My chaplain friend Vinson said it best:
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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