6 Wise Ways to Stop Being a White Savior

The White Savior Complex is an oppressive notion that the western/white world is more superior to the non-western/minority world. This is manifested in multiple arenas in our society from religion and politics to entertainment and education. Last week I laid out six reasons why the White Savior Complex is toxic and examples of how it is manifested in our society. This week I will provide solutions to solving this dangerous complex. If we are serious about doing good work and improving social conditions, we will reject the savior complex and our self-interests.
To reject the White Savior Complex, you must:
1. Recognize that it exists: In previous blogs, I have talked about the need to recognize that racism exists and embrace conversations about it. Likewise, it is important to recognize the presence and power of the White Savior Complex. It is important to recognize that many of the views that you harbor about ministry, social justice work, and education are based on a notion of “saving” people in need. While you may recognize and reject systems of racism, you are benefitting from and working as an agent of a racist system when you adopt the white savior complex. To reject this, you have to be honest about your work in enforcing the savior complex. This does not mean that you are a bad person or that you have ill-intent, it does mean that you have been influenced by a culture that seeks to promote and preserve white supremacy.
2. Stop using your privilege to dominate the conversations and the work: It is easy for people who are white and/or educated to take control of community work both domestically and internationally. Part of this is due to the comfort one has with being educated and of a more privileged group. Unfortunately, this often results in the self-interests and voices of the community being unheard and silenced. What usually happens is that privileged people come into a community with educated and ambitious ideas of how to solve a social problem. They passionately promote their ideas and while they may ask the members of the community for feedback, they often use them as tokens rather than partners. It is essential to let go of your privilege and take the role of a learner and follower when seeking to make social change. Learn from and listen to those in the community who are directly experiencing the social ill that you seek to remedy. Let them be the guides and leaders. The voices of poor and minority people are censored and rejected by our society and if you want to help them, you need to hear them.
3. Build Community: Building community means letting go of your own self-interests for the purpose of others. When you take the time to build relationships in the community or village that you are working in, you will become a more effective and trusted ally. This means getting to know the neighborhood, the politics, the power, and the leaders. This means listening, talking less and asking more and seeking first to understand before being understood. This should be common sense but we are so saturated with a savior complex that we forget the basic and fundamental ethic of listening.
4. Let go of your own self-interests: A lot of your ideas and interests won’t work. Plain and simple. Thinking that simply building wells in Africa will increase access to clean water is foolish, especially when you have not researched or understood the real disparity. Your self-interests and ideas will likely receive push backs and challenges from people who will be directly impacted. Listen to them and let go of your own agenda. It will be difficult, but if you are truly wanting change, you have to listen to the people directly impacted by the issues you are seeking to address.
5. Don’t do things for people that are capable of doing things themselves: Robert Lupton talks about this in his book Toxic Charity. When you do things for people that they can do for themselves, you not only disempower them, you devalue them. When you keep giving parents toys and clothes every holiday season, you remind them of their plight and make them feel powerless. It is important to think about the “charity” work that you are doing and reflect on the messages it is sending to people. For example rather than focusing on giving people gifts and food, think about working with people in the community to invest in thrift stores and markets that are affordable.
6. Focus more on supporting and less on leading: Rejecting your privilege means stepping back and supporting the work of people in your community. If you want to “empower” people and effect change, you have to step back and let them lead. One example is effective community organizing. Good community organizing, specifically organizing focusing on criminal justice issues includes people who have been incarcerated leading the movement against mass incarceration rather than ambitious lawyers and lobbyists.

The subtle racism that engineers the White Savior Complex is easy to dismiss. It is easy to suggest that the Savior Complex has nothing to do with racism and believe that it is merely a human problem. However, without naming the system that creates this complex, we cannot completely reject it. If we deny the fact that institutions in our society promote a white western superiority over all, we will continue to believe that there is nothing wrong with wanting to save other cultures. Many people do believe that there is nothing wrong with wanting to “save” other people and find critiques of their methods as challenges to their faith and humanity. Others want to be more effective at their mission and social justice work and recognize the need to reject their privileges and self-interests. Regardless of your methods of charity mission work, I encourage you to challenge and think about how your work is empowering or disempowering the people you are intending to serve. Think about how your purpose, position, and presence can have unintended consequences. If you have adopted best practices and methods that have rejected the white savior complex, I would love your feedback and ideas.

6 Wicked Ways of the White Savior

The White Savior Complex is real and prevalent in our society from popular movies to short-term church mission trips. In movies, it usually involves a community of black and brown people (domestic or abroad) who are experiencing turmoil and ends up being saved and rescued by a brave white character. In churches, it involves a group of dedicated people who have a desire and passion to preach the message of Christ in poor and minority communities. In social justice organizations, it looks like a group of ambitious educated advocates who fight for the rights of the disenfranchised without reaching out to the communities they are fighting for. Many of these people, both in church charities and social justice organizations, have good intentions and are generally good people. However, they often do more harm than good and reinforce systems of oppression. I applaud people who have good intentions and genuinely want to do the right thing whether it is preaching the gospel of Christ around the world, moving and teaching in an economically deprived neighborhood, or advocating for real social change through public policy. The problem is that all of the “good work” done can do more harm than good. 

Why use the term “White” Savior Complex?
White people are not the only people who enforce the savior complex. Many successful black and brown people have a savior mentality in regards to charity, advocacy, and mission work. Furthermore, many poor white communities are harmed by “savior” charities and churches just as black communities are. However, the “savior” work, whether it is through movies, churches, or schools promotes a western superiority (attributed to being white) to people who are deemed socially and economically marginalized (which tend to be non-whites). 

Below is a list of reasons why the White Savior Complex is toxic and examples of how we reinforce it:

1. The White Savior Complex draws assumptions about the plight of disenfranchised families: Many white Christians have a desire to evangelize in poor minority neighborhoods and non-western countries. As a Christian, I applaud these efforts on the surface, but I fear the outcomes if done in an unhealthy manner. The commitment to go to these communities often stems from a passion to share the gospel and help the most marginalized and “broken” in our society. The problem is that many groups that go to these neighborhoods know little about them. They go into these communities with pre-conceived notions about the lack of character or morals of a particular community. The reality is that many people in these minority neighborhoods have upstanding moral character and while they lack material resources, their faith and love is something to be learned from. Unfortunately, many assume that people in poor and minority communities “need Jesus” simply because of their conditions and circumstances that are often a result of institutional oppression. Furthermore, many Christians go into neighborhoods with their own agenda for what needs to be done without building relationships and getting to know the community they want to serve. This reinforces white supremacy because it assumes that you know best on how to solve their problems. 

2. The White Savior Complex reminds people how powerless they are: In Steve Corbett’s When Helping Hurts, he talks about how much of poverty is not merely lacking material resources, it is lacking power or influence. There are two examples of how many churches in poor and minority urban communities reinforce the power dynamics:
a. Food Pantries: Many churches have food pantries that provide food for people in need. While I am not opposed  to food pantries entirely, the way many churches operate them is dangerous. They give food to people in need without giving them an option to pick their own food or make any decisions on what they can have. This teaches people that they are poor and incapable of making decisions for themselves. There are many churches that run food pantries that offer “client choice” in the sense that the person needing food can choose what they want to eat in the pantry rather than having the food given to them. This makes a person feel as if he/she is shopping for their families and able to make their own decisions.
b. Holiday Giving: Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, churches across the country invest significant time and money for holiday giving. This ranges from providing meals for people to giving toys to kids. Robert Lupton in his book Toxic Charity tells stories of parents who are unable to provide gifts for their children and accept the toys donated to them from a local church. Every year when a stranger from the church provides their children gifts, they are  reminded how poor and powerless they are. The inability to provide gifts for your children is difficult, seeing a stranger year after year offer gifts to your children is humiliating. Take a father who recently immigrated the the United States from Tanzania with his family. He is coming from a country and a tribe where he was an important and influential leader. He moves to Southern California and attends a church where he and his family are welcomed with love and grace. Then a male member of the church who has a good heart decides to buy gifts and clothes for the children without really getting to know the family or their situation. As a man from Tanzania, that would be humiliating to see another man provide things for his children that he may be unable to at the moment. He feels powerless and helpless and the good intentions of the American man reinforced those feelings. 

3. The White Savior Complex teaches people that success and greatness are attributed to whiteness: This is reinforced in schools, the media, and movies. History is often taught from a Eurocentric perspective in schools that makes students believe that the great achievements and contributions to civilization were done by white men. The successes of people of color are often limited to civil rights advancements. While the civil rights advancements are important, they are limiting. For example, Black Americans have contributed much to science, philosophy, and education in this country. Much of the great achievements to civilization come from Africa, Asia, and South America, and while this is sometimes taught, it is greatly undermined. I have heard many students both black and white say that that “black history started with slavery” or that “white people created everything.” 

4. The White Savior Complex creates a culture of dependency: It makes people feel dependent on others for their liberation and “salvation”: Booker T. Washington, a prominent black civil rights leader in the late 19th and early 20th century talked about the need of black Americans (then referred to as Negro) to learn and develop technical skills so that they could become good stewards of their land and control their resources. He was speaking to a generation not far removed from slavery. He pressed the value of self-reliance so that blacks would not have to rely on whites for everything, thus being completely liberated from slavery. While I do not fully embrace or support Washington’s philosophy, I do think his focus on self-reliance is an important.

5. The White Savior Complex teaches people that they are incapable of providing solutions to systemic issues that affect them: Many organizations that advocate for social justice causes including homelessness, criminal justice, and housing do not engage the communities they are intending to serve, including minority communities who are disproportionately impacted by these disparities. If/when these organizations do engage, it is for the purpose of finding a “token” client to tell a story in a legislative committee or to be featured in a newsletter. Telling stories is important, but using a client to advance your policy agenda without fulling engaging them in the process is toxic. Social Justice organizations that do policy work should actively engage communities through organizing. The organizing should allow people who are directly affected by disparities to share their story and advise policy advocates. For example, people with criminal records know about the disparities in the prison system in ways that many attorneys do not know. It is essential for ambitious attorneys seeking changes to our system to engage and consult communities who are affected. What I appreciate about community organizing, if done well, is that it seeks and builds leaders in a community to lead efforts to real and substantive policy change. Refusing or neglecting to engage in communities affected by disparities reinforces privilege and further censors people who are marginalized. Furthermore, without engaging in communities that are impacted by oppressive public policies, you run the risk of advocating for legislation that has unintended consequences. It pays to get feedback and build alliance with people who are victims of a system you are trying to fight. 

6. The White Savior Complex creates cultural superiority: Many short term church mission trips travel abroad for the purpose of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to areas with no churches. What they often do is teach people an Americanized version of Christianity that teaches people to adopt western customs. For example, many people in African countries are convinced that they have to wear suits and ties and reject much of their culture to truly come to Christ. It’s heartbreaking to know that many Christian converts from other countries feel as if their culture is less moral and “godly” than western American culture. What that tells me is that many short term mission trips are actually preaching a gospel of white American superiority instead of the gospel of Jesus.

The White Savior Complex is a subtle form of racism and classism that does much harm and little good to poor and minority communities. It is prevalent in various institutions in our society and is accepted as normal. Next week I will continue this discussion and offer practical solutions to solving this dangerous complex. 

4 Things Black Men Need to Realize about Sexism in Black Communities

Racism does not prevent black men from absorbing the same sexist socialization white men are inundated with. At very young ages, black male children learn that they have a privileged status in the world based on their having been born male; they learn that this status is superior to that of women. As a consequence of their early sexist socialization, they mature accepting the same sexist sentiments their white counterparts accept. When women do not affirm their masculine status by assuming a subordinate role, they express the contempt and hostility that they have been taught to feel toward non-submissive women”-Bell Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman, 1981.

Sexism is real and so is black male patriarchy. I could write a whole blog on sexism and how men, whether intentionally or not, contribute and benefit from being men in almost every aspect of our society. However, I want to talk specifically about black male patriarchy, where it comes from, and how it has been used to control black women. Black men benefit from sexism because they are men. Black male patriarchy is a sexist structure that controls and subjugates black women. Unfortunately, many black men either ignore or deny the existence and prevalence of black male patriarchy. This is in spite of the reality that this structure has been active and predominant in various aspects of black society including black liberation movements.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, two of the most important black male leaders in the 20th century and arguably history, were agents of black male patriarchy. One of their biggest limitations was their inability to place value on the power and self-interest of black women. Both believed that the civil rights struggle was more of a black man’s struggle and that women had no place in leading such movements. The Black Panther Party for self-defense in the late 1960s has also been criticized for its misogyny and advocating that the woman’s role in the movement should be that of cooks rather than leaders and fighters. Misogyny is still prevalent today as many so called “pro-black” activists frequently downplay the role of black women and in many cases, openly defend blatant sexist elements.

It is important to understand where black male patriarchy comes from. Historically black men have been devalued and dehumanized in a dominant white male society through coercive polices of enslavement, segregation, and criminalization. As a result of this lack of power, they have sought control to feel valued and have used whatever privilege they have to their advantage. This has resulted in black men controlling and defining racism for themselves (without black women), oppressing women in churches through misused scripture, and excreting unnecessary power in the home based on some divine providence. This also explains why black men have been hesitant, and in many cases hostile, towards women’s rights movements and the ideology of feminism. The unequivocal denunciation of women’s liberation movements by black men is a result of feeling threatened by the thought of women, especially black women, having more power. This is similar to the fact that a critical segment of the white population has always feared and resisted the social change and liberation of blacks.

It is important however to understand that the criticisms and ambivalence towards feminism and women’s liberation movements are not limited to pro-black men nor are there completely without reason. Black Womanist scholars like Bell Hooks and Alice Walker have roundly criticized mainstream feminism as appealing to the needs of wealthy white women while ignoring black women. It is very true that many feminist movements have lacked inclusivity and have failed to challenge the racism within their ranks. However, Black Womanists have also critiqued black male patriarchy, something that many “pro-black” men have failed to do. Both Walker and Hooks discuss the damage of patriarchy in black culture, from the lack of inclusivity of women in movements to the silence and rejection of rape culture in black communities. So often I hear black men either defend rapists and/or blame the women victims. The case of Bill Cosby is a perfect example. Many black men rushed to defend him and simply suggested that the media was trying to destroy a successful black man. Like the case of Cosby, many black men find every excuse in the book to downplay the rape culture that they contribute to. It is toxic and keeps black men from being honest and vulnerable about their sexism and fear of women having more power. Below are some important things for my fellow black men to consider and think about:

1. You do not know what it is like to be a woman: As a man, you are in no position to tell a woman that her experience with sexism (including rape and harassment) is invalid and that she is being sensitive. Just as white people have absolutely no right to dismiss your experience as a black man as being exaggerated or accuse you of playing the “victim” card.  Expect women to know their lives and experiences better than you do. Hold yourself to the same expectations you have of white people with racism when it comes to you and sexism.

2.  You can’t be pro-black and anti-black women: You cannot truly be “down for the cause” if you ignore the experiences of black women. Black women have to struggle with being both black and woman, and historically, they have been left out and ignored in many movements and circles. In feminist circles, they were ignored and rejected because of their blackness and in civil rights circles, they were ignored and rejected because they were women. If you are truly dedicated to fighting against racism and injustice, you must fight against sexism and challenge the misogyny in your communities. This includes condemning the objectifying language from your brothers and attacking the sexist thoughts that are deeply ingrained in your psyche.

3.  Say no to being a male savior: You are not the savior of black women. As whites must reject the white savior mentality, black men must reject the black male savior mentality. This means you must step aside and let black women lead.

4. Recognize your privilege: Whether or not you have personally treated women as second class citizens is irrelevant. As a man in this society, you are influenced by and have benefited from sexism. It is important that you are honest about this. Do not be defensive.

It is important to recognize the prevalence of black male patriarchy and how much it comes from and adopts the oppressive nature of white supremacy. If you are serious about addressing oppression, you need to be serious about addressing the oppression of black women. What I applaud about the Black Lives Matter movement is that they have committed to fighting black male patriarchy and valuing the interests and influence of black women from day one. Furthermore, they have seen the struggle for black lives as a struggle for all black lives, not just heterosexual black male lives. We should learn from them and fix the toxicity of black male patriarchy. We must listen to our sisters and our mothers and let them lead.

5 Critical Reasons Why We Should Celebrate Malcolm X

​El-Haj Malik el-Shabazz, commonly known as Malcolm X, was a religious and human rights leader in the 20th century and a contemporary of Martin Luther King. He is commonly known for being a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, which is a black political and religious movement in America. There are mixed reactions to the legacy of Malcolm X. Many regard him as a black separatist who preached hatred and division in America. When he was assassinated, few outside of America’s poorest black neighborhoods mourned his death and no mainstream media outlet had positive things to say about him. Many prominent blacks who broke glass ceilings of success in America in the 1970s and 80s argued that Malcolm X had little significance and left no meaningful legacy in America. However, in the early 1990s, the popularity of Malcolm X began to grow within young blacks who questioned the philosophy of Martin Luther King as a means to addressing the economic and political deprivations of poor black communities. Many universities began studying his philosophy, and his autobiography climbed up the bestseller list. While his image is slightly less negative today than it was at the time of his death 51 years ago, many still question his significance, and his legacy is thus misunderstood. The reality is that Malcolm X was an important black American leader who challenged the hypocrisy of white America and affirmed a love for self in the black community that had been lost. So many people dismiss Malcolm X entirely while embracing Martin Luther King completely without truly understanding either of them. This is both intellectually dishonest and historically inaccurate. There are many reasons why Malcolm X matters and why his life and message are necessary today:

1.       Lifelong learner: Malcolm X was an evolving man. He always sought growth and challenged himself to become a better leader and man. This was evident in his conversion to the Nation of Islam in prison; his split from the Nation of Islam and formation of his own religious and political Black Nationalist group; and his pilgrimage to Mecca where he challenged his limited perspective on race and religion, embracing a global human rights perspective. Whether or not you agree with his political or religious philosophies, his continual growth and transformation is something to be celebrated and learned from.

2.       Self-love: One of the lasting effects of slavery was psychological—the self-hatred of blacks. Black Americans were taught of the superiority of the white race, and that was/is reflected in education, religion, broader culture. For example, black Americans were taught during slavery that they were meant to be slaves and that God and Jesus were white. This claim is not only historically inaccurate, but psychologically toxic. When you are forced into slavery and told that you are inferior and that everything good (including the God you worship) looks different from you, this understanding will breed self-hatred. Malcolm X also helped create a greater awareness and appreciation of African culture and African identity. In the 20th century, the image of an African was that of a savage. Movies and plays depicted Africans as being uncivilized people who needed the white European to save them. Many blacks rejected having any association of Africa (still prevalent today) and believed the myth that being African meant being less than human. Malcolm X talked about loving where you come from and appreciating your African ancestry, no matter how distant you were from the continent generationally.  

3.       Human Rights: During the last year of Malcolm’s life, he went through a transformation from focusing on civil rights to human rights. After his pilgrimage to Mecca and travels to African countries, he began connecting the race problem in America to the global fight against racism and colonialism. He made plans to bring complaints to the United Nations regarding the treatment of black people in America and started building alliances with revolutionaries around the world. His global focus has impacted many contemporary movements including the Black Lives Matter movement, which connects the liberation of blacks in America to the liberation of oppressed minorities around the world. The Black Lives Matter movement has also been effective at building alliances and chapters outside of the U.S. and is referred to as a global movement; they think globally and act locally.

4.       Martin Luther King: It is well known that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had stark differences and disagreements on how to address racial issues in America. However, towards to end of their lives, they began moving closer to each other. After Malcolm X’s trip from Mecca some of his views on race began to move closer to MLK’s. Likewise, towards to end of Dr. King’s life, he began to understand Malcolm X more, and as a result, his criticism of American policies both domestically and internationally became stronger. He emphasized the oppression of people from both a national and global perspective and shifted towards a focus on human rights. The latter part of Martin Luther King’s life was greatly influenced by Malcolm X. If they had lived longer, they would have had a much greater impact collectively than they had individually.

5.       Black church & Christian faith: Although Malcolm X was not a Christian, his critiques of Christianity challenged many black Christians to wrestle with their faith and make sense of it. Christianity was used to justify enslaving and marginalizing black Americans, and while those actions were inconsistent with core Christian teaching, many black and white Christians had not wrestled with that reality. Malcolm X’s critique forced many to think through and reflect on Christian theology. Much of the liberation theology and in particular, black liberation theology has been inspired by the challenges and critiques from Malcolm X. Liberation theology connects the Christian experience with the struggle of oppressed communities. It affirms one’s identity both in Christ and with their culture and allows marginalized people to see liberation as the core of the gospel, rather than feeling submissive or subservient to a dominant culture that has corrupted the Christian faith. 

Malcolm X was a great leader who demonstrated the value of lifelong learning, self-love and appreciation, and the global fight against racism and oppression. His message and meaning also challenged black Christians like Martin Luther King to affirm their culture in light of their faith and to take a more global approach to racism. People who write off Malcolm X completely do not understand him. People who undermine his influence while overstating Dr. King’s influence are ignorant of history. It is essential to understand and learn from Malcolm X as we do from Dr. King because both of their messages and stories are relevant and necessary in the age of Black Lives Matter.

3 Simple Ways You Can Reject Christian Colorblindness

“I don’t see race, I see people.” How many times have we heard that statement? Racism is the most intractable issue in American society today and has been for decades. Many people believe that if we stopped taking about race, the issue would go away. I would first like to point out how little sense that logic makes. If racism is still a prevalent issue (which it is), how does simply talking about it make things worse and how would ignoring it end it? What if we applied that flawed logic to other issues? What if we stopped talking about hunger, sex trafficking, or child starvation? Would those conditions end? If we applied that logic to those issues, we would be condemned, and rightfully so, because they are serious problems that require serious conversation and intentional action. The same goes for racism. Unfortunately, many people endorse a colorblind concept that suggests that we are all “people,” and by talking about our differences, we are being divisive. Nowhere do I see this issue more prevalent than in the church.

I am a Christian who seeks to follow Christ on a daily basis. I believe that the gospel at its core is a liberating message to all and in particular, the oppressed. I believe as James Cone accurately puts it in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, that the cross of Jesus Christ is the most empowering symbol of God’s solidarity with the oppressed and most vulnerable in our society which includes victims of racism (Cone, 2011). This is why I find the colorblindness and lack of attention to racism in the church so troubling. This isn’t new. As black slaves and abolitionists were fighting against slavery in the 19th century, many white Christians were either silent or hostile to the liberation of slaves. In the 20th century, white churches and Christian colleges maintained segregationist policies and criticized the Civil Rights movement and other liberation movements as being unchristian or communist. They argued that black people should stop bringing attention to these issues and just preach the gospel; others believed that blacks were incapable of being true Christians or of going to heaven. Even some black churches, especially those affiliated with the churches of Christ, were silent about the racism they faced and believed that it was an issue for city hall, not the church.

Let me be clear, the silence and hostility towards race in the 19th and 20th century has carried into the 21st century. It has been manifested as colorblindness. Christian colorblind advocates argue that because we are all one in Christ, we should focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. While the bible does make references to being one in Christ beyond our differences (Galatians 3:28), the passages are not advocating a colorblind perspective. If you read Paul’s letters to churches, he is very vocal about the discrimination that takes place, most notably, how the Jews were treating the Gentiles. If Paul were colorblind or better in the context “cultureblind”, he would ignore those differences and suggest that we are all “Christians” and we shouldn’t care. The truth is that we should care and we should be vocal. One example of the toxic colorblindness in American Christianity is when Christian rapper Lecrae began speaking out against police violence toward unarmed black men and women this summer. The response from his evangelical fans was disturbing. They told him to stop talking about race and stick to the “gospel.” Many of his fans have argued that he is no longer a Christian rapper because he talks about race. This is also evident when churches across this country will pray for almost every issue under the sun but racism, even after tragic events.

So much of the gospel is speaking out against injustices and siding with the oppressed. As a Christian I believe that the gospel is the most effective tool in siding with the oppressed and historically, the black church demonstrated this through its tireless fight against racism. Resorting to colorblindness does nothing but reinforce racist policies and institutions. Refusing to discuss these issues in a church community for fear of being controversial does much harm and no good. The church’s silence is toxic. If your church community is ready to reject colorblindness, here are some tips to be most effective:

1.     Listen to your black brothers and sisters: Many churches stress the importance of listening to those who are suffering and building trust in relationships. If we want to foster a welcoming and safe community, we have to be willing to listen to the needs of our brothers and sisters who are suffering with the trauma of racism without being influenced by your own self-interest or political motives. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality. In so many other instances we preach the value of being others-oriented and attentive listeners. We should apply the same concept when discussing race. Talk less and listen/ask more.

2.     Pray against racism: I hear many prayers in churches about issues going on in the world, from the persecution of Christians in the Middle East to the safety and security of America. When we pray about race related incidents, we either pray broadly about peace and safety in the urban streets and/or for police officers. By ignoring prayers against the injustices of America, and particularly racism (including police brutality), we are sending a political message. We are saying (whether consciously or not) that the lives of police officers are more valuable. We are suggesting that these issues have more to do with the pathology of black families than they have to do with injustices. We should be willing to pray against the racial injustices in our society unapologetically, because they exist and are present both on an individual and structural level.

3.     Reject the savior mentality: If your church is in an urban setting and/or does ministry in urban communities, you have to think about your motives. In other words, think about your intentions and priorities in being involved with a particular community. Many white churches go to urban communities of color with the intention of “saving them” or “bringing Jesus to them.” As well intentioned as this is, it is very dangerous and reinforces the notion that non-white people have pathologically bad behaviors and values. This applies to ministry in low-income communities in general but particularly in non-white communities. Look to build relationships and get to know people in your neighborhood rather than taking over and advancing your own agenda. If your church is planning to get involved with racial justice work, you must also be aware of the savior mentality. Many social justice advocates have a savior mindset in which disenfranchised people are used simply for the purpose of telling stories but are not involved in creating change. While such advocates are aware of racial injustices, they are blind to how their privilege allows them to lead and control certain movements and initiatives. Even if your church is active against racism, it can still fall victim to colorblindness if it fails to actively engage disenfranchised communities because of their privilege.

I recognize that talking about race can be uncomfortable and contentious, but it is a necessary conversation. Historically, the church in America, and in particular, the churches of Christ (the affiliation I grew up in), have been silent about this important issue even as many brothers and sisters have been impacted. Racism is not just a political issue, it is a spiritual issue. If the church is to truly be communal and if Christians are to truly become vulnerable with each other and relevant in society, this is a conversation that needs to happen and this is a social problem that we need to fight actively. The church must lead the way in society in rejecting colorblindness and recognizing the reality of systemic racism.

2 Crucial Things Black Lives Matter opponents get wrong about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement 

Martin Luther King Jr. is arguably the most celebrated and respected American in the 20th century and rightfully so. He sacrificed his life for the liberation of African Americans who were victims of the original sin of this country, racism. He used non-violent tactics to protest against southern segregation and northern apartheid. He preached a Christian message of love and justice for all and rejected the politics of hatred and bitterness. While it is obvious that King had many opponents and enemies during his time, few today would openly express reservations to his message and legacy. In fact today he is so celebrated by people of all races and creeds, that he is used and invoked to discredit contemporary civil rights movements.

Black Lives Matter is a contemporary movement that advocates for the freedom, dignity, justice, and respect for all as King did 50 years ago. The movement was founded in 2012 after a neighborhood watchman; George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin. Since then the movement has grown and has chapters across the nation advocating for the vitality of black life because black lives matter too. Since 2012, there have been countless shootings of unarmed black men and women by police officers and almost all resulted in the police being acquitted. This, along with the devastating impact of the war on drugs, limited educational opportunities, and other intentional practices against the black community have developed a need for this important movement for black lives.

As expected, there are many critics and adamant opponents of this movement. Below is the list of the many criticisms and accusations:

  1. Black Lives Matter is only concerned about black lives
  2. Black Lives Matter hates police and is responsible for the “war on cops” and has advocated killing cops
  3. Black Lives Matter does not care about “black-on-black crime” in Chicago and other cities
  4. Black Lives Matter does not have a real agenda
  5. Black Lives Matter is disorganized and uses tactics that do not work like shutting down freeways
  6. Black Lives Matter preaches hate, no different from the KKK while Martin Luther King preached love.

These are just six of countless criticisms of the movement. Many of these critics argue that the Civil Rights Movement was different in the sense that they were inclusive and preached a loving message. They contend that leaders like King would oppose and object to this movement because of its hate and disorganization. These critics are both on the left and right and are spread across ethnic, racial, and religious lines. Everything they see right about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, they see wrong with the Black Lives Matter movement. The problem is what they see right/wrong about these two movements is wrong. This is not to say that Black Lives Matter is free from criticism and that the leaders of this movement shouldn’t learn from previous movements, because both are important. We should be able to critique this movement like any movement and contemporary civil rights movements can always learn from the past, both on the strengths and the weaknesses. However, we have to be careful about canonizing the past, and in this case, canonizing Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. We also have to be historically accurate and paint a complete picture of the movement and the leadership.1. The Civil Rights Movement was not fully inclusive: Women were not in many leadership positions as sexism played a crucial role. Women were still expected to be homemakers and Dr. King was not immune to the sexist practices of that generation that still reflects contemporary society. In James Cone’s Malcolm Martin and America: A Dream or a Nightmare? the author suggests that both MLK and Malcolm X had very patriarchal views that impacted their attitudes on women being leaders in movements. Both leaders believed that racism was more of a black man’s issue (Cone, 1991). What makes Black Lives Matter Movement so unique and powerful is that much of the leadership consists of queer women, something that would be taboo in the 1960s. Black Lives Matter addresses systematic inequalities that affect all black lives including black women and black LGBT communities (http://blacklivesmatter.com).

  1. Martin Luther King was very critical of American foreign policy and rejected American nationalism: He called America the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” This is one of the things that made Dr. King a great leader; he was relentless in his fight for justice globally even when many of his black and white allies rejected his unapologetic critique of American nationalism. Many conservative commentators today praise Martin Luther King for his leadership and peaceful tactics and argue that he should be an example for current movements. Yet if they were contemporary with King, they would accuse him of being anti-American and/or a threat to “American values.”
  2. Just like Black Lives Matter, Martin Luther King was accused of inciting violence: Receiving this accusation for fighting for freedom is a complement. No true reformer/s are accepted or understood by society contemporarily. Instead they are shamed, rejected, and falsely accused. This fact is also important considering many of the criticisms that many liberals have of the tactics of Black Lives Matter. Many accuse them of being disorganized while crediting the civil rights movement as being organized. First of all, the Civil Rights Movement consisted of several campaigns, many of which failed and second, simply because a movement results in arrests and has violent opponents, does not discredit or invalidate a movement. Nor does it “prove” that a movement is violent. Let’s not forget that police officers hosed down black children in Birmingham and King was hit with bricks in Chicago fighting for fair housing. He was also arrested and jailed multiple times. Have you read Letter from a Birmingham Jail? It was written by the “criminal” himself, Martin Luther King. If leaders of a movement are really serious about social change, arrests will often be necessary. It is an act of civil disobedience.

Martin Luther King was a great leader and if he were alive today, he would be active and involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. He would speak adamantly against the New Jim Crow that Michelle Alexander talks about and he would condemn the neutrality of whites and blacks who refuse to take a stand on the important civil rights issues of our time. That is what prophets do. The Civil Rights Movement had several flaws, one of which was the sexism and subjugation of many women. The movement had several unorganized marches and protests and yet it was still effective. Black Lives Matter too has many flaws, as all movements do, but it is a defining movement of our time and it is essential that we recognize this and find ways to be involved. We cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history.