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Where to Find Me: Writing Elsewhere

Today, I'm over at TueNight whose tagline, Somehow, we're grownups, always leaves me laughing. It's a piece on the topic of Freedom.

My piece, "Like Crickets to Fireworks: Blogging About Race", follows my journey as a writer since 2005.

When I first started writing online and mentioned race no one ever wanted to jump in the discussion. 

Now, it seems like that's such a hot topic (for obvious reasons) and maybe we're finally getting to a place where we can no longer ignore race in this country. Maybe, after the Mother Emanuel AME church tragedy, we're ready to have some serious conversations. Here's a snippet of what I'm writing about:


Check it out.


Institutional Racism in the Church

This is different for me, but I'm going to begin with other people's words who, this past week, have had some important things to say.

These are a just a few messages I read this week from white, well-known Christians (all women) who seem to understand the role of the church in response to racism. 

I know (because so many of you tell me privately) that as a white person, you are afraid to talk about racism publicly. You're worried about getting the language right, the tone right, the facts right. You're nervous about the inevitable backlash.

Maybe we can start here together, friends: when we see evil racism in front of us, we name it, expose it, and condemn it. We don't protect the specificity of it by brushing it under the "sin umbrella" without naming its evil roots. We would never tell a rape victim that it wasn't heinous sexual abuse that deserves addressing, but it's just an unnamed sin. Nor would we ignore the necessary justice component of that abuse with a spiritual whitewash.

So for those of you hoping to become allies to the black community, today we can declare together that Dylann Roof committed a racially-motivated mass murder, and we condemn it as the Bride of Christ.

Just that. We see it, we name it, and we condemn it. The end. And we commit to join you in the healing process.

Jen Hatmaker

Yesterday, in response to the ‪#‎CharlestonShooting‬, I posted about the importance of being still.

Last night, I lie in bed wondering how that sentiment might have been received by the black community. Right now, I said -- in the wake of the murder of nine black people, what white people should do is Be Still – “Attend a vigil. Stop with your family to pray. Light a candle at dinner. Give to Mother Emanuel. Just sit for a moment and send love. Send love.”

I wondered about that. I wondered how the message “Love Wins” might sound to the black community right now. I wondered if it was easy for me to believe that Love Wins, since the odds are forever rigged in my favor. I wondered these things for most of the night. And when I woke up, this is the hard truth I was left staring at -- this is why I wonder instead of know: because I am almost forty years old and I do not have a single black friend. Acquaintances, yes; friends, no. I do not have a single black friend whom I could call last night and say: “I’m listening. Please tell me how to support you. Tell me what to do and how to do it and how to lead. Point me towards the people who will teach me how to be an ally -- how to be a white leader who leads good people into this and through this.”

Perhaps I cannot be a friend to the black community because I am not even a friend to a black person.

How is it possible that I have arranged my life in such a way that this could be true? I don’t know. I just know that’s one of the many reasons I don’t know how to lead you. I’m sorry that I have not done the hard work that prepares a person and a leader for a moment like this.

Here a couple of things I do know today:

To those who claim, still, that this is simply about one man’s mental illness; who think the answer to this tragedy lies entirely “inside the mind of the killer” -- Let me say: No. That’s denial. Don’t look at him. Look at US. Our country’s denial of racism is -- at best -- a severe, deadly collective case of delusion. Let us not carry on with the denial that will keep us sick. Looking into our OWN collective mind is a critical part of the answer. Because at this point the denial of racism can only be racism itself.

To those who are Christians and asking me how to respond – I’ll let Amy speak, since she’s the Christian I respect the most. This morning I emailed Amy a few of the paragraphs above along with a note that said: “I’m scared. I’m so scared to talk about this. I’m so scared to say the wrong thing and hurt people. I’m so afraid I’ll get crucified.”

Amy wrote back five minutes later and said: “You might. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe sometimes we have to walk into crucifixions knowingly. We do have a model for that. “

Let us not be afraid of crucifixion. Let us be terrified of refusing to lay down our lives for our friends.

Some of you are saying: USE YOUR VOICE. I want to use my voice, but mostly I want to use this platform to lift up other voices -- voices of people who have done the work. Please link in the comments to people who are speaking up BRAVELY and KINDLY and who will help us educate ourselves and activate ourselves and unify and heal ourselves.

I would also like to ask a personal favor. I would like to be invited into the hard work. I would like to be invited to learn how to be a white leader working responsibly towards racial reconciliation. If anyone would like to invite me to a place or a church or a meeting or (I don’t know what it is) please do. I want to be invited. I want to learn from those who know.


Glennon Doyle Melton


I am afraid to talk about racism for fear of doing it wrong.

I'm afraid I'll start a conversation I'm not prepared for, afraid I'll misuse the language of privilege and oppression, afraid I'll offend someone.

But I'm not afraid I'll be murdered on the street, or shot at the park, or slaughtered in a Church for the color of my skin... So it's been easy to stay quiet.

To be honest, I still don't know what to say, but I can't keep saying nothing while my neighbor is terrorized by Hate and Violence. I was born white, but not silent.

Racism exists. I won't ignore it.

I won't ignore YOU.


Jamie the Very Worst Missionary


I have an interesting relationship with printing presses and religion and, while I wasn’t born anywhere near 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first movable type press, they’ll forever be connected for me. First, because my father was a printer when I was a kid and we girls were required to work in the shop learning the trade. There were more modern machines, naturally, and we weren’t allowed to work the really dangerous machines. Second, because my dad used the Bible as an example of something that was mass-produced thanks to the printing press.

My relationship with organized religion is strained but not uncomfortable for me. My parents come from strong Catholic families and the first 5 years were spent at Catholic school. By the time I was able to choose after we moved from Chicago, my sister and I begged not to have to go there anymore. We met evangelical people in our new home and one of them was my health teacher. He was constantly putting quotes on the blackboard with Biblical themes and telling us things he certainly shouldn’t have said in public school.

When his son manipulated our relationship enough to pressure me to have sex with him and I got pregnant, this proselytizing man packed up the family and left me to raise my baby alone. At some point, before they moved, someone went into his classroom and wrote “Clean up your own house before you try to clean up everyone else’s”. To say my formative years were fraught with messages of what loud-mouthed, objectionable, religious people were capable of when it came to differentiating between what one says and what one does is an understatement.

This isn’t an attempt to make a tenuous connection to discussing race and racism within church. They’re simply my own experiences.

My grandmother and aunt both cooked for the priests in their parishes for most of their lives. In college, I joined a Disciples of Christ church, considered converting to Judaism for a guy I dated, and watched as my mother began attending a Buddhist temple. As an adult, I made friends with some Calvinists and more than a handful of Quakers. I’ve belonged to non-denominational churches and Baptist churches. When I see a nun, I still nearly cross myself. I’ve read The Bible through twice. Three years ago I finally picked up and read The Quran for the first time. This year I’m marrying a Preacher’s Kid whose father is a retired minister from the Assembly of God church.


Of all those genres in religion, I’m probably most impressed with the Dominican Sisters I’ve recently come to know that are working with the coalition to which I belong that promotes anti-racism. (I am compelled to use the term “Sister” when addressing them, too, and can’t just use their first names. Old habits die-hard. My apologies for that unintentional pun.)

I was amused after visiting Ethiopia that they consider American missionaries laughable. The beginning of the Nile starts here. We’re Orthodox Christians. Why do they come here to convert us? Our history of Christianity is older than yours!

Attending organized religion is very different from spirituality and I’m often reminded of that when I think of what my friend Brooke says, “Since when did church need a building?” I do, however, understand the need to gather together. I do not, though, understand why many churches are elaborately looking like country clubs and museums. Both effects add to how people behave in them, I think. Maybe my bias towards old buildings and gothic churches is showing.

Which brings us to yesterday, the first Sunday since the massacre at the AME church in Charleston.

Many of my friends come from different faiths and I noticed a large number of them lamenting their disappointment in church (those of the Christian faith) ignoring the elephant in the room. It wasn’t just the massacre of Black Americans, though. It was the acknowledgment of white privilege and living in a racist society. These are 101 Racism folks, either. These aren’t people who believe in the fallacies of “colorblindness” or the Model Minority Myth or the belief in a meritocracy system with that whole “bootstraps” baloney. These are people who understand racism as the institution that it is.

I work in one. The American public school system can easily be indicted as a system that routinely practices de facto segregation all over the country whereby the struggling schools end up being all that’s offered to minority populations.

Neighborhoods that have gentrified are another institutionally racist practice that benefits those whose white privilege affords them housing that displaces the poor and minority residents.

Churches are another institution. 

If businesses and prison complex systems and industries have to address racism, so do churches.

Some were vocal about race as a factor in the murders of those in the AME church. Many of my Unitarian Universalist friends would be surprised if it weren’t mentioned in their service since they’re so heavily. This goes for the friends who attend Evangelical Lutherans. A friend in Harrisburg, PA offered this piece to read.

Another friend, Stacey, mentioned that her pastor previously visited The White House racial reconciliation prayer after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO.

Another friend, Katie, wrote about it on her own blog.

Another friend, Melissa, mentioned that her Episcopal bishop wrote a note in their bulletin, which is not a regular occurrence but that he focused mostly on gun control and not race.

Others, however, were dangerously silent on the issue of race.

Dangerously. Pathologically.

Much of my day on Monday was spent surveying those industries, many local, to see what they offered. I wanted to see if there would be a call to action as a response. I hoped that there would be an opportunity to speak about race within their buildings, their own institutions where racism has a hold.

Here’s a summary of those findings for 10 local churches:

  • Many of them focused on Father’s Day and kept that the focus of their sermon.
  • Some were in the middle of a series and didn’t pause to address racism.
  • One of them used a Jimmy Fallon type skit with the Father’s Day theme (and uses a terribly sexist punchline which demonstrates me how hard comedy really is)
  • One of them had a guest speaker who didn't address it at all nor was it mentioned by the pastor as he was introducing him.
  • Many took time to pray at the beginning of the service, read the names of the dead, and then moved on with the originally planned message, not tying them together in any way or calling out the sin of racism.

Please listen here, church leaders and friends. I promise you that condemning the white privilege you're afforded doesn't guarantee that the pulpit will burst into flames. God seems to "give a word" to people quite often and I'm left with this question: does God give you a word about the horrors of institutional racism that you ignore? 

Because we're still not hearing it from predominantly white churches or leaders. Not on a grand scale anyway. There are pockets of people who are getting it and feeling convicted (an overly used phrase in the church in my experience) enough to preach on it. Do you need a Word this morning? Listen to this from C. Andrew Doyle in Texas. It's less than 24 minutes long but dude goes in exactly when he should.

Many people I know are starting to, for the first time since I've known them, take this conversation to another level. They're recognizing what they're teaching their children in their homes, what they're allowing to be said in their presence, and they're not letting their own privileges go unchecked. It's incredibly uncomfortable work when you start and I can make you another promise here: it gets easier once you see it. You won't get to go back to a place where you can't.

That's on the personal level.

On the church level? We have some work to do.

One of the people I actually spoke with yesterday is a lead pastor of a church here in Springfield, IL. He agreed to hop on the phone with me to have a discussion and we discussed the liturgy prayer they offered. He even allowed me to push back on that.

Yes, but let me ask you a question. Did you look into the eyes of the Black members of your church and say, 'I know you're hurting. Maybe you're even scared to be here. Perhaps you feel anxiety about stepping foot in a place whose sacredness was violated this week in Charleston. We hold you, we're standing in the gap for you, we want to surround you right now with nothing but love and comfort. Did you do that? Because let me tell you something. Those people brought trauma with them into church on Sunday. If it wasn't addressed then how is that taking care of a flock?

He let me step on his toes with that. His response was that he hadn't considered it and his honesty in that moment made me not want to beat up on him. Nor is my goal to beat up on The Church as a whole. 

As a whole, The Church is an institution. One whose history is fraught with racism, the enslavement of Americans stolen from other lands, and one who has, for centuries, cherry-picked verses which served the purpose of continuing to subjugate races. 

If that institution doesn't address racism then I believe they are complicit in their silence. 


Photo courtesy of Karen Gerwin, used with permission



Let's Get To The Work of Anti Racism

We haven't, historically, wanted to call this work what it was when it comes to racism in America. That is simply fact if we take into account our collective work. Today, of course, is one of those days when it's smack in our faces in a way we cannot ignore no matter how much ignorance accompanies that. Today, many Americans are still mourning the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Today, many Americans know the history of that church, the truth behind the motives of the terrorist, and the sickening behavior that perpetuated his praying with Black church members for an hour before murdering them.


Today is, also, Juneteenth. Google it. 

Today is, also, a day when I get asked the million dollar question: what can I do to help in this work? How do we fight racism? Like, really fight it?

If that were an easy answer, we would have done it already. But this battle is tied up in traditions and policies and implicit bias and internalized messages that we live and act out.

So, let's loosen up this forcefield around conversations of race and how to become an anti-racist. Because it takes action to do this and cannot lie in our "liking" of a Facebook post or screaming WHEN WILL THIS END? HAVE WE HIT THE BOTTOM YET?

(Though, admittedly, that feels good to do to shake it loose.)

Often, I tell people about how I can't wake up and not know what race I am and that's not just because I feel Black. I'll give you an example from a good (white) friend of mine who lives in Texas, but I'm changing her name to protect this personal story. 

Kris has lived in Texas her whole life and, on the occasions I get to visit with her she repeats the same phrase all the time. "Well, I'm a proud 4th generation Texas, so, of course!"

It seems to be in response to something like when I ask if she likes Mexican food or swimming in ponds or knows something historical. For years, this grated on my nerves and I couldn't put my finger on it so I decided to ask her:

Every time you say I'm a 4th generation Texan I wonder what that means. What does that mean? I mean it in all seriousness. 

She laughed as her first response and stammered about for a moment until she responded to my question with a question. 

What do you MEAN what does it mean? It means my family has lived and worked here for 4 generations.

Yes, but what does that mean to you? Why is it an important source of pride?

We LIVE here! We're proud to be from here and own all this land and we have my grandmother's heirlooms and my grandfather's farming equipment. Aren't you proud of where you're from?

She made me search for a moment and I considered the Northern Migration written about in Isabel Wilkerson's book The Warmth of Other Suns that I tout often. As proud as I am to be a native Chicagoan it isn't something I make a regular part of my conversation. I'm a 4th generation Chicagoan sounds odd. But, I'm equally proud to consider my parental heritage homes of South Dakota and Louisiana.

We battled over this for quite a while (and some really good margaritas were involved) until I got to the crux of it and that is the privilege her family has enjoyed in that land. It's not without its Americanism, either. There are enslaved people involved and ownership that was gained through the transfer of land from Native Americans as well. It's hard to be proud of something you earn through theft. But, her secret and silent racist tendencies were really difficult to reconcile. 

This work isn't easy, but you already knew that. Yet, my friends are still asking how to do it. As much as violence against Black bodies is an exhausting part of American life, the friends who ask this of me and others is equally as exhausting. Sometimes, if I'm being perfectly honest, this irritates me because, well. I think that's obvious and I don't need to state it.

The conversations I've found myself in for the last several years have, I admit, finally been a conversation and not just me yelling into a void or having private conversations with just people of color. It's so much easier these days to combat and mention the ridiculousness of "color-blindness" because we have tools at our disposal as well as real and true stories of what color means. Incidentally, those nuances and style of "color-blindness" are something that Eduardo Bonilla-Silva mentions in the third chapter of his book, Racism Without Racists. The title of that chapter is "The Style of Color Blindness: How to Talk Nasty About Minorities Without Sounding Racist".

That's just one thing that I've used to spark conversations.

But, our work is cut out for us. Here's what I truly believe: we can't sustain this current stage and the only thing, besides the speaking up by our white allies, is doing the work of Anti Racism. 

Until we break those carefully constructed walls, face our past and reconcile it with why things are the way they are, and actively seek that change, we're going to remain right here. Mind you, this isn't the work for people who don't even see it as a problem. This here is work for the grown folks. 

Let me ask a question: do you recognize racism and implicit bias in your place of work? Our jobs, our businesses, our industries are filled with that nasty stuff and it doesn't just go away when you hire that Model Minority and pretend like that fixed everything. 

Contact your places of employment and get them to DO THIS WORK. Bring in anti racism trainers to dismantle this monstrous problem. It's one thing to talk to your family and friends and reach out in communities, but it's another to attack this problem in the places that are our livelihood. 

1. The one I'm currently working with is Crossroads AntiRacism Organizing and Training. The definition we use is this: race prejudice + the misuse of power by systems and institutions = racism.

Racism dehumanizes us all —
Dismantling racism heals us all.

Recognizing that racism goes beyond personal prejudice, Crossroads offers a distinctive Power Analysis of how racism functions in institutions, and offers tools to create antiracist transformation.


2. There is Community Change, Inc where my good friend Shay Stewart-Bouley is the Executive Director. She writes a fabulous blog named Black Girl in Maine which you should check out as well.

Community Change was born out of the Civil Rights Movement and in response to the Kerner Commission which named racism as "a white problem." CCI has done what few organizations are willing to do: shine a spotlight on the roots of racism in white culture with the intention of dealing with racism at its source, as well as with its impact on communities of color.

Shay kindly offered a resource for people looking to start somewhere today. She said to me:

"I often tell white folks the best place to start is by reading Debby Irving's Waking Up White. Debby is a colleague and friend of mine and her book is like 101 level designed for people just entering the conversation of race and anti-racism."

3. There is Interaction Institute, People's Institute which offers sessions for individuals. 

Our staff, affiliates and board have experience working in communities, progressive organizations and social justice movements around the world. We understand the challenges you are facing to create lasting change. We bring our skill, experience and passion – and our focus on the lenses of equity and power, networks and love – to your project to help you move forward.  We put together the best team for each project to help you maximize results.


Our cultural values get lived out in our institutions and Anti-racism work IS the reparations part of our work.

That means we have to start mapping our history with racist policies and practices and then we have to start changing them. 

That means we can't fall victim to the derailing of race conversations and we must start having an agreement that we're going to do this work together. It has fallen, historically, on people of color in America. 

That means the uncoordinated efforts for change agencies cannot live in a silo. Join something. Read something. Say something.

That means that instead of using empty terms like diversity and equity and inclusion and multiculturalism have to be addressed in the body of work of Anti Racism. That means we can't substitute those kinder, gentler words when we really mean race.

That means tearing down the "But we're all just the human race" low-level thoughts that lead us to the racist monocultural efforts of our ancestors.

That means we have to admit that you can be a multicultural institution but still not be antiracist.

That means getting eyeball-to-eyeball with how the racist power has levels to it in terms of disempowering and oppressing people of color. That means acknowledging how this country has provided unearned privileges and power to socialize us into racialized rules and roles that misshape identity. 

That means confessing and denouncing that we have ensnared and dehumanized whole races of people and continue to use dog-whistles and coded language.

That means owning that we're complicit in kidnapping the narrative to ensure that whites stay in positions that neither concede our colonialism nor the power that has to create generational racism.

Where we are currently, in the conflict and chaos stage, is a painful place to be. It is, as Jon Stewart mentioned in his entirely humorless segment on The Daily Show last night, a "gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn't exist".

The conflict and chaos stage is not sustainable. Do you want to know what the work is? It's leaving this place and doing this work. 

Photo courtesy of Beloved Festival 

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