The Macro-Function of Micro-Aggressions: The Maintenance of White Institutional Spaces

“Whiteness, like other forms of domination, is characterized by masking power under a veil of normality.”    –Glenn Bracey and Wendy Leo Moore, 2017

My wife is an avid gardener.  It’s her favorite thing about summer, and she tends to it daily—planting, watering, pruning, fussing around.  Lots of people complement the yard, but they don’t realize how much time, care, and devotion it requires.  If we’re gone even for a week or two, you can tell it has suffered from lack of attention.

The care and upkeep of social organizations requires a lot of attention, too:  reinforcing norms, fine-tuning goals, maintaining boundaries.  Casual observers don’t realize how much time, care, and devotion it requires.

Continue reading The Macro-Function of Micro-Aggressions: The Maintenance of White Institutional Spaces

One way to honor Dr. King today

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor

We observe Dr. King’s birthday today.  Those who assume he would be satisfied with the state of the nation today don’t understand his powerful commitment to justice for all, and his constitutional inability to to sit by while people are being oppressed.

Dr. King was deeply unpopular among White people all across the country when he was alive.  I remember as a child (living in the Mid-West, before we moved to Tennessee) that he was regularly referred to by White people as “Martin Lucifer Coon.”  He is honored today mostly in the breach.  Those who believe that his work has been completed, that there is no more injustice, only people unworthy of justice, have rendered him a kindly, enfeebled set of clichés.  But he was a fierce and powerful prophet who took up his cross and followed Jesus right into martyrdom.  He would do no less today.

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Lord, have mercy.

Racial justice as the path to racial progress
Racial justice as the path to racial progress

Sometimes I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep.  This morning, it was 3:44.  I learned while making coffee of the shootings in Dallas.  Another blow, so soon after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  After learning what I could from the usual news websites, I turned to twitter.

I present to you some selected screen shots (taken later in the day) without comment.  I have nothing else to say.


Linda Sarsour--heavy heart




Continue reading Lord, have mercy.

When Can Small Steps Lead to Big Results?

I’m not a big fan of small steps.  I like large steps.  Strides.  I want a blueprint for Ending Racism in Our Time, and No Later than Tuesday Afternoon.  With all that needs to be done, who has the patience for small steps?  Besides, small steps often are used as an excuse to declare victory, send everyone home, and insist that those who want more simply can’t be satisfied.

But I was heartened by two small steps last week, and reminded that the right kind of small steps can be an important and effective part of working for racial justice. Continue reading When Can Small Steps Lead to Big Results?

A Gathering of Voices– Ivy Keen, Hope College class of 2016

Strategic Planning Student Forum, November 24, 2015

On November 24, 2015, approximately ninety Hope College students met to discuss ways Hope could improve its campus climate so that all students are able to succeed and flourish. In Hope’s new strategic plan, Goal 4 focuses on discovering why some students are marginalized and on identifying ways the college culture could be improved to include these students. The purpose of this strategic planning student forum was to gather student opinions on how best to implement and achieve Goal 4:

Hope College will be a community unified by its inspiring mission, strengthened by its diversity, and committed to the flourishing of every individual as one created and loved by God.

Continue reading A Gathering of Voices– Ivy Keen, Hope College class of 2016

Does your church have a Swedish Jesus?

It can be difficult for people in a dominant group to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who are in subordinate groups.  If something works really well for me, and others seem to be struggling, my first impulse may be to wonder, “What’s wrong with them?”

In addition, dominant group members may not have many opportunities to get to know those who are subordinate, or to hear first-hand accounts of their experiences.  Because those who are dominant nearly always segregate themselves in residential and social enclaves, they often are profoundly ignorant of others’ lives.

Continue reading Does your church have a Swedish Jesus?

Two Racial Tipping Points?

I’ve been wondering lately whether we’re moving toward two very different racial tipping points, both at the same time.

Tipping Point Number One:  Not Your Mother’s Civil Rights Movement

A student asked me after class Wednesday where I thought the most racial progress is being made today.  Interesting question!  I told him that the post-Ferguson coming-togethers, loosely organized under the Black Lives Matter hashtag, have the potential to create meaningful, significant progress.  It’s a large, distributed network of mostly young, mostly Black people all over the country helping us think about what it would mean if Black lives really did matter to us.  There is energy, interest, and vision, as well as thoughtful discussion of ends and means that has the potential to reshape how the nation conceives of racism and, therefore, how we go about ending it.

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Segregation means that the similar is also the familiar

An international research team has been studying racial bias in children—how it develops and how it can be addressed.

We have known for a long time that babies and young children look longer at things they like, and not so long at things they don’t like.  Pretty straightforward, right?  More recently, we learned that when it comes to adult faces, babies like the kinds of faces they already know more than they like the kinds of faces that are new to them (Bar-Haim et al., 2006).  White Israeli babies prefer White adult faces.  Black Ethiopian babies prefer Black adult faces.  But Ethiopian babies living in Israeli resettlement campus don’t show a preference, presumably because they are living in a multiracial environment.  It’s a matter of favoring the familiar, not the similar.

Continue reading Segregation means that the similar is also the familiar

Getting un-befuddled

#BlackLivesMatter has become a national force in the year since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri.  Businesses are scrambling to adapt to the new work force, and the new customer base.  “Social justice” is the subject of sermons and studies in churches, synagogues, and mosques around the country.

And 51% of likely American voters want to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Continue reading Getting un-befuddled

Are those kids our kids?

Back in the ‘80s, there was a lot of concern about the coarsening of U.S. culture, especially in entertainment, including the use of violent, crudely sexual, and misogynistic lyrics in both heavy metal and rap music.  At the time, heavy metal was considered a genre mostly for young White men, and rap a genre mostly for young Black men.

Sociologist Amy Binder (1993) studied the ways in which journalists and others expressed their concerns about both heavy metal and rap during those years, and discovered a very important difference.  People were concerned that the messages of heavy metal would in some way harm its White listeners.  The concerns about rap, however, were not about its effects on the listeners themselves, but about the possibility that rap music would motivate its Black listeners to harm others.  “I’m worried about those (White) kids” vs. “I’m worried about what those (Black) kids will do to the rest of us.” Continue reading Are those kids our kids?