The Myth of Equality: a review

If you’ve been following the writing career of Ken Wytsma, you’ll note that he’s been tackling such lightweight subjects as the pursuit of Justice and the practical nature of paradox. All kidding aside, Wytsma brings a warmth and intelligence to his material that is both accessible and respectable at the same time. Falling down on either side is not good, so this is important. A book that errs on being too accessible often dumbs down research and salient points. A book that errs on respectability can become laborious and too narrow. And this is especially important in his newest book entitled The Myth of Equality.

Immediately, the word ‘equality’ needs to be set in context and in a world super charged with angry tweets and social media rants, a book that tackles subjects like white privilege, equality, racial tension, and power structures must be both accessible and respectable. After all, this is what we all want in adult conversations about serious subjects and let me say from the start that this is the best way to read this book. I don’t think books on justice or equality accomplish much in an era overloaded with blog posts and web based information. My initial comment on Wytsma’s new book is that this should be read with another person or in a small group. In fact, I think it’s hard to grow in this subject area without allowing someone else to ask questions of you in real time and over a period of time

And I am giving away the most impactful undercurrent in Wytsma’s book. He frames it this way in chapter eleven: “Listening isn’t just about content but also about whose voice carries it.” Listening, then, is more than information and involves context and involves language, tone, non-verbal communication, and culture. Later on, Wytsma talks about the “texture to truth that comes from experiencing something directly,” and there is about a three hour coffee shop conversation that could stem from those two ideas alone.

The beginning of the book is an effort to set “white privilege” in a historical context and it’s an overview that references Downton Abbey, aristocracy, and European influence quite a bit. While this is important and to be commended, I felt like this overview in the first few chapters fought against the experiential aspects described in later chapters. For this reason, I feel Wytsma, like his book Pursuing Justice is writing an introduction to a subject that deserves further treatment.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday last year, I read Bryan Stephenson’s powerful book Just Mercy and I was glad to see Wytsma also highly recommend it. Stephenson’s book also gets the point across, but in the experiential, direct, and textured way that seems more focused and fervent.

Let me be clear. I think The Myth of Equality is clear-headed, accessible, respectable, and an important contribution to a discussion that is textured and layered with historical context rich in individual and collective nuances. At twelve chapters, Wytsma’s book is approachable and readable. What happens, though, if Wytsma’s subject gets the narrative voice of Stephenson’s Just Mercy?

In the end, this is an introduction to not only a subject that carries weight and baggage, but also a posture that carries the burden of listening and learning. Shame is the enemy of authentic relationship, so Wytsma is right to tread carefully through this topic. If you’re willing to have an adult discussion, Ken Wytsma could be a helpful guide and the world could use a few more adult conversations about things that matter.



(Royalties from sales of this book will go to helping leaders of color get published through The VOICES Project. )

Refusing to Know the Other

Bryan Crawford Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Fellowship Memphis, a multicultural church ministering to the evolving community of urban Memphis. This Guest Voices post originally appeared on Bryan's blog as a response to Douglas Wilson's controversial book on race, Black and Tan. The blog ignited a firestorm of response from both sides of this important and ongoing debate on the history of slavery and the ongoing conversations about race in America. Bryan is the author of A Cross Shaped Gospel (Moody Press).

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Why the Conversation about Gabby Douglas Matters

There I sat, anxiously awaiting the final scores for the women’s gymnastics all around. Gabby had done an amazing job and so did the rest of her team. She had already won a gold medal for her team performance, but now, was the individual gold. It finally came in. Gabby had won! Now, in times past I normally could care less about the Olympics; they take up valuable TV time and make me miss my favorite shows. But, since I got married, a lot of “things” have changed in my viewing appetite—this of course being one of them. I was floored. She actually won! Amazing. Stupendous. Unreal. And then, the racial construct ideology hit me seconds later. I wondered, how long it would take before Gabby’s racial milieu becomes the topic of conversation. So, I decided to do a little experiment, I grabbed my phone and set the timer to see how long it would take before something about Gabby’s “Blackness” (and all the social pathologies associated with being “Black”) would come to the forefront to shadow her success.
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Theologizing Tim Tebow

Faith and religion within the public sphere has an interesting personality. A personality which has race and culture at the center fueling its character. Therefore, with the recent rise in fame of Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow, I find it interesting how his faith and spiritual notions are being played out in the public arena. Allow me to first say that I have no problem with him “performing” his faith in a public manner. Yet, the frenzied imposition of meaning on the power of his “religious convictions” (e.g. the Broncos are winning as a result of his prayers) includes, but transcends what Wade Clark Roof refers to as civil religious rhetoric in his article American Presidential Rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: Another Look at Civil Religion. This type of religio-political rhetoric tends to create myths and fantasy within the public arena, which in turn create meaning, cultural mores, and social reality for the people who believe it. Myths are powerful types of vehicles for any people group and society.

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Starting Blocks

One of the worst memories I can still feel in the core of my being is getting in the starting blocks at the beginning of a sprint.  In high school I was a 100m hurdler.  If you know me, then you’re probably thinking, “Huh… that’s funny, she’s pretty short.”  Short but determined.  (That could be a motto for my life).

I loved jumping over obstacles – running in straight line seemed too easy.  Put 10 large objects in my way, and –bam- I had a challenge worth my time. I even held the school record for a few years.

Theme songs from movies and the Frosted Flakes commercial would play through my head as my competitors and I would warm-up, stretch, and entertain our mock starts.  There was always a feeling of anxiety… always.

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Continuing The Legacy of Dr. King in Post 9/11 America

These days it is difficult to fully embrace the idea that we live in a “post-racial society” when we in the Black community still see our young people shot down at the hands of police officers (click here. This young man was from one of my home towns on the Central Coast of Ca. where I did Young Life for many years). It is difficult to imagine a society where “race” and the “color” of our skin are not looked upon as the measure of a person/ people group. It is challenging to see through a lot of the subtle, overt, and venomous racism that swirls in our media, political rhetoric, and societal structures almost every day.
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Kanye & That Apology

This morning I had the opportunity to have a great discussion on the radio with Sharon Kay on 88.1 FM WFSK in Memphis. The hour long radio show had us discussing many elements of Hip Hop. One of the issues that came up was that apology given earlier this week from a one Mr. Kanye West to George Bush. That was an interesting conversation and one that has had many Hip Hop heads talking all week long.

Do I agree with the apology? Well, yes and no. While I am all about looking back and reflecting on life, growth, and our own mistakes, I’m also not one to apologize for truth and the “calling it like it is” vernacular seen so well from Hip Hop culture. The apology sends a mixed message as to what was really happening at that time during those fatal days following hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi. Moreover, it diminishes the reality and legacy of classism and racism which was seen so well in 2005.

Kanye has been on a bit of a quest to find meaning. As I’ve asserted in the past, Kanye’s life is an interesting one. On the one end you have an extremely talented person who shows no signs of slowing down. However on the other you have a person who has had some major setbacks in his life and with the death of his mother, only adds to the complexity of issues; compound that with no one with the ability or the access to let Kanye know there is come “crap” in his life and you have someone who is, at points, barreling down the track of life at dangerous speeds. Hence, I respect Kanye for coming out and admitting the error of his ways.

That said, let’s take this a bit further and see the deeper issues at hand. First, Kanye’s comments were a broader statement and criticism of the attitude and ethos from the government at that time towards the people of New Orleans and Mississippi. Michael Eric Dyson states, “West was suggesting that the government had callously broken its compact with its poor black citizens and that it had forgotten them because it had not taken their plain to heart. West’s claim that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ was a claim not about Bush’s personal life, but rather his professional life” (Come Hell or High Water p. 28). Therefore, we begin to see the systems, which have so often been against many ethnic minorities, come to realization right before our eyes through the advent of live video those days in September of 2005; Kanye was merely calling out the madness of discrimination.

Second, it diminishes the face of classism and racism. By apologizing, it now opens up the door for “See, I told you it was never really that way!” It clears a pathway for those who are unaware of the legacy of racism and classism to dismiss the depth of Kanye’s words and the even deeper issues of race and ethnicity in this country. The apology pushes the very complex, difficulty, yet necessary conversation regarding race in this country further away from the center of conversations. Moreover, it makes it look like Kanye was, once again, just “acting like a nut.”

Third, it makes Kanye look a bit schizophrenic. No, I do not mean the brutha is mentally ill. However, with this apology, I have heard many say that Kanye’s point just doesn’t’ hold water…I mean look what happened with him and Taylor Swift. Thus, this is just one more notch on the“You people are just making this stuff up” social belt.

Fourth and lastly, we have yet to really deal with those issues regarding race and ethnicity stemming from those weeks in September of 2005. Once again, Dyson reminds us that “Bush’s claim that race played no role in the recovery efforts betrayed a simplistic understanding of how complex a force like race operates in the culture” (p. 31). It is never easy to discuss race. And for those in dominant culture who have never really had to deal with race in the way ethnic minorities have, or continue to be frustrated because “We’re still talking about this” have never really seen the historical tradition of racism in this country. Yes, race and ethnicity are multifaceted and with the emergence of “mixed” people groups, we have an even more intricate road ahead of us. Kanye’s apology does not help the conversation regarding race and ethnicity. Moreover, it takes us back a few steps.

Take a trip down to the 9th Ward in New Orleans and you will see that not much has changed. More importantly, greed has settled in and the land is being divided up through the process of gentrification. Most of the people I have interviewed who lived through the horrific ordeal have told me that the city just “doesn’t want them back.” When you have over 200,000 people displaced, there will always be room for “change.” What change will happen still remains to be seen. But the problems of the poor still remain at large.

The last issue here is of course, class. Because there were just as many poor White’s in that mess during the flooding as there were Blacks. In fact, many of the faces you saw in the videos from New Orleans were of poor working class White’s who were just as “messed up” as the Blacks were. Kanye’s comments also included them. How you say? The niggarization process, which Cornel West has suggested is the process of marginalizing and oppressing a people group similar to the way Blacks have been in this country and at times adhering to some of the same methods of discrimination (e.g. locked out of jobs, a lack of access to education, a disparity in resources). In many ways poor White’s are in some of the same boats Blacks are; particularly because society has forgotten about them too. Kanye, though indirectly, was addressing those issues too.

So, in the end, we have some items on our cultural and social table we need to discuss. Does Kanye have that much power and say so Dan? No, of course not. What I’m merely referring to here is the social and cultural significance of both his statements and the state of our country. I’m hoping we can continue to move forward and engage in these very serious discussions. Moreover, I’m hoping that the world in the next 15 years will begin to see some of the more serious problems regarding race, class, and gender. Here’s hoping that the discussion and ensuing solutions continue!

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The State of Race

Last week I watched a peculiar parade. I saw police arranging long, white barricades at the end of my block, so my dog and I decided to take a walk and find out what was happening. From beyond the crest of a hill on Sumter Street, we could feel the roll of bass drums and hear the staccato brass of a marching band.  In a moment, floats appeared over the horizon, candy was tossed, and there were smiles all around.

But that’s not why it was a peculiar parade. Two things were odd: as I looked around, I realized that I was the only white person standing among the crowds on the sidewalk. Hmmm. The second thing: no white people in the parade. It went on, an hour of high school marching bands (8), floats (20), politicians (close to election day), and little girls in leotards (countless) twirling chrome batons with scuffed rubber tips.

The Curious Case of Racial Discourse

President Obama has his hands full. On one end, if he presses too hard for equality and justice, he will be crucified for “playing the race card.” On the other side of it, if he sits still and says very little, at the end of his presidency not only will Blacks remonstrate but many other ethnic minorities will bawl for justice and equality against the beast of racism. In the recent weeks, we have seen the struggle President Obama has had; Shirley Sherrod is case in point. Moreover, now you have Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters being probed by the ethics committee; both are African American. Does race play a role in all this? Of course.

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Stuff White People Like

I got a Stuff White People Like flip calendar for Christmas. I am enjoying it very much. This was last night's entry:
The Daily Show/Colbert makes up a duo that is held in such high regard by white people that to criticize it would be the equivalent of setting the pope on fire in Italy in 1822. It just isn’t done, in fact it isn’t even considered!

White people love to make fun of politics, especially right wing politics. It’s a pretty easy target and makes for some decent humor, but white people are actually starting to believe that these two shows are becoming legitimate news sources.

“Oh, I don’t watch the news,” they will say. “I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. You know, studies show that viewers of those shows are more educated than people who watch Fox News or CNN.”

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