Yes, Save The Paseo, you are a bunch of racists.

Yesterday, voters in Kansas City, Missouri voted to re-name Martin Luther King Boulevard back to its former name, The Paseo. The new name was in effect for just 9 months before the vote to restore the name happened.

The whole thing’s been a bit of a mess. The Paseo is a historic street with significant historical value, so a change to its name is meaningful to a variety of stakeholders. It also cuts through the majority-black parts of the city. Kansas City is also one of the only major cities not to honor King in some way. The irregularities in the process–including the City Commission’s refusal to enforce a (seldom enforced) rule requiring approval of 75% of residents for a name change–perhaps covered over the amount of opposition. Throughout the re-naming (and now repealing the name) process, there was a call to  honor King in some other way, but the authenticity of that push is hard to believe given that the city had done nothing to honor him before The Paseo’s name was threatened. Those active in the Save The Paseo effort resented being accused of racism because they wanted to restore the thoroughfare’s previous name.

I felt ambivalent about it, until Monday.

On Monday, members of Save The Paseo entered Paseo Baptist Church and disrupted a rally in support of maintaining King’s name on the street signs. They lined the aisles and stood in silence, refusing to sit down and thus interrupting people’s ability to see the speakers or performers. Children who had practiced dances and songs left, fearful because of the tension.

Save The Paseo leader Tim Smith said that the point was to force the black pastors and other Christians who had seen racism in the Save The Paseo to “say it to our faces.”

Smith’s point is that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was cowardly–willing to call Smith and others racists in public venues but not directly to them.

But it’s those who interrupted the rally in a black church that are cowards.

Image result for paseo baptist church kansas city

Above, every single white person who protested in a black church acted on white privilege created by a history of violence against black Christians. No black pastor needed to call them racist–they showed themselves to be.

Please understand–I think there are times when interrupting a church service with protest is valid. A fight over a street name isn’t one of them.

What’s never valid is white people entering a black church with hostility.

Ever.

Save The Paseo includes black participants. I am not speaking to or about them. I can’t explain why they would do what they did.

But white people–I know a lot about them.

They’ve bombed churches. They’ve burnt them down. They shot them up. They’ve opened fire and massacred old women who had only offered them prayers. White people in black churches has often been a dangerous experience for African Americans.

When you are white, you come to a black church only when you are welcomed. You come only with humility and good intentions. You are not entitled to take a sanctuary for African Americans and turn it into your theatrical stage.

White protests in black churches “work” because they reference the damage that white people could do to people of color. They are the abusive father who doesn’t need to hit his children any more because just the sound of his raised voice reminds them of what they could face if they don’t comply with his demands.

They are inherently violent, whether they are silent or not. They cannot be otherwise in this country.

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Graceless World

You already knew it, but it’s been awhile since we had such a stark reminder: Donald Trump lives his life believing other people are as evil as he is.

This is a classic narcissist belief, but it’s also the belief of white supremacists. They believe that people of color are as evil as they are–and that they must maintain power in order to prevent these evil others from getting the power to hurt them in the ways they themselves hurt others.

They know the depravity of their own hearts, and they fear others will treat them as they have treated others.

This is not projection. It is reasonable fear.

They should be afraid, because justice might reasonably demand punishment. Indeed, the punishment they most often demand is just this–an eye for an eye, as Donald Trump’s favorite Bible verse (and Jesus’ least favorite) says.

It might demand restitution, which would mean giving their unearned privileges to those they’ve hurt.

Trumpism, the Republican party, American political conservativism, and white supremacy (I have ordered these in a list as if they are separate things, but they are nested things.)–these are characterized by a flight from responsibility. Trumpists do not fear a changing world–they fear being held responsible for their violence, because they know that they themselves, when they have power, are violent, and so they fear anyone who has power over them will be violent. They cannot imagine people better than themselves because they imagine themselves to be the best.

They live in a graceless world, and their shallow evangelical theology reflects that. It’s theology where grace is spiritualized, trotted out to absolve Trump of his divorces, but there is no expectation that it transforms someone. They cannot give grace, but they also have no receptacle for receiving it. When Donald Trump said he had no need to ask God for forgiveness, he was speaking for his supporters, too: they have done nothing wrong. They are, in fact, the victims. Or, at least, they will be if they aren’t oppressing others.

This is not new. Here is Thomas Jefferson in 1820.

But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

Jefferson understood the dilemma: the longer the US held on to slavery, the more exhausting the project of oppression was–and the more damage the end of slavery would do to the status quo, which became dependent on it.

But we can also read in this quotation, I think, white fear that those who had brutalized Africans and their descendants deserved what they might get. They didn’t deserve self-preservation. The wolf is not to blame for biting the one holding his ear. He doesn’t do so because of a particularly debased nature, either. The wolf does so because that’s what the person holding his ear deserves.

I see it here, too, in this tweet by Donald Trump, with far less self-awareness that Jefferson:

See the source image

Some day, he says, if the roles are reversed, then the Republican House can impeach a Democratic president.

Some day, if the roles are reversed and people of color have more power, white people will be forced to suffer.

Some day, if the roles are reversed and women have more power, men will be forced to suffer.

Some day, if the poor have power, the rich will suffer.

Trump withstands the attacks now, just as rich, white men must withstand the attacks in the future.

This is the dystopia Trump and his followers fear–the one he described in his inaugural speech–because they know they deserve it. I don’t mean that they feel they deserve it; in fact, they don’t. But they know that their behavior is violent and oppressive, and they know that, in the eye-for-an-eye world they have created, they deserve the worst of what they have given others.

And they cannot imagine another world because to do so would mean that the one they themselves created was wrong.

****

Lynching, like rape and genocide and starvation, is not a metaphor. It’s a real thing that happens to real people at the hands of violent people like Trump, a proud perpetrator of sexual violence, religious bigotry, and now, the start of genocide against the Kurds. Trump, like other rich white men, has no model of suffering. (This does not mean that Trump has not suffered. It means that rich white men as a category do not suffer. There has never been a campaign of terrorism against them.) To hear him compare the use of the Constitution to a lynching is painful. It’s painful to those who have suffered from true violence, and it’s painful to those who love the Constitution.

But it is also an admission that he understands that white people have reserved their greatest violence for people of color. Nothing is worse, he says, than a lynching. And that is because nothing is more violent than white supremacy in this nation.

He doesn’t want such violence to stop. He only wants to be on the winning side of it.

Rebecca

Madman, Narcissist, Fool: Trump as Xerxes

As the 2020 election approaches, conservative Christians will have to continue to contend with the fact that Donald Trump loves what is evil and hates what is good. How do you take a bad seed yielding bad fruit and call it holy? It’s tricky business, but we know that the conservative evangelical world will be working at it full time over the next year.

One strategy has been to try to insert him into the Biblical story. Miriam Adelson, who isn’t a conservative Christian but a rightwing Jew whose politics align with the Christian Right, suggested we add a Book of Trump to the Bible. And I’ve written extensively on the effort to turn Trump into King Cyrus–a non-Jew who saved the Jewish people by restoring them to power in Jerusalem.

Another Biblical figure, though, has captured my attention with his likeness to Donald Trump: King Xerxes I.

If you know him, it is probably through the story of Esther (another figure conservative Christians sometimes invoke when discussing Trump). He is sometimes refered to as King Ahasuerus. The brief version: The king’s previous wife refused to let herself be publicly sexually humiliated by him, so now Xerxes has delivered a new law that all wives obey their husbands–and he’s on the hunt for a new wife to add to his harem. He calls for the most beautiful women in the land to come before him. He chooses Esther to be his queen, not realizing she is Jewish. Later, her uncle offends Haman, a member of the king’s cabinet, by refusing to bow to him as doing so would violate his Jewish faith. Haman convinces the king to, in response, murder all the Jews of the land. Xerxes agrees. Though entering the king’s presence without permission could mean her execution (That’s the kind of guy we’re dealing with.), Esther does so to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. The King can’t admit he made a mistake in trusting Haman or that broad-scale slaughter of his subjects is bad for morale, so he won’t renege on the policy. However, he permits Jews to fight back. In other words, he creates a giant mess and refuses to clean it up but instead requires other people to fight for the life he’s threatened to take from them.

Related image

Lefevre Valentin’s Esther Before Ahasuerus. The king chose her for her beauty–and because was embarrassed by Queen Vashti’s refusal to be sexually degraded before his drunk buddies. Everything about the story points to a fool ruled by appetite and ego.

All along, we see that Xerxes is both incompetent and dangerous because of his ego. He makes his decision of marriage based on the beauty alone. He can’t discern who is a good and trustworthy advisor and so ends up employing Haman, who is in it only for his own good. (Is that Rudy Guiliani in my metaphor? John Bolton? Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Stephen Miller? I don’t know–there are so many possibilities in the Trump White House.) He’s a fool, and everyone knows it but him, but, still, they fear him because he has power. He’s rule by his appetites and his ego.

The other way you might know Xerxes is through Herodotus’ history or popular depictions of him in films like The 300 Spartans or the graphic novel 300. He’s commands an amazing military at the peak of the Persian empire, holding territory from India and Egypt and Greece. The incredible size and power of his military, though, is also a signal of his hubris and hint to his eventual demise. He is presumptuous, ignoring ominous signs that he overestimates his abilities and evidence that the gods do not bless him. While he wins the battle of Thermopylae, it illustrates the bravery and devotion of the 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians–men who “not for gold but for glory”–in contrast to Xerxes’ men, who had to be driven to fight under the whip. He might win, but throughout his effort to expand his empire, he cannot inspire true loyalty because he has no higher values.

Perhaps the most illustrative story about Xerxes is that he attempted to build a bridge to the Hellespont, part of the Turkish straits that separates Asian from European Turkey, in order to invade Greece. When a storm destroys the first bridge, Xerxes beheads his engineers and orders his soldiers to whip the sea with 300 lashes,  brand it with hot irons, and sink shackles into it as punishment. His arrogant belief that he should control nature itself is recorded as the reason why the gods punish him in Aeschylus’ The Persians.

Xerxes whipping the sea, artwork

Who are the people in the Trump administration who carry out his absurd, dangerous, wasteful, ego-protecting demands?

That is Trump–a leader  who suggests nuking a hurricane like Xerxes whipped the sea. Xerxes is a person who signs a decrees to kill all the Jews and only limits it when his own wife–chosen only for her good looks–is threatened; likewise, Trump’s only principle is self-interest. And just as Xerxes ignored all the warnings of his destruction, Trump can’t bear to be wrong and will never truly correct course, no matter how many people his folly kills

Conservative Christians might note that Xerxes was the grandson of Cyrus the Great. He was given power, though he had an older brother (from another mother and thus not related to Cyrus) who might more rightfully claim the throne, because of the Persian’s willingness to insert him into the story of their empire. It’s a lesson about how nostalgia is no way to chose a leader.

Rebecca

 

 

A Sixoh6 Revisit: George W. Bush is the worst president of modern history.

We don’t typically offer re-runs at Sixoh6, but here’s your semi-regular reminder that George W. Bush was BY FAR a worse president than is Donald J. Trump. If that’s hard to believe, think about whether you’d feel that way if you lived in Iraq or Afghanistan. Trump’s racism is right in our face because it’s right in our nation, so it’s easy to be outraged. Bush’s legacy is of violence and destruction against brown-skinned people half a world away–but it was far more violent and destructive. God may forgive Bush, but we can never rehabilitate his image. 

From October 25, 2017:

“George W. Bush is Not a Friend to Democracy”

Donald Trump is a real gift to George W. Bush’s legacy, and the 43rd president seems to really be making the most of his moment. Next to Trump, of course, Bush is a poet, philosopher, statesman, and successful business leader. So, a few reminders, for those readers who might be too young to remember the thwarting of democracy that was necessary for his election, the pointless, costly, brutal, and illegal invasion of Iraq, the assault on civil liberties, or the economic ruin of GWB’s tax cuts:

See the source image

Above, George W. Bush dresses as Santa, with members of the Secret Service dressed as elves, in order to hand out toys at a children’s hospital in Dallas. His tax cuts fueled economic inequality, handed significantly more money to the already-wealthy, and jacked up the deficit for years. The percent of Americans living in poverty increased under his tenure. Like Reagan before him and Trump after him, he sought ways to put more money into the pockets of the people who already had the most. 

 

Above, Bush receives a hug from former First Lady Michelle Obama. The two remain friends, despite the fact that Bush’s 2000 presidential primary campaign used fears of interracial sex in a smear campaign against his opponent John McCain. In South Carolina, Bush’s team suggested McCain had had a biracial child. In fact, McCain had adopted a child from Bangladesh, and racists in the Republican party saw her as evidence for the Bush campaign’s claims. Like all Republicans since Nixon, Bush could not have won a presidential campaign without appeals to racism. 

 

Above, George W. Bush paints portraits of those who have served in the Armed Forces since 9/11.  To date, approximately 7,000 members of the Armed Forces have died in the global War on Terror. If Bush painted one of their pictures every day, he’d have to live be 90 years old to paint them all. 

It is not insightful or noble or brave or courageous for Bush to now criticize Trump. He should have spoken up during the campaign. He should have worked to reduce presidential power so that a future power-hungry white nationalist wouldn’t have had the opportunities that Trump is now using. Bush gave us the template for violating the civil rights of non-citizens. He gave us the structure for spying on people more effectively. He gave us unending warfare and the executive order to bring retired military officers back to the military–an order that Trump has ramped up forty fold. Bush gave the model for tax cuts that hurt the poor to profit the rich. Some of us will never, ever recover from them. His very election sent the message that family status and power–not talent or competency–is what wins elections. Without Bush, we would not have Trump.

Rebecca

PS. A bonus video for those who need a more explicit explanation of how to think about Bush’s effort to rehabilitate his legacy. 

 

Forgiving Hate Crimes?

Today is the anniversary of the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting. Some of our readers know that this event shoot me pretty terribly, for a variety of reasons: this is very close to the church of my youth, my grandparents work as Amish school taxi drivers (ferrying school teachers to their schools), and I had a long friendship with the killer’s wife, from kindergarten on. At the time of the shooting, I was conducting research on Westboro Baptist Church, and their response to it halted my work for several months. I was eventually able to resume, a process that I have written about elsewhere.

See the source image

In honor of the anniversary, I am sharing this blog post by Luke Brunning and Per-Erik Milam, which you can find at the International Network for Hate Studies blog. “Forgiving Hate Crimes: The Case of Dylan Roof” considers the place of forgiveness in such atrocious crimes.

Rebecca

 

Updates in Hate: Schools and Hate

 

J. Busher, T. Choudhury, and P. Thomas’ “The enactment of the counter-terrorism ‘Prevent duty’ in British schools and colleges: Beyond reluctant accommodation or straightforward policy acceptance” in Critical Studies on Terrorism considers teacher perspectives on Prevent Duty, which requires UK teachers to report students they feel are at risk of radicalization. To learn more about the Prevent program, check out their earlier article “The fatal flaws in how schools are asked to tackle terror.”

When you reduce bullying in schools, you reduce other measures of hate in schools as well. That is the finding of Brett Lehman in “Stopping the Hate: Applying Insights on Bullying Victimization to Understand and Reduce the Emergence of Hate in Schools,” in Sociological Inquiry.

Image result for hate free school

Above, image from the Twitter account of Hate-Free Schools Coalition, which seeks to ban hate symbols from public schools.

In “Time for a Teach-In? Addressing Racist Incidents on College Campuses,” published in Journal of Social Work Education, social work professors Joseph Kuilema, Lissa Schwander, Kristen Alford, Rachel Venema, and Stacia Hoeksema consider the history of the teach-in and the role of social work professors in addressing racism on campus.

In “When Hate Circulates on Campus to Uphold Free Speech,” published in Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Jessica Johnson uses qualitative data from observations at a Milo Yiannopolis speech at a university to examine absolutist and more nuanced approaches to understanding free speech on campus.

Readings: “The Racist American Doctrine of Predestination”

Those of you who like theology should check out Rachel Wagner’s recent Medium piece, “The racist American doctrine of predestination.”

 

Full disclosure: Rachel has become a friend of mine, and I greatly admire her work. See the source image

Another full disclosure: I’m empathetic to Calvinism though not a Calvinist myself.

While recognizing that Calvinism doesn’t have to be racist, Wagner writes:

The racist American doctrine of predestination… helps to explain why so many powerful white men aren’t held accountable for heinous crimes…. The corollary of original sin is, by implication, original blessedness: some people are born in God’s good light, and any wrong they do is mere opportunity for learning on the way to God’s heavenly kingdom.

Are their religious roots to our prejudices? Theological justifications in how we use Stand Your Ground? I hadn’t put the argument together until I read this piece, but I find it compelling.

Rebecca