Sunday, August 30, 2020

3-4. Through the Bible -- 1 and 2 Thessalonians

Below are links to my explanatory work on 1 and 2 Thessalonians as part of my project, "Through the Bible in Ten Years." Each Sunday I put out a video on YouTube for a chapter, as well as a podcast version on Patreon. I plan to self-publish the notes in written form.

Previous books in the series include:

1. Gospel of Mark
2. Book of Acts

3.1 1 Thessalonians 1 (including introduction)
3.2 1 Thessalonians 2
3.3 1 Thessalonians 3
3.4 1 Thessalonians 4
3.5 1 Thessalonians 5
4.0 Introduction to 2 Thessalonians
4.1 2 Thessalonians 1
4.2 2 Thessalonians 2
4.3 2 Thessalonians 3

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Night Classes

So the fall semester begins Monday. As usual, I have too many things I want to be doing. What if I put together "night classes" to help me focus each day?

Wednesday-Thursday: My Thursday nights are already taken with the course Rethinking Evangelicalism. This is going to be good and require some reading. So why don't I designate Wednesday night as a reading night?

Monday: Explanatory Notes write up. I have been doing a series on YouTube and Patreon called, "Through the Bible in Ten Years." Since no one is calling me to write commentaries, I thought I would pull a John Wesley and write up Explanatory Notes to self-publish. Unfortunately, I'm behind as usual. Mark's notes are about half done. 1-2 Thessalonians are mostly done. Now I'm trying to write up what I've done in Revelation. Why not designate Monday night for this "class," with a new chapter posted on Tuesdays?

Tuesday: I started teaching myself Armenian. How about Tuesday night as Armenian night?

Friday: Science and Math night. I haven't given up on working through some textbooks I started 10 years ago in physics, calculus, and chemistry. My unofficial goal is one YouTube video a weekend.

Saturday-Sunday: Hebrews reading and writing it is.

If I could follow this pattern, I would be pleased. We'll see.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Revelation 1 Explanatory Notes

Apocalypse Introduction
1.1a The revelation of Jesus Christ...
The word revelation is a translation of the Greek word apokalypsis, which of course is why the book of Revelation is sometimes called, "The Apocalypse." In English, the word apocalypse brings up images of nuclear mushroom clouds, zombies, and asteroids headed toward the earth. However, it was a genre of literature in John's day.

The book of Revelation actually partakes of three different genres or types of literature. One of them is that of an apocalypse. An apocalypse was a type of Jewish literature where a heavenly being--in this case Jesus--came to an important earthly figure and revealed both was was happening in the unseen heavens and in the near future.

In most cases in Jewish literature, there was no actual visit. It was a type of literary fiction. The word fiction here is not to say the revelation was false. We are only speaking of the type of literature. A parable in the form of a brief story is fictional in genre (e.g., the Parable of the Prodigal Son), but clearly true in its point. This is an important distinction to understand.

In most Jewish apocalypses, the earthly figure was not the real recipient of the revelation but was usually an important biblical figure from the distant past (e.g., Adam, Enoch, Abraham). The real, anonymous author used the voice of the figure from the past in order to talk about current events. This makes such apocalypses sometimes easy to date. When the author is talking about events from his (or less likely her) past, the predictions of Enoch or Abraham or Ezra are quite accurate. You can then tell when the apocalypse was written by the point in the prophecy where the predictions go wrong.

One way in which the book of Revelation seems to differ from the standard Jewish apocalypse is in the fact that John seems to be the real John, not a literary voice from the past.

While it is tempting to think of the revelation as revealing Jesus Christ, Jesus is much more the speaker and source of the revelation. Jesus is the one from whom the revelation comes. "Christ" of course means "anointed one" in Greek. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah.

1b. ...which God gave to him to show to his servants in relation to the things that must come about in haste and he made [them] known by sending through his messenger to his servant John...
The revelation has to do with immanent events. This is an important point. In John's mind, these predictions had nothing to do with some far off future. He did not believe the revelation was about five hundred years off in the future, let alone a thousand or two thousand. This is an important mindset for us to have when we read Revelation. John probably didn't think these events were even ten years off in the future.

The book does not specify which John is in view. The tradition is that the author--or at least source of the vision--was John the son of Zebedee. There is no strong reason to doubt this tradition, especially if we keep two things in mind.

First, John can be the source of the primary revelation without being the person who put the book in the final form in which we know it. Notice, for example, that this verse and the ones immediately following talk about John in the third person--they talk about John. It is possible for the original revelation to come from John and yet for its current form to be finished or edited by the heirs of his revelation. Nothing in the ancient world would have considered such editing unethical.

Second, the John of Revelation need not be the author of the Gospel of John or the Johannine letters. As we mentioned in the Introduction, most scholars look at the significant differences in style and perspective and conclude that the author of the Gospel and Apocalypse must surely be different people. This observation was made as early as the mid-200s by Dionysius of Alexandria.

So unless we wish to suggest that the Gospel represents an even more distant echo of the same John, put much more extensively into its current form by John's heirs, we should conclude that the Gospel and Apocalypse have different authors. Of the two, the book of Revelation seems more likely to come from John the son of Zebedee, one of the "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). See the Introduction for further discussion.

2. ... who witnessed the word of God and the witness of Jesus Christ as many things as he saw.
Despite the vast differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation, mention of the word, the logos of God is one of more than one theme that the Gospel and Apocalypse do have in common. Again, while it is possible that the Gospel is just further removed from the original voice of John than the Apocalypse, perhaps it is more likely that both authors ministered in Ephesus and that this common environment accounts for a few thematic similarities.

John the son of Zebedee was one of the original disciples of Jesus. He thus had first-hand personal knowledge of the witness of Jesus. It is a little sobering to realize that we may have our most direct contact with the Jesus of history through the author of Revelation. Neither Mark nor Luke were eyewitnesses, and both reflect the expansion of the original message to a non-Jewish context. The Gospel of John is highly symbolic and has extensively translated Jesus to address its late-first century context.

The Gospel of Matthew is a Greek document that may have a source that comes from Matthew the disciple but is not likely to come directly from Matthew in its current form. In Revelation, we may get the most direct word from an eyewitness of Jesus. Here it is interesting to note that Matthew and Revelation share in common the most apocalyptic imagery in the New Testament, perhaps giving us the most direct "feel" of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.

3. Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things that have been written in it, for the time is near.
The second genre of which Revelation partakes is that of a prophecy. It is an apocalypse, and it is a prophecy. John is writing about his present and about things that are about to happen in the near future. At the end of the book the audience will be warned not to add or take away from the words of this book of prophecy (22:18-19). Obedience to the instruction is essential if one hopes not to undergo the torments of judgment.

"The time is near" is a theme and an expectation that we find in other parts of the New Testament. According to Mark 1:14-15, the basic message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had come near. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, the apostle Paul preserves an early Christian affirmation in Aramaic, marana tha, "Our Lord, come." Philippians 4:5 and James 5:8 also affirm that Jesus' return was near, and Paul in Romans 13:11 affirms the same.

The apparent delay of the second coming is a major question for theology and one that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years. 2 Peter 3:4 indicates that it was a question for the early church as well. 2 Peter 3:8 responds with a reminder that, in God's timing, "a thousand year is like a day" (echoing Psalm 90:4).

Nevertheless, we cannot fully understand the book of Revelation--or other New Testament passages like Mark 13, Matthew 24, or even 1 Corinthians 7--if we do not reckon with the time lapse. Revelation did not anticipate a 2000 year gap before the Lord's return. We may have to stretch our thinking to see the three and a half year period of Revelation 12:6 and other passages as a reference to this current 2000 year sojourn in the wilderness. This extension would no doubt be just as much a surprise to John as it is to us (in fact, no doubt more!)

The Letter to the Churches (1:4-3:22)
Letter Introduction
4. John, to the seven churches that are in Asia. Grace to you and peace from the one who is and the one who was and the one coming and from the seven spirits that [are] before his throne...
Revelation partakes of three genres. It is an apocalypse. It is a prophecy. It is a letter. Perhaps we might rather say that it has seven letters embedded in it.

These are letters to seven churches in "Asia." Asia here is not the region we often think of today around China but rather where modern day Turkey is. At the time, Islam did not of course exist, and this region was thoroughly Greek-speaking. The Greeks had colonies along the western coast of Asia Minor for centuries and in fact the first known Greek philosopher, Thales, was from Miletus on the coast.

God (the Father) is here the one who was and is and is to come, since the second part of the greeting will involve Jesus. Interestingly, later in Revelation the "is to come" part is no longer said because the time will have arrived. "Grace and peace" is a characteristic greeting of Paul as well, perhaps suggesting that it became a greeting of early Christians in general.

The fact that seven churches are specifically addressed does not mean that this message was only for them. We should assume that there were house churches of varying sizes scattered throughout this region. These seven were likely singled out because of their size and influence, not to mention to reach the symbolic number seven, which was a number of perfection associated with God. But the message was for any Christian who might hear the book.

The seven spirits thus are not just the spirits of these churches, but the angels that guard all the churches of God. We will see that these spiritual beings, while not seen, are protectors of God's church everywhere. They also have full access to God's throne room and the very presence of God.

5. ... and from Jesus Christ, the witness, the faithful [one], the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
In addition to God (the Father), this apocalyptic, prophetic letter also comes from Jesus the Messiah himself. For the second time, Jesus is called a witness. He will be the heavenly being in this apocalypse, the one who descends to give the revelation. It is he who is bringing witness to those things which are about to take place.

He is the faithful one, the one who died in faithfulness, just as the martyrs we are about to meet. Yet he is the firstborn from the dead. This image is also found in Paul's writings (e.g., Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Cor. 15:20), and in the Colossian hymn (Col. 1:18).

As the Messiah, he will rule over all the kings of the earth. It is striking that Revelation 20 still speaks of other nations present during the rule of Christ (20:8). However, this is perhaps a reason not to take the millennium literally. For most of the book of Revelation--as well as the rest of the New Testament--Christ's rule over everything is definitive from the moment of his return.

The "prescript" or greeting of the letter finishes here. A letter greeting typically identified the sender of the letter, the recipient of the letter, and gave a brief hello. God and Jesus are the senders. The seven churches are the recipients. And "grace and peace" is the hello.

To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood 6. and made us a kingdom, priests to God, and to our Father [be] glory and power forever. Amen.
A letter greeting was then usually followed by some sort of thanksgiving to God or benediction/doxology. This letter has a doxology of praise to Christ. John the Revelator gives glory and ascribes power to Jesus. Jesus is the one who loved us and by his blood freed us from our sins, a reference to the atonement provided through Christ.

Through that redemption, Jesus has made his people a kingdom of priests to God, an image used also in 1 Peter 2:5 and 9. We have evidence from Paul's writings that the early church thought of itself as an alternative temple (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16), a picture that was no doubt extended after the temple was destroyed (cf. Hebrews).

The church was thus an alternative kingdom to that of the Roman empire, with a different king. And the church was a replacement priesthood for God in the absence of a temple. Through it, those outside the people of God could find their way to God, and through them God was given appropriate worship. 

The Letter Body
7. Behold he comes with the clouds, 
          and every eye will see him. 
   And those who pierced him 
          and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him.

Yes. Amen.
The mention of Jesus arriving on the clouds is a clear allusion to Daniel 7:13 where one "like a son of humanity" comes to the earth on the clouds and all the nations of the world bow down to him. On the one hand, the expression "Son of Humanity" (often rendered, "Son of Man") is used in several different contexts in the Gospels. It is always on the lips of Jesus himself in reference to himself--no one else ever calls Jesus by this title. It can be used in reference to his coming suffering (e.g., Mark 8:31). He can use it of himself merely to point out his humanity (e.g., Matt. 8:20).

However, the most important use of the phrase is when Jesus connects himself with this heavenly Son of Humanity in Daniel 7 (e.g., Mark 15:62; Matt. 25:31). In those cases, Jesus anticipates his return after his resurrection to judge the world. Jesus' ministry announced the arrival of the kingdom of God. His death and resurrection established the basis for that kingdom and inaugurated it. When he returns, it will be fully established and consummated.

Every eye will see his return, meaning that his rule will be universal. We remember that, in the worldview of the biblical authors, the earth is flat. Every eye will see him assumes a flat earth where in theory you could see him from any point on the land. We thus have to translate the statement into what its point is, namely, that the whole world will be aware of his coming and his reign will be global.

The assumption is also that it will happen soon enough that those who put Jesus to death will still be alive--those who put him to death will mourn his unjust crucifixion along with the rest of the world. The fact that most of the guilty were likely dead by the time of Revelation's writing might suggest that this poetic verse pre-dated Revelation as a refrain.

Use of the word pierced is likely an allusion to Isaiah 53:5, which reflects an early understanding of atonement where Jesus died for the people of God as a suffering servant. "He was pierced for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities." Note that such a sense of "substitution" can be understood in multiple ways, in keeping with the flexibility of the word "for." I can go to the store "for" someone.

8. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, the one who is and the one who was and the one coming, the Almighty.
God (the Father) is speaking. The expression "Lord God" is common in Genesis (e.g., 2:4) and reflects the Hebrew, "Yahweh Elohim." Verse 4 already described God the Father as the one who is and was and is to come. God spans all of time both in his existence and his faithfulness.

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, giving both the a sound and the long o sound. It is a poetic way of saying that God spans from the beginning to the end. There was nothing before him and if all else were to cease to exist, he would continue.

The Vision
9. I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus, came to be on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the witness of Jesus. 
The mention of "the tribulation" suggests an aspect of Revelation that we will reinforce later. John sees himself living in the tribulation. He of course had no idea that this period of tribulation would last 2000 years, but he saw the current period of salvation history as one of tribulation, when the forces of empire--in his case Rome--would be the enemy of the kingdom of God.

Yet the Roman Empire was not the only kingdom in play. He and his audiences were also partners in the kingdom of God, which had started but was not yet consummated. That full blooming of the kingdom of God would only happen after Jesus returned from heaven, the Son of Humanity coming on the clouds. The only alternative for the follower of Christ in this in-between time, between the inauguration and fullness of the kingdom, in this time of tribulation, was endurance.

John was on the island of Patmos as he received the revelation. Patmos was about 35 miles off the coast of Asia Minor. The usual assumption is that John was exiled there because of his witness in the city of Ephesus. The wording in itself would not demand that reading. For example, we could read the verse to say he was there spreading the good news. The islands off the coast were places to which we know people could be exiled, although Patmos was not by any means exclusively a penal island (cf. Tacitus, Annals 4.30). [1]

However, it is a strange place from which to write the churches of Asia Minor, and the tone of Revelation definitely suggests a context of persecution. The traditional hypothesis is thus reasonable, that John was kicked out and exiled from Ephesus, just as many think Paul himself may have been at the end of Acts 19. This verse echoes verse 2 when it mentions the word of God and the witness of Jesus. It is a reminder that John is an apostle--one who had witnessed the risen Jesus and was then commissioned to go as a witness to the resurrection.

10. I became in the Spirit on the Lord's Day and I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet...
The revelation is a vision. It takes place on the Lord's Day, Sunday. This of course is not the Sabbath, which for a Jewish person like John was from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The Lord's Day is the day of resurrection, the first day of the week, the day of the new creation, the eighth day.

The book of Revelation is clearly divine revelation. A serious question is the extent to which the form of the revelation draws from the genre of an apocalypse. This form can work more than one way. One way is if John, who was surely aware of other apocalypses, received the revelation in a form that was familiar to him. Thus Jesus comes to John in a manner that John expects given his background.

The other option is that John himself--and any final editor or editors--put the revelation into this form. As we read the books of the Bible, we generally conclude that the brains of the human authors played a role in the revelation, that they are not merely divine dictations through an empty-headed hand holding the stylus. So also the book of Revelation has a literary style and likely reflects the personality of John the author.

We might then conclude that the core event of revelation took place on a Lord's Day. However, it is also reasonable to conclude that the actual writing of the book took place over a longer period of time, with the sort of planning and editing typical of an ancient book. As we mentioned in the Introduction, there is also the possibility that Revelation reached its current form after John had himself been martyred. 

11. ... saying, "What you see, write in a book and send to the seven churches--to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.
These are the seven churches that are the direct recipients of letters from John in the book of Revelation. The listing of them, like the instruction to them, proceeds in a roughly clockwise direction. We should not think, though, that John intended this revelation only for these churches. He surely sees these seven churches as representative not only of all the house churches in the region but also all the churches of the world.

12. And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me and having turned I saw seven gold lampstands 13. and in the middle of the lampstands, [one] like a Son of Humanity, wearing a long robe and a gold belt wrapped around to the chest...
The lampstands correspond to the churches, as we will find out in verse 20. We are hearing the voice of the "Son of Humanity," Jesus, the king of the whole world. We have already been told that his voice is like thunder, a sense of the magnitude and awesomeness of Jesus' voice.

Jesus is the Son of Humanity from Daniel 7. Verse 7 alluded to this fact but now we know it explicitly. He is the one who will return from heaven on the clouds. The robe and gold belt are reminiscent of Daniel 10:5. Revelation draws a great deal of its imagery from the more apocalyptic parts of the Old Testament. It does not always cook the ingredients in the same way--it often has its own recipes. But it regularly draws on similar elements.

14. And his head and hairs [were] white like white wool like snow and his eyes like a flame of fire. 15. And his feet were like brass being refined as in a furnace and his voice as the sound of many waters.
The description of Christ here is also very reminiscent of the figure in Daniel 10:6, whose eyes are like flaming torches, legs like bronze, and voice like multitudes. We have no evidence that John thought this figure in Daniel was a Christophany, an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. In fact, it is not clear that Revelation has anything to say about Christ's pre-existence. It seems more likely that Revelation is using Daniel's visitor as a prototype for the heavenly Jesus.

16. And having in his right hand seven stars and from his mouth [was] coming out a double-edged sharp sword and his face as the sun shines in its power.
The stars, as we will see, are the angels of the seven churches of Asia Minor. The sword is an indicator that the earliest disciples did not see either Jesus or God as pacifists. "Phase 1 Jesus" submitted to Roman authorities and to death. "Phase 2 Jesus" in Revelation is surrounded by blood. In his earthly mission, Jesus did not fight worldly powers. In his final mission, Jesus will destroy all powers that oppose him. 

17. And when I saw him, I fell to his feet as dead and he put his right hand on me saying, "Do not fear...
In Jewish apocalyptic literature, it was typical for the recipient of the revelation to fall on their faces before the heavenly being. However, the angel consistently refuses any worship. At this point in a typical apocalypse, the messenger tells the seer to rise because he is only a servant of God too. We see this "refusal formula" even in Revelation 19:10 when an angel comes to John.

The significance is that Jesus accepts John bowing before him. After all, he is not a servant but the King of kings. The worship of Jesus is appropriate.

The statement, "Do not fear" is also conventional when a heavenly being appears to a mortal human. Fear is natural in the face of such awesome greatness, as fantastic as it must also be. The fear of the Lord is this way. There is no need to fear the God who so thoroughly loves us, yet who would not fear in the face of such awesomeness?

I am the first and the last 18. and the one who lives. And I became dead and behold I am living forever and ever and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
Jesus confirms his divinity by using words of himself--the first and the last--that Isaiah 44:6 uses exclusively of Yahweh. This is similar to God (the Father) being the Alpha and Omega in 1:8. Jesus is the one who defeated death. His victory over death has given him the keys to unlock death and Hades.

Hades was the Greek word for the realm of the dead. It did not have the same connotation as Gehenna, which was a place of fiery torment for the wicked. Interestingly enough, the word Gehenna is not actually used in the book of Revelation.

19. Therefore, write what you have seen and things that are and the things that are about to be after these things.
Here is the commission for John to record the letters and the prophecies of the book. Jesus is going to unlock mysteries relating to things that were soon to happen. In John's mind, these occurrences would not have been two thousand years later but the near future.

20. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Although we decoded the symbolism above, this is the point where John makes it clear to his audience. The seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia themselves. These seven churches in turn represent all the churches of the world.

Does every individual church have a guardian angel? Revelation certainly indicates it is possible. How many angels are there? Surely enough for there to be multiple angels per church. Who knows how the creation of angels works. We assume God made all the angels the universe needed at the very beginning.

[1] Cf. Craig R Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 52.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

White Fragility 12: Where from here?

We come to the final chapter of White Fragility: Why It's so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. The book has been good for me to read. I have agreed with the vast majority of the book. If you compare my reviews to the chapters themselves, you will get a sense both of how I might present the truths of the books and some of the questions I have had.

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
Chapter 7: White Triggers
Chapter 8: The Result: White Fragility
Chapter 9: White Fragility in Action
Chapter 10: White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement
Chapter 11: White Women's Tears

Chapter 12: Where do we go from here?
1. I think it might be helpful to start with her approach to herself. Because she defines racism as a feature of white culture that is as much a matter of impact as intention, "I don't see my efforts to uncover how race shapes my life as a matter of guilt" (149). "I don't feel guilty about racism." This might be a surprise to some of her despisers, but it reinforces her basic claims.

She never directly says, "All white people are racists" in the book. She comes close in a couple places, and probably she would not object to the statement. It probably would be more palatable for others to put her position this way: All white people benefit from and participate in racism. Racism, she would say, inevitably shapes my life as a white person.

What might I feel guilty about? I would say the choices I make in relation to my role in those racist structures. She does not believe any of us who are white can ever fully remove ourselves from this racist bias. "Rather, I strive to be 'less white'" (150). "To be less white is to be open to, interested in, and compassionate toward the racial realities of people of color."

"The default of the current system is the reproduction of racial inequality" (153). As white people, "we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning." "It is a messy, lifelong process" (154). "I will never be completely free of racism or finished with my learning" (147).

I might mention that she does not find the move of developing a positive white identity a possible goal (149). For example, I prefer to identify myself as English, Dutch, German, and Scots-Irish rather than white. She does not consider this adjustment beneficial because, in her view, it obscures my inevitable identity as a "white" American. If I do not look at that aspect of who I am, I will simply be falling into the color-blind trap.

2. She does suggest some helpful strategies for a white person wanting to improve the racist situation of our culture. First, in relation to other white people.
  • First, "try to point the finger inward, not outward" (150) when approaching another white person on issues of racism. There is always the danger of thinking myself the one fixing the racism in others without acknowledging my own problems. "I try to affirm a person's perspective before I share mine." 
  • This of course doesn't work on the racially tone deaf. I received some condescending racism advice from some self-righteous ignoramus on Twitter the other day. I at least have some self-knowledge. He apparently did not.
  • Second, give yourself some time if you aren't quite sure what to say in the moment. I'm assuming she is talking about when a white person is in a more private conversation with another white person rather than when you are in a public situation with people of color.
  • In the end, "niceness" will not improve the situation. White people must show courage to address racism as it shows itself.
With regard to our friends and acquaintances of color, if you have said or done something that has negative impact with regard to race or embodies racism
  • First, process the situation with another white person who shares this quest. It is not the person of color's duty to take care of your feelings or reassure you.
  • Ask to meet when you are ready, tell them why. If they don't want to meet, deal with it.
  • Own your racism. Don't make excuses. Don't say, "if..."
  • Ask the person of color what you have missed in your understanding of the situation.
  • Make a commitment to do better?
3. Good responses to make:
  • I appreciate this feedback.
  • This is very helpful.
  • This is hard, but also important.
  • I have some work to do.
  • more are mentioned
4. Adopt assumptions like these:
  • Forget the question of whether you're morally good or bad. This quest is about impact.
  • Recognize that racism is multilayered in our culture.
  • White people inevitably have blind spots on racism.
  • Authentic antiracism is rarely comfortable.
  • The antidote is action.
  • I bring my group's history with me. History matters.
  • Racism hurts people of color.
  • White comfort maintains the racial status quo. 
  • more are mentioned
5. Ways that these assumptions interrupt racism:
  • minimize our defensiveness
  • show our vulnerability
  • allow for growth
  • interrupt internalized superiority
  • build authentic relationships
  • more
As a Christian, I believe I must love my neighbor as myself. I also believe that inner strength doesn't feel the need to defend itself. It only fights when it is good for the other and in the rare time when it is right to protect itself.

I can take critique because I am interested in what is true and in what is right. Racism is all too real. If I am to err, let me stop erring on the side of myself.

White Fragility Chapter 11: White Women's Tears

Second to last chapter of White Fragility: Why It's so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo.

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
Chapter 7: White Triggers
Chapter 8: The Result: White Fragility
Chapter 9: White Fragility in Action
Chapter 10: White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement

Chapter 11: White Women's Tears
1. This is an interesting chapter. If I were to write it, I would have to write it very carefully not to be liable to an accusation of sexism. It does raise some thorny questions for me about self-critique. Are people of color allowed to push back on some of her theses in ways I am not? Is she better situated to critique "white" people as a "white" person? Is she allowed to critique women as a woman in a way I am not?

One term sometimes used in these discussions is intersectionality. So she participates in the majority "white" group but the minority (in terms of power) group of women. She thus experiences sexism while participating in the benefits (to her) of a racist society.

She is not of course critiquing women as women. She is only critiquing white women in a general rather than absolute way. Not all white women behave as she describes. She is describing a phenomenon she has repeatedly observed. She clearly believes that crying serves in cross-racial discussion to re-direct the focus of attention on the white woman crying rather than the person of color whom she has possibly just wronged in discussion. "White women's tears have a powerful impact in this setting, effectively reinscribing rather than ameliorating racism" (132).

"When a white woman cries over some aspect of racism, all the attention immediately goes to her" (134). She quotes Reagen Price: "Imagine first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian, while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street."

2. She argues that emotions are political in this situation in two ways. First, they play out along lines set by our cultural frameworks. Emotions express themselves in accordance with "the frameworks we are using to make sense of social relations" (132). We are told that it is ok for men to get angry but not women, for example.

In the context of race, she believes the tears come from the assumption that I can be exempt from racism. If the framework was rather, "racist assumptions are inevitable," then I would not feel "hurt, offended, and shamed when an unaware racist assumption is pointed out" (132). She wants to reset the framework of our emotions so that they do not work to reinforce the racial status quo.

The second way in which women's tears are political has to do with the history of white women's tears in the story of race in America. There is a saying in black circles: "When a white woman cries, a black man gets hurt" (133). The best known story here is that of Emmett Till, who was lynched for allegedly flirting with a white woman. (In 2007, she actually recanted her story)

In 1955, Till was visiting family in Alabama and, after this incident in a grocery store, ended up abducted, mutilated, and sunk in a river. His murderers were acquitted by an all white jury. They later acknowledged it. The display of his dead body in Chicago in some ways sparked the civil rights movement. White tears trigger this history for many African-Americans.

Here is a comment on white women's tears by a woman of color: "You are crying because you are uncomfortable with your feelings when we are barely allowed to have any... We are supposed to remain stoic and strong because otherwise we become the angry and scary people of color... We are abused daily, beaten, raped, and killed but you are sad and that's what is important" (135). DiAngelo concludes, "For people of color, our tears demonstrate our racial insulation and privilege." "Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent" (135).

3. So white fragility tends to manifest itself, she would say following a cultural script, in tears. In white men, it tends to manifest itself in dominance and intimidation. A white man might try to control the situation. He might, "play the devil's advocate" (134). He might say he's the victim of "reverse racism" (135). He might accuse a person of color of playing the "race card." He might intellectualize by recommending books and resources. He might correct the analysis of the person of color or a white woman consultant.

Women's tears, she says, can manipulate men of all races. "Patriarchy is reinforced as they play savior to the damsel in distress" (137). Meanwhile, for black men, "ameliorating a white woman's distress as quickly as possible may be felt as a literal matter of survival." She also notes, as an aside that it is primarily white women who have benefited from affirmative action more than people of color.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Chapter 10, White Fragility: Rules of Engagement

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
Chapter 7: White Triggers
Chapter 8: The Result: White Fragility
Chapter 9: White Fragility in Action

Chapter 10: White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement
I. The dominant conceptualization of racism as individual acts "functions beautifully to make it nearly impossible to engage in the necessary dialogue and self-reflection that can lead to change" (123).

She has discovered "rules of engagement" when approaching fellow whites on the subject. She is not endorsing these at all but indicating objections that will immediately be raised or obstacles that will stand in the way of conversation.

1. Do not give feedback on racism as it relates to an individual white person under any circumstances.

If you do:

2. Tone is crucial. You must be very calm and emotionless when you give this feedback. Any emotion and your critique will be considered invalid and easily dismissed.

3. You must trust that I am not a racist to be able to take any of my feedback.

4. If there are any issues between us, those must be solved before we can talk about race.

5. Feedback must be immediate when a possible instance of racism takes place.

6. Feedback is most effective when private, even if the event took place in front of others. "If you cannot protect me from embarrassment, the feedback is invalid, and you are the transgressor" (124).

7. Be as indirect as possible. Directness is insensitive.

8. "As a white person, I must feel completely safe during any discussion of race." "Point of clarification: when I say 'safe,' what I really mean is comfortable."

9. If you say I have racial privilege, you are invalidating whatever form of oppression I experience. Then we will get diverted into a long discussion of that.

10. You must acknowledge that my intentions are good (even if the impact of my behavior is harmful to others).

11. You have misunderstood me if you think my behavior had a racist impact. You must let me re-explain myself until you acknowledge it was your misunderstanding.

Here are her rules when getting push-back on any instance of racism coming out of her:
  • Give me feedback anywhere, anytime. "I will take it any way I can get it" (125).
  • Thank you.
She has not found in general that those who give such feedback, whether white or of color, are anything but sincere people who typically agonize over giving such feedback, only to be the recipient of highly emotional and unpleasant responses.

"Racism is the norm rather than the aberration" (125). "There is no face to save and the game is up." "I need to work hard to change my role in this system, but I can't do it alone. This understanding leads me to gratitude when others help me" (126).

II. I would summarize the last part of the chapter in this way:
  • "If kindness gets there faster, I am all for it" (128).
  • But niceness is a cultural feature of English and thus much of white American culture. It is not a feature of all cultures of color. "What feels respectful to white people can be exactly what does not create a respectful environment for people of color" (127).
  • In the end, it is more important for us to make progress on these issues that to protect the feelings of fragile white people. 
So guidelines like 1) Don't judge, 2) Don't make assumptions, 3) Assume good intentions, 4) Speak your truth, and 5) Respect often can keep a white person from making progress on counteracting the racist orientation of our society.

"Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don't have them" (129).

III. Perhaps I should stop the review of this chapter there, because I have summarized its basic points in the way I think is most helpful. I did find some of this last part counterproductive. For example, I agree that I should be thick-skinned and be able to take a more confrontational approach, realizing that the niceness of my English sensibilities is cultural as well. I can take it!

BUT, if you want to be as effective as possible with whites, I think you will do your best, as much as is possible while pursuing the goal, to meet them where they are in their culture. See what I'm saying. You can be direct in a way that completely self-sabotages the goal. Niceness is not a feature of white supremacy. It is a feature of English and other cultures.

It has to be a dance because it's a catch 22. People will be made uncomfortable, yes. It seems inevitable. But you will fail at your goal if you don't at least to some extent try to meet them where they are in their culture. And what's the point of the enterprise if you fail?

Second there is again the contradiction of her invoking objective truth while almost seeming to deny it. I found this statement very striking: "All perspectives are not equally valid" (127). Yes, I agree. There is truth that moves beyond cultural perspective. One of those truths is that we are not a color-blind society. Yet she has critiqued objectivity as a feature of white culture.

Finally, once again, I think she would persuade more people if she presented her claims as generalizations rather than absolutes. "White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview" (129). I agree. I grew up with it without question. We operate within this structure regardless of our "intentions, awareness, or agreement." I also think this is largely true, but I think it is more true of some than others.

My thoughts... open to critique. I can take it!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

White Fragility Chapter 9: Manifestations

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
Chapter 7: White Triggers
Chapter 8: The Result: White Fragility

Chapter 9: White Fragility in Action
1. There are a number of stories at the beginning of the chapter. And indeed I believe it is from DiAngelo's consulting work that she came up with the term white fragility. She uses it to refer to her pervasive experience of reactions to training on underlying racial bias. White people respond consistently in similar ways.
  • not liking the use of the term white
  • backlash from bringing up the fact that the faculty of a department is entirely white
  • enlisting people of color to console white people exhausted from seeking justice
  • wanting training to be "comfortable"
  • transferring anger at her as a white speaker to the person of color who invited her
In this chapter she mentions that in her training, she indicates that "all white people are invested in and collude with racism" (119). She still hasn't directly said that all white people are racist. Waiting for that still because that is one of the points of backlash on the book.

"White people are receptive to my presentation as long as it remains abstract. The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room in the moment... white fragility erupts." She gives an example of a seminar where she points out to a woman that her response to a black man had invalidated his experience. It goes off the rails. Now it becomes about her, about consoling her. The man's experience is no longer the focus. The focus shifts to managing the emotions of the fragile white person.

A woman from Germany exempts herself from anything to do with racism. DiAngelo asks some probing questions. Did she not form any conceptions about Africans growing up in Germany? Had she ever watched American films? He had been in the States for twenty-three years--had she picked up any conceptions here? She never told the woman she was a racist, but the woman remained angry with DiAngelo even months later when she returned to that organization.

She receives an email out of the blue from her website. "I seriously doubt that there is one single thing you could tell me about race" (120).  The email rails on about how much the writer knows about race, that race has nothing to do with her. Out of the blue!

2. The feelings, behaviors, and claims that she repeatedly receives back will be familiar to anyone who has gotten this far in the book.

Feelings in response: feel attacked, insulted, judged, singled out, shamed, guilted, accused, scared, angry, outraged.

Behaviors in response: crying, arguing, denying, avoiding, leaving, withdrawing, focusing on intentions rather than affects and outcomes

  • I know people of color.
  • I already know all this.
  • You don't know me.
  • That is just your opinion.
  • Some people find offense where there isn't any.
  • You are elitist.
  • I just said one little innocent thing. 
  • You are judging me.
  • You're playing the race card.
  • You misunderstood me.
  • I can't say anything right.
  • The problem is your tone.
  • You hurt my feelings.
  • You're being racist against me.
On the one hand, I can't say that someone's response, spoken or unspoken, could actually be true in their individual instance. On the other hand, I imagine in most instances she is right that the speaker is in denial.

3. There is a page full of assumptions that more or less reiterate material we have already encountered in the book. So I end with her final list on how white fragility functions:
  • To maintain white solidarity
  • To close off self-reflection
  • To trivialize the reality of racism
  • To stop the discussion
  • To make white people the victims
  • To hijack the conversation
  • To protect a limited worldview
  • To take race off the table
  • To protect white privilege
  • To focus on the messenger rather than the message

A Year at Houghton (2019-20)

Letchworth Forest, my first day at work
1. A year ago today was my first day on the job at Houghton College. For the first three months of my time here, I lived in the flats by myself and commuted back to Marion, Indiana about twice a month to help my wife with some of the packing of our house. She and her friends did the lion's share of the packing, I'm afraid, and got rid of a lot of stuff. (Meanwhile, I took out a storage unit to sneak my own "memory material" to a safe place.)

The flats here are symbolic of a Houghton that touched 1200 at one point. It was built for growth in an earlier era. 2008 and the Great Recession changed that trajectory. Dr. Mullen brought me here because of my reputation for innovation and with an ever-strengthening conviction that Houghton needs to make major changes in the current climate. Before COVID, everyone was talking about the coming demographic cliff in 2026. Of course the pandemic has changed everything overnight.

2. When I came, I was given an interesting collection of direct reports: enrollment, marketing, ministry resources, and "hospitality" (non-tuition revenue generation). There was a Dean of Enrollment, so I wasn't really expected to give micro-direction in that area. There was also a Director of Marketing and Communication, so my role was much more 30,000 feet, to engage them in relation to innovation.

I came in thinking of the long game. I wanted one big win my first year but mostly wanted to get acquainted with the people and story of the college. I love teaching. Teaching will always be a role I welcome. (In fact I ended up teaching five classes this year, four online and one on the residential campus--Science and Scripture, philosophy, and three Biblical Literature classes) Pastoring is something I have done in interim spaces and would be a privilege to do.

What about academic leadership? I was a Dean for six years at the starting of Wesley Seminary and another three years over the mostly undergraduate School of Theology and Ministry. Was this a direction for me? The work of academic innovation has always been like cat nip for me. A number of convergences made me feel like I needed to lean into that side of myself this year. In the chess of life, coming to Houghton helped some things fall into place at IWU and in my own life.

To be frank, I didn't feel there was much space at IWU for me to do the kind of innovation I saw as important to the future of higher education. I just wasn't in the right part of the university for that. Houghton seemed to me both to be a place where there was a wide open space for innovation and to be a place that was ready to do it.

3. "Change is the only constant in the universe." This has been a year of upheaval in higher education. But even before that, the stimulus for change at Houghton was heightened. In my first semester, the Director of Marketing and the Director of Online Education left, both leaving me more in the weeds but also giving opportunities to innovate.

The enrollment was also a little down from its goal when the semester started. My goal for one big win over the course of the year changed to "Let's get this party started." I started with what I knew best--ministry. Someone had suggested not to begin innovating in that area. "Show you can innovate in other areas too." Necessity seemed to say otherwise. Houghton already had an AAS in Christian Ministry on the books. I took ideas I had already been developing and applied them to this context.

The result was a multi-layered approach that 1) resulted in an associate's degree if you wanted one, 2) was done in situ, where you live--no need to move anywhere, 3) involved evening live sessions like Kingswood, 4) could be audited in a way that satisfied ordination requirements in an inexpensive way. The idea of auditing online classes was another idea I had tried to implement even in 2009. It doesn't make much sense with an asynchronous class but it is easy with one that has live sessions.

I am stressful on infrastructure people. It is the nature of innovation to bend things in ways they haven't bent before. The audit price point needed changed, for example. The webinar that is about to finish on Race and American Christianity was my first real success in auditing, with some 1700 participants. But the weeks leading up to the course wrought havoc with Houghton's infrastructure.

4. My time with Wayne Schmidt left me with a philosophy of academic growth--new programs, new venues. This is not the going philosophy in academia. Frankly, it doesn't really fit with Jim Collins' philosophy of the hedgehog. I will say that Wayne did keep Wesley Seminary in the lane of "practical," so he started new programs in new venues within the brand of practical ministry.

My instinct in this time of upheaval was "fire everything." Of course we can't fire everything because we don't have everything. I focused on "low hanging fruit" that is scalable. Low risk, low investment, with the highest possible yield. I tried some "boutique" courses--Science and Scripture, for example. I was going to teach Latin with a home school market primarily in mind. I tried a trick I had tried at IWU with philosophy, trying to market a Christian philosophy course to Christian students at secular universities.

We did generate some interest among home schoolers. We did generate some interest among life-long auditors. My AAS Biblical Literature class had a number of auditors in early summer wanting to expand their knowledge of the Bible. Going into my second year, we are likely to start offering certificates in areas like Business Administration and Missions Leadership, but possibly also Linguistics.

At first I avoided certificates because of previous rules requiring institutions to track gainful employment, something beyond our capacity at this point. But if no aid is offered, it is not necessary. An intermediate idea was to offer our minors as free-standing opportunities. I had never realized you could offer a minor without a major. This summer we tried to promote our Art Business and Political Science minors but without any takers. Nevertheless, the minor structure easily converts to a certificate structure.

In January 2020, we offered Introduction to Linguistics in a hybrid format. A student in South Asia participated in the class. Initially this was going to be via Zoom using an OWL that turned around to capture the conversation in the class. The time difference indicated that it would be better simply to video the class with a higher resolution camera. All of this foreshadowed what is going to happen this fall.

5. I met with a lot of people around campus in the fall. I worked especially closely with marketing, since they were understaffed and did not have a new permanent director until April. Very enjoyable and instructive, but the new Director shows what real expertise can do.

Our house moved fairly quickly once it was on the market, and Angie was soon with me in the house we have rented since the end of November. She finished out the semester in Marion and then fully moved here. Providentially, she was already teaching Chinese students English online when COVID shut New York down. That has been an outlet for her throughout this time. She will be teaching 6-7 grade at Houghton Academy this year.

I learned a lot about the enrollment process this year. One very interesting feature of the year was a financial aid packaging strategy put together by one of the math professors. Difficult to gauge its success because of the pandemic, but I was convinced. :-)

6. The pandemic will be like a ring on a tree in the year of a fire. It is not entirely clear what the long-standing impact will be but it is sure to be transformative in very significant ways. A number of colleges will probably close both in the short and long term. Colleges were already closing. Those adept at online education can adapt much more easily. Those who have banked on a residential future are in greater danger than ever.

My transition from in-person to Zoom class was business as usual for me. I've been doing Zoom for some time. For others it was something completely new. The standard for online teaching is asynchronous, so many are quick to argue that we did not really do online teaching in the spring but remote teaching. I have long wondered, however, if there was a market for live online classes, now that bandwidth is not a problem. People with experience in online often look at me as if I'm crazy at this point.

I feel like I was born for the pandemic crisis of 2020. I thrive in this sort of situation. I saw the opportunity of offering fall classes in hybrid form almost immediately, since I had already done it not only with Linguistics this spring but at IWU in 2009 with a Hebrews class. We would eventually decide in that direction.

"Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward" (John Maxwell). This is a motto I found myself saying increasingly this past year. This is difficult for the academy, which in general wants to have everything perfect before even trying something. One difficult thing for me is that I am intuitive. My intuitions are based on cumulative data from years of experience, but people need to see a chart. I work best when paired up with those who can bring the detail alongside my intuitions.

I might also say that it is difficult when you have the mind of a futurist. You think you see things when others don't see them. I'm speaking in general now of something that has been an increasing difficulty of mine for years. You learn to keep your mouth shut so people don't think you're crazy. You dole out your thoughts when the doors open. You get frustrated but have to keep your cool. Getting upset with people doesn't help anything. You go for lots of runs and start talking to yourself. You find someone to vent to.

7. "Never waste a crisis." This is the season to try things. You have an exigence. If they don't work, no problem. We currently have a two semester online biology class on offer especially to high school students. I don't remember ever hearing about such a thing. For one, it is an online lab science class, which is rare. Second, it's stretched out over the whole year.

I believe Houghton has risen to the challenge. But the challenge is only beginning. Ideas I had two years ago that were still a little innovative then are becoming common fare now, like using churches as co-curricular centers for online education. I've been hearing about competency based education for a long time but it's now coming into our back yard. I believe AI and gaming are the key to most future education. Now is the time to launch into them and it's already happening.

Colleges are connecting and you can see a musical chairs phenomenon where there are no more seats left. This year my work will focus on partnerships, and I will be working closely with Michael Jordan and J. L. Miller. I'm also still involved with online programs with Tammy Dunmire as the master of detail. I'll still be in contact with enrollment and marketing, but we've hired someone for whom those are actual areas of formal expertise. And I'll continue to work with the academic leadership of the college.

You can do general demographic study on curricular areas of interest, but what do Houghton's most natural partners specifically want? What is the need? What is the desire? My danger is always to design a great show, like P. T. Barnum's first attempt in The Greatest Showman, but for no one to show up but my family.

You can't predict what will go viral. You just have to be ready when it happens. I've developed a six-fold framework for expansion. We'll see what happens. Houghton is full of brilliant people. They are innovative people too. Should I say I didn't expect Houghton to be innovative, but there is a rich history of innovation here. I wrote about some of the many surprises when I first came here a year ago.

My motto remains what it was at Wesley Seminary--"If you come, we will build it!"

Friday, August 14, 2020

White Fragility chapter 8: Whiplash

I managed to read two chapters of White Fragility today, chapter 8... but I'm just posting on one because I'm tired. :-)

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
Chapter 7: White Triggers

Chapter 8: The Result: White Fragility
1. "A remarkable preponderance of white Americans believe that they also experience racial prejudice" (107). "More than half of whites--55 percent--surveyed say that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people today" (108).

Meanwhile, "white people's moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging their complicity with it" (108). "Whites invoke the power to choose when, how, and to what extent racism is addressed or challenged" (109). "One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense. Through this discourse, whites characterize themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked."

"The language of violence... is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality" (110). "By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African-Americans) are dangerous and violent."

Also, "Because the new racial climate in America forbids the open expression of racially based feelings, views, and positions, when whites discuss issues that make them uncomfortable, they become almost incomprehensible" (110, Bonilla-Silva).

"White equilibrium is a cocoon of racial comfort, centrality, superiority, entitlement, racial apathy, and obliviousness, all rooted in an identity of being good people free of racism Challenging this cocoon throws off our racial balance" (112).

2. In the news today is the killing of Cannon Hinnant. This 5 year old boy was tragically killed by a black man in Virginia. The father of the boy did not believe that the killing was race-related. Indeed, we have to wonder if this man suffers from mental illness. He was quickly arrested and is in jail.

Predictably, certain media outlets have seized on the incident as if to say, "See, a horrible black man killed a white boy. Why isn't this in the national news?" As we have read in DiAngelo, the charge is that it is racist and inequitable not to mention both in discussions of race.

But there is no reason to push this murder into the national race discussion except for racism. It is the white supremacist element of American culture trying to re-establish equilibrium from the BLM movement after the death of George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and others. It attempts to create a moral equivalency between white police violence on the African-American community and the act of this individual black man, whose act may have had nothing to do with race.

The meaning of such rhetoric in large part has to do with its trajectory. The violence of white police against black men has a history going back to the slave trade, to slavery, to the laws of the south after reconstruction that jailed black men for nothing, to lynching, to abhorrent movies like The Birth of a Nation, to the Jim Crow laws, to housing rules that created what would become violent ghettos, to laws that disproportionately incarcerate black men.

When we protest the killing of George Floyd, we are standing against four hundred years of white supremacy that is cooked into our society. When we bring race into the killing of Cannon Hinnant against this backdrop, at best we are tone deaf. More likely, we are subconsciously (or consciously) trying to re-establish the white supremacist narrative that black men are dangerous criminals who should be locked up or killed with a vengeance. There is no reason to reference this story in relation to race except an offensive ignorance or a racist and white supremacist motivation.

3. "White fragility functions as a form of bullying. I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me--no matter how diplomatically you try to do so--that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again" (112). It is a "sociology of dominance" (113).

She ends with a question she often poses to people of color in her training sessions. "What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?" A man of color sighed once and said, "It would be revolutionary" (113).

Last night in the Race and American Christianity course, a theme was mentioned I have heard often of late. Black individuals are tired of having to defend the claim that they are the recipients of regular prejudice and racism. One student told of how, in a mixed gathering, police in the room immediately singled him out as suspicious. We hear this story over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

Black individuals are tired of having to explain this to white people. They shouldn't have to. It's time for those of us who are advocates for righteousness to handle our own people's problems.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

White Fragility Chapter 7: White Triggers

Chapter 6 is up today in the controversial book, White Fragility.

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness

Chapter 7: Racial Triggers for White People
1. As I start this post, I am coming from the second to last class of the summer Race and American Christianity class at Houghton College. (The course/webinar will be offered again in October, by the way.) Tonight's class was on the penal system. I knew some pieces of what was shared but I was really blown away on so many levels.

Perhaps I shouldn't say but I was really struck by the enormity of ignorance of the culture in which I grew up. I shouldn't be surprised because seminary had already made this abundantly clear in relation to the Bible. Take what happened to the mentally ill under the Reagan administration. They were turned out to the streets. Then many of them found their way back into the penal system. In fact, many institutions for the mentally ill were converted to prisons.

Then with the privatization of prisons, prisons become a big business at the state's expense. Incarceration has dramatically increased. I heard about districts in Erie County that are drawn specifically to get the funding from the numbers of (non-voters) in prison which then go to the small district drawn around it. It certainly sounds like a racket. I must say, my faith in American institutions in general is lower than it has ever been.

2. Again, the idea of white fragility relates to the phenomenon of how white individuals tend to have intense emotional reactions when it is suggested that they may not be as free of racial bias as they think and that the culture is generally rigged in their favor. Common responses include "anger, withdrawal, emotional incapacitation, guilt, argumentation, and cognitive dissonance" (101).

She suggests some of the sources for these reactions are:
  • social taboos about talking about race
  • the binary of "you're either good or bad" on this issue
  • underlying resentment of people of color
  • the belief that we are objective on these issues
  • subconscious biases we don't want to acknowledge
  • the benefits of believing we have earned our favored status
  • inherited anti-black sentiments
Here are some of the suggestions that she has observed trigger such emotional responses:
  • the suggestion that a white person's viewpoint is not objective but comes from a racialized point of reference
  • people of color sharing their experiences of racial bias in society
  • people of color correcting a white perspective on their own experiences
  • white individuals disagreeing with the default white narrative
  • the claim that access is unequal between races
  • people of color in positions of leadership
  • stories of people of color not behaving according to the scripts of racial bias
  • denial that the typical white narrative is universal
3. She tells a story at the end of the chapter about some teachers who almost brought a lawsuit on their school because they were not able to distinguish between their individual intentions and the impact of words on others. This relates to the individualism she has talked about and the reduction of racism to one's intentions.

This is an important distinction. In working for racial reconciliation, it is not just a matter of whether a person has good intentions. We need to consider the impact of our words and actions as well. A former colleague of mine used to say something like, "Yes, yes, you all are nice (white) people. But you harm people of color unintentionally in your ignorance." S/he wasn't quite that blunt. :-)

4. A framework DiAngelo uses in this chapter comes from Pierre Bourdieu, known for his concept of the habitus. Our habitus is our normal way of perceiving, interpreting, and responding to things in our environment. When there is disequilibrium in our habitus, it rebounds to maintain our social comfort and helps us regain our balance. This happens unconsciously.

DiAngelo applies this concept to white fragility. When our racial habitus, our white racial status quo, is disturbed, we unconsciously respond in a defensive way that tries to re-establish our stability.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Chapter 6, White Fragility Anti-Blackness

Chapter 5 today of White Fragility.

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?
Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary

Now Chapter 6: Anti-Blackness
1. This chapter expands on the thesis that deep anti-black feelings are inculcated in white people at the societal level from childhood (90). She is addressing the societal level but is also arguing that this anti-black sentiment lurks in white individuals in various ways. She recognizes that talking about whites as a group is jarring (89). She considers it important because our culture wants us to think of ourselves only as individuals, which is how we exempt ourselves from the problems of racism.

I don't take her approach here as racist for a couple reasons. First there is the matter of definition. If racism has to do with a dominant group exerting power over a minority group, then conversations critiquing the dominant group are not racist. They can be prejudiced, but not racist. Second, we are trying to address problems with the goal of alleviating them. The motive is not slander or oppression but critique. It just plays out differently when it goes the other direction.

2. She points out that whiteness came into existence as a counter to blackness (91). I've already indicated that I agree. She raises a good question. To what extent does my identity as a white person remain a counter-point today? For example, I think of myself more as an American than as a white person (of course here we get into some of the "color-blind" territory).

Because of discussions of race, I have also begun to racially disaggregate myself, courtesy of I am something like 85% British and otherwise mostly German. So the term "Anglo-Saxon" fits me quite extensively, with some Scots-Irish thrown in. Thinking of myself in this way re-centers this aspect of my identity on my ethnic background rather than my race.

She mentions a claim by some scholars that "whites split off from themselves and projected onto blackness the aspects that we don't want to own in ourselves" (91). Slave-owners depicted those who worked endlessly for them as lazy and childlike. Whites, who have been far more dangerous, picture black individuals as dangerous. "I am speaking here of the collective white consciousness. An individual white person may not be explicitly aware of these feelings."

3. She discusses misconceptions about affirmative action. Affirmative action is not about quotas. It is not about hiring unqualified people of color. It's not about preferential treatment.

"Affirmative action is a tool to ensure that qualified minority applicants are given the same employment opportunities as white people" (92). Meanwhile, "African-Americans continue to be the most underrepresented group at the organizational leadership level."

I have been involved in searches when a person of color was hired. In every case, that person was the best candidate without question. I was once applying somewhere for a teaching job in which the other candidate was female. The institution did not have any women faculty at that time in that department. I was asked (somewhat inappropriately, but I was not offended) that if there were a situation where two roughly equal qualified candidates were interviewed but one was a woman and the other a man, applying for a department that had no women, who would I hire.

Cheeky, but I said I would hire the other person. They did, but found a way to hire me too, thankfully for me. :-)

One never hires an unqualified person because of their color or gender. I will give my opinion additionally that bringing diversity can be a strength that one candidate contributes, just like being gifted at administration can be a contribution.

4. There is part of the chapter that cites studies that indicate that whites still do not want to integrate with blacks. "White flight has been triggered when a formerly white neighborhood reaches 7 percent black" (92). "A majority of whites, in both the expression of their beliefs and the practice of their lives, do not want to integrate with blacks" (93).

"Anti-blackness is rooted in misinformation, fables, perversions, projections, and lies" (94). "There is a curious satisfaction in the punishment of black people" (94). "We have a particular hatred for 'uppity' blacks, those who dare to step out of their place and look us in the eye as equals" (95). P.S. This is also true of women, which is a factor in the backlash against DiAngelo, was a factor in the hatred of Hillary Clinton, and no doubt will now begin to rear its ugly head in relation to Kamala Harris.

In the Reagan era, we heard messaging about "welfare cheats" and "welfare queens" (95). We see it in reactions to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. Former Congressman Joe Walsh called Stevie Wonder "another ungrateful black multimillionaire" (95). While it is denied by those who say such things, these attitudes all express an underlying anti-black sentiment that remains very strong still in American culture.

5. The last part of the chapter looks at the movie, The Blind Side. Ironically, this movie is thoroughly racist while thinking itself anti-racist. For many white people it is a feel good movie of love conquering over racism, and the main character does move from a kind of blatant racism to what you might call a patronizing racism. It's an improvement, for sure. But consider how racist the person in this stage remains:
  • The movie implies that white people are the saviors of black people. It is a racism of "benevolence"--let's help those poor (inferior) black people.
  • There are no black characters in the movie that do not reinforce negative racial stereotypes (gang members, welfare queens with multiple children, drug addiction, abject poverty, incompetence, mental inferiority, animal instinct).
  • "Black neighborhoods are inherently dangerous and criminal" (98).
  • "Virtually all blacks are poor, incompetent, and unqualified for their jobs."
The good/bad binary is also enforced. Either you're good like the saintly hero of the movie (which isn't the main black character) or you're an evil racist.

6. I visited Memphis a couple years ago around the fiftieth anniversary of MLK's assassination. I knew very little about the story of the civil rights movement at the time, to my shame. I am a perfect example of how white people can completely ignore the past struggles of African-Americans in the United States.

It was on that visit that I realized that the private high school movement in the US largely rose in the south in response to desegregation. The voucher movement today is not too dissimilar--an attempt to get away from (substantially black) public schools. It is never expressed in those terms, mind you, but it seems to have been a major element in the equation in the late twentieth century.

I made some comments on Facebook in this regard in 2018 and mentioned the movie Blind Side as I began to see this "white savior" type of racism. The response was predictable, everything that DiAngelo is arguing with regard to white fragility and being seen as a traitor to white solidarity. It is deeply dis-equilibrating to be confronted with the possibility that elements of yourself that you thought made you a saint and savior were actually hiding sin in your heart.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

White Fragility Chapter 5

Chapter 5 today of White Fragility.

Previous Posts
Chapter 1: Challenges of Talking Race
Chapter 2: Definitions--Racism and White Supremacy
Chapter 3: Racism after the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 4: How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?

Chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary
1. I was not offended by this chapter, and I don't think it's appropriate that so many apparently have been. I would almost suggest that those who get offended are proving her point.

Her basic point is that "to suggest that I am racist is to deliver a deep moral blow--a kind of character assassination" (72). For this reason, it "makes it nearly impossible to talk to white people about racism." This rings true to my personal experience. I do not want anyone to find a trace of any racism in me. It has been deeply demoralizing to me when I have seen evidence of racism in myself. I get it. This rings true to my experience.

She tells a story about a training she once did with people like me, people who are eager to see the advancement of equity on issues of race. A woman in the group tells a story. When she tells the words of an African-American in the story, she changes her accent to something that clearly means to depict a black person talking and does so in a way that is unflattering. Imitation of accent often reveals racial socialization, especially when someone is trying to be funny.

DiAngelo then has to decide. Does she point it out? Does she let it slide? Obviously she has to point it out. That's why she's there. She points it out. The person becomes very defensive, ends up leaving the seminar.

I didn't pick up a tone here. I get it. All I pick up in this chapter is sincerity. That doesn't mean she's right on everything. To me it does mean the reaction to her isn't fair.

2. She believes that we find ourselves in this situation because we see racism as an either/or. Either you're 100% racist or you're 0%. To be racist is for you to be evil. And we want to be good. She calls this a "good/bad binary."

She has been strongly criticized for implying that all white people are racist. By the way, she hasn't exactly said that yet (the closest was on p.13). But she is not saying all white people are evil. It is ironic how so many of the responses to this book I've seen (most by people who haven't read the book) play right into her conclusions. The reaction to Ed Stetzer's tweet, the comments I've read all over Facebook are perfect demonstrations of what she is calling white fragility. They're making her point.

And you've seen my bingo card. I had someone contact me telling me that they got a bingo yesterday. People don't like their subconscious to be seen by others before they see it themselves. It makes us feel like we are stupid, that we are not in control of ourselves, that we don't know as much as we like to think we know. I don't like it myself at all. It makes me feel vulnerable for other people to know me better than myself.

So her point is not that white people are evil, which is the way people are taking the book. In fact, that is exactly the opposite of the point of this chapter. Her goal is to create an environment where there isn't a good/bad dichotomy on race. Her tactic is to say that, if all white people have elements of a racial socialization inside, then we can begin to identify it and begin to progress. Otherwise it will just stay buried and continue to cause problems for relationships and society.

Perhaps it will help if we start off with a milder claim. A whole lot of us who are white have traces of America's racist past and racial socialization with us in the present, even in those of us who are committed to equity. It is likely that we are not entirely aware of all those traces. If we are truly committed to justice and equity, we will seek to bring those traces to the light, even though it may be painful and embarrassing at times.

3. She gives her own bingo card in the second part of the chapter. These are defensive comments meant to acquit us of any guilt in relation to race. She puts these sorts of responses into two categories--responses that affirm color-blindness and responses that value diversity. An example of the first might be something like, "Focusing on race is what divides us" or "I don't care if you are pink, purple, or polka dotted." An example of the second might be "I was in the military" or "I have people of color in my family."

The key, she says, is to ask what these comments are doing. She would say that they aim to exempt a person from any responsibility or participation in the problem (78). Now here is where some would say she puts all white people in a double bind. If you say nothing, you're accepting your inner racist. If you push-back, you're just demonstrating your inner racist. It's almost set up to where her basic framework is non-falsifiable.

It reminds me a little about debates over whether Christians can keep from sinning. DiAngelo in effect is saying that we sin every day in word, thought, and deed. She would say we may as well admit it or we'll start denying the sins we have. But she does see a spectrum of sinning. Some sins are worse than others.

4. She ends the chapter by going into more detail with some of what she considers statements of denial.

a. "I was taught to treat everyone the same.
She says it is impossible not to judge. I do think she slides from "judge" in the sense of "make judgments" and "judge" in the sense of "skew judgment in a racist way." There is a difference between "no one is objective" and "no one is objective in a racist direction." Nevertheless, she rightly asks us to ask ourselves whether there could be ways in which we unintentionally do not treat everyone the same. She is probably right that sometimes even those of us who are committed to equity let inequity slip through.

b. "I marched in the sixties."
I keep thinking of that Stuart Smalley SNL sketch where Stuart tells Michael Jordan, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt." In the sketch, Jordan was telling Smalley that he doesn't get nervous before a basketball game.

However, I agree with her that a person who was committed to civil rights can still be racist in a more subtle way. For example, a protester could have thought of him or herself as a savior coming to the rescue of inferior people. She also is defining racism as something deeper than intolerance of other races.

c. "I was the minority at my school, so I was the one who experienced racism."
Here she returns to the distinction she made in chapter 2. An individual white person can experience prejudice and discrimination from a person of color, but she or he will not experience a society that is biased against them.

d. "My parents were not racist, and they taught me not to be racist."
My comments on possible equivocation in her definitions in "a" apply here. But her claim is that "your parents could not have taught you not to be a racist, and your parents could not have been free of racism themselves" (83). I'm not saying she's wrong. I will continue to ponder.

e. "Children today are so much more open."
She cites a study by Monteiro, de França, and Rodrigues that argues that this is not the case.

f. "Race has nothing to do with it, but..."
Sometimes people will make this disclaimer before going to say something about a person of color. She is arguing that this disclaimer often shows that a person subconsciously knows that what they are about to say is racist. Of course it is possible that this is not always the case.

g. "Focusing on race is what divides us."
I would echo her statement that, "The idea that talking about racism is itself racist has always struck me as odd" (86). It strikes me as odd too. I had someone email me this week saying that to have a discussion with only African-Americans in the conversation was racist segregation. This makes no sense to me because the power dynamic is not "Stay out because we are superior." It is rather, "It is useful for us to have a safe space where those in the discussion have a common experience to process."

Houghton has a meeting space especially set apart for people of color. It's not that whites aren't welcome. I've gone to events in the space. Whites are welcome to come and hang out in the space. But, in a sense, Houghton's whole campus in general is a safe space for whites. The center provides a space where, every once and a while, students of color can talk about their experiences in a broader environment that is not always as hospitable as we whites would like to think it is.

This is something DiAngelo's definition of racism understands. There is a power dynamic to American culture that is decidedly tipped toward whites. If my boss says something, it's completely different than if a student says the same thing to me. So segregation of whites with power in the 1950s is completely different than a minority black affinity group discussing their campus experiences together or having a group Zoom session.