Photo taken by yours truly in a crush of people on the east Capitol steps, July 2007
Over the past week, I sat down at my computer to write about black America, by which I mean Americans of African descent and their culture. I had hesitated to do so for a long time, for I was certain that no matter what I wrote, it would cause offense. However, I have come to feel that this fear is actually detrimental to the cause of racial reconciliation, and that only in sharing our stories can we ever hope to understand one another. I therefore sat down to write, and what came out of me was not a few brief thoughts, but a continuous stream of contemplation. I present this very long article to the public in the hope that it might be somewhat helpful. I particularly hope it can benefit the Church.
Perhaps it seems silly to speak of myself experiencing black America, as I am white and have not spent a substantial portion of my life in the company of a large number of African Americans. However, the fact is that practically everyone has experienced something of black America. What they’ve experienced might represent a tiny fragment of the whole, but it helps to define how they view black Americans and think about issues of race and/or ethnicity. Looking back on my life now, I realize how those experiences have helped to shape my ideas. Not only that, but they have taught me some things about the Church. Continue reading
An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel. Continue reading
An examination of some of the issues raised by director Steve McQueen’s newest film, including its historical, cultural, and spiritual implications.
I did not go to see 12 Years a Slave intending to write about it, but as much for myself as for others, I feel a need to do so now. What I saw was not an ordinary film. I knew before I went in that it would prompt a great deal of philosophical pondering, but perhaps even this expectation has proved to be too small.
The film tells the story of Solomon Northrup according to his 1853 autobiography. A free black man living in New York state, he was deceived and abducted into slavery while on a trip to Washington, D.C. For the next twelve years, he witnessed the horrors of slavery on multiple plantations in Louisiana, until finally a chance encounter allowed him to press his legal case and earn back his freedom. It’s the kind of amazing true story that screenwriters would normally dream about, but the darkness of the subject matter is likely part of the reason that no filmmaker has attempted the feat until now. Continue reading
This photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of a Library of Congress collection.
What can we learn from Martin Luther King Jr., George Costanza, Barack Obama, and King Jehoshaphat?
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech. It was an appropriate moment to remember a man who gave so much and inspired so many. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. Yet, even as we praise him, it is also worth noting that King had one advantage that is denied to most of us, and an odd kind of advantage it was: he died young.
Now, before I cause serious offense to anyone, let me make clear that I am in no way happy that King’s life was shortened. This was a major setback for the civil rights movement and a great tragedy for America. What I am referring to is not the fact that King was murdered, but rather that his early death has preserved him in our memory at the height of his success. Continue reading
From the beginning, the media wanted to make the Zimmerman case about black vs. white. That is why the story gained national attention in the first place. I’m not going to make a judgment about whether race played a factor in what happened that night, and I realize how complex and personal individuals’ feelings about race can be. Be that as it may, I have always been struck by the fact that Zimmerman did not “look” particularly “white”. His surname is German, but beyond that I didn’t actually know anything about his heritage until I saw the picture of his parents in the courtroom: a white father and an apparently Asian mother. Does the narrative change at all because George Zimmerman is actually biracial? Should it? It’s a question that I’ve never heard anyone in the media bother to ask, though I admittedly have not listened to all of the endless hours of coverage. (I have better things to do with my time.) What I do know is that it says as much as anything about our racial attitudes that we define him only by his white father and not his Asian mother. Were this portrayed in the media as an incident involving two minorities instead of black vs. white, for example, I am willing to bet that the debate would have been much different.