Wednesday, January 24, 2007

We've come a long way baby...or have we???

Is racism really still an issue today?

Many people I know and have met get really uncomfortable when I talk about "racism." In fact, as I write this, I realize I haven't really talked about it directly in a long time.

Why is that?

I know why. I remember when I started toning down my conversation on racism. It was last year after I led an Urban Experience group. Our week seemed to be going pretty well until Thursday when I had an African American male speak on racism that he experiences. He did a great job. He spoke about how he does small things to protect his son from racism and talked a little about ways he has experienced, and still experiences, racism. I don't remember his exact points, but he was not emotionally charged as he spoke. He simply stated his experiences.

Several people in the group were very upset after his talk. One lady left in tears. One lady tried to convince me that their church was very diverse and that their children were already exposed to plenty of diversity. That was interesting to me considering that the group who came (that I would assume was representative of their church and youth group) was all White. As a result of their frustration, though, I felt like we ended up having some good dialogue about the issue. I thought we had resolved the frustration and I was excited about the possibilities for growth. To me, it's about starting...and continuing...the conversation....a conversation that is not held often enough.

Unfortunately, I have not heard from the group since.

Ever since then, I have worked toward changing my approach. Perhaps people aren't ready to talk about racism. Maybe my approach is too abrupt. Maybe I'm taking the issue too far and making a big deal out of nothing. Ever since that group, I have focused more on the issues around poverty. It's a lot more comfortable for [White] people to deal with and maybe it will at least help lead them to eventually consider racism.

But then I received this video...Young student's documentary leaving audiences stunned.

Please watch it all the way through. It is a powerful replication of an experiment done in 1954.

I was somewhat surprised by the results of the student's documentary...well, maybe not surprised by the results. Sadly, I think it was more a feeling of validation knowing that I'm not crazy. I've been in a situation where a 9-year old child told me they loved me..."because I'm supposed to," she explained. "You're White...and Jesus is White so I'm supposed to love you."

There have been several times (such as the Urban Experience moment) that [White] people have convinced me that I'm too "in your face" about the subject. But just about the time I try to re-adjust my approach, something like this video comes to my attention and I realize that brushing the subject under the rug so that people don't have to feel uncomfortable is not the solution. Though softening the topic may make it easier for White people to swallow, it is not helping change the reality that the majority of Black (and I would guess Brown and White as well) children do not see people of color in a positive light.

Of course it is easy for us to look back now and talk about how racist times were in the 1950s and how the racism back then was the catalyst that led to the low self-esteem and low self-image of the African American child. What is the catalyst that causes the same outcomes in 2007? And why do we continue to sit back as if it doesn't exist or isn't important?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Convicted...but not guilty

What could it possibly be like to be accused...and convicted...of something you didn't do?

In today's New York Times, there is an article about our very own Dallas County--A 12th Dallas Convict is Exonerated by DNA.

I can remember when I used to work at a gas station in college. The lady who owned the gas station was extremely particular (anal might be a more fitting word) about everything. I used to dread picking up the phone at my apartment...yes, this was before the days of Caller ID...for fear she would call. I knew if she called it wasn't good. Most of the time it was because she wanted me to work on my day off. But I can remember a time when she called me early in the morning to tell me that the cash drawer was something like $2 off and she wanted to know what had happened. To me, it sounded and felt like an accusation. It was only $2! Besides that, it's not like I came up short every time I worked! I knew I hadn't taken $2. Perhaps I miscounted someone's change, but I hadn't taken her $2! The point is, I was being accused of something I didn't do. I didn't like that feeling and dreaded being around her after that.

The situation in Dallas County is much worse. In Dallas County, at least twelve people have been accused and convicted (!) of something they didn't do. ...And these are just the innocent cases they've discovered since 2001! How many more are there??? Twelve innocent people are a LOT of innocent people to be serving behind bars for a false conviction! The sentences aren't short either.

James Waller just lost over 10 years of his life to a false conviction. He says he's not angry. I can't say that I would feel the same way. The fact that they convicted him (albeit, falsely), his name and reputation have been, are, and probably always will be questioned. A good name and a reputation is a hard thing to get back.

I understand that jurors have to make a decision based on the information they are given (though in this particular case it seems like they made a decision based on way too little evidence!). Is this "tough on crime" bravado that Texas shows off really working? Twenty four people were executed in Texas last year. How many of those were innocent? Does legally killing people and wrongfully convicting people really deter crime--especially considering what we are finding out about how many of those people are innocent? Or does it just give us a false sense of taking "bad" people off the streets?

I'm glad that The Innocence Project is out there advocating for people and challenging courts to go back and test DNA evidence. I would like to think that their findings are beginning to change some of the ways we handle situations in our court rooms.

I hope it makes us all question the assumptions we sometimes make about people.

Monday, January 15, 2007


One of the kids I knew rather well was on the A Child to Love segment of the know...the one where a child tells what he would want from a family if only he could be adopted.

I knew Nagee for quite some time. His story is a tough one. After being taken from his biological family, he and his brother and sister were adopted by a friend of mine. After they had been with her for about 7 years, she found out she had cancer and passed away soon after that. They were all placed back "in the system." Nagee is 11 now.

I have good memories of Nagee. His brain worked like a little man. I could often see the wheels turning as he contemplated what he wanted to say. He would invariably come up with something that would make you wonder where in the world he came up with that stuff! (You can see a little of what I mean in the video.)

Of course there is much more to the story.

I haven't seen Nagee in about a year and a half. I miss the funny things he used to say. I can still hear him say my name with his sweet voice. With the right environment I have to believe Nagee will do well. I hope he finds that right environment. Part of me wishes that I could provide it.

Please say a prayer for Nagee...and Destiny and Gerrard. They're sweet kids. ...and like every kid, they each deserve a family who will stick with them through thick and thin and never give up. Pray that whatever he wishes for comes true.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Matthew 25:35-46

I was rifling through some old files and found this "modern paraphrase" of Matthew 25 that seems rather relevant these days:
To those on his right, the Ruler will say,
I was deaf, and you learned signs for me;
I was handicapped and you gave me respect and a job.
I was a refugee, and you gave me a new home.
I was obese, and you made room for me.
I was a teenager, and you gave me a voice in decisions.
I was jobless, and you gave me work.
I was poor, and you freed me from bondage.
I was oppressed, and you changed the system.
I was different from you, and you made me your equal.

To those on his left, the Ruler will say,
I was deaf, and you mumbled behind my back;
I was handicapped, and you built revolving doors.
I was a refugee, and you sent me back.
I was obese, and you made thin beautiful
I was ateenager, and you ignored my maturity.
I was jobless, and you gave yourselves a raise.
I was poor, and you raised my rent.
I was oppressed, and you pushed me farther down.
I was different from you, and you made jokes about me.

Lord, when did we see YOU like this?

Whenever you have done this to any human being, you have done it to me.

~by Louisa Baer

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Too Blessed to be Stressed

One of my Christmas presents was a journal with the heading, "Too Blessed to be Stressed." Just looking at the journal makes me happy.

Isn't it the truth?? Aren't we all "too blessed to be stressed?"

Today I took Tiffany to meet up with her friend so she could catch a ride back to Baylor. When we got there, her friend, Autumn, asked if we were hungry and would like something to eat. Since neither one of us had eaten and we knew Autumn's grandmother had cooked, we eagerly accepted.

As we went into the house, I realized that we were walking into Big Mama's Sunday dinner. The entire extended family was sitting around the dinner table eating their weekly meal. I had a brief second of, "Oops, we're interrupting."

Fortunately, that brief second was swept away as Autumn's mom and "Big Mama" quickly pulled seats to the table, set a place for us, and told us to help ourselves to the pork loin, meat loaf, cabbage, black-eyed peas, neck bone, salad, stir fry veggies, and corn bread set out on the table.

I felt completely at home as they opened their doors to us and immediately continued their conversation, which now included two more people. Big Mama's house reminded me of going to my own Grammy's house on Sunday afternoons when I was a little kid--everything was home made, including her amazing loafs of bread, served complete with her home made strawberry jam. Mmmmmm.....mmmmmm.

It was a wonderful afternoon. An hour and a half after we had gotten there, Tiffany and Autumn packed up, Ken told me I was now family, and Inez and I exchanged phone numbers so that I could join them for Sunday dinner again.

Days like today I realize I am really blessed. I have friends, family, and pseudo-family. The people I am blessed to have around me are genuinely good people. And God continues to bless me with new...and neat...people in my life.

So, the fact that I don't have my syllabus written for the graduate class I start teaching next week, the 394 emails I have in my inbox because I went on vacation for a week (let's hope the majority of those are spam!), and the seemingly endless pile of work I have to do shouldn't stress me out because
I'm too blessed to be stressed!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Opportunities and Struggles

I absolutely love to travel! I just got back from a Caribbean Cruise and loved every relaxing minute of it. (Thank you, mom and dad!) But I have to say, these days I have to think a lot more about my luxuries.

When I told my friends I was going on a cruise, they were extremely encouraging. They told me I deserved a relaxing vacation. Their graciousness and generosity always amazes me. Many of the friends who told me I deserved to go know that an extravagant vacation like that is out of reach for them monetarily. I’m sure they realize that their work is just as physically and/or emotionally as taxing as mine, yet they were genuinely excited for me.

What makes my hard work more deserving of a break than their hard work?

I would like to think that the choices I have made in life have gotten me to where I am today. I would like to think I’m deserving of the “extras” I get in life. However, I have learned that my most of my choices are a result of circumstances I didn’t control.

I didn’t choose the neighborhood I grew up in, my skin color, or my parents. I had a two-parent home with a mom who could afford to stay-at-home. I had a family that did well financially; my parents didn’t need me to work in order to help contribute to household expenses. I had parents who understood the value of a college education and could afford to send me. I had parents who set high expectations for me, which led to me having high expectations of myself. Fortunately for me, the bad choices I did make simply didn’t end up with long-term life-altering results.

I appreciate the kindness of my friends who celebrate my good fortune with me. They are much bigger people than I am. I’m afraid I would be resentful.

I have been blessed with great opportunities in my life. I struggle with how to take advantage of my opportunities while working to ensure that all people have these same opportunities. Is it possible to do both?