Mine eyes have seen…

America the beautiful. America the free. But how free are all people in America? Arguably, people of color are not as free as white Americans. But that’s not even arguable. There are way too many statistic to back this up.

Over spring break, I went on a Justice Journey around the Southern United States. We stopped in Ferguson, Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta. We saw sites of racial violence, learned about racism in America—past and present, and spoke with two activists who are tenacious women, Alexis and Elle, who are leading protests and speaking truth.

I saw a lot of hurt. I felt a lot of guilt because I failed to recognize what was happening right in front of me. Mine eyes have seen the subtle and sometimes blatant racism in America.

Racism is a huge issue of social justice in America. Many people think that because all the laws have been change that people of color have the same access to education, jobs, housing, treatment by police, etc. in America as white Americans do. But that is simply a lie. Let’s look at some statistics.

This is statistic I learned while talking to Elle, an Atlanta activist who is responsible for planning the I-85 interstate shut down in protest.

1. Every 28 hours a black person is shot by police. For more information about police violence, click here.

2. An AP poll conducted in 2012 found that 51% of Americas harbor anti-black attitudes, compared to only 48% in 2008. 51% that is HUGE! Half of Americans have feelings of prejudice towards black people. That is a problem.

3. According to the Pew Research Center in 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times that of the median wealth of black households.

4. Data from the 2011-2012 school year shows that black students are three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60%  of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.

And these are just four statistics. While talking to Alexis and Elle, they both shared stories about how they are afraid to go out because they fear the target of police. Alexis came to the church we were staying at in St. Louis. She wasn’t exactly sure where to go, so she was wandering around the building. Alexis was super afraid that a police officer would drive by and arrest her for trespassing, simply because she wasn’t sure where to go.

And this is just one story. Alexis and Elle both had multiple stories about times that they feared for their safety, that they would be judged for the color of their skin. Alexis and Elle are not the only ones with these stories. It is unfair for white Americans to deny their reality, in fact, it is extremely problematic. Ignoring their reality further entrenches feelings of resentment which will not help us solve the problem. 

Yes, there are some laws that could be made or changed to help solve these statistic, but the real problem comes from those who are explicit express anti-black attitudes. It is a matter of perception. Ultimately, black bodies are seen as inferior to white bodies.

Street Art in Ferguson, MO

Street Art in Ferguson, MO

But it would be unfair to tell this story without hope. Mine eyes have seen hope. I saw it on the Justice Journey. Hope is in the two young women activists we spoke to. Hope is in the street art in Ferguson. Hope is in the ongoing protests for black life.

Think about what prejudices you harbor. You may not think you have any. But that’s a lie. Everyone holds them whether we want to or not. Stereotypes—a type of prejudice. There are tools that can help us recognize our prejudices like Project Implicit run by Harvard. On this site, you can take different test to find out what you implicit associations are. Knowing what prejudices you harbor is the first step to breaking them down.

From there, white Americans need to check their privilege. We have to look at and recognize the advantages that we have in society. We must not deny that we do have privilege. It is seen in the way white people are hired more often for jobs even if the black person has the same qualifications.

Then we need to listen. We need to listen to stories of people who are marginalized. We cannot and should not deny their experiences. To do so is to discount who they are as people. We must amplify the voices of those who are experiencing prejudice.

Often the experiences of prejudice will be denied by white people because, under the theory of analogy, those experiences do not happen to white people. We cannot wrap our minds around that idea of somehow we are making people suffer. We make excuses that they have the opportunity to succeed, but if we are to look at the date, we see that people of color do not. Once we recognize this, we can begin to change.

And we need to love. For Christianity, Jesus calls each one of us to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. This love calls us to put ourselves in their shoes and lift up the voices of the marginalized. To cast away our judgments and simply love.

This love also means that we work for change for our black brother and sisters. That means we have the tough conversation about race. We work to challenge the status quo through conversation.

We can change how black bodies are viewed. Yes, it is going to take work. Yes, it is going to be difficult, but it is possible. But we have to listen. We cannot project our white selves onto the black experience.

Hope is here. Hope is now. It is time to put behind the feelings that people of color are inferior to white people. It is time to recognize the black experience and work to change it for the better. Now, it is time for me to step aside and let my black brothers and sisters speak, so that I may work to amplify their voices and have the race conversation.

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6 Times Women in the Bible Had to Use Their Bodies to Get What They Want

1. Tamar: Genesis 38

Painting by Arent de Gelder

Judah and Tamar (1667) by Arent de Gelder

Tamar was a widow. She went to live with her father until Judah’s son, Shelah, was old enough for her to marry. Shelah became grown, but Tamar and Shelah were not married. When she found out that Judah, her father-in-law, was going to sheer sheep, she wrapped herself up and put on a veil. Judah thought she was a prostitute, and asked to have sex with her. Tamar said only if he gave her his signet, cord, and staff. He obliges then they go on there way. Three months later, Tamar is pregnant, and Judah is furious and wants her to be burned. She brings out the signet, cord, and staff, and Judah acknowledges that he was in the wrong.

Tamar did not have agency to do anything about her place in life. Her only option was to use her body to get the protection she needed. 

2. Rahab: Joshua 2

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua and some other Israelites had come to scope out the city in preparations for the attack of Jericho. The men had come to her which implies sex. The king of Jericho found out and sent orders for Rahab to turn the men over. Instead, she hid them. The men then granted her safety after the Israelites took over Jericho.

If we want to give the Israelites the benefit of the doubt and say that they protected Rahab because she protected them, we could. However, I am a bit more skeptical. Rahab used her body in the way she knew how in order to gain protection because she was soon to be a foreigner in her own land. 

3. Bathsheba: 2 Samuel 11

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, an officer in King David’s army. While Uriah was away, David saw a women who was very beautiful, Bathsheba. He summoned her, and they had sex.

Now, let’s pause for a second. One could say, “Why didn’t Bathsheba refused to have sex with David?” But I don’t think it was that easy. Kings tend to ruthless. She probably would have been killed for not sleeping with David.

Bathsheba gets pregnant, so David brings Uriah home to try to get him to sleep with his wife. Uriah refuses, and goes back to the front lines. David orders Uriah to be killed in battle. Then David takes Bathsheba as his wife, and her son becomes an heir to the throne.

Bathsheba used her body to further her placement in society. Why was she forced to use her body to gain her place?

4. Hagar: Genesis 16

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar was the servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was barren, she offered Hagar to her husband to fulfill God’s promise. Hagar conceives and looks on contempt, so Sarai dismisses her. Hagar runs away, and an angel of the Lord tells her to return to Sarai. The angel also said that her offspring would be greatly multiplied.

Now the question is: Why did Sarai feel that the only way to fulfill God’s promise was to use someone else’s body? Why was it that Sarai felt that the promise of God rested on her shoulders and her body?

5. Ruth and Naomi: Ruth

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth's veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth’s veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Ruth and Naomi are in Judah after living in Moab for many years. Both women are foreigners and husbandless. They are in need of protection. Naomi knew someone from her late husband’s side of the family that was rich named Boaz. Ruth and Boaz become acquainted. Naomi then devises a plan in which Ruth was to ask for Boaz to marry her while he was drunk. Ruth and Boaz get married.

Naomi used Ruth’s young body to gain protection for themselves in Judah. Ruth laid next to Boaz. While the Bible does not suggest any sort of sexual interaction, Ruth uncovered his feet and laid next to him while drunk. She used her body to gain protection.

6. Mary Magdalene

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

In the Bible, Mary Magdalene did not explicitly use her body to get what she needed. Historically, it has been said that Mary was a prostitute. Why is it that Mary has to be sexualized to gain her place in history? Couldn’t she just be one of Jesus’ disciples?

While some of these stories may be seen as trickery, we must remember that these women did not have any other option to make a place for themselves in the world. In all of these stories, the women were either vulnerable or were foreigners. They did not have many choices other than to use their body. Having someone else’s kid can give a women protection in the ancient world. Why is it that women feel that using their body is the only way they can get what they want? How does this still happen in the world today? How can we change this?