Jesus didn't speak in red letters

United Church of Christ - a just world for all
United Church of Christ – a just world for all (United Church of Christ, 2018a). Copyright 2018 by the United Church of Christ. All rights reserved.

The title refers to the fact that many translations of Christian Scripture put the words of Jesus in red.

I recently started reading several books for my United Church of Christ (UCC) Scared Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) facilitator training, one of which is The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African diaspora (Page, 2010a). One of the first things that gave me pause to consider is the movement away from Old Testament and New Testament terminology to that of First Testament and Second Testament. While the terminology is not specific to this book alone, in my mind it drives home that I have a still speaking God, one of the foundational beliefs of the UCC (UCC.org, 2018), and that my ears need to be equally open to new interpretations.

Never place a period where God places a comma

Gracie Allen

While not too far into the reading as of yet, the book makes use of a historical and cultural centered perspective of reading, interpreting and understanding of Christian Scripture. When I was in seminary, before God dragged me into education kicking and screaming, the focus was less on the cultural and more on the historical. Textbooks we read were largely rooted in tomes written by foundational authors from a European Christianity perspective (James, 2010). Commentaries on the Scriptures were also by white authors, leading rise to my second point to ponder, “Given the importance of commentaries to those who read the Bible, it is surprising that biblical scholars receive little formal training in how to write them [(commentaries)]” (Page, 2010b, p. 6). A fact to which I can attest. And I, a somewhat trained reader, have to admit that while I have read from white culture, sometimes Israeli culture, and sometimes Greek culture perspectives, I have never read the Bible from a black or brown perspective or considered the large role Africa played during the First and Second Testament periods.

I look forward to hear how God is still speaking as I read this book and others during my journey as facilitator in training for the UCC SC2ER. Until then, I shamelessly plug the UCC.

United Church of Christ (2018b)

And if you’re ever in my “neck of the woods”, come visit me and my church family at Warwick United Church of Christ, 10 Matoaka Lane, Newport News, VA 23606 or like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WarwickUCC/).

References

James, L. R. (2010). The African diaspora as construct and lived experience. In H. R. Page, Jr. (Ed.),The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African diaspora (pp. 11-18). Fortress Press.

Page, Jr., H. R. (Ed). (2010a). The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African diaspora. Fortress Press.

Page, Jr., H. R. (2010b). The Africana Bible: A rationale. In H. R. Page, Jr (Ed.),The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African diaspora (pp. 3-10). Fortress Press.

United Church of Christ. (2020a). What we believe. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/about-us_what-we-believe

United Church of Christ. (2020b). Identity ads. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/god-still-speaking_ads

Warwick United Church of Christ [@warwickucc]. (2020). Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/WarwickUCC/

I was black until 1967

If I am to define race based upon skin color, then at my very genetic core … I must be a light-skinned black man. Legally, until 1967, I was black growing up in the Commonwealth of Virginia as a result of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (the instructions of implementation for the act are pictured below). Legally, I would only be able to drink from the non-white water fountains, I would not have access to the same quality education as white children, and I would have to sit at the back of the bus.

Racial Integrity Act of 1924
Wolfe (2015) Racial Integrity Act implementation [image].

“It is estimated that within the state from 10,000 to 20,000 possible more, near white people, who are known to possess an intermixture of colored blood, in some case to a slight extent it is true, but still enough to prevent them from being white”

from the Virginia Health Bulletin pictured

The act written to prevent interracial marriages in the Commonwealth of Virgina would not be ruled unconstitutional until the United States Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, 338, U.S. 1 (1967) (Newbeck & Wolfe, 2015). But by definition, I could legally be classified as black in the Commonwealth of Virginia where I lived from ages 4-6, until 1967. I wasn’t, but I could have been, and so could you.

Need Proof?

Last November I had a health issue and all the doctors assumed I had lung cancer. They were also concerned about deep vein thrombosis which could lead to a pulmonary embolism. So when I read that the FDA had approved genetic testing with regards to thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder, (Boddy, 2017), I spit in a tube, and mailed it to 23 and me (https://www.23andme.com/). About a month later I got a report on my genetic characteristics. Fortunately, I was not genetically predisposed to thrombophilia. So how did I become black?

23 and me results also include ancestry and linage according to genetic markers. My genetic markers indicate I am 1.7% sub Saharan African and 1.3% of that is Angolan and Congolese. My historical genetic lineage traces back even further (see my 23 and me results below).

Dr. Cook-Snell’s African Maternal lineage according to 23andme.com.
Dr. Cook-Snell’s African Paternal linage according to 23andme.com.

So when did I become white? In 1967. But I had white privilege due to appearances long before that in my family of heritage, and that was in the 15th century, a topic I will explore in an upcoming blog.

References

Boddy, J. (2017, April 7). FDA approves marketing of consumer genetic tests for some conditions. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/04/07/522897473/fda-approves-marketing-of-consumer-genetic-tests-for-some-conditions

Newbeck, P., & Wolfe, B. (2015, October 26). Loving v. Virginia (1967). In Encyclopedia Virginia. http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Loving_v_Virginia_1967

Wolfe, B. (2015, November 4). Racial integrity laws (1924–1930). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Rhttp://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Racial_Integrity_Laws_of_the_1920s

The Journey Continues

Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks
Dr. Cook-Snell in Starbucks (Cook-Snell, 2019).

Last semester I started blogging about white fragility (DiAngelo, 2018) as an example blog for my students’ assignments. It’s another semester and time to start my blogging again.

My overarching question in my first post of last semester, What color is my hat, was how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism?

Summing up, in Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse, I talked about the fallacy of claiming to see the person, not their color when we defend our non-racists positions. Doing so denies the experiences persons of color bring to the table and the real racism they face growing up black or growing up brown.  In my next post, Family values, I examined the spoken and unspoken words that perpetuated the illusion that my family of heritage did not express racists ideology, only discovering upon reflection how deeply embedded generational racism is in my family of heritage and how it subtly blinded me to issues of white privilege and fragility. Next, in What color is your Jesus?, I asserted my belief that Christ, the center of my faith, was more than likely a person of color than the images of white Jesus that populates my faith. I also found research supporting that when that same Jesus is black (Marsh, 2004), it is more than likely an image of crucifixion then redemption. Finally, to wrap up the semester, I wrote about how the first step to change is awareness of the problem. This semester my goal is to begin to be an active part of that change.

Towards that end, when looking for new materials this semester to use as my examples for my students, I discovered a facilitator training opportunity offered by the United Church of Christ’s Sacred Conversations to End Racism (SC2ER) (United Church of Christ, 2018). As a congregant within the UCC, I will be completing that training. As a result, and because life and research are both messy, I’ve revised my question to how may I work towards social justice in the fight against racism with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Same topic, but a different perspective. This semester’s blog will chronicle that journey as my students complete their own journey on their own topics of choice.

References

Cook-Snell, B. H. (2019). [Photograph].

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

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56

United Church of Christ. (2018). Sacred conversations to end racism. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/sacred_conversations_to_end_racism

The first step to change is awareness of the problem

“ … humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do” (Stowe, 1852/2003, p. 8).

This narrative is a quote from abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (1852/2003), Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book, at one time, was second only to the Bible in terms of sales. The context of the quote is the purchase of a slave and the seller’s silent objection to the buyer’s sentiment that the slave is property before person. I hope that most white people today are abhorrent to the idea of slavery, but based on our current treatment of immigrants, I’m not so certain. Politics is an institution that doesn’t surrender its power easily … especially politics rooted in white supremacy.

Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign
Saskatoon Fight Against Racism Campaign (Megginson, 2017).

How can I, as one white man, fight the system? Herein lies the argument that allows white fragility to keep us entrenched in white privilege and racial injustice. Our silence and perceived powerlessness is our “odd thing”. Let me rephrase that, and instead of speaking of the societal us, let me say it is my “odd thing” that goes against my value system. One that I have failed to strive to change, because I have been color blind, taught to treat people equally, and am a Christian … all of which I addressed in my previous three posts and illustrated how they have served to perpetuate racism versus eradicating it. I can no longer claim these three truths but can only use these statements as an impetus for change. It is time to move from problem to solution. But how to you address an invisible and systemic problem.

As a researcher, I discovered there is hope that change is possible when it comes to racial injustice, perceived or factual. Stewart et al. (2010) conducted a study allowing white undergraduate students to work on a math project or a social justice project on racial inequity at their university. Over 90% chose the social justice project. The project involved reading a statement on the lack of African American role models, followed be a fictional statement of inequity in the number of positions of black versus white faculty at the university not due to qualifications. They then read a section about white privilege immediately afterwards and were required to write an anonymous letter to the university calling administrators to address this inequity. Findings suggested acting to resolve this social justice increased feelings of self-efficacy when working towards a positive common goal to remedy the situation. Important here is the desire to change expressed by the white undergraduates and the desire to work together to address social issues.

Back to my original question of how may I, as a Christian white man, talk with other white men and women of faith, on the topic of white fragility to be a change agent to fight against racism? Megginson (2017)While I am just one person, I am one person writing a blog to educate my white friends on becoming aware of the biases that we hold unknowingly. The blog is public and available for comments. I have also invited several black friends and colleges to co-facilitate. I am posting my links to my entries on Facebook and asking members of my church to join me in the conversation. DiAngelo (2018) acknowledge that while we can’t change the world, we can facilitate change through awareness of our own biases.

References

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

Megginson, T. (2017, July 5). Saskatchewan, Canada billboard [Photograph]. https://osocio.org/message/canadian-city-tackles-white-privilege-in-anti-racism-campaign/

Stewart, T., Latu, I., Branscombe, N., & Denney, H. (2010). Yes we can! Prejudice reduction through seeing (inequality) and believing (in social change). Psychological Science, 21(11), 1557-1562.

Stowe, H. B. (2003). Uncle Tom’s cabin: Barnes & Noble Books. (Original work published 1852)

What color is your Jesus?

Cristo Negro de Esquipulas
Cristo Negro de Esquipulas (2019).

In my research question, I pose the question on how, I, as a Christian, can help in shattering the frozen face of white fragility and talk openly about race. I find it curious that the majority of representations of Christ I see, picture a white Christ. Geographically, I don’t see how Christ could have been white. Christ was middle eastern, so he had to at least be brown, and as far as I am concerned, a black Jesus would make geographical sense. 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. DiAngelo (2018) would argue that this is a result of our racism being so deeply embedded within our society we are blinded by our own white colored glasses.

Black Jesus
Black Jesus (Marsh, 2013).

When I went back to college at the age of 43 to finish my bachelors and pursue my masters, I did so at a primarily white, fundamental Christian university. As a gay man at a fundamentalist Christian university, it was a challenge to live as an out gay man, but somehow I managed. During my Christian ethics class on the immorality of homosexuality, I found myself asking my professor if I could tell my story, because, quite frankly, I wanted to put a face to the discussion. He agreed only if I would allow questions. I agreed and invariable the nature or nurture question was asked, to which I responded, nature, followed by my normal response. “If you think I chose to be gay, to experience discrimination, to be spit on, to be called faggot, to be thought of less than, then you go out and live one day as an openly gay man then come back and tell me you chose it”.

How is this relevant to the discussion? In a TedTalk on bioethics (Wolpe, 2010) show advances in bioengineering allowing us to change the color of puppies, kittens, monkeys, and pigs. He theorizes that we will eventually be able to change our skin color.

My statement to you is this … if you wouldn’t chose Black, then you might be more racist then you are willing to admit.

References

Black Christ of Esquipulas. (2019, July 8). In Wikipedia [Photograph]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Christ_of_Esquipulas

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

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56

Marsh, K. (2013, March 12). Was Jesus Christ black? [Photograph].  A Do-Good Movement. https://adogoodmovement.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/was-jesus-christ-black/

Wolpe, P. R. (2010, November).  It’s time to question bio-engineering [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_root_wolpe_it_s_time_to_question_bio_engineering

Family Values

Wisdom Personified
Wisdom Personified (Cook-Snell, 2019).

To the left is a picture from my Facebook feed (Cook-Snell, 2018). My mother is standing next to a member from my local church. Both women are in their 80s and have experienced a rich and full life. The caption I gave the picture in my post is “wisdom personified”. I can only imagine the experiences both women have had, to include gender discrimination, separate but equal segregation, and the civil rights movement. But clearly and instinctively we know that each experienced separate but equal in vastly different contexts.

How does this become important in the discussion on white fragility? I grew up in a family that taught me not to judge based on what I now call the colorblind fallacy. As DiAngelo (2018) observes, “A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture of and its institutions”. Research supports this observation (Smith & Ross, 2006). Smith and Ross (2006) examined to what extent the beliefs of parents shaped the beliefs of their children. The participants in the study were undergraduate students, who we could now assume, had come to adopt some of their own beliefs that may or may not be the same as their family. The researchers found there to be a slight correlation between the belief of the mother and that of the child.

While my mother grew up in Alabama in a lower-class family, she still grew up white. She grew up in an error when black people were still referred to as colored people. When we would visit, as a child I still heard the label colored from my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My uncles also made frequent use of the “n” word. I cringed then and I still cringe now because instinct told me they were really saying colored people were good, but not equal, and “n” people were bad, and not to be trusted. It was ok to associated with “the colored” but “the n”. Today, fewer of these relatives are living but of those that are, the only thing change is colored to black. The rest remains the same.

Racism in the Family
Racism in the Family (Onsizzle.com, n.d.).

After reading DiAngelo (2018), now I have a moral dilemma, what do I say to the seniors in my family when the talk starts again, and it invariable will, so aptly illustrated in the picture to the right (Onsizzle.com, n.d.)?

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2019, October 28). Wisdom personified [Image attached] [Status update] Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/brett.cook.104

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

Onsizzle.com. (n.d.) [Photograph]. https://pics.me.me/my-grandpa-racist-jokes-tsof-my-theres-family-during-thanksgiving-dinner-37696436.png

Smith, S., & Ross, L. (2006). Environmental and family associations With racism 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(11), 2750-2765. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00126.x

Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse

Chessboard with Opening Move
Chessboard with Opening Move (Chessbazaar.com, 2019).

Look at the chessboard in the picture from Chessbazaar.com (2019). What colors do you see? If you said black and white, then you cannot claim color-blindness. Color-blindness is a medical condition not a social excuse.

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague in which they stated they were color-blind when it came to race. They asserted that when they look at people and speak with people, the color of the person does not come into play, but they look at that person as an individual and judge them based upon their merit, not their color. In theory, I would have liked to agreed with the individual, and probably would have had I not just finished reading White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism (DiAngelo, 2019), as part of a college wide read at the university I work.

As DiAngelo (2019) so aptly illustrates in describing a similar conversation between her black male co-facilitator during a workshop and a white woman who made the same assertion as my colleague, the black male facilitator responded, “Then how will you see racism?” (p. 42). Not seeing his color served only to affirm the white woman’s experience while denying his. Claiming not to see color, argues DiAngelo, continues the status quo of white privilege; albeit subtlety. It excuses the individual by fooling them into complacency because of their already achieved state of enlightenment. When, in reality, it only services to perpetuate racism.

White Fragility
White Fragility (DiAngelo, 2018).

If I don’t see it, then I can claim I am not a racist. Racial hate crimes are only committed by fanatical, radical contingents, of which I am not a member.  But if I do see, I acknowledge racism, and therefore must be racist. I must examine my own internal racist biases that I would rather not look at, yet even talk about. And talking about it is taboo in a to a white-centric society (Sue, 2013).

Returning to my story, as I sat listening to my colleague, I found myself more concerned with what they would think about me and fear I was judging them if I talked about how color-blindness is a white fallacy. Sadly, all I could do was mumble something about the college wide read of DiAngelo (2018) and leave it at that. I placed the burden of proof on a book, not on a relationship. But at least it was a start, however feeble.

Now look at the picture again and tell me the colors you see … it’s your move (and mine)!

References

Chessbazar.com. (2019). Combo of 2016 bridle series luxury chess set with wooden board in ebony wood / box wood – 4.2″ king [Photograph]. https://www.chessbazaar.com/combo-of-2016-bridle-series-luxury-chess-set-with-wooden-board-in-ebony-wood-box-wood-4-2-king.html

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

Sue, D. W. (2013). Race talk: The psychology of racial dialogues. American Psychologist, 68(8), 663-672. doi:10.1037/a0033681