Don’t Gaslight My Humanity

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Over-explaining can be a trauma response to being gaslit in childhood. When I figured that out, I worked to stop doing so. If I already told the truth and was clear, there is nothing else to say and over-explaining leads to distortion. Off of that nonsense.

– Tweet by @viriyaakarunaa

I love this quote. And, I’d add this addition: over-explaining can also be a trauma response to being gaslit about racism (although this is also true when thinking intersectionally as well. Consider being gaslit about ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism, nationalism, etc.).

A few years ago a meme went viral saying something (and this is not a direct quote) basically like y’all believe Trump about XYZ but Black people need the blood of a dove, the voice of 3 angels and the piety of a Pope before you believe us about racism.

I think we have to talk about how – in particular – liberals and Christians both weaponize academia in order to refute racism despite the fact that many reknown historical scholars are/were racists, and refuse to investigate how the very educational institutions and Christian organizations they ascribe to systematically upheld (and many still uphold) segregation, discrimination, and racism. 

BIPOC people have been telling the truth about racism, colonization, genocide, and apartheid for centuries. 

People in the LGBTQ+ Community have been telling the truth about the deadly violence of homophobia and transphobia for centuries. 

Refugees and immigrants have been telling the truth about global inequities, sexism, racism, religious persecution, and violence for centuries. 

Who is listening? Who is weaponizing? Who and what systems hold power?

An itchy question I have been thinking about stemmed from a tweet I saw from a decolonizing therapy group I follow. The tweet asked something like – if we know Black people carry generational trauma from slavery than what can we infer that people carry who are the offspring of generations that were the overseers and masters of enslaved persons (or as I like to call them – people that were intentionally, actively, and willfully upholding the evil and racist torture, rape, and genocide of other people). 

What systems are upheld when we gaslight those speaking up about racism? 

What norms are perpetuated? 

Upward & Onward Together

10 Books about Anti-Black Racism that Every Church Library Should Have

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list.

Primary Reading:

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

For me, this is one of the most important books on race and the church that I have ever read. Tisby provides a searing and critical historical survey of how the (Evangelical) church has perpetuated racism. I appreciated his strong prophetic voice and the clear actionable steps.

Far More Terrible for Women: Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery (Real Voices, Real History) by Patrick Minges

Far More Terrible for Women presents 27 firsthand accounts of female ex-slaves. Patrick Minges “combed the WPA interviews of the 1930s for those of women, selecting a range of stories that give a taste of the unique challenges, complexities, and cruelties that were the lot of females under the “peculiar institution.””

Slavery’s Long Shadow: Race and Reconciliation in American Christianity by James L. Gorman

This book is important, powerful, critical, and devastating. “In Slavery’s Long Shadow fourteen historians and other scholars examine how the sobering historical realities of race relations and Christianity have created both unity and division within American churches from the 1790s into the twenty-first century. The book’s three sections offer readers three different entry points into the conversation: major historical periods, case studies, and ways forward. Historians as well as Christians interested in racial reconciliation will find in this book both help for understanding the problem and hope for building a better future.”

Sister’s in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talks by Delores S. Williams

An iconic book which led to womanist theology, Sister’s in the Wilderness is moving, powerful, and also felt (in my limited theological textual knowledge) very academic. I appreciated the thorough and critical theological analysis and the insistence on examining hermeneutics. I also deeply appreciate the insightful analysis of Hagar and the consistent centering of Black women.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone.

“The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk. Both the cross and the lynching tree represent the worst in human beings and at the same time a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning. While the lynching tree symbolized white power and black death, the cross symbolizes divine power and black life, God overcoming the power of sin and death. For African Americans, the image of Jesus, hung on a tree to die, powerfully grounded their faith that God was with them, even in the suffering of the lynching era.

In a work that spans social history, theology, and cultural studies, Cone explores the message of the spirituals and the power of the blues; the passion and the engaged vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.; he invokes the spirits of Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ida B. Wells, and the witness of black artists, writers, preachers, and fighters for justice. And he remembers the victims, especially the 5,000 who perished during the lynching period. Through their witness he contemplates the greatest challenge of any Christian theology to explain how life can be made meaningful in the face of death and injustice.”

other

Me & White Supremacy by Layla Saad

 “This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.”

White Rage by Carol Anderson

“As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as ‘black rage’, historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Washington Post showing that this was, instead, ‘white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames,’ she wrote, ‘everyone had ignored the kindling.’…Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.”

Young adult fiction

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

“Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are two young men, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. Rashad wakes up in a hospital. Quinn saw how he got there. And so did the video camera that taped the cop beating Rashad senseless into the pavement. Thus begins ALL AMERICAN BOYS, written in tandem by two of our great literary talents, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The story is told in Rashad and Quinn’s alternating perspectives, as they grapple with the complications that spin out of this violent moment and reverberate in their families, school, and town. Over the course of one week, Rashad tries to find the strength to accept his role as the symbolic figure of the community’s response to police brutality, and Quinn tries to decide where he belongs in a town bitterly divided by racial tension.  Ultimately, the two narratives weave back together, in the moment in which the two boys, now changed, can actually see each other—the first step for healing and understanding in a country still deeply sick with racial injustice. Reynolds pens the voice of Rashad, and Kiely has taken the voice of Quinn.”

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Note – while this book isn’t necessarily about anti-Black racism, the hate crime committed speaks to how hate causes harm.

“One teenager in a skirt. One teenager with a lighter. One moment that changes both of their lives forever. If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”

Who Can be Wise?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One thing thing that I’m wrestling with these days is the idea of unpacking constructions of wisdom – particularly constructions of wisdom in the Mennonite church with antiracism work.

& I have some questions that I invite you, if you are open, to engage with – & maybe you have questions too.

Some itchy rhetorical questions (because y’all know I love itchy questions):

1. How has wisdom and the idea of truth (particularly who can be a truth teller and who can be reknown truth tellers) been influenced by white supremacy and how have those ideas informed current systems, practices, policies and curriculum in the Mennonite church both in the micro and macro levels?

2. How do traditional understandings of wisdom (within the Mennonite context) allow or disallow our ability to listen to the needs of those whom are not ethnically Mennonite or white?

Specifically, it strikes me that quote (and I can’t remember who said it) that you cannot love the poor unless you know them (Jesus said something similar but I’m not thinking of the Jesus quote – ironically 😂🤣👀). Ostensibly, it would then seem that unless you love and know the poor you would now have an inkling about what they need specifically because of your relationship with them.

I want to be clear here – relationships with others that span power and privilege dynamics MUST be routinely, intentionally and rigorously self interrogated by those overprivileged. Otherwise – is it a relationship or is it a mission, token, or fetish?

And yet – I wonder about our ability to build relationships in ways that honor one another.

Have we committed to doing that well or is that why so many friend groups remain in the same SES and networking circles?

Do we know how to love one another well?

Do we know how to love or even identify our neighbors?

I think perhaps one thing churches could critically investigate at this moment in time is to interrogate how the church has built relationships.

Are BIPOC people more often than not mission trips?

What are we calling friendships that really aren’t?

It strikes me that we are at this moment in time where I hear a lot of Mennonite churches asking “what BIPOC need…how can we help” and it would seem to me that those churches asking those questions:

1) perhaps do not have a fundamental relationship with people in the global majority or communities in the global majority in ways that have historically amplified BIPOC voices, bodies and lived experiences and

2) may not have listened to what communities are asking (ie: defund the police, reparations, stop gentrification, equitable access to resources, representation, honor the lived experiences of Black people, protect Black LGBTQ persons, bring back our girls, #NODAPL, no kids in cages etc.,).

I think these questions go back to the idea of wisdom because the church has a history of hearing voices of people in the global majority and systematically writing them off as not theological, too “spiritual,” “too charismatic,” “too liberal or worldly” or simply not Mennonite enough in doctrine – which is just a plain old dog whistle.

The other day a girlfriend called me in about something that I did.

& I had to take a hot minute to think about my actions and listened to how my behavior impacted her.

It wasn’t easy to hear.

But it was important for me to hear.

& hearing it and growing and course correcting and repenting is critical – CRITICAL – to this journey.

I apologized.

But it took time to repair the damage.

In fact – she didn’t owe me anything. She could’ve said that it was too much and she didn’t want to be friends and I would’ve had to hear that and respect that.

Here’s the tea – Black folk have been asking for what we need in the Mennonite church for decades. This isn’t new post George Floyd.

So, it often seems disingenuous to see new laments and new statements being issued when the Mennonite church knows what it is being asked.

& it seems even more deeply harmful when reparations are given but given within systems that keep the same power structures and then demand receipts via questions like: “what was the money spent on?” or “how y’all gonna spend the money?”

When we say Black Lives Matter we also mean listen to and trust Black wisdom.

Listen and trust that Black people also were made in the image of God and hold divinity.

Listen & trust our lived experiences.

Upward & Onward Together