Looking at an event from one perspective is dangerous and can reinforce systemic issues associated with the -isms of our society.
I’ve been in drag three times in my life. The first time was when I was three and my sister put a dress on me. The second time was in high school, and we read a short story titled, “Travel is Broadening”, in which four characters told the same story from their perspectives. Two characters were men, and two characters were women. We had to act the story out on stage. The group I was in was all boys, so two of us had to dress in character as women. The point here is not that I was in drag for this second occurrence, but that of the story of my character was different from the other three. Looking at an event from one perspective is dangerous and can reinforce systemic issues associated with the -isms of our society.
And the third time I was in drag … well that’s another story…
Learning about racism against the Native American community
It’s been a minute since I’ve posted. Doing the work often precludes talking about the work. Walking the walk is more important than talking the talk. And sometimes, my Higher Power in my faith community makes their presence known through signs and signposts. It seems as if all of the signs and signposts have been pointing to issues on the Native people of the land upon which I write, and their descendants as rightful heirs of this land that has been bloodied by settler colonialism. It’s time for me to learn and live into disrupting and dismantling settler colonialism’s lawless legacy inflected upon Native people and educate my white peers to call them into action to do the same.
If I asked you to tell me your history, what would you tell me? Would you tell me about your family, growing up, and adventures and misadventures? Or would you go deeper?
In the picture is my great grandmother. I am the blonde-headed kid with my back to her, crying. I’m crying because I do what kids sometimes do you don’t really know the weathered and gnarled hands that hold yours. I didn’t understand then the history of my great grandmother, whose roots go back to the time of the first reconstruction and Jim Crow. Her presence in my early childhood connects my history to hers.
At times, it’s easier to query the past instead of looking at the present. I can approach the past intellectually, and with empathy, yet remain disconnected and woefully unaware of the events that have shaped me. In my activist work and education, I have been preoccupied with rushing into history looking for answers. I have neglected at the events that occurred within my own 60 years, and the lifetime of my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandmother.
I ponder now how the history of which I am connected through my great grandmother has shaped me – a history of white power and privilege, white Christianity, and American exceptionalism. I realize the oppression, kidnapping, enslavement, dehumanization, brutalization, and murder of black and indigenous persons is closer than dates convey.
The history-of-the-way-back-when of the family members new reverberates in my history-of-the-now. I am a child of the 60’s, not the flower power children most associated with that decade, but a literal child born at the beginning of the 60s. My life has been shaped, unknowingly, by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been shaped by the declarative racist acts and words of Governor George Wallace of Alabama. It has been shaped by the Black Panthers, Audre Lorde, and Malcom X. All these events have shaped me, whether I was aware of them or not.
The history of racism from beyond the history-of-the-way-back-when is important to know; that is the history of how the capital “C” church encouraged and upheld the capture, kipnapping, enslavement, and murder of black and brown people, and how colonialism supported these acts, enacting these same brutalities on the Indigenous of the land. The history of the way-back-when of my family is equally important, that is Jim Crow and Civil Rights. But if I am to call to my contemporaries to awareness and activism, it is through the history-of-my-now, and the history-of-their-now, to which I must appeal.
We must see through our collective histories – past and present – and use both to disrupt and dismantle systemic racism. We must draw both and find the courage to speak truth in the streets, in the halls of local, state, and federal governments, and in the voting booths.
Those voices of the way-back-when connect me to the first reconstruction. Those voices of my history-of-now connect me to the second reconstruction of the civil rights movement of my childhood. It is my own voice that connects me to a third and sustainable reconstruction.
In the late 60’s of my history-of-the now, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his Poor Peoples Campaign for equality. The Poor Peoples Campaign is alive and well today in a new incarnation of the same name, calling for not only equality, but equity. We can only study so much, learn so much, and talk so much, before we but feet to pavement.
I ask you again, What’s your story? What is your history-of-the-now? And, what will you do with it? How will you join me in making a difference?
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.
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.
Deconstructing racism and disassembling systemic barriers requires challenging a worldview system that has privileged whiteness and, in my case, interrogating my white-skinned 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).
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?
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.
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).
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.
What is critical race theory (CRT) and is it an appropriate lens to be used in public school education?
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?
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.
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
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?
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.
Announcing the Brett H. Cook-Snell Endowed Scholarship Fund, a recognized IRS Tax Exempt 501(c)(3) Public Charity 509(a)(2).
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.