Race, Crime, Perception and Consequences in America

Recently, I highlighted a book by Michelle Alexander that looks at race and incarceration in the United States. I also included a link to the following speech that she gave in Chicago in 2013.

AJ+ offers a shorter, less-detailed summary of this reality:

Continuing with this theme, Marquaysa Battle has posted 12 Heartbreaking Facts About The School To Prison Pipeline That Every Person Should Know,” a compilation of stats and graphics that you may have seen floating independently on social media. Taken together, it adds breadth to the arguments Michelle Alexander advances. For instance, it adds foster care statistics to the conversation. Naturally, correlation and causation continue to be issues to think through when digesting statistics.

Two articles in the Baltimore Sun represent the priorities of incarceration and education. Arguments are not lacking for either side, but in the end, the decisions reflect society’s priorities.

This week we witnessed another case study in law enforcement and race; however, this time it was from the other side–police action to stop a fight between biker gangs in Texas. This situation is not entirely identical to the situations in Ferguson or Baltimore (or…), so we have to be careful about drawing conclusions. Regardless, these two articles make some meaningful observations about law enforcement’s approach in Texas:

Differences in perceptions of black and white individuals are also explored in the following scenarios:

ABC 20 20 What Would You Do Racism In America, Part 1 HQ (YouTube, Uploaded 2009)

ABC 20 20 What Would You Do Racism In America, Part 2 HQ (YouTube, Uploaded 2009)

Black Man Vs. White Man Carrying AR-15 Legally (YouTube, Uploaded May 2015)

Deleted material from AR-15 stop above (YouTube, Uploaded March 2013)

Taking this conversation in a different direction, The Real News posted a conversation between Cornel West, Eddie Conway, and Rev. Sekou on building a mass movement for racial justice (link).

Two additional articles on race in America:

Finally, I’m not sure how to overcome the psychology of the human brain described in this article — The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever (Kaplan, AlterNet, 16 Sept 2013). It seems like we learn from experience more than from statistics, but how do we enable one group to experience the reality of another group so that learning can take place? In an era of self-segregation, how do people of good will overcome racism? What role can and should faith communities play in working for and demonstrating the beloved community?

It’s easy for my wife and I to march a bit, and we should, but I see that we also need to be about the harder work of building community.

Why Do I Believe What I Believe?

Many things affect what we believe about the world, God, ethics, politics, and other valuative topics–how we were raised, the type of education we received or sought, the kinds of people we associate with, the type of work we do, our life experiences. What we do and who we spend time with seem to affect our beliefs as much as the other way around. Those who took Social Psychology know I’m splashing in the shallow end of the pool here.

I thought about this again while reading an article in The Daily Beast, “Half of Atheist Kids Wind Up Believing” (Zavadski, 13 May 2015). The article looks at a few reasons for this trend (even questioning the trend itself), and “reference group” seems to be important here, though it’s not an all-powerful factor as the anecdotes indicate. (That article is based on this Pew Research project–America’s Changing Religious Landscape.)

Do you belong to a faith community? Why did you choose to join this group? Why do you stay? Did mental beliefs about theology or philosophy play a role at the beginning or later? How about the relational aspects of an individual or of the community? Or the group’s moral aspirations or sub-culture? Other factors? (believing, belonging, behaving)

Zavadski’s article spoke about the power of the people we date and marry. Our closest peeps tend to have a significant influence on us. Widening that a bit, who are your reference groups?

I think I have two primary reference groups, though there are many more at various cultural and religious levels. First, there is the social activist community, specifically radical Christian activists whose primary focus is embodying and working for God’s peace and justice in the world. Possibly the most well-known person in this reference group is Shane Claiborne.

My second mental reference group is the dirtbag adventurer–people who want to experience life outside more than anything else. Viva los funhogs, the conquerors of the useless. Get out stay out. Going out is going in. Keep it wild; keep it simple. Yvon Chouinard could be the figurehead of this group.

One of the few commonalities between these is a commitment to simplicity in order to keep the main thing the main thing. Dedication to the core pursuit. There is also an element of activism to both since many dirtbags do work for environmental conservation. The area of conflict is the action to pursue–spend the majority of time on social action or adventure?

What I wear, the books I read, the way I spend my “free” time, the food I eat, and so many other decisions are affected by the reinforcing loops of these two groups, regardless of the tension between them. I was somewhat into those things, had those values, and when I began to connect with those communities, I was further reinforced by both social and intellectual factors (friends and books/films). Positive feedback loops. If I met either Shane or Yvon, what would they think of my life? If they came over for dinner, how would they evaluate our place, our menu? If they saw my bank or credit card statement, what would they think of my priorities?

A professor asked me about this before applying to an Anabaptist seminary. He asked about career goals and personal interests, but I remember he finished our conversation by asking, “Are you sure you want to be shaped by this community?” The social context you choose will become an important reference group, so are you sure this is a group you want to influence you over the next few years?

I think of Jesus eating a meal with Zacchaeus. Jesus (and Jesus’ community) was a new reference group for Z, and he wanted to show he fit in. “You are a man of integrity and compassion, so I’m going to be a man of integrity and compassion. See, I mean it.” (Luke 19)

Christians may think of Jesus in these terms today, but I’m not sure sociologists would consider Jesus part of someone’s reference group now since he doesn’t play a social role. Rather, our reference groups today have some influence over how we think of Jesus and discipleship. Paul gets at this when he says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; CF 4:16). In essence, “I’ve seen Jesus and been taught by Jesus [roadside + 3 years training]. I’m living like him, so make me leader of your reference group.” I think essentially this is the “discipleship” model. Christians know to keep one’s eyes on Jesus, but the religious reference group we look to is actually to help us do this very thing, oddly enough.

Who are your primary reference groups? Whose approval matters most to you? Can you clearly name them? A political party, a denomination or religion, a specific congregation, a musical genre, an occupation, classmates, family, etc.? How do these groups affect you? What role do you play in these groups as people look to you? How free are you to act outside of the direct approval of these groups without having negative repercussions?

Selma and Cesar Chavez

Tonight we watch the film Cesar Chavez, and it reminded me of Selma, which we watched shortly before listening to Senator John Lewis speak. (As an aside, almost a decade ago we attended an event where Dolores Huerta spoke, so it was interesting to see how she was played in the film by Rosario Dawson.) Both movies look at social movements, exploring the leaders, tactics, economics, politics and spirituality of social change.

An important theme in my mind is unity in diversity, the bringing together of different people groups. In Selma, it was white and black, to oversimplify. In Cesar Chavez it was Hispanic and Filipino, later American and European. And others like the various unions and even consumers and workers. Connections and coalitions are vital for positive change.

I saw this embodied in a small, local way recently. We attended a march hosted by two student groups at a local university–the Black student union and the Muslim student union. We walked and chanted, “Black lives matter. All lives matter.” It was a limited event in both time and scale–we marched, some gave impromptu speeches, we marched some more, some shared ideas for how to work for change, and then we dispersed–but I appreciated these different student groups were working together.

Here are trailers for both films:

Freddie Gray and Baltimore [UPDATED]

I have found the following articles and videos to be worth digesting:

Peace & Justice Events – 2015

These are conferences and gatherings I wish I could attend this year:

Resources on Racial Justice

I have not read widely on racial topics, I admit up front. At a recent conference on race and justice, I learned about two books that look like important ones to engage.

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander). We watched this presentation that she gave in 2013. From a gender perspective, the book looks like it might compliment Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (Traci West). I mean, it sounds like Alexander is focusing more on men, and West focuses on women in this book.
  2. The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing (Joe Feagin).

Here are a few other related links:

>Documentary: Inequality for All (Reich)

Tonight I watched a documentary by Robert Reich about income inequality in the United States. Here’s the trailer:

I appreciated it. It’s a hard topic to deal with–too big, too complex, too much out of my control. Many macro social problems have micro or local ways to get involved, but income inequality is hard to address. You can give money away to people voluntarily, but that doesn’t address the broader societal trend. If you care about this topic, how do you get involved?

Here are a couple earlier posts about economic inequality:

Web Round-up

Christian articles relating to social ethics and action (plus a few about faith more generally):

Plus here is a list for Seventh-day Adventists (link).



Wisdom for Husbands and Fathers

Below are some of the quotes that stood out to me from Section IX (Father, the House-Band) of The Adventist Home, a compilation of writings by Ellen White. Most of these were written between the 1870s and 1890s. I marked or underlined a number of statements not listed here.

The husband is the house-band of the home treasures, binding by his strong, earnest, devoted affection the members of this household, mother and children, together in the strongest bonds of union. (p. 211)

The father should do his part toward making home happy. Whatever his cares and business perplexities, they should not be permitted to overshadow his family; he should enter his home with smiles and pleasant words. (p. 211-212)

Whatever may be his calling and its perplexities, let the father take into his home the same smiling countenance and pleasant tones with which he has all day greeted visitors and strangers. (p. 216)

Brethren, pray at home, in your family, night and morning; pray earnestly in your closet; and while engaged in your daily labor, lift up the soul to God in prayer. (p. 213)

You are to learn daily of Christ. Never, never are you to show a tyrannical spirit in the home…. Do all in your power to make the life of your wife pleasant and happy. (p. 213-214)

When you are almost ready to yield, to lose patience and self-control, to be hard and denunciatory, to find fault and accuse–this is the time to send to heaven the prayer, “Help me, O God, to resist temptation….” (p. 214)

Christ’s authority is exercised in wisdom, in all kindness and gentleness; so let the husband exercise his power and imitate the great Head of the church. (p. 215)

There must be love and respect manifested by the parents for one another, if they would see these qualities developed in their children. (p. 216)

The life of a mother in the humbler walks of life is one of unceasing self-sacrifice, made harder if the husband fails to appreciate the difficulties of her position and to give her his support. (p. 217)

The father should not become so absorbed in business life or in the study of books that he cannot take time to study the natures and necessities of his children. He should help in devising ways by which they may be kept busy in useful labor agreeable to their varying dispositions. (p. 221)

Fathers, spend as much time as possible with your children…. Never should a word of discouragement pass your lips. Do not bring darkness into the home. Be pleasant, kind, and affectionate toward your children, but not foolishly indulgent. (p. 222)

Fathers, combine affection with authority, kindness and sympathy with firm restraint. Give some of your leisure hours to your children; become acquainted with them; associate with them in their work and in their sports, and win their confidence. (p. 222)

Your life would be much happier if you did not feel that absolute authority is vested in you because you are a husband and father. (p. 225)

[Brother B] should be very tender and gentle toward his wife, who is his equal in every respect…. (p. 227)

You have looked upon it as a weakness to be kind, tender, and sympathetic and have thought it beneath your dignity to speak tenderly, gently, and lovingly to your wife. Here you mistake in what true manliness and dignity consist. (p. 228)

If the husband is tyrannical, exacting, critical of the actions of his wife, he cannot hold her respect and affection, and the marriage relation will become odious to her. She will not love her husband, because he does not try to make himself lovable. Husbands should be careful, attentive, constant, faithful, and compassionate. They should manifest love and sympathy…. (p. 228)

Veterans Day Web Round-up

I agree with Jesse Ventura that we can love vets and hate war. With that in mind here are some links on the topic of war and veterans:


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