Showing posts with label Black. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How a Black Gay Mormon Kid Lost His Faith

Growing up Mormon in rural Alabama sheltered me from many lessons that my friends and cousins had learned at an even younger age—some trivial (like how to cuss) and some more vital (like how to stand up for yourself, even when you’re afraid).

In time, life would teach me these lessons and so many more.

In the sixth grade I realized I was gay. Based on the intensity of their taunts, my classmates knew this long before I did. I was in Ms. Kidd’s fourth-period history class. “Derek” (not his real name) asked me if I was gay. Stunned by his directness, I offered what I thought was a convincing “hell naw.” But the truth was, I had no idea. That’s not the type of question 12-year-old Mormon boys ask themselves.

But when I did ask myself that question, it took only a few hours to get an answer. Despite the fact that I had a girlfriend at the time, I was gay. Suddenly my obsession with certain male actors, my secret love of My Little Pony and the relentless taunting by my peers all made sense. I was gay.

And that’s exactly what I told (actually, wrote to) “Derek” at the end of the day in a letter I sent all the way across the classroom in our last-period English class. Derek and I kissed in the bathroom a few times, but other than talking on the phone, that was the height of our preadolescent love affair. Did I mention I was dating a girl at the time?

Learning that I was gay was more than enough knowledge for my 12-year-old body and mind to process, but life would insist that I learn much more.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Negotiating Black Female Sexuality in the Black Church

When I was five years old, I joined the new Youth Liturgical Dance Ministry at my church. In the dance ministry we explored how to use our bodies to serve the Lord and minister to the congregation. However, there were some rules involved. Most of the movements we did solely involved arms, hands, or legs—no torso or hip movements because they could be perceived as sexual. We were also restricted in our appearance. Our ministry garments were loose and oversized so that no figure could be discerned underneath. We wore pants under the skirts and dresses that we danced in and a full unitard under all of that. The only parts of our bodies exposed were our heads, hands, and feet. These guidelines were all intended to prevent our bodies from distracting from the message of the Gospel we were supposed to be sharing.

Although these guidelines might seem typical of white Evangelical “modesty culture,” there was a slightly different context in this case. My church was African Methodist Episcopalian—a denomination founded by freed slaves. Most of the members of my church were Black and so were the women of the dance ministry. Thus, the form of “modesty culture” exhibited by the dance ministry was not just about shaming women, but critiquing the bodies of Black women in particular. In the Black Church, traditional Christian doctrine comes up against the sexual politics surrounding Black bodies. Black bodies have historically been exoticized and sexualized, putting them in direct opposition to the Eurocentric standards of purity that persist in the tradition of the Protestant Christian church. The hypersexualization of Black women dates back to European exploration of the African continent hundreds of years ago. Europeans viewed Black bodies as deviant and fetishized them. During slavery in the U.S., White slave owners thought Black women were incapable of not wanting sex. They were assumed to be always promiscuous, and were therefore routinely raped and sexually abused. Because Black bodies are always seen as sexual, Black women have to work extra hard in order to be seen as “pure”.

Because we’ve been subconsciously perceived as hypersexual and promiscuous for so long sometimes we try to completely remove ourselves from sexual pleasure in order to not fit that stereotype. We don’t talk about pleasure openly. We don’t teach our youth about it. We caution against pregnancy, against dressing a certain way, against hanging out with a certain group of people, against listening to certain music in order to appear as though we are not sexual beings. But we are.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Holder Did Not Have to Come, or Why We March and Protest

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor 

An Open Letter to James Woods

I read with interest the article by (former) Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas as she informed us of your series of tweets challenging Attorney General Eric Holder to come to Memphis to address the “Kroger racial hate crime.” You further challenge the Attorney General to “do the right thing” by coming to Memphis and to “address the cancer of ALL racism in America.” I guess since Holder went to Ferguson, in your logic, he should come to Memphis.

First, I would like to thank you for your concern. What happened in the Kroger parking lot Saturday night was not only awful, but down right wrong. To beat anyone as the group of youths did to those three people is indeed sad and speaks to how humans can treat other humans with total disregard to their humanity. As a pastor and professor here in Memphis, I too watched the video in disgust as I shook my head as yet another cell phone video captured another violent act. So thank you for your concern. Having someone of your statue and Twitter following advocating on the behalf of us here in the city of Memphis is indeed a good thing to have.

However, I do feel the need to inform you on your position challenging Eric Holder to come to Memphis and “do the right thing.” First, the incident did not constitute a “hate crime.” Now, I know how you came to believe that it did—our friends in the local media, especially television news coverage of the incident, initially framed it that way. They told us how this black mob indiscriminately just singled out unsuspecting white people and like a plague of uncontrolled rage, descended upon them viciously to beat them unmercifully. Just a cursory examination of the comment section of various media outlets and you would think we were readying ourselves for an all out race war.

Upon further inspection however, we discovered that one of the three people beaten that night—indeed the first one was an African American woman who was just getting out of her car to go into Kroger. Again, how would you know that if you only saw news coverage of the poor white Kroger employee who was unmercifully kicked, beaten, and left there at the door of Kroger?

However, Mr. Woods, I do believe your “Holder Challenge” comes from another misinformed place. First, many people, apparently including you, believe that there is some double standard when it comes to racism. This explains why in a recent study, white people actually feel they experience more racism than blacks do. Now, I do not have the time to explain to you the definition of racism. There are plenty of sources available if you really want to understand the insidious nature of racism.

Second, you are also misinformed about something else—on why Holder or officials from the Department of Justice would come and intervene anywhere at all. In short, Mr. Woods, there is no need for Holder to come to Memphis because within an hour there was a press conference held by the Mayor and Police Director to address the crime. Within 48 hours, there were arrests, charges and soon to follow indictments and convictions. In other words, the people we entrusted to handle this situation did just that. There is no need for Holder or any other DOJ official to come to Memphis because the authorities are actually doing their job.

In your attempt however to shame the Attorney General, you did expose something else that many of us have been trying to articulate. In asking Holder to come to Memphis for the “racial crime,” you do at least acknowledge that there was some “racial crime” in Ferguson. 
It is good that you at least believe that a white police officer shooting an unarmed black person with his hands up (according to just about every eyewitness) is simply wrong and someone should do something about that.

On this, we agree, but I invite you to ask yourself not to ask why Holder will not come to Memphis, but why did he have to go to Ferguson? Moreover, while you are reflecting, ask yourself why they had to march, why they had to protest, why they had to yell, scream, and holler. Why did the people in Ferguson have to bring attention to the fact that Michael Brown laid on the hot pavement in an apartment complex, shot and dead for four and one half hours after Darren Wilson shot him? If you are honest in your reflections sir, I do believe an answer will come.

I believe you will look back at the “investigation” and see that it really was not an investigation. You will look back and see that there was no police report. You will look back and see that at the time of the writing, the authorities have yet to arrest Darren Wilson. You will look back and see that the officials do not take the citizens who witnessed the shooting and offered testimony seriously. You will look back and see that the entire government of Ferguson was indifferent at best to the plight of the family of Michael Brown. When you do this, then you will begin to understand why Holder had to come and why the DOJ is now conducting a Civil Rights investigation of the entire Ferguson police department.

In closing, I do appreciate your concern about the Kroger incident here in Memphis. We are continuing to have discussions around this incident. I am to participate in an upcoming vigil on the parking lot and conduct forums to address not only this but also other issues and problems germane to Memphis.

However, as the investigation of the Kroger incident concluded, it was not a hate crime or a “racial crime.” It was a crime of youth “wilding out” and doing some great harm. Here in Memphis, our officials acted quickly and made arrests and indictments will soon follow. That did not happen in Ferguson, so we continue to march, protest, and massively resist—trying to get people like you to understand that the system does not work for everyone the same way. Maybe the St. Louis DA will bring charges against Darren Wilson and maybe there will even be an indictment, but until then, see you in the streets. I will even make a sign for you.


Friday, September 12, 2014

White Narcissism

In the 1940s my white father, who lived in Arkansas, was visiting Michigan for a Methodist conference when he found his assigned roommate was a black man. Outraged, he thought about requesting a different room, asking himself how he could accept and room with a man he perceived as inferior and hang onto his own self-esteem? Despite this inner conflict, he was polite to him and then was surprised to find that he liked the man. At that moment in his life, he faced white narcissism, and I will be ever grateful to him for stepping away from it toward a new way of being. His polite restraint allowed him to meet a black man who, he told me later, “was a better man than I am.”
Both men became trailblazers in the movement toward racial equality. Stories like this made me want to understand what was going on on the “other side of the tracks.” As soon as I could, I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City to study black liberation theology under James H. Cone and black history under James Melvin Washington. Cone’s writings had enormous influence on me.
When I returned to the South a dozen years later, I found a very different place from what I had left. Kudzu was everywhere; country shacks were disappearing from farmlands; white flight and black migration had radically changed city demographics; black political power was growing; and neighborhoods all over were much more diverse. As a pastoral counselor in Memphis, my caseload was as diverse as my neighborhood. Black liberation theology and black history made me acutely aware of hints of residue from slave psychological trauma. At first I noticed it mainly in the black clients who sought my help, but my anger at the obvious racism of white people kept me from looking at the slave-owning trauma my own racial family was saddled with. Gradually though, I began to see that years of slave ownership and white privilege had deeply harmed white folks, too—just in a more subtle way. My studies in black history had made me more sensitive to the black anger that seemed so justified to me, but it had not made me more sensitive to the white narcissism that is also a gaping psychological wound.
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Monday, September 8, 2014

Black Urban Males and the Diminishing Public Deal

By R. Drew Smith
Special to R3

Published originally in KineticsLive

There is a scripture verse that has become a tag line for the thriving praise and prosperity emphasis within American Christianity: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29: 11, NIV). It should be noted that the popularity of this verse has coincided with a growth in the percentage of American households receiving $35,000 or more in household income. White households in this income range, for example, increased from 56 percent in 1975 to 66 percent in 2006, and black households increased from 43 percent to 47 percent. During that same period white median household income increased from $39,500 TO $50,500 and black median household income increased from $23,500 to $32,000. The social promise embodied in the Jeremiah verse no doubt interacts with the upward social trajectories of the more socially successful classes in mutually reinforcing ways.

This verse gets turned on its head in more than one way when it is considered alongside the tragic circumstances that unfolded recently in Ferguson, Missouri. The fatal confrontation between police officer Darren Wilson and an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, and the ensuing confrontations between heavily armed law enforcement personnel and large numbers of persons protesting Brown’s killing have confirmed in very poignant and telling ways, a dangerous distance that has developed between younger generation, low-income urban blacks and key sectors presumably concerned with public well-being. Brown’s killing, and the very uneven and frequently cold public response to a large number of apparently unjustified police killings of black males, leaves many blacks feeling that to the extent there is some grander social design shaping their American social existence it seems intended more for their harm than their good.

This is made clear in a disproportionately punitive law enforcement approach to black youth, where black youth, representing 26% of juvenile arrests, comprise 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of youth judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice). In general, African American males are six times more likely than white males to be incarcerated (Pew Research Center), and the prison sentences black males receive are 20 percent longer than white men receive when charged with similar crimes (U.S. Sentencing Commission). And as revealed by the recent deaths of Brown, and also of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, black men are far too likely to be subjected to disproportionate force by the police. This undoubtedly contributes to the staggering fact that two black men per week are killed by officers of the law. For many black males, therefore, justice seems neither blind nor balanced, and the police seem intent on neither serving nor protecting.

While there have been encouraging levels of outrage and sympathy expressed across the nation in response to Brown’s killing, there have been many others who have made it clear they feel little or no angst about a policeman gunning down an unarmed black teenager, (even on the heels of the killings of the unarmed Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin in the name of law enforcement). In the days since Brown’s shooting, rallies in support of justice for Brown (though marred by violence from a segment of the protesters) were responded to initially by a massive show of force by law enforcement personnel, and by high-profile derision from conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly who dismissed protestors’ calls for justice as insincere, one-sided, and less deserving of public attention than the looting and rioting associated with the protests.

The racial divide and the sympathy divide are also evident in the emergence of white counter-mobilizations and fund-raising in support of Officer Wilson (with moneys raised for Wilson now eclipsing those raised for the Michael Brown Memorial Fund). The divides are captured as well in data from a Pew Research Center poll in which only 25 percent of whites as compared with 54 percent of blacks indicated they were following the Ferguson story closely. Is there any wonder that young African Americans would in some instances resort to collective violence as they did in the aftermath of the Brown shooting (and in the aftermath of the 1992 acquittal of officers whose brutal beating of unarmed motorist Rodney King was caught on videotape). When obvious injustices go unpunished and community protestations are met with indifference, derisiveness, or repression, people understandably resort to less conventional means in order to be heard.

Although few, as yet, are privy to all the facts in the Brown shooting, it is distressing that in a nation that enshrines citizen rights and equal protection under the law there has not been a broader American willingness to concede the fact that African American males have too often been denied the expectation of fairness and mutual regard implied in constitutional conceptions of “the American public.” Too often, black males are not seen or treated as “America’s promise.” They are seen and treated as “America’s problem”—and the subtext to the “black-male-as-problem” trope (since its conceptual imposition during the slavery era) is that black males are violence-prone. But while violence within black communities clearly has reached alarming proportions, violence by “angry white males” in the form of mass-casualty violence directed at schools, shopping malls, sporting events, military bases, and government office buildings has also reached alarming proportions. Yet we do not see the same kind of “preemptive” police rousts, stops, searches, and killings of white males that have been so routinely visited upon black males. When white males act out, we look for underlying causes. When black males act out, we proceed reflexively and unswervingly to judgment and to calculations of the metrics of punishment. If Kajieme Powell had been a white male daring two white St. Louis policemen to shoot him, would they have been quite so quick to oblige? For the law enforcement sector to gain greater public trust within black communities it will have to systematically address the glaring racial disparities in the enforcement of the law.

However central the law enforcement sector is to the fatal confrontation in Ferguson and to similarly racially-charged confrontations elsewhere, public failings associated with other domains also contribute to black frustration, defiance, and disillusionment. Governmental leaders more concerned with supporting tax breaks for the wealthy than effective educational and job training opportunities for the poor abandon segments of the community most in need of their support. And while governmental inattention to the poor is a public failing, negative attention is as well—and the law enforcement sector has plenty of company in this regard. The media is quick to provide negative coverage of black males. Our schools are quick to expel black males. And the American public is quick to accept these various ill-treatments of black males as normative.

Culpability is widespread for the fatal confrontations in Ferguson and in other urban spaces. Addressing this crisis will require a national, cross-sector, and interracial pursuit of a more vitalized and robust conception of “public” that acknowledges as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Creating social spaces capable of embodying this conception of public has proven extremely difficult, but America is blessed with a rich array of social and spiritual resources that can be deployed in this ongoing effort—including traditions of free speech, free-flowing information, and protected dissent that help bring social failings and shortcomings to light, and civic, religious, and constitutional principles that shape and insist upon democratic, humane, and just social practices. We must continue to pursue these richer conceptions of public within each of our communities, geographic contexts, and organizational frameworks. Failure to do so will undoubtedly reproduce the tragic clashes and confrontations suffered recently in Ferguson and in too many other contexts across this nation.

R. Drew Smith, PhD. is Professor of Urban Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Co-Convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Being Black, Lesbian, and Muslim In The South

Black. Muslim. Lesbian. I get the same look now that I did eight years ago when I say those words together. I might easily have said purple, polka-dotted unicorn. People pause and reflect. Their eyes become serious or confused. The contradiction in terms just does not settle well when most people hear it.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing...” is a fairly common response. I don’t blame them.
When I saw the words together for the first time, I was equally as stunned. Not because I held some narrow notions of what a Muslim was, or could be, but because I thought I was the only one.
I left the mosque in 2002 shortly after I left my husband. I wasn’t sure if there was some policy on homosexuality that would apply to me. I didn’t know if there would be some kind of public punishment for my supposed sin. I didn’t know if I would walk through the doors and everyone would know that I had met a woman and I loved her, but I wasn’t going to wait around to find out. When I stopped going, I disconnected myself from the very core of my existence. My spirituality had been a fundamental part of my daily life and I had become a woman, alone, thrust into a world where I was a perpetual outsider even in the most familiar places. I was embraced by my new community. I was loved and fed and groomed in feminist pedagogy and historical subtext. I became a part of a thriving community that shaped and formed me into a new and powerful being: a Lesbian. For a while, that was all I was and I was OK with that.
At a lesbian retreat in Malibu, I met a woman who invited me to come to New York and work on her video project. Standing in a Brooklyn brownstone, re-enacting a 1950s lesbian house party, I realized that three women in the house were also Muslim. It hadn’t even occurred to me that Hanifah Walidah was a Muslim name. I stood still in that moment. I was not alone. There were four of us. I found them, my people. We hugged and laughed and talked about our shared experiences. That day in 2005, I was whole and in community with my sisters. That was the last day I was in a room with all of them, I went back to Chicago the next morning.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tongues Untied: Black, Gay and Sanctified?

Darnell: I think that it is fair to say that you and I are what some might call "church boys." I know that some Christian folks tend to place "God" and "gay" in the same sentence when they are referencing "sin" and "hell," but faith and spirituality are important to a lot of LGBTQ folks. The fact that the two of us are connected to faith traditions shouldn't be a surprise, then. I thought about this while we were preparing for the Mississippi LGBTQI2-S 2012 INFusion Conference a few weeks ago. We both had our perceptions of how conference attendees -- folks who live within the Bible Belt -- would respond to conversations on LGBTQ issues. I thought that it would be a challenge, and they proved me wrong. Interestingly, before we left our hotel room, we were listening to gospel music, and I was struck by the fact that we non-church-going, "progressive," gay black men, who have often critiqued Christians who espouse violent theologies, were still moved by gospel music and the communal worship that we experienced in churches. That fact alone tells me that people of faith don't all think and behave the same. Do you agree? Where are you now in terms of your own faith journey?
Wade: Yes, being in Mississippi made me realize how much I missed the church, especially given that I'm such a fan of the Mississippi Mass Choir. And though I do not participate in organized religion, my relationship with God is personal. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that fact, but it is where I am in my journey right now. Religion, or the church, was something that was a huge part of my adolescent experience. Part of me believes I "did my time." I went to church three to five times per week until I left for college, yet I felt as if I'd be judged for living in my truth by people who really hadn't or wouldn't take the time to get to know all of me. So I decided to stop attending. I wanted to protect my family from having to answer questions about my sexuality behind my back, and I didn't feel that my sexual orientation was anyone's business, to be frank. I wanted to go to church to enjoy and enhance my relationship with God and not think about whether anyone was whispering about the "gay ex-football player." Thankfully, I've gotten to a place where I understand that my relationship with God is just that: my relationship. How has your relationship with God and religion changed over time?
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