Culture Archive

Tuesday

20

June 2017

0

COMMENTS

5 Problems With How We Talk About Police Reform

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Race

Are our conversations addressing the real problem?

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The ubiquity of cell phone video has made plain to the general public something black folk have believed for a long time: we don’t receive equal treatment from the police. Every time a police shooting makes the news it forces people–especially whites–to confront that uncomfortable reality. Unfortunately many of the resulting conversations over the past few years have done little to move us closer to a tangible resolution. While I believe this is due in part to the naturally slow pace of the types of policy change reform advocates want, I also think the way we discuss police violence has made it more difficult to forge a common understanding and achieve real progress.

1. Making it a “black issue”

Perhaps the biggest issue with the national dialogue on policing is how quickly it gets framed as a “black issue”. Treating it that way obscures the facts, makes it easier to divert the attention to unrelated issues (e.g., “black-on-black crime”), and makes it harder to build political consensus. The facts are that even though black people are disproportionately (compared to our population percentage) shot and killed by police while unarmed, the majority of fatal police shooting victims each year are white. The general public doesn’t know this because those stories rarely get media attention, even when there’s video of the incident. For example, the police shot a 19-year old white teen named Dylan Noble who wouldn’t show one of his hands after being pulled over. Another man, John Geer, was shot and killed by police while he stood in his doorway with his hands up. The officer, Adam Torres, was released from jail in June 2016 after serving most of his one-year sentence. In fact, according to Washington Post data on police shootings whites make up 46% of all people shot and killed by police and 45% of those who are shot while unarmed. There are also instances of non lethal force that involve whites. One Missouri officer stopped a teen on an outstanding warrant, tased him, dragged him out of the car, and dropped him face first on the curb. The teen suffered brain damage as a result and the officer was sentenced to four years in jail.

The real problem with our current state of policing is that officers are rarely charged and almost never receive prison time for actions taken in the line of duty. That should be a major starting point for our conversations about police reform. It is ethically and morally unacceptable to live in a society where prosecutors are more zealous about jailing petty drug dealers than police officers who kill citizens–regardless of their race, gender, or  income–without just cause.

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Thursday

1

December 2016

2

COMMENTS

4 Lessons the Media Should Learn From the 2016 Election

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Race

 Did the media learn anything over the last 18 months?
 trumpohio-rally

Donald Trump is set to become the 45th president of the United States. To say his defeat of Hillary Clinton is a historical political upset is a major understatement. Very few people saw this coming and a lot of individuals and institutions, including the media, are left trying to figure out what went wrong. Here a few of my takeaways.

1.  Assumptions rarely lead to understanding.
The most powerful and influential voices in media are centered in big cities and their perspectives take on the type of progressive worldview that is common in urban centers. That’s not a bad thing per se, it just means members of the mainstream media–and many of its consumers–don’t understand much about people who live in other parts of the country. And what do people do when they lack experience or understanding in a particular area? They rely on assumptions, project their own worldview onto others, and listen to the opinions of others who have as little information as they do.
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Monday

2

November 2015

0

COMMENTS

5 Biggest Problems With the Overuse of “Respectability Politics”

Written by , Posted in Culture, Race

The term “respectability politics” is in danger of  becoming irrelevant.

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The phrase “respectability politics”–the idea that racism can be defeated on the strength of good behavior by black people–is one of the most commonly used terms in discussions of race in America. We heard after Geraldo Rivera suggested Trayvon Martin would still be alive if not for his decision to wear a hoodie the night he was killed. We also read it in thinkpieces about structural inequality and institutional racism.

But the term is also frequently used to dismiss suggestions that African Americans should change any aspect of our behavior or culture in order to achieve social, economic, or political progress. It has been used to describe everything from President Obama’s beliefs about the importance of marriage to criticism of black artists who use the “n-word”. Any criticism of black culture, regardless of its intent, will almost certainly get you labeled as an endorser of respectability politics.

People who accuse blacks of playing respectability politics are basically saying that culture isn’t as important as we’ve been led to believe. They believe policy is key to changing conditions in communities of color and, to a lesser extent, influencing individual behavior. They believe talking about culture is a distraction from more substantive conversations that ultimately puts too much attention on individuals and groups who have historically been disenfranchised. I disagree. Culture is very important. Just as important, in fact, as policy. And since culture is created, it is fair game to be criticized. And every criticism of culture isn’t necessarily an indication of prejudice. That’s why the ever-growing list of things that will get someone accused of playing respectability politics is very troubling. Here are five reasons using the term to describe any critique of black culture is a hindrance to progress for anyone concerned about the state of the black community.

1. It creates the illusion that the point of critiquing our culture is acceptance by whites

The most frustrating thing about how loosely many writers and thinkers talk about respectability politics is that it presumes that black folk who offer any type of cultural critique do so to please whites. I’m sure that is the case for some blacks, especially many of the contributors on Fox News, but I believe most black people want better for our community because we respect ourselves and want to see our collective condition improve. But over and over again, black social critics and pundits will imply or explicitly state that black writers, politicians, and others in the public sphere who question aspects of black culture do so to gain the acceptance, respect, or support of whites. This might sound like a deep sociopolitical analysis but it really isn’t. It’s a projection. When I’m at church or the barbershop or around the dinner table and people start talking about what our community needs to do to improve conditions I never assume the person speaking is trying to impress white folks. So I’m not sure how the respectability politics police draw this conclusion unless they are the ones overly concerned with how black folks look to whites.

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Thursday

25

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Charleston

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Race, Religion

 

Last week the country was rocked by the actions of a cowardly killer in Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof, a domestic terrorist, walked into a Wednesday night Bible study at one of the most historically significant African American churches in the South and, after sitting for an hour with the congregation that welcomed him with open arms, decided to shoot and kill nine innocent victims. In the time since last week’s tragedy, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to issues of race–from calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds to the president’s use of the word “nigger” while describing modern manifestations of racism to frank discussions about forgiveness and faith. Here are a few of my thoughts:

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Thursday

18

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Is Change Always Progress?

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Relationships

Love, marriage, then baby carriage? Not for some millennials.

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It’s no surprise that more millennials are forgoing marriage but the logic behind the decision by many couples to have kids before marriage is quite…interesting. It’s hard to  trying to understand how a couple that feels it is financially unprepared for marriage could think it has the capacity to support a child. And to be clear, a couple, and that term should be applied loosely to some relationships, that is having sex but not taking steps to prevent pregnancy can’t claim that a baby is “unplanned”. That’s not the way it works. If you’re not preventing pregnancy, you’re inviting it.

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Monday

15

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Do Dads Still Matter?

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics

This week we’ll be exploring the role and importance of dads, particularly black fathers.

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One of the worst things we did as a country, both through our policies and culture, is sell the notion that dads don’t matter. Even the simple act of mentioning the importance of fathers, and marriage, in debates about policies aimed at helping low-income families is often met with strong resistance by some progressives. The reason marriage is such an important part of this conversation is because it is the single most important structural enabler for father involvement. A man who has made a lifelong commitment to one woman is in a much better position–socially, emotionally, and financially–to commit to the rearing of the children they have together. That doesn’t mean that married men are perfect dads or that divorce doesn’t lead to family disruption. Talking about the importance of men and marriage also doesn’t mean you have to demean single mothers or disparage alternative familial arrangements. Embracing a more holistic model of fatherhood–one that moves beyond seeing dad as mainly a paycheck–is good for everyone involved.

 

 

 

 

Thursday

21

May 2015

0

COMMENTS

America’s Real God

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Religion

 

What’s one thing many American Christians love more than Jesus? Power.

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The debate over the role of religion in the public square is not new. Following the recent controversy surrounding Indiana’s religious-freedom laws, we’ve heard from Christians on both sides of the political spectrum who believe their faith informs their views on important social issues.

I recently came across an article that talked about how the “New Christian Left” is twisting the gospel. The author unpacked a number of points related to the tension between traditional biblical teachings and contemporary moral values. She also listed three different types of evangelical Christians that have emerged in these unique times–those who stay silent on major cultural issues, those who pick and choose which parts of the bible they want to live by, and those who operate in mercy and grace while still sharing the gospel message with their neighbors. Up to this point I didn’t really have any major issue with what I was reading. Then the author said this:

I know about these three types of Christians because at one time or another I have fallen into each of these three categories. My parents will tell you that even though I was raised in church, I morphed into a full-fledged feminist, told my parents they were ignorant for not endorsing homosexuality and bought into the distorted social justice rhetoric that confuses caring for the poor with advancing socialist or big government systems and demonizing the United States for its free market system.

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Wednesday

29

April 2015

2

COMMENTS

Civil Unrest in Baltimore

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Race

 

A major American city is talking. Will anyone listen?

protester-baltimore

Still trying to wrap my head around everything that’s been going on in Baltimore. A few thoughts:

1. The Baltimore city government needs to move quickly to make the results of their investigation in Gray’s homicide public.

1a. Using racialized language (i.e., “thugs”) at a time like this is not a smart move, even if you are a black elected official.

2. We’re at a point where only the most ardent police apologists can deny that there are aspects of law enforcement culture that are rotten and need to be changed. That will require changes in technology (i.e., body cams), recruiting, training, department policy, police culture, investigation, and prosecution. Police who betray their oaths and commit serious crimes, and the arms of law enforcement that are complicit, undermine the very rule of law they have sworn to protect.

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Monday

13

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

A New Day in Ferguson

Written by , Posted in Culture, Politics, Race

 

Change is on the way in Ferguson.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Over the last 10 months Ferguson, Missouri has become the epicenter of the growing movement against police brutality and misconduct. The outrage after Michael Brown’s death sparked protests across the country, particularly in other cities with high-profile police shootings, investigations by the Department of Justice, and new elections. In less than one year, this small Missouri city became an example of how everyday citizens could fight back against institutional racism and affect substantive change. While we’ve seen signs of progress, it hasn’t come without serious challenges.

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Monday

6

April 2015

1

COMMENTS

Who Deserves Forgiveness?

Written by , Posted in Culture, Race

 

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Two recent stories got me thinking about forgiveness last week. The first involved Levi Pettit, the SAE member who, along with other members of his fraternity, got caught on video singing a song that referenced lynching. The second story involved Joey Casselberry, a college baseball player from Bloomsburg University who referred to Mo’ne Davis as a “slut”in a recent tweet, apparently after hearing that Davis would be the subject of an upcoming Disney movie.

Pettit and Casselberry faced intense criticism for what they did but the actions of a handful of black folk also garnered a good deal of attention. A group of black elders, including clergy and at least one state senator, stood behind Pettit while he apologized during a public statement. Mo’ne Davis took things to a different level when she not only stated she forgave her offender but also contacted his school to ask for his reinstatement after they kicked him off the baseball team. Both instances present interesting case studies in forgiveness.

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