7 Quick Takes: What You Can Do About Racism

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If you spend any time on the news – or even on Facebook – you’re already sick of hearing about Charleston. Unless, of course, you’re black, in which case it’s too close to home for you to be “sick” of it. In that case, it’s not an item on the news, another tragedy, another shooting. No, it’s another signal that a significant portion of the country sees you as less than human, and some of them will act on it. White people (I speak as one), this is not just another news story. If you think you’re tired, how tired is the community that has to bury the bodies?

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They are tired, and they are angry, and they need us to listen. Our black brothers and sisters in Christ were gunned down in a church, and the least we can do is listen and educated ourselves. If you think that our country is over racism, listen again. Listen until it clicks, until you say “What can I do?” as a genuine question, not as a defense mechanism.

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As with so many things, what an individual can do depends, in part, on your vocation. Since I know that some of my readers are mothers, I’ll start with parents. Y’all are on the front lines. You are shaping the next generation. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to say that Jesus loves everyone regardless of skin color. You have to model it.

I grew up in a racist household. Probably many of you did as well. Maybe your father didn’t say racial slurs, but did you get the impression that black people were unsafe? That “black” or “African American” means poor, illiterate, criminal? It’s very, very hard to overcome that, to recognize the implicit racism in your subconscious. Even those of us who consider ourselves unprejudiced have hidden biases that say otherwise. Part of teaching your children is teaching yourself, knowing that you probably have racial prejudice.

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But how do you teach kids about racism? Isn’t it best to just not mention color at all? That seems to be many parents’ philosophy, but I think it’s flawed, if well-intended. Think of it like sexual ethics. It’s common knowledge that our culture teaches all kinds of harmful messages about sex. As parents, you know this better than anyone, and it’s in the forefront of your mind as you monitor potential movies or have serious discussions with your kids. You would never just let your kids pick up their cues about sex from the culture without your own input. Racism is the same way. It might be politically incorrect to be racist, but that doesn’t mean that the wider culture in America isn’t heavily prejudiced against black people. Even if you homeschool, your kids will bump up against it sooner or later. Don’t let it surprise you; be proactive. Seek ways for your kids to interact with people outside of their own race. Get them used to being with people who are different from them, to see them as real people with their own likes and dislikes and passions. If you see something racist in a movie, don’t just let it pass. Talk to your kids about it, in the same way that you might a commercial that borders on porn.

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Those who teach have an important role as well, from classroom teachers to religious teachers to homeschooling parents. Here’s my suggestion: start at the local level. Unfortunately, most American communities have a history that was marred by racism in one way or another; fortunately, there are often stories of bravery and progress. Was your town part of the Underground Railroad? Were there sit-ins during the 60s? Were slaves sold in your town? (Even in the Northeast, this is a strong possibility). Make it real for your students, not just something that happened “over there.” Be frank about what’s changed and what hasn’t changed (spoiler: a lot hasn’t changed). Be honest about the fact that racial discrimination is still a problem in our country, and what needs to change.

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Pastors and priests, I’m going to be real with you (if by any chance you happen to see this). You need to stop being afraid of offending your white congregations. As frightening as it may be – my husband preaches sermons, I get it – it’s your job. We need your help to be the most loving, truth-serving Christians we can be, and sometimes that’s going to mean some tough love. If you didn’t address it this Sunday, do so the next. You might offend the big donors, but I have a feeling that Jesus did plenty of that in His day.

I have been in church my whole life, usually twice on Sunday. I have only once heard a sermon on racism, and it was from a black preacher.

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And those of us who aren’t teaching anyone? Haha just kidding, we all do. At some point, you or I will be in a room when someone complains about “Canadians” (that’s how people say nigger in public now, FYI). Maybe you’ll witness racial profiling in a store (this has happened to me, and I’m ashamed to admit I kept my head down and did nothing). Maybe you’ll be in a presence of children when that happens. I pray that we will have the cajones to speak up. Like most Southern ladies I was taught to respect my elders and go along quietly with whatever they say or do, even if it’s horribly racist. This is false kindness. Even since reading this article I’ve been chewing on how to live differently. I hope you will too.

Further reading:

Things for White People to do to Fight Racism

Some historical background on Charleston

This explains the difference between simple prejudice (“reverse racism”) and prejudice plus centuries of power.

This writer from Georgia reminds us that racism isn’t just a Southern thing.

This journalist explains the media bias about how black and white criminals are described.

Or just go to the library and pull out Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. Learning about what slavery was really like was a huge turning point for me.

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7 Quick Takes: I Got a Job!

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As I mentioned in another post, life is crazy right now. At least one thing has been settled: I have found a full-time job! The pay isn’t great, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than nothing. It’s also in a small office, which I greatly prefer to being a cog in the wheel of a conglomerate.

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Unfortunately, our general living situation is still in flux. I don’t talk about my current personal life much here, since it’s quasi-anonymous, but here’s the basic scoop: my husband and I made the difficult decision to have me live in Atlanta with friends to work and save money until he can find a full-time job, preferably very close to mine, and we can find a new apartment. He is still in the nebulous state of being a transitional deacon in the Episcopal church, which means he’s on the process to priestly ordination but it hasn’t happened yet, and everything’s in limbo until the last hurdle is passed. For now he’s stuck in Savannah dealing with our lease, which doesn’t expire until July, working part-time as a chaplain and applying for jobs around Atlanta. I tried to find a full-time job in Savannah, but the job market there is very difficult for someone trying to break in as a newcomer. In Atlanta, by contrast, I had three interviews in my first two weeks after moving up, and one of them offered me the job I have now.

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In case you’ve ever wondered how fun it is to have a long-distance relationship with your spouse, here’s a spoiler: it sucks.

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On a more positive note, I’ve found a church home in record time! If you’re an Atlanta Episcopalian who thinks saying the Angelus at noon sounds spiffy, come on over to Church of Our Savior in Virginia Highlands. And if you’re Catholic (or a low church Protestant) just come to Virginia Highlands. It’s the coolest little neighborhood, with pubs and shops and parks (and a babbling brook in the midst of Atlanta), everything in a walkable area.

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One more shameless endorsement! The William Blake Summer Singers are doing Haydn’s The Creation with the Atlanta orchestra, and I’ll be in the alto section. It will be held at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer August 9th at 1 p.m. I sang in the soprano section of The Creation with a community choir in my hometown in high school, and it’s fascinating to get into a different section. They don’t tell you that women’s voices fall, albeit less dramatically than men’s, but they do. Mine certainly did. I’m also waaaaaaay out of practice, so I jumped at the chance to retrain my voice, since the Summer Singers didn’t require auditions.

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In light of Caitlyn Jenner and the infamous Vanity Fair cover, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about gender and human sexuality and feminism. My knowledge of trans issues is slim to none, though I have a friend who identifies as transgender (i.e. without surgery). My feelings on the subject are best summed up in this New York Times article, which examines what it means for feminism. Like many others, I find the cover a step backwards for women in many ways, in part because I don’t consider myself a hardline conservative on these issues. Does being a woman mean that you are successfully attractive to heterosexual men? Can it really be so limiting?

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My other hesitation about this whole issue is the way that alternate viewpoints have been deemed impermissible with such vehemence. As a college freshman I argued against speech codes; my views have not changed. In the past few years, the number of things that one just can’t say without huge consequences have grown at a fast clip. If we can’t distinguish between expressing opinions and oppressing others, how on earth will we have civil discourse? Or is that already not a valid option?

*I’m publishing this early, because my commute doesn’t allow for staying up late.

7 Quick Takes: You Might Be a (Fundamentalist) Christian School Graduate If….

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You bought long tank tops or camisoles to wear under your blouses to ensure dress code compliance. To be extra careful, you tucked them into your pants or skirt. After all, you wouldn’t want the Bible teacher seeing your red lace thong.

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The school had complex rules about which books, music, and movies were overly sexual, graphic, or just “inappropriate.” However, the entire middle and high school went to see Passion of the Christ at the theater, and on field trip bus rides you watched gruesome persecution scenes in Tribulation and Left Behind movies.

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You always wanted the pastor’s wife directing the high school play. Some plays were irredeemable, such as Cinderella – that darn Fairy Godmother! Others, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or the song “Doing What Comes Naturally” from Annie Get Your Gun, mysteriously passed muster – as long as the pastor’s wife was directing. Of course, you might end up with interesting compromises, like permission to sing Chicago songs as long as you change the words “where the gin is cold” to “where the ice is cold.”

dancing
Still not pure enough for a Baptist school.

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Dancing leads to fornication, so your school had a prom “banquet” comprising of chicken breast dinners. As an alternative, someone always held a house party where you could booty dance to Sir Mix-a-Lot and lose your virginity in a bathroom with Precious Moments figurines.

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You didn’t read most of the classics because they had corrupting language and compromising morals. Instead, your English teachers assigned Lori Wick or Frank Peretti novels for summer reading. (Alternately, you read classic literature with the bad words covered in white out. That was how our English teacher got The Great Gatsby approved.)

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Your “science” textbooks were Creation science apologia. For instance, if you had Bob Jones University Press textbooks, you learned that evolutionists think that giraffes have long necks because they kept stretching them to reach tall branches. Or you learned the following gem from my chemistry textbook: “chemical reactions are like the Holy Spirit entering a Christian’s heart.”

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You’re not so different, Insane Clown Posse and BJU: neither of you know how magnets work.

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And you absolutely went to a Christian school if you could use the following to get your teacher hopelessly off-topic:

1. Is Lord of the Rings demonic like Harry Potter?

2. Did Jesus drink alcoholic wine or was it just grape juice?

3. Are there black people because of the curse of Cain or because of Noah’s son Ham? (Bonus points if there was one black kid in the class trying to look invisible).

Happy Friday y’all!

Seven Quick Takes: BUGS (No scary pictures, promise)

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If you live in the Deep South, bugs are a fact of life. There are different ways of coping with this reality. When my parents moved to south Georgia in 1985 (and inexplicably stayed put), their introduction to the lifestyle was watching a neighbor eat a sandwich covered in gnats. On a field trip in elementary school our class was served cornbread crawling with live black ants; the country women serving us didn’t understand why we wouldn’t eat them. Some folks admit defeat and acknowledge that the bugs have won. It’s their world; we just live in it.

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If, however, you prefer your protein in chicken form, you devote a significant portion of brain power to the art of bug prevention. Those who live in, say, Ohio cannot fathom how much labor goes into this. When I lived in a 1920s apartment in South Carolina, my roommate and I, both with severe cockroach phobia, went to great lengths in our battle for dominance. Windows were sealed shut with packing tape from April-October; it’s too hot in the summer to open the windows and expect a “breeze.” Every night I dried out the sinks and poured bleach in the toilet and down the drains to discourage cockroach water polo. I made a mix of borax and sugar – borax for poisoning and sugar so they’d eat it – and scattered it liberally in our dark and terrifying basement. In case you’re wondering, yes we did have a landlord, but he was of the “if you can’t fight ’em join ’em” persuasion and failed to comprehend our neurosis.

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Before my husband and I moved to Savannah, we met up with a local priest and went to dinner on Tybee Island in early May. I neglected to pack bug spray because I did not foresee an evening of outdoor dining overlooking a swamp. (A pretty swamp, I hasten to add. Swamps down here can be breathtaking).

I can drive somewhere like this in 3 minutes.
I can drive somewhere like this in 3 minutes.

This was one my top ten worst life choices. As I bathed in hydrocortizone cream later that night, I reflected on my future life in a city that named its minor league baseball team the “Sand Gnats.”

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Not kidding.

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You’ve never heard of sand gnats? Allow me to educate you: they are foul, tiny insects whose sole purpose in life is to torment the citizens of coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Unlike regular gnats (the kind my townsfolk eat on sandwiches), they bite. Unlike mosquitoes, their bites hurt. Also unlike mosquitoes, they are so tiny that the locals call them “no-see-ums.” And I swear they can bite through clothing. Those of us from some foreign realm, like western Georgia, did not build up an immunity to the bites as toddlers. Tourists, if you get bit twice on the ankle it will look like you got attacked by fire ants and then had an allergic reaction.

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Not familiar with fire ants either? They were an introduced pest carried over accidentally on boats from South America that escaped in Mobile, Alabama and, thence, to the greater Deep South. One of the pivotal life experiences for a Southern child is stepping in an ant-hill unawares. This subject is giving me flashbacks; excuse me while I pour a strong drink.

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My consolation is that south Georgia does not, so far as I know knock on wood, have camel crickets. Ever heard of those? I hadn’t either until we moved to Northern Virginia and had a panic attack in the basement laundry room. I’ve already done the terrifying internet research for you, metro DC citizens, so you don’t have to google “scary crickets in Northern Virginia” with one eye open and your exterminator on speed dial. According to this website (do NOT click unless you want a picture), the “frightful camel cricket” is found “lurking” in basements and cellars and can “grow into a persistent menace.” It goes on to describe an experience I’m all too familiar with, in which the crickets’ poor eyesight causes them to panic at sudden movements and “jump on people out of fear, which can be a terrifying experience… likened to a bug jumping on a pogo stick.” Sorry, these crickets are not frightened. I have encountered lines of them guarding the laundry entrance, like a defensive tackle, just daring me to try and get past. It almost makes me affectionate for the no see ums.

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All this to say, Charleston Edell attendees, know what you’re getting into and pack quality bug repellent. Don’t rely on some essential oil bullshit. Get something with a warning label about ingestion or the words “Deep Woods” on the bottle. (Look for the ingredient “Picaridin.” It’s safer than DEET but more effective than citronella nonsense). You may think “Oh but I’ll be in civilization.” Sorry, but the word “civilization” is not in a no-see-um’s vocabulary, other than “hey look guys, there are lots of human targets over here.” You are gearing for battle, and you are outnumbered. Plan accordingly.