Mass Incarceration of Black Folks and Clinton’s Crime Bill

This has gained a great amount of attention due to #BlackLivesMatter who challenged the Clintons on this.

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The Historical Impact on the Present

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Professor Wilsey and I co-authored a piece here on the place and significance of Confederate monuments, parks, and symbols of white supremacy in the present age of ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬. We noted that “The First Amendment empowers attitudes of hatred and disregard for the plight of others; it also gives power and voice to the weak and downtrodden. It allows for symbols of hate and social injustice like the Confederate flag, while also permitting oppressed and targeted groups to rise up in activism to eradicate societal ignorance and vice.”

Rethinking Demark Vesey

In the past, I have taught that Denmark Vesey, who was a free black man in the South, organized a failed slave insurrection in South Carolina. Until a decade ago, most historians believed that Vesey was the mastermind of this failed coup. In a shocking piece, published by the William and Mary Quarterly, a prestigious history journal, Michael Johnson revisited the court records and noted that Vesey was never present. Further, all testimonies came from slaves — some who were coerced out of fear. Hence, his paper concluded that “…the conspiracy in Charleston in 1822 was not a plan by blacks to kill whites but rather a conspiracy by whites to kill blacks, which resulted in the largest number of executions ever carried out by a civilian court in the United States”.

According to Johnson, the Vesey insurrection was not a slave organized event, but one of hysteria created by political actors seeking office who needed a bit of gravitas to launch their agenda against others. The United States Supreme Court criticized the South Carolina Court for committing legalized murder.(Source: March 11, 2002 issue of The Nation pg. 22)

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Why is this important for our students? Black activist in South Carolina have fought to build a statue of Vesey in the city of Charleston. They were met by opposition due to a false notion that Vesey was plotting murder. Vesey was a man of honor and character; he informed others of the inherent wrongs found in America. He discussed God and how America was not a Godly nation due to its actions. There are scholars who disagree with the new interpretation of Vesey and the construction of a public statue. Concord Academy graduate and now Harvard University president, Drew Gilpin Faust, noted that “I have problems with finding heroism as the purpose of history.” It appears that her perspective is one of not turning heroism into history. Though she seems to favor this new interpretation, it is hard to tell if she favors this statue, which you can read about here.

I am most excited about this because I have elected to spend time this fall having my students look at various interpretations of slave historiography. A book that I placed on our summer reading is Confessions of Nat Turner. I will blog about that work and how I intend to use it. This work should create a great deal of debate among my students. If they elected not to read William Styron’s fictional work, I have already edited key points from it as a comparison to the historiography. Also, having students compare the treatment of Vesey in older texts to that in recent ones is a great exercise in how history is not static, but often a changing discipline. As I shared with a few members in my department, our Nation of Nations text (6th edition) paints one image of Vesey on pages 307 and 363, while our new text America’s History (8th edition) paints the most updated historiography on page 401.

Christian Scholars’ Conference 2014, Part III

This post was written by professor Jeff Baker of Pepperdine University. I was honored to have been asked by Baker to join this fantastic panel. You can also see this post and other writings by Baker at his blog.

Last week at the Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb University, I helped convene a multidisciplinary, intersectional panel on allies, those in positions of relative privilege who seek to act in solidarity with people who do not share it. In almost all of my native contexts, I enjoy the privileges of being a white, straight, Christian, cisgendered man, yet I hope to be a good ally and collaborator with others in the interest of justice. My friends on the panel taught us much on the role and calling of alliance with people on the margins of our institutions.

The panelists, Dr. Jeanine Thweatt-Bates, Julie Mavity Maddalena, Edward Carson and Scott Lybrand, are respectively and intersectionally, white, black, straight, gay, men and women, across a spectrum of faith and post-faith, speaking from diverse backgrounds of affluence, poverty, education and vocation. They spoke from various, ambivalent points of privilege and marginalization. This is some of the wisdom they shared for people who would be allies in solidarity with people without power or voices in our communities.

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Listen: The first and essential rule for allies is to listen to those with whom they would have solidarity. Listen for stories. Listen for insight. Listen for wisdom. Listen for agency. Do not reinterpret. Listen and attend to one’s own internal reactions. If a friend on the margins speaks and provokes an emotional reaction within the ally, the ally ought to reflect on the dynamics that triggered the response and question it.

Amplify: Do not speak on behalf of a marginalized voice but use powerful platforms to amplify her voice. Allies should use the platforms and means at their disposal to amplify the voices of those on the margins, with their own identity and agency, sharing the stages and podiums we enjoy with those who do not have access to them.

Move out of the center: Effective allies will not presume to be the heroic protagonist in the neighbor’s narrative. The ally should not be on a rescue mission but should strive to pull alongside the friend on the margins, to empower and support, to amplify, but not to eclipse. No one wants to be another’s project.

Disagree without condemnation: Build together a context where disagreement does not mean condemnation. Rather, disagreement ought to lead to acknowledgement for more and better communication and understanding. The people “on the margins” are not monolithic or univocal, but as humans will disagree, struggle and advance conflicting points of view in their agency.

Hear stories: The effective ally will hear stories with an intentional discipline to understand context and with an understanding that one person’s story never is representative of an entire community. Individuals matter. Let people tell their own stories, and do not interpret someone’s story for them. Listen for criticism of oppressive dynamics, but also listen to perceive resilience, beauty, faithfulness, dignity and forgiveness.

Educate yourself: “It is not the queer person’s job to educate the privileged ally.” Friends may seek insight and understanding from friends, but to insist that a person on the margins be the source of knowledge for an ally makes the person on the margin an object yet again. The person on the margins is not obligated to educate the ally on oppression, although the ally ought to learn from the neighbor on the margins.

Understand the effects of oppression: Oppression causes harm. Often the criticism leveled at those on the margins by those in privilege is the result of the oppression, not of the identity of the person on the margins. “Gayness is not harmful. The institutional oppression of gay people is harmful.” The Invisible Man is not weaker, less able, less smart, less worthy, but being made invisible generates harmful and persistent, traumatic effects on spirit, mind and body. Always ask whom we may be harming by doing what we do.

Don’t interrupt: Listen and hear without preparing a response, a defense, an interpretation. Be willing to give up the initiative and direction of a conversation.

Recognize default categories of normalcy: Recognize that inherited notions of normalcy create privileges for those in the default categories, forcing the exceptions to the margins. Normalcy receives implicit preference and favor. Honor the exceptional who lie outside the default categories of normalcy but counter their exclusion by inviting them into the privileged and preferred spaces of our conversations and collaborations.

Don’t confuse the ought with the is: To say that one does not see gender, race, etc., to claim to be “colorblind,” does not reflect reality. To ignore difference, even with a good will, impliedly adopts the dominant as normal and imposes the default categories. To ignore difference, even with a good will, denies the gifts of difference and exception, and ignores the beauty and wisdom of variety and experience.

Recognize movements already in action: When entering a cause as an ally, avoid the impulse to initiate something new from scratch on behalf of those with whom we would be in solidarity. Rather, with a posture of humility and caution, recognize movements already in action. Do not assume that the movement needs an ally but lend aid, power, voice and capacity as the movement invites and welcomes the ally’s effort.

Take a risk: An ally might better be called an accomplice. Acting in solidarity as an ally accomplice may require skin in the game, risks to the ally’s self. It is all too easy to claim to be an ally when it is convenient, then to retire to a place of comfortable safety when the ally needs a respite. The oppressed don’t get vacations from oppression, so the ally must prepare to sweat and bleed with the friend on the margins.

Practice epistemic humility: Be comfortable with ambiguity, fluidity and constructive conflict. Certainty, clarity and clean resolutions are not realistic in a truly plural, multivocal world. Admit and accept that we do not know and cannot know everything about the others’ world and experience.

Be helpful: Guilt, paralysis and shame are not helpful. Likewise, the posture of a savior bent on rescue is not helpful. As Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson said, “If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Be angry: Question institutions without ceasing if everyone in the room looks like everyone else in the room. Be angry that people are on the margins at all. Be angry for the poverty of spirit imposed on the privileged and the marginalized by exclusion. Do not make people invisible, and do not abide their invisibility. Do not judge the excluded by the standards of the included. Always question and challenge the exclusion of anyone. If you would walk into a room and ask, “Why doesn’t anyone here look like me?” then be prepared to ask, “Why does everyone in this room look like me?”

Christian Scholars Conference, 2014 Part I

“Invitation to the Voiceless Minority”
Michael Brown, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Convener

Edward Carson, The Brooks School, North Andover, MA, “Racial Reflection and Sexual Identity: The Challenges of Silence in Conservative Institutions”
Michelle Mikeska, Houston Christian, “A Nonviolent Hermeneutic: How to Promote Peace in Confessional Institutions”
Stephanie Eddleman, Harding University, “Female Voices of Faith: The Untold Stories”

Mike has already read our papers and has prepared some thoughts for the Q&A part.

I like his thoughts here:

It’s almost time to suit up and light this candle! (rocket parlance–I do live in Huntsville, after all). I’ve enjoyed reading the papers I’ve received, and I think we have the makings of a fine session. We are first out of the block in Session I on Thursday morning at 9:00 AM.

As far as time allowed, I plan about 5 minutes or less on the introduction, and I figure we can allow about 20-22 minutes for each topic, which will include one followup question by me to each panelist. That should leave about 20 minutes or so for Q&A involving the audience. I’m assuming you are all likely planning on reading your papers verbatim, so please read them aloud now, time yourselves, and figure out exactly how you can stay within the time frame so we can give fair share to all.

I will not be getting into Nashville until late Wednesday evening. It would be good, I think, for us to meet each other and go over a few things prior to the session. Could we do a meet-up at the breakfast scheduled in the Paul Rogers Board Room of the Ezell Building near the registration desk? We could convene about 7:45 or so and still be finished by the time of the devotional at 8:15 if any are planning to attend.

Remembering Vincent Harding

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I first became a Vincent Harding fan while in high school. Attending an all white private day school while living in Montgomery, Alabama was most confusing to me, but it was also the most rewarding experience of my life; it was my introduction to Harding that got me excited about race and religion in history. Hence, he is a reason why my African-American Studies course will read and study his There is a River as a required text. Unfortunately, he like so many civil rights activist are unknown and invisible. If you do not know him, be sure to give this New York Times piece a read.

As noted in the article:

For more than half a century, Dr. Harding worked at the nexus of race, religion and social responsibility. Though he was not as high-profile a figure as some of his contemporaries — he preferred to work largely behind the scenes — he was widely considered a central figure in the civil rights movement.