The Church and Radical Jesus

In a very early draft, I noted the church — both the Negro church and the white church cannot fully reconcile their racial differences because at the heart of their differences exist capitalism. It was capitalism that transformed the Negro church after 1970 from an agent seeking radical change to one procuring materialism. And because churches love capitalism, they continue to fall short of being revolutionary change agents. Capitalism promotes racism and divides the black and white working class from an achievable world. The white church fails at transforming the weak, poor, and oppressed in their space. While “some” provide food and shelter, they have yet to challenge the status of oppression that keeps the soup lines open. Others have conformed to blaming those who struggle, giving in to the solution of liberalism, as a measure in which capitalism favors them and their paternalism.

The 21st century church must disavow its complacency and promulgate equality through radical preachers who love people more than capitalism, and who will subscribe to what Psalm 82: 3-4 notes: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Black academic and radical organizer Melvin Tolson once noted, “Jesus didn’t believe in economic, racial, and social distinctions…. You talk about Karl Marx, the Communist! Why, don’t you know Jesus was preaching about leveling society 1,800 years before the Jewish Red was born?”

Melvin Tolson above discussing Jesus as a radical.

Against Bigotry

I spoke to a crowed at the end of our protest march in front of the Boston State House. I am feeling a desire by many to bring true change. But that will not be easy. This march/protest was aimed against policies on deportations and refugees and Muslims.

I am with Jackie here, she is my friend; I am her friend. She is my ally and I am her ally. We stand with others as friends. Let me be clear here: I love people. And because I love working-class people, I have decided I can no longer be a friend with those who support the legislation of hate. What does this mean? I will not travel with you nor visit your home. If you are against LGBTQ folks, female rights, undocumented friends, black, brown, and others, and if you support hate and American exceptionalism, I am not your friend and you are not my friend. This is not just a virtual notion; it is true for me day-to-day. If you believe you are “just” due to your faith — we are not friends. To be my friend means you are my ally, and thus are seeking to evolve by walking with me to denounce bigotry. I will work with you on the job. I am working class and have to pay the bills. I have no interest in your religion or church if your members are not allies. I will be nice and say hello – Mom and Dad raised me well. I will work beside you at work — but just know I cannot be your friend; if you are not my ally, we are not friends. If you are arguing about my realities and the realities of my friends and allies – we cannot be friends. We cannot break bread in my home or have a glass of wine.

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May Day 2014

I try to draft something each year that relates to May Day. It is May Day. Workers of the world, unite!!! One of the biggest elements of frustration I have launched against Orthodox Marxism involves their silly construct that black exploitation is and has been a mere category of labor and class oppression — not race. Some Christians have purchased this lie of colorblindness in a world in which Christ sees no color. As a black Marxist, I cannot help but see the signs of racial inequality. It is ubiquitous. Just look at the work place. Here is a history lesson on this topic.

Here is a brief history of May Day.

Gentrification Part II: Living Downtown

A while back I drafted a post on white flight and gentrification part I. Below is part II of my thought regarding this matter.

Thus far the 21st century has made it pretty darn cool to move downtown….Or for some, a return to the inner city, a place once thought by some to be an unthinkable living place with its racial and ethnic minorities. Recent studies have shown that not only are younger folks moving closer to the hood, but the same is true of those who have reached retirement age. Cities such as my current one (Houston) and my former one (Little Rock), have invested a great deal of money in developing and renovating their downtown. The new slogan in Houston is ” inside the loop.” The loop is a defined zone noting a bourgeoisie culture South of Interstate 10, west of  freeway 59, and inside the 610 loop.

Inside the loop is the new aspiring dream for those who are firmly fit for upper middle class status. It brings with it an array of shopping centers, dining options, and expensive living centers. There is an element of prestige that goes with living “inside the loop.” It presses upon the masses of suburbanites that an inner looper is cooler, far trendier, and far more in touch with what is “IN.” It also reminds those who live in the suburbs that there is a new distinction of class. There was a time when a suburban Houstonian might turn his or her head down on an inner-city dweller. The image of gang infested blocks, or bums on the street after a hard day of drinking and begging seemed too beneath the suburban vanguard of middle class people. After all, those in the suburbs had achieved the American dream: A house with a yard; neighbors of the same class and race to worship with on Sunday; well manicured lawns to impress the ladies club come Bridge Tuesday. Yes!!! The dream was met. The notion of racial polarization was set. Thanks to the consumer decade of the 1950s, domestic house wives could feel safe in their homogenous community, as they worked the latest innovations in kitchen appliance.

However, by 2000 an interesting trend developed. Though urban sprawl continued to increase since the construction of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, a younger and trendier group of people are rebelling against the mass conformity of their parents. Growing up in white homogenous communities, a new population of young hip white adults are returning to the hood. Well, what was once the hood. After decades of receiving an excellent upper middle class education in property rich school districts, young post-graduate professionals have drawn certain conclusions: They do not want to live the life of their parents. This inner loop trend is a bit more diverse with a growing young black  crowed and the expansion of the gay and lesbian population. This is particularly true of Houston.

Gentrification comes at a price; I am not talking about the cost of a small downtown loft. It has created an interesting trend of migration. In Houston, a number of the once homeless population that found places to reside in the inner loop, are now being pushed out. City ordinances in Houston do not allow for the homeless to reside in street alleys or beneath an unoccupied overpass. Urban renaissance cities are campaigning to bring in more downtown businesses and residents. And while that is great for the local economy, I guess it says something when we as a society are more concerned with our fancy way of living than the social conditions of society. A number of once inner loop homeless citizens have now migrated to the suburbs.  I hate that I am part of this problem. I am trying to figure it out.

Marx and the Church on Gambling

Karl Marx was not a nationalist nor a spiritual person like that of Georg Hegel, who found the Lutheran faith to be the highest form of religion in a man’s life. If one were to look beyond the exile of the Catholic church, during the early stages of the French Revolution, historical analysis would show a vibrant relationship between religion and nationalism. Marx, unlike Hegel, saw religion as a seductive force; it was an element that, as other Marxist scholars have noted, served as another means of exploiting the means of the masses. As noted in his Opium of the People:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Marx’s thesis of class consciousness and class conflict continues to be relevant today. Though Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism addressed the political shift of the left in relation to societal constructs, Marxism continues to be a significant school of thought in a world divided by class, race, gender, and national interest. Academic disciplines continue to focus on conflicts within society as they seek to explain economic interest in a pluralistic society. And yes, I do believe pluralism is a highly ubiquitous ideology that shapes the social and cultural make-up of the American polity.

But, if Marx had his doubts about the seductive force of religion, on the masses, he would contend that exploitation of any type is exploitation. Not only did Marx see forces of economic interest as being dangerous, the church (Catholic and Protestant) also voiced its concerns about agents that exploit. In a recent class discussion on capitalism, I told my macroeconomics class that Marx would be opposed to both a state lottery system, and casinos. As a self-professed leftist, I too do not favor the lottery or casinos. Here is the problem: politicians support legalizing casino gambling and the lottery because they are influenced by special interest. Many claim it will generate revenue for the state and create jobs; in truth, both exploit the poor, lead to more crime, and increase unemployment. The lottery is an indirect tax. I realize that it is a tax one does not have to pay, but if you are low on the socioeconomic scale, it is easy to be seduced by the possibility of cashing in quick for greater earnings.

In addition, education plays a major role in this matter. If you are poor and have a limited education, the seductive forces of the opium of gambling, will be hard to reject. A man works hard all week to earn a pay check, yet that check is not enough to make ends meet. Thus, he seeks to “earn” additional wages by handing that check over to a casino with the hope of getting rich. Casinos represents the bourgeoisie’s efforts at exploiting the poor. Once that hardworking man surrenders that check, he is granted a credit card to buy alcohol, rent a room, have dinner, and gamble with money he does not have. In the end, he leaves the casino in debt.

This is not an unusual predicament of classic exploitation. Spend time in a poor black inner-city neighborhood. You will see pawn shops, liquor stores, and porn shops. All of which are owned by the same class of people who own casinos and lobby politicians to legislate a state lottery. Their justification: lottery dollars will be used to improve the education of blacks in the inner-city. Special interests always look to states like Georgia and Mississippi as a reason for why it works. I am not convinced. The church is not convinced, as noted by John McArthur, who outlines the sins of gambling here. My two favorite points are 1.) it preys on the weak and 2.) it is part of the sin of materialism. Marx would draw this exact conclusion, too.

I do not think this is an ideological matter; I was a bit shocked that many of my students disagreed with me. They argued that it is a choice. In a society that is made up of freedoms and economic expansion, people have the right to enhance their earnings…be it the casino owner or the uninformed poor person looking to improve his lifestyle. They have the right to hold such a position. It is not my job to change  students’ minds; however, it is my job to present the historical evidence that proves otherwise.

Academic Courses and Race

I gave a presentation on Advanced Placement (AP) courses to perspective families last Thursday on the campus of Houston Christian. In preparation for my talk, I put together a power point to showcase the many great things our faculty members have done with the 15 plus AP courses offered. Many students take AP courses in hopes of better preparing their application for college. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, that might not be a bad idea. Here is how they weigh what is important:

Courses selected                                                   82%

SAT Scores                                                            46%

Class Rank                                                            42%

Overall Grades                                                      39%

Essay                                                                       14%

Work/School Activity                                          6%

Still, as I noted in a blog post before, minority students continue to face long odds when it comes to academic and college success.

Due to much of my academic work over the past 8 years of work with the College Board and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s AP Center, I have come to understand the complex nature of race, schools, and demanding courses. As a so-called expert in my area and one who is very active in areas dealing with race and curriculum, I have drawn a number of conclusions about the plight of under-prepared minority students. For one, many come from communities in which academic work has not always been valued. This is complex in that minority students, especially those coming from black families, are often still dealing with past institutional problems linked to Jim Crow. But a larger problem is working past the concept of instant gratification. For many Americans, especially blacks growing up in communities that look to those who used musical or athletic skills to get rich quick, academics can be the long road.

There is much debate among academics about whether AP courses are truly college-level, with studies regularly coming out that either question the program or praise it. But even AP skeptics acknowledge that the program is popular with students and parents, that admissions offices value it as an indicator of rigor in instruction, and that AP courses are frequently among the most challenging in high schools. As such, who takes AP matters — and educators have increasingly focused on data from the AP program to see whether the program’s emphasis in admissions is likely to hurt minority applicants and what the participation rates say about the preparation of a diverse pool of students for admission to top colleges.

Students of color (SOC) face challenges that many of their white counterparts will never experience. For one, black students disappear in the more advanced courses. In high school, students of color are thought to be ill prepared to enroll in courses such as AP English, AP European History, or AP Calculus. Teachers, many who draw false conclusions, often assume that students of color have other non-academic interest. I think this is true for many, but not just SOC. In ten years of teaching, I have had a total of ten SOC. I am not sure Advanced Placement courses help or hurt this matter. Although high school faculty members are teaching college (usually first or second year) courses, many tend to want students who will do well on the exam; in many ways I am the same way; but, I do take risks with students; I think it is important that many experience more than the typical high school level curriculum.

Liberals and the Health Care Bill

This weekend Republican Representative Anh Cao, a Vietnamese American from Louisiana, voted “yes” for the recently passed health care reform bill; I am proud of Cao and others that realize just because I have health insurance, or they have health insurance… that does not mean that we should not help the many that do not have health insurance. Mr. Cao stated that he represents a poor district in which many of his constituents do not have health insurance. What is impressive is that Cao’s district is largely lower-income blacks — a population that does not vote for a party that traditionally has been anti-poor. However, Cao’s passion for doing what is best and what is right escapes both ideology and political affiliation.

Blue dog Democrats and conservative Republicans do not favor this bill. Why should they? This group represents a population of upper middle-class whites that can afford health insurance. I want the wealthy and middle class to set aside the notion of rugged individualism for a second and evaluate the day-to-day fears of driving in a car without health insurance. If one hit another car in a collision, how would that person afford the thousands it will cost them in rehab? Former American president and Constitutional framer James Madison warned against majority factions dictating the way of life for all; in this situation, the majority is made up of those who can afford health care and who are against this bill. In Madison’s Federalist Paper number 10, contends that the Constitution should guard against what he calls majority rule, hence stating that direct democracy is dangerous, thus ruling in favor of representative democracy; still, the fallacy is that a majority still lives in a representative democracy; I suspect we will hear commercials that liberals are evil, un-Christian, immoral, and communist.

But the reality is this: Liberals are not negative adjectives. In essence, we advocate for the working class, the poor, and minorities against big business. Moreover, we are  supporters of civil rights for blacks, women, and ethnic minorities against the repression of government and business. Thus we see ourselves as defenders against what Madison might call a ” direct faction.”