be heard and valued. It so frequently becomes an attempt to show how committed you are to achieving a social good.

6. Being a voice for the voiceless is not necessary: It isn’t necessary to be a voice for others. It does not make you a more moral and passionate person nor does it remedy social ills. Do what is necessary to stand for justice. Don’t try to censor others voices and control the conversation around an injustice.

7. Being a voice for the voiceless is not effective: The bottom line is that being a voice for the voiceless is not effective. It merely does not work. It does not work to speak for others and share experiences that you aren’t qualified to share. What works is being effective partners with marginalized communities and learning from them.

It is important to understand that this critique is not suggesting that you shouldn’t want to help others or be vocal about injustices. It does not mean that mission work and advocacy is inherently harmful. There is absolutely a need to use your platform to speak out against injustices. It is important for white people to use their platform to call attention to white privilege within their own circles and ranks. It is important for Christians to support and call attention to the egregious injustices both domestically and internationally. It becomes a problem when white people censor the voices of minority communities and suggest that they have the answers to racial justice. It is a problem when pastors do church planting in poor communities and undermine the great work that established churches have been doing in such neighborhoods for decades. As a Christian and an advocate by profession, I think it is essential for people to stand up against injustices (through education, information, and involvement). It just needs to be done in a way that does not reinforce oppression. Advocate, educate, inform, and use your platform to do good. Just don’t try to be a voice for the voiceless. It is harmful.

​7 Qualities to Understand Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King was one of the greatest public figures in American history. Unlike many of the great US Presidents, he did not receive his fame by seeking public office and unlike many of the great inventors and entrepreneurs, did not accumulate wealth or status to become notable. Instead his recognition came from his leadership and struggle for racial, social, and economic justice. Yet he was not celebrated or recognized in life as he is in death. While he had moments of being uplifted as Americas most admired man, he was ridiculed and condemned for much of his public life. He was despised by southern segregationists, disregarded by mainstream moderate whites, denied by many black churchgoers, and devalued by black nationalists. Today he is romanticized by conservative whites, celebrated by mainstream society, modeled as an activist example by social justice warriors, and partially revered by many Afrocentric and Pan-African blacks. Like any great historic leader, people have both sanitized and corrupted the message of Martin Luther King. He has been used to dismiss any contemporary discussions of racial justice and to condemn protest and boycotting strategies today. Almost everyone would verbally agree that Dr. King remains a significant and influential figure both domestically and internationally, but so many are ill-informed on why his life and message matters and how his work is necessary today. Below are 7 qualities of Dr. King that matter today:

1. He had a prophetic voice: Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister who led a Christian-centered movement. Many secular progressives are quick to condemn religion and suggest that little good can come out of it. What they fail to recognize is that many of the great social justice movements were centered around faith and were led by prophetic voices in churches, mosques, and synagogues. Many conservative Christians put Martin Luther King up on a pedestal and use him to condemn any contemporary critique of the American empire. What they ignore is the very prophetic nature of Dr. King that challenged and condemned the American empire. He spoke about the godless nature of militarism, racism, and classism that inflicted America during his time and today. He had prepared a sermon on “Why America May Go to Hell” that he would have preached the Sunday after his assassination. He was an unapologetic Christian leader, but one who did not accept or worship America. Instead he spoke prophetically and passionately against the injustice caused by America. What is needed today are more Christians who follow the prophetic tradition of critiquing the ills of injustices in our world rather than being passive defenders of evil. The problem today is that there are too many social justice activists and organizers who abhor religion and too many people of faith who are adverse to standing for justice.

2. Never sold out for popularity: In 1964, Dr. King was listed as the 1963 Person of the Year by Time Magazine. This was after his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” that inspired the nation. He was later awarded a Noble Peace Prize for his work around Civil Rights in America. Yet he did not let those accolades steer him away from speaking truth and risking popularity and fame. After the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 respectively, he began shifting his focus to the issues that impacted black communities in northern cities including housing discrimination and extreme poverty. He realized that many of the northern whites who praised his work around Jim Crow segregation were hostile to his focus on northern racism. During the height of the Vietnam War, he called America the biggest purveyor of violence and spoke harshly against American militarism. This resulted in him being distanced by his civil rights allies both black and white. His alma mater, Morehouse College rejected him because they believed he was a bad role model because he went to jail too often. In 1968, the year of his death, he was an extremely unpopular figure who was seen as too radical by whites and outdated by blacks. Yet he relentlessly stood up for justice and followed his moral conscience.

3. Humanized people who hated him: Dr. King spoke unapologetically about the evils of racism, but never dehumanized individuals who supported and defended racism. His focus was on condemning systems and policies, not on settling to the personal humiliation of individual bigots. Even when people in power like President Lyndon Johnson referred to Dr. King as a “goddamn nigger preacher,” Dr. King did not retaliate. When his opponents went low, he took the high road. He referred to southern and northern white bigots as “sick white brethren” as a way to point out the evils and sins of many whites while still recognizing their humanity as brothers. This speaks to the character of Martin Luther King. While he did not excuse or accept the bigotry of whites who were benefiting from racism, he did not dehumanize their existence. Contemporaries like Professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson follow in this tradition by referring to their opponents who defend police brutality or other forms of systematic racism in debates as “brothers” and “sisters” while passionately critiquing their positions. It is easy to fall into the trap of dehumanizing and devaluing people who unashamedly benefit from oppression, but it is important to reject the low and ineffective nature of investing energy spewing hatred against your opponent. Instead the energy must be focused on fighting their power and the systems that produce the injustices.

4. Introverted and reluctant leader: We live in an extraverted society where the most charismatic and high energy individual is favored over the more reserved and quiet person. At young ages, shy kids are pressured to “break out of their shells” and more reserved children are warned about the dangers of being introverted. What we fail to realize is that some of the greatest leaders and thinkers in history who changed the world were described as quiet and reserved including Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. Similarly, Dr. King was a reluctant leader in the sense that he was originally uncomfortable with wanting to lead a campaign. He originally wanted to live a quiet life teaching at a university and preaching at a church part time. When he was entrenched with the noise of the Civil Rights movement, he regularly withdrew himself to reflect and spend time alone. That time was used to process and strategize during difficult moments. Author Susan Cain argue that the reserved and quiet nature of introverts can be used as an advantage in leadership because reflection and solitude produce powerful ideas and great wisdom. Dr. King embodied so much of that.

5.True courage and boldness: Dr. King’s non-violent resistance was not popular with many blacks. Leaders like Malcolm X and later Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale objected to Dr. King’s strategy of non-retaliation. They believed that it was insulting not to fight back when the oppressor is violently attacking you. King’s strategy was seen as being passive and weak, accomplishing little. However, the practice of non-violence that Dr. King used was much bolder and courageous than the self-defense philosophy of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. It takes more courage to stand up to your oppressor and resist retaliation than it is to physically fight them back. It takes more discipline to continue standing up to expose your oppressor’s animalistic nature without retaliation because you humiliate them more. Passivism, which Dr. King practiced, is not being passive but rather a form of active resistance without inflicting violence. That strategy is practiced today by groups like Black Lives Matter.

6. Never people made people feel comfortable in their bigotry: While Dr. King did not dehumanize whites, he did hold them accountable. Many whites today find themselves so uncomfortable and guilty about racism that they get defensive when talking about it. Nonwhites who speak about racism in white churches and other circles are asked to speak in more moderate tones as not to offend people. While the goal in discussing racial issues should never be to “offend” someone, minorities should not have to make whites comfortable in discussing an issue that impacts them on a daily life. Just like a woman should not have to be “politically correct” in expressing to men the pain she experiences with sexism and harassment on a daily basis. Dr. King regularly condemned whites, especially white Christians who refused to acknowledge and/or do something about the conditions of blacks in America. In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, he specifically targeted moderate white Christians including clergy who remained silent in the midst of racial chaos. He spoke of Gods judgement on people who weren’t necessarily vocal bigots, but did nothing about the mistreatment of black Americans. What he said made many whites uncomfortable and made him more of an enemy, but he did not care. His goal was not to soften up to whites, but to urge his fellow Christian brothers and sisters to take action.

7. Imperfect and morally flawed person: Dr. King is so romanticized today, that people get defensive when they hear reports of his infidelity and other moral flaws. He is held on so high of a pedestal that people are blinded to the reality that him, like all others are imperfect beings and yet God has and will use flawed people to carry out his work. Furthermore, being morally flawed does not diminish the impact of one’s work. It just goes to show that people have baggage and that is a part of life. Professor Michael Eric Dyson suggests that Dr. Kings lifestyle in many ways is no different from the vulgar and misogynistic lyrics in rap music that society loves to condemn. In fact, many people use Dr. King to condemn to immoral lifestyles of “young and urban” Americans today while failing to realize that Dr. King was guilty of many of the very behaviors. He may have not written a song calling a woman a “bitch” or a “hoe,” but he used women regularly for sex and devalued the influence and leadership women, which is much worse than calling a woman a degrading name. He was flawed, yet he still had an impact. Let’s stop romanticizing him.

While many people’s praises of Dr. King are based on misconceptions, the reality is that he is one of the most impactful American leaders in history. He is recognized by a vast diversity of people from white Christian conservatives to black Pan-African nationalists. He was a powerful orator who challenged the moral compass of this nation and this world. As we acknowledge him on his holiday, we must understand his complex nature. We must recognize that if he were alive today, he would be as controversial now as he was in his era. The 7 qualities that represent him are important qualities in understanding his leadership and impact. Furthermore, many of the qualities are necessary for aspiring advocates and leaders for racial and social justice today.

Conscious Sexism: How “Conscious” and “Woke” Men Reinforce Sexism

coloredchristianity

We live in a patriarchal society where sexism and misogyny impact social structures and institutions from religion and education to entertainment and music. This is found when churches use the bible to silence the voices of dedicated Christian women or when the music and film industry sexualize and objectify women to boost sales.

Many men who refer to themselves as socially conscious have responded to America’s misogynistic culture with more misogyny. Afrocentric scholars, politically conscious rappers, and Christian male figures have used their platforms to speak out against the objectification of women in mainstream American culture, but have either responded with an objectification of their own and/or with shaming women for their oppression.

Many Afrocentric scholars refer to black women as “queens” and create their own expectations of how an “ideal” black woman should behave. They advocate for black women who have a certain skin complexion, who wear their hair…

View original post 538 more words