Posted on Leave a comment

Disrupting Systemic Racism

Rust cog in a machine
Cog (Levine, 2013).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about systems lately. If you think in terms of a thermostat, you set the temperature, the AC or heat kicks on, when the temperature gets to the desired degree, the AC or heat system holds the temperature constant until you manually change (or disrupt) it again. You are external to the AC or heat system, put you participate in its output of cooling or heating. In many ways, this as a way to think about dismantling systemic racism.

Spinning system of cogs as a brain
Cog (Stcynine, 2008)

Another way to think about it, are cogs in machines. You take one cog out and the system may fall apart or work less efficiently. Sometimes cogs rust, teeth break, or get stuck, and the only way to break them free is to apply some oil and a use wrench, chisel and hammer, or what ever tools you have to remove the cog.

I used to think that dismantling systems requires working within the system to change it. But that is only partially true. Sometimes it takes one person to step outside of the system to to apply the oil and disrupt the system enough so those that participate within the system can change it. In other words, it takes both internal and external work. Internal work may be examining how you see through your own positionality. As a white-skinned cisgendered male, I had to examine how my own colorblindness was itself a racist assumption. As someone who works within many systems such as academia, faith-based, and community systems, I am able to speak into them against systemic racism because others have been brave enough to step out of those systems. Externally, as a white-skinned Queer male, I try to be a visible witness against systemic racism and speak into the white-skinned male supremacist patriarchy in hopes to influence someone to think differently about systemic racism. Realizing that I alone cannot change the world, I may influence someone who has authority and power within the system to change how it operates.

How will you disrupt systemic racism today?

Hand holding a single giant cog.
Giant cog (Pet, 2005).

References

Levine, A. (2013, October 7). Cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/gt3aLn). CC BY 2.0.

Pete. (2005, June 28). Giant_cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/2Y7EH). CC BY-SA 2.0

Stcynine. (2008, December 4). Cogs [GIF]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/5GidGv). CC BY 2.0.

Posted on Leave a comment

Misguided Assumptions

Every now and then, my own implicit bias rears its ugly head and exposes my racist attitudes in new and unexpected ways. I have been listening to The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creating class classroom by Felecia Rose Chavez (2021).

Chavez (2020)

However sincere my intentions were, Chavez (2021) has me asking what are the underlying assumptions am I making in my teaching? The truth is, my white-skinned savior complex has been operating under the guise of helping. I have been guilty of working harder with black-skinned and brown-skinned students to ensure their success by showing and telling them how to improve their writing, speak their voice, locate references for their topics, and citing their sources in APA 7 format. Point blank, I have been assuming that black-skinned and brown-skinned need that extra help. I am guilty of upholding the white-skinned supremacy of institutional and systemic racism in my battle against the same. I have been playing the role of white savior in my classroom.

Deconstructing racism and disassembling systemic barriers requires challenging a worldview system that has privileged whiteness and, in my case, interrogating my white-skinned assumptions.

What assumptions are you making with your well-intentioned anti-racist work?

References

Chavez, F. R. (2021). The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creative classroom. Haymarket Books.

DiAngelo, R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Beacon Press.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Color and Gender of God

I read the book, The Shack (Young, 2007), well before it became a popular read, the movie was produced, and it was a topic of discussion in Christian book circles. I loved the character of God in the book, who was a Black woman named Papa. The juxtaposition of a feminine God with a masculine name combined with the narrative of God as Black versus the white patriarch character I had been introduced to in my Christian journey resonated with me.

In an early post on my blog, Racism – How very white of you, I have a blog entry titled, What Color Is Your Jesus? (Cook-Snell, 2020a). In that I write, “So why do we (white Christians) usually portray Christ as white? Of those pictures that show a black Jesus, most are associated with the crucified Christ versus the everyday living, breathing, eating, and miracle working Jesus (Marsh, 2004). Marsh (2004) posits when we (white Christians) see pictures of everyday black Jesus, we cannot relate and cannot see ourselves in a crowd of black and brown people following a Black Jesus.” Depicted in that entry is the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas, a Black crucified Jesus (Cook-Snell, 2020).

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (n.d.).

I hold these images in my mind while I currently listen to God is a Black Woman, written by theologian Christena Cleveland (2022). Cleveland’s discussion (and I’m only in chapter 2), brings in the feminine God and counters the B.C.E. and C. E. imagery of God. She challenges the Indo-European, Greco-Roman, and westernized traditions of a masculine, white-skinned God. She questions how this imagery continues to relegate and push to the margins of Christianity those who have been held captive to doctrine, racism, heterosexism, ableism, genderism, and the other “-ism’s” plaguing both the secular and the sacred.

Realizing the capturing and enslavement of black and brown persons fed both the European and the subsequent rise to dominance of the settlers on stolen land that was colonized by white-skinned individuals was sanctioned by the capital “C” church as authorized in the Doctrine of Discovery (Cook-Snell, 2020b), it is time for the capital “C” church to question how we have depicted God and the harm this has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate. As a member of the United Church of Christ, I am thankful that our denomination has, and continues to, stand in the gap for marginalized, minoritized, and underrepresented persons, but we still have more work.

References

Black Madonna of Częstochowa. (n.d.).In Wikipedia. Retrieved from February 22, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

Cleveland, C. (2022). God is a black woman [Audio Version]. HarperCollins.

Cook-Snell, B. (2020a, January 31). What color is your Jesus? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/01/31/what-color-is-your-jesus/

Cook-Snell, B. (2020b, March 26). The WASP’s nest? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/03/26/the-wasps-nest/

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56. https://doi.org/10.1558/blth.2004.2.1.45

Young, W. P. (2007). The shack. Windblown Media.

Posted on Leave a comment

Critical Race Theory

Books on Critical Race Theory

I am an antiracist activist and believe that the public school system needs to decolonize the curricula. Decolonizing the curricula allows for the voices of the traditionally marginalized and minoritized communities to be heard, learned from, and punctuate how a white centered lens has been used in education as the norm of instruction. Based upon my limited knowledge, critical race theory (CRT) seems to consider not only the white-centric lens, but the lenses of African Americans, LatinX, Natives, Asian, and other minoritized and marginalized communities. Recent protestors outside city hall in the City of Virginia Beach, where I live, argued that CRT is a ploy to give preferential treatment to students of color in the school system at the expense of white students.

I seriously question this assumption and believe it is a lack of understanding and misinterpretation of CRT. Because of this, and because I plan on running for the Virginia Beach City School Board as an at-large representative, I need to better understand CRT. The challenge will be reading and writing from an objective point-of-view because I am actively engaged in breaking down the barriers of systemic racism. However, I am an academic scholar, credentialed in education and education research, so I will do my best to apply my academic lens and included the data along with the discussions.

I will be looking at the overarching question of what is critical race theory (CRT) and is it an appropriate lens to be used in public school education? Along with that, I will investigate why are people protesting or supporting CRT, and what political efforts are being done to oppose or support CRT?

Posted on Leave a comment

Badge of Shame

Slave Patrol Badge (howard_mooreland, 2017).

Even as I look at my white world through my white eyes I see the disparity in treatment between white and black and white and brown by law enforcement. As enlightened as I try to be, my truth of my white self still grapples with categorically judging an entire branch of law enforcement based upon the acts of highly publicized cases. I was taught to respect the police. I was taught they were there for help. I suspect other white people were taught the same and have the same questions.

The fact that the modern police have their roots in the slave patrols of the south [(and I refuse to capitalize south)] (ACLU, 2020), cannot be swept under the carpet of the Era of Reconstruction. In fact, it was the result of federal troops withdrawing from the south ending the Era of Reconstruction that cemented localized white supremacy and guaranteed a protective force that favored white over black. (ACLU, 2020). Herein lies the structural issue of systemic, institutional, and structural racism. And the truth is, that is should not matter if one bad apple police officer, or two, or three, or twelve is responsible for misconduct resulting in the death of an individual.


If the institution is to be trusted, it must first be trustworthy.


Violation of trust, once it occurs, makes it harder to trust the offender. When the same offense has occurred for over 400 years at the hands of the same offenders, it is nearly impossible to earn back. If there is any solution to be found to addressing systemic racism in the institution of blue it will have to be through dialogue, but what should that dialog look like? It is painstakingly clear, with continued death of black and brown men and women by police officers, the current method of conversation isn’t effective.

AUTHORS NOTE REGARDING THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH: The study I cite here is a scholarly study on how one model has been used to negotiate peace treaties and accords. My intent in including it is as a model to start the dialogue to bridge the gap between historical police abuse and murder of Black and Brown persons. The term ‘victimhood’ is directly from the article and is not meant to imply that police are the victims. I believe it is Black and Brown community that has been victimized. Please do not get entangled around the use of the term when it is used below.

One proposal is to move the conversation from the perspective of criminal justice and Black versus blue to that of the political and psychological world (Solomon & Martin, 2018).  Solomon & Martin (2018) observe that Blue Lives Matter was a counter movement to the movement of Black Lives Matter. Negotiating from a movement-counter movement perspective does not foster reconciliation or sustained social change. Drawing upon reconciliation models implemented in geopolitical conflicts and a philosophy of competitive victimhood may allow new in-roads to reconciliation. In competitive victimhood, both groups claim moral authority through their own group lens and mediators recognize what each perceive as their truth giving each agency and authority. In essence, it allows both parties to participate without feeling their moral values are being questioned. I find their premise intriguing if only to remind me that we are dealing with structural issues that both Black lives and blue institutions agree need to be addressed.  It may also help white people hold their own competitive victimhood and morality in check long enough to let change begin. Only then, can we finally get the altruistic epithet of all lives matter. That cannot happen until #blacklivesmatter to blue institutions.

References

ACLU [@ACLU]. (2020, June 6). LISTEN NOW: The first example of a modern police department in the United States was a slave patrol. Policing has [Image with link attached] [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/aclu/status/1269305046216462337?lang=en

howard_moreland. (2017, January 1). B22 slave patrol 00 [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/45803876@N00/31878993162). CC BY 2.0

Solomon, J. & Martin, A. (2018). Competitive victimhood as a lens to reconciliation: An analysis of the black lives matter and blue lives matter movements. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 2019(37), 7-31. https://doi.org/10.1002/crq.21262

Posted on Leave a comment

(Dis)Trusted Servant

I’m Christian. I go to Church. But I do not trust the Christian Church. I’ve got over 40 years of reasons why. The psychological condemnation by the Christian Church I received as a gay man has caused a deep-seated distrust of the institution. But I go to church to worship, not to worry. How does my distrust of an institution relate to the topic of antiracist activism?

No Justice No Peace by Notsik
No Justice No Peace by Notsik (wiredforlego, 2020).

It is similar to the reason Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Immigrant persons do not trust the institution of law enforcement. Law enforcement is an institution has publicly and sometimes egregiously harmed, wounded, and killed, persons of color. I have students of color who write about their internal conflict they have experienced when even driving or walking by a police officer.  We have seen the brutal killing of black men and women through unreasonable acts of restraint. The institution is rooted in selectively reacting based upon race, we have seen the tepid action of law enforcement in applying disproportionate restraint tactics of the white mob of protestors at our nation’s Capitol. Had the crowd been black, I can almost guarantee the reaction of law enforcement would have been swift, aggressive, and forceful.

This prejudicial and preferential treatment of white community over Black, Brown, and Indigenous community is not new to our nation’s history.  It is in our history we find the very reason of this institutional bias that treats light skin better than dark skin. The modern-day police departments, at least the Southern departments, have their beginnings in the slave patrols of the Civil War and during reconstruction (Potter, 2013). It would be easy to dismiss with an “in the past” argument and “not relevant to today”, but the field of epigenetics would suggest otherwise.


The field of epigenetics suggests that generational trauma is passed down up to 14 generations (Singh, 2020).


If we consider a generation to be 35-40 years based on a Google search, then that means that generational, racialized trauma that we are experiencing today may be a result of acts committed against the body Black from 1461. How ironically close that is to the “discovery” of America made permissible by the Church’s Doctrine of Discovery. The doctrine which ultimately led to the institutions of white supremacy through our euro-descended ancestors first, then the enslavement of our African brothers and sisters second, and ultimately to the law enforcement institutions today. Not to say racism is encoded in our DNA, but to say that systemic racism has affected our bodies’ chemistry in a way that is passed down from generation to generation. Black and white trauma at both ends of the racist/antiracist spectrum is the result. The past is not in the past, but is in the present.

Before trust can be placed into the hands of law enforcement, law enforcement must address the truth of their past, admit its failings, and become an institution of change. Police lives do matter, but police are not blue, the institution is blue. Blue lives matter places the institution above the person, an institution founded in racism and that continues to support racial profiling and the arrest and murder non-white persons.

References

Potter, G. (2013, June 25). The history of policing in the United States, part I. Eastern Kentucky University Police Studies Online. Retrieved January 9, 2021 from https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/history-policing-united-states-part-1

Singh, A. (2020). Building a counseling psychology of liberation: The path behind us, under us, and before us. The Counseling Psychologist 48(8), 1109 – 1130.

wiredforlego. (2020, August 20). No justice, no peace by notsik [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiredforsound23/50282335652/in/photostream/). CC BY-NC 2.0.

Posted on Leave a comment

Advocacy, Action, Activi$m, and Accountability

The power of protest and the power of words help in making white people aware of our role in keeping the status quo of systemic racism firmly in place. But you and I know that nothing will change until we back our voices beyond advocacy and into action. Action may be in the form of petitioning school boards to include accurate histories of the experiences of enslaved African Americans, it may be in the form of removing the boundaries of redlining that keep BIPOC individuals entrapped due to systemic racism in politics, and it may be in making educational access more available to persons impacted due to a history that they did not make but have suffered because of white privilege..

This is not my normal post. This is to announce the official formation of The Brett H. Cook Endowed Scholarship Fund as a recognized IRS Tax Exempt 501(c)(3) Public Charity 509(a)(2), and acceptance of the above service mark approved by the U.S Trademark and Patent Office for purposes of fundraising through sale of T-Shirts and Dress-Shirts to fund the scholarship.

Until the endowed scholarship is fully funded and can provide scholarships through accrued interest off the principal, I am making a personal commitment to award a $500.00 Fall Semester Scholarship and a $500.00 Spring Semester Scholarship for applicants who meet the requirements you may read about on the scholarship pages on this site.

I ask you to share this post as widely as possible in order that you may help in funding the education of black, brown, indigenous, and minoritized men and women, and reaching those donors who are able to make this vision happen. It’s time for reparations. Be part of the change. Thank you.

Dr. Brett H. Cook-Snell

Posted on Leave a comment

Health Check – An urgent message for young black men and women

Disparities in health between ethnicities is not a new phenomenon, it is as old as the enslavement of black, brown, and indigenous bodies. What some may not know is white American doctors were just as culpable in performing experiments upon enslaved bodies as the Nazis were upon Jewish bodies (Washington, 2006).  The emerging field of epigenetics suggests the results of the brutalization of black, brown, and indigenous persons throughout history has caused these disparities (Menakem, 2017). This brings me to my main point of this blog: If you are young and black, please monitor your blood pressure.

Kidney Failure spelled out with Scrabble Tiles
Kidney Failure (Davis, 2015). cc BY 2.0.

Last week I went for an evaluation to become a living organ donor to donate my kidney. I disclose this not for altruistic reasons or for accolades but because of what I learned during the process when I asked what causes kidneys to fail and the reason people need kidney transplants. The nurse told me that high blood pressure and diabetes were the main causes. A fact that I confirmed:

“Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Your health care provider will look at your health history and may do tests to find out why you have kidney disease. The cause of your kidney disease may affect the type of treatment you receive” [Emphasis added]. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/causes

The nurse continued to educate me that this was more common in Blacks than whites. Another fact I confirmed:

“According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for blacks are 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For non-Hispanic whites the projected life expectancies are 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide”[Emphasis added]. https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=3&lvlid=61

I was even more alarmed when the nurse informed me that hypertension was more prevalent in young black men then young white men. Yet, another fact I confirmed:

“However, the racial disparities in hypertension prevalence remained consistent over the time periods. These racial differences are evidence at all ages. Blacks are found to develop hypertension at an earlier age than whites. An assessment of US children aged 8–17 years found systolic blood pressures to be 2.9 mmHg and 1.6 mmHg higher in black boys and girls compared with age-matched white boys and girls. With the consistent racial differences at all ages it is evidence disparities in hypertension represent a lifetime consideration” [Emphasis added]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108512/

In fact, the nurse told me one of the best things a young black man can do for his health is to check his blood pressure early, as it may save his life. And yes, he did specifically mention males, but I would suggest it is equally important for young black women to do the same.

References

Davis, S. (2015). Kidney failure [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/128573122@N05/17337390301). CC by 2.0

Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathways to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press.

Washington, H. A. (2006). Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present. Harlem Moon .

Posted on Leave a comment

Are you from this country? Microaggressions and racism

Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt (Cook-Snell, 2020).

I was in line at the grocery store this week and chatting with the cashier. She was a young Black female. She asked about my kilt. I told her I wear a kilt so people would ask me exactly that question and it gave me the opportunity to talk about my antiracist work.


“I am an antiracist, too,” she commented, “I’m against racism”.

To which I replied, “I’m trying to educate white people about their own biases and blinders to issues of race and white privilege. I do antiracist education and facilitation”.

She nodded her approval and then added, “I don’t think Trump is the problem, he didn’t cause racism”.

I must admit, this was the first time I had heard a Black person say something non-negative about Trump. I responded, “Well he didn’t cause racism because its been around for years, but he certainly has contributed to bringing the issue to the forefront because of his racist remarks”.

She changed the topic back to my kilt. Jokingly, I said I had the heritage to wear it because I’m primarily Scottish, Irish, and Welsh descended. To which she replied, “Are you from this country?”

This was the first time I’ve ever been asked this question, too. It made me reflect about all the times I’ve asked Black Americans with accents where they were from or Asian Americans with choppy English the same. It is a practice I no longer do and have refrained from doing ever since I started doing antiracist work. But the fact that someone asked me where I was from based upon appearances was extremely was eye opening.


The question appears harmless at face value, but in fact, it is a microaggression. “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273). It is a statement that reflects white privilege by establishing whiteness as the norm, even though, in this case, it was asked by a young Black female. The fact she asked the question may have been due to conversation, age, or many other non-race related issues, but it also reflects how she has been indoctrinated into the system of racist thought that is a product of the imperialism and colonialism of my European descended ancestors. Examples of this microaggression and others along with suggestions on how to ask or not ask a question are presented in an article by Ward and Premack (2020). The link is in the references.

I wonder how my cashier friend would have responded if I told her my full heritage of not only Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, but also German and African … funny, but you don’t look Black.

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2020). Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt [Photograph] [Previously unpublished].

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271

Ward, M., & Premack, R. (2020, July 24). What is a microaggression? 14 things people think are fine to say at work – but are actually racist, sexist, or offensive. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/microaggression-unconscious-bias-at-work-2018-6#where-are-you-actually-from-6

Posted on Leave a comment

What does it mean to be Antiracist?

Background text pattern concept wordcloud illustration of racial profiling glowing light
Racial profiling word cloud (iStockPhoto.com/kgtoh, 2015). (c) iStock by Getty Images. Purchased for use by standard licensing agreement.


“What do Black People need saving from?”

(asked by a Black seminary professor during a white fragility discussion group that I co-facilitate)


We were talking about DiAngelo’s (2018) analysis of the movie, The Blind Side (Hancock, 2009), in response to a question on white people’s motives when helping Black people. Often, even though white people think our motives are noble and pure, we may actually be operating from a posture of systemic racism. There was much discussion on how can we help Black people and not be seen as racists? It was an honest question from a church group who wanted to act in the way of Christ, and didn’t want that action to be viewed from a position of white beneficence. They did not want to be perceived as trying to “save” a Black or Brown person from racism.

That question rattled around in my brain. “Saving” Black people from themselves is a white supremacist, colonialist and imperialistic concept (García, 2017), directly rooted in chattel slavery. While García (2017) does not support the black/white paradigm of racism because he argues it excludes Mexican American’s [(García’s self-labeling)] and brown skinned persons, the question of the seminary professor hit home, as did García’s comment with regards to “saving”. It struck a chord of truth within my psyche.


Had I been doing antiracist work to save Black people from the effects of racism, or had I been doing this work to expose white people to their systemic racists biases?


I realized I had been doing this from the position of the former, and not the latter. While consciously trying not to be a white messiah of Black deliverance from white racism, I was subconsciously acting as one. This experience continues to remind me how deeply racism is embedded within white culture. It reminds me that even as an antiracist educator, I need to be called out when my racism rears its ugly head.

Since then, I have been grappling with the question of what it means to be an antiracist white person and an antiracist educator. While my answer is not quite congealed into a philosophy of antiracist education, it’s a start.


My antiracist educator role is to expose white minds to the truth of the systemic racism embedded deep within white culture. It is to challenge the status quo of white conservative and liberal minds and transform them into a mindset of active liberation. It is to advocate for change in the policies and practices white culture continues to use to keep Black and BIPOC bodies and minds oppressed. And it is to stand up, stand out, and stand with, all persons fighting for equality.


References

DiAngelo, R. (2018) White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

García, R. (2017). Unmaking gringo-centers. The Writing Center Journal 36(1), 29-60.

Hancock, J. L. (Director). (2009). The blind side [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.

iStockPhoto.com/kgtoh. (2015). Racial profiling word cloud [Photograph]. © iStock by Getty Images. Used by standard licensing purchase agreement.