race

Oklahoma Pastors give me hope when Oklahoma legislators don’t

My chaplain friend Vinson said it best:

jesus A picture is worth a thousand words.

But if you haven’t heard the controversy, here’s the basic rundown:

An Oklahoma legislator has decided that the current laws on the books about wearing hoods during crimes are not sufficient. (That law, by the way goes back to the 1920s and was the state’s way of reigning in the violent acts by Klansmen in one of the most racially divided states in the union at the time, with some of the ugliest hate crimes against the Black community.)

State Senator Don Barrington is proposing an additional law that threatens up to a $500 fee for wearing a hoodie (or other covering) to disguise one’s identity: “To wear a mask, hood or covering, which conceals the identity of the wearer during the commission of a crime or for the purpose of coercion, intimidation or harassment; or To intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” You can read a large chunk of the bill here, and you should, if only because a piece of legislation being proposed in 2015 uses the phrase “minstrel troupes” as an acceptable reason for wearing a face covering. (What are you people in Oklahoma doing with your free time? Taking time travel trips back to 1861?)

I am sympathetic to anyone who feels a small sense of despair about humanity at this point.

What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of people have read the bill and believe on its face it is not problematic. (My guess is that they didn’t read far enough to read the phrase “minstrel show,” but…)

And this is what is incredibly complex about issues of race in America today as opposed to 50 years ago. Today, there’s not a whole lot that on its face seems problematic or racist or opposed to free speech.

Our nation’s drug laws do not read racist on their face.

Our criminal justice structure does not read racist on its face.

Our policies for controlling mass demonstrations neither seem racist on their face nor as if they might be seeking to limit freedom of expression.

And yet the way they function in our society functions to hold up systems of oppression that protect White privilege and harm Black communities and communities of color.

I have concerns about the way this law might be implemented. I have concerns that it will be an excuse to target young Black men who are viewed with suspicion. I have concerns it will be used as an excuse to target in particular people of color who are expressing their first amendment rights to stand up against issues like police brutality, because as I read it, the proposed legislation is not just about committing crime (which previous legislation already does) but about people at public demonstrations. Because our whole nation has been trained to assume that young Black men are probably planning to do something dangerous; they just haven’t accomplished it yet. And then we encourage our police to act in our behalf.

But I’m not the only one concerned, and more importantly, I’m not the only one of faith.

A friend of mine made sure I read an article today about the head of our denomination’s Black community (National Convocation) and his role in protesting the hoodie act. And a White Disciples pastor was quoted in the same article as participating in the same action.

Rev Jackson will preach in a hoodie on January 18.

On Sunday, January 18, many Oklahoma pastors will don hoodies as they preach from their pulpits to bring attention to this legislation which will be considered the week of Martin Luther King Day.

I reached out to the two pastors from the article, Rev Jesse Jackson (Oklahoma City) and Rev Michael Riggs (Tulsa).

Rev. Jackson was on his way to a funeral, but I asked Rev. Riggs what his faith motivation was for participating in this action. Here was his response:

“By wearing a hoodie in church, Christians demonstrate the radical empathy of Christ with the marginalized and oppressed by standing (or in this case wearing hoodies) in solidarity with them, advocating God’s freedom and justice for all peoples in peace and love. Because hoodies have become associated with social justice movements such as Occupy and BlackLivesMatter, the proposed Oklahoma legislation reaches far beyond criminal activity — it makes for easy criminalization of those who would publicly voice their dissent. Just as Jesus ate with the sinner and tax collector (and others pushed to the margins of society in his time), both hearing their and giving them voice, I believe he would wear a hoodie for and with them. I choose to do the same.”

I don’t know if I have anything to add except Amen.

If you have friends in faith communities in Oklahoma, please share this with them. AND EVERYONE CAN PARTICIPATE IN WEAR-A-HOODIE-TO-CHURCH SUNDAY! What a powerful opportunity to witness and help their state legislature be its best self.

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My sermon at Cathedral of Hope a year ago

I am really honored that I got the chance to preach at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas when Jim Mitulski was interim minister there. I got to lead an anti-oppression/anti-racism training filled with 45 of the most amazing folks, and I remain in contact with several of them today.

Cathedral of Hope has done so much to create healing and love in the face of hatred and harm. On MLK weekend a year ago, I got to share a message with an inspiring congregation at the invitation of an inspiring friend and colleague.

https://www2.cathedralofhope.com/worship/2014-worship/118-2014-january/2512-january-19-sermon

Christmas values – Day 11: Overcoming fear

A friend of mine has vowed to recognize every action as an act of love or reaching out for love.

She vowed that in the midst of the Ferguson and New York protests and possibly even after the police shootings that was followed by some truly alarming statements by Fraternal Orders of Police and police officers’ unions (the Bay Area’s statement was somewhat tame in comparison) about the need for a police state and unquestioning loyalty to the police. (Another friend explained that they were doing what unions do — assuring their members that they have their members’ backs under any circumstances, in ways that can be alarming or seem entrenched and militant and hostile to outsiders; he noted that teachers’ union statements can come off as militant and unyielding as well, although I bet they don’t talk about teachers as the only barrier against anarchy and chaos and the only line of defense of civilization.)

I would like to be as compassionate as my friend, because in my heart I believe that is true; it’s just that many of us have been scarred so much that our expressions of love or need for love have become misshapen in some incredibly problematic ways.

And so my intermediary step is this: I’m going to start trying to find compassion for the FEAR that underlies aggressive language and behavior. (more…)

Thoughts on Serial, my killer ex, and Whose Lives Matter

I’m finally listening to the series Serial that everyone’s talking about (or at least all of my intellectual liberal White friends). It’s about a guy who’s been in prison for 15 years for killing his high school ex-girlfriend except he maybe didn’t do it.

(As an aside, I’m on episode 8, and finally an attorney from the Innocence Project at UVA just said something I found myself thinking in episode 1: It’s interesting that the guy in prison was pretty much their only candidate even though the case was pretty shaky, and that they described his “dark side” and how he was “controlling” in their relationship even though the ex hadn’t experienced him that way. He’s Pakistani, which is why I found the descriptions of his personality interesting. Hello, profiling.)

Listening to the show and all of the evidence gathering and so forth reminded me of my own brief interactions with the Baltimore PD back in 1996. I googled my ex-boyfriend who is still behind bars and came across a quirky after-the-crime story. He brought a case in 2000 demanding that Johns Hopkins University grant him the degree he had earned; he finished his degree work in December 1995 and killed his best friend on campus in April 1996. Hopkins didn’t offer early degrees, so he would have received his degree in May 1996, but the university decided that killing a fellow student on campus was grounds for withholding his diploma. The court supported the university’s decision. The homicide unit called me in the immediate aftermath of the 1996 shooting to ask a few questions but weren’t all that interested in my answers because it was such an open-and-shut case. (The ex’s defense attorney was much more interested in me because he had read all of my ex’s and my emails and said he felt like he knew me. If you wonder why I care about internet privacy, it’s because I know how embarrassing the violation of internet privacy feels.)

We’ve fallen out of touch over the years, but I remember the ex telling me in a phone conversation maybe 6 months into his sentence that the inmates were watching a cops-and-robbers movie and everyone else was cheering for the robbers, and he was still rooting for the cops. He definitely didn’t think he belonged there.[1] (more…)

The Ballad of Harry Moore

Preached at First Congregational Church of Oakland, December 14, 2014.I’ve had the story of one of our forebears on my heart recently on this Black Lives Matter Sunday. So while I was supposed to preach “People Get Ready,” my sermon this morning is actually “The Ballad of Harry Moore,” as written by Langston Hughes and set to music by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

It seems I hear Harry Moore; from the earth his voice still cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold, for freedom never dies.
Freedom never dies, I say. Freedom never dies.
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold for freedom never dies.

Some people call Harry Moore the first martyr of the civil rights movement – he was killed by the Ku Klux Klan on Christmas night, 1951.

A teacher himself, Harry Moore fought for fair pay for Black teachers in Florida, and for the right to vote for Black people throughout the 1940s. He investigated lynchings and worked in the most rural parts of the state, where the risk was highest and the gains particularly hard-fought. During his time as a field organizer, Florida had the highest voter registration level of African Americans of any state in the south: 33%, despite it being some of the toughest terrain in which to organize. In fact, Harry Moore’s determination to work at the most hopeless edges of the movement had just earned him a demotion within the movement, and his opposition to an increase in membership dues actually got him fired from his position with the NAACP. But that Christmas was the Moores’ 25th wedding anniversary, and they celebrated that whatever their status in the organization, they continued to be part of the movement. (more…)

Things said and left unsaid at #MillionsMarchOAK

Thousands gathered in Oakland yesterday, joining with marchers in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. I marched with them, as part of the API solidarity contingent. And I found myself reflecting on what my solidarity looks like with this movement.

from the podium

What I did say:

  • Black Lives Matter. Sometimes I want to clarify, “Black lives should matter more than they do,” because a lot of people are irritated by the slogan and seem to miss the point. But without hesitation I said it.
  • Tell the truth, stop the lies, Mike Brown didn’t have to die. I’ve been surprised and disappointed by how much explaining away of Mike Brown’s death (and even Eric Garner’s death) has happened among people who understand themselves to be against racism. Additionally, good and decent citizens I know have explained away the undercover CHP officer pulling a weapon on an agitated protest crowd this past Thursday. Yes, when under attack in this country people do have the right to defend themselves. But perhaps this situation wouldn’t have arisen if they hadn’t infiltrated the crowd disguised as anarchists looking to break some windows at a moment that tensions between police and civilians are particularly high, particularly in relation to fears of a resurgence in COINTELPRO.
  • I…I believe…I believe that…I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN! This was the chant that closed out the rally. It felt both desperate and hopeful, because the goal of this campaign is so big, and yet it is what many of us have been working towards for years without believing we will actually win on a large scale – the rooting out of systemic racism from our structures of government, including those systems that protect and defend.
  • APIs in solidarity with Black Lives. One of my favorite things about the community I have found here in Oakland is that other communities of color recognize that our own struggles for dignity and value matter, and that those struggles are deeply connected to the culture of anti-Blackness in America. In recent weeks, I’ve been in conversations with API activists who recognize that our immigration rights are connected to the civil rights struggle, and that we are often used as a lever or fulcrum in the racial hierarchization that keeps White privilege in place and keeps Black people on the bottom. (I am also grateful for the Model Minority Mutiny, which additionally brings attention to the ways the model minority myth functions to benefit Asian Americans like me at the expense of many of my API brothers and sisters who are refugees, poor, darker skinned, Muslim, and so on, buying the silence of those who benefit from the model minority myth.) And I am grateful that simultaneously some of us are taking seriously what it means to be in solidarity with the Latino community around both immigration and indigenous rights and dignity in this country. It all needs to happen.allives

What I didn’t say: (more…)

This bridge called my back in this new civil rights movement moment

Navigating “not Black or White” and “Nonviolent but not non-violent” as an ally and activist

I suspect every woman of color in America has at multiple points felt that Donna Kate Rushin wrote the Bridge poem for her. As I wonder whether the bonds of friendship with my radical anarchist friends of color will hold and if the bonds of friendship with my White liberal friends will hold, I caution myself not to be so melodramatic as to think my experience is anywhere near as painful as hers, but I’m so grateful she wrote it:

 

In part, it reads,

I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks
To the ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the
Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…  

Then
I’ve got to explain myself
To everybody  

I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N. 

I’m not Black. (more…)