A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

Sami5

My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

Sami6

Sami7

That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

Sami2

For the Literal Love of Christ, Stop Making Jesus White

 

Superstar

Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar

I was browsing Buzzfeed the other day when I found an article about the Mary Magdalene film starring Rooney Mara (as Mary) and Joaquin Phoenix (as Jesus).

To be honest, at first I thought it was great that a film about Mary Magdalene would be coming to theaters soon, especially because of the issues many in the Church might have with her story being portrayed well on screen (she wasn’t a prostitute?!).

Then I saw the casting, and I got frustrated at the fact that once again, two white actors are portraying religious and historical figures of color.

MaryMovie

Daily Mail

I quickly went to IMBD to check out the rest of the cast, and I discovered that black, Israeli, and Algerian actors will be playing Jesus’ disciples.

Which is…better than having them all be white, too, I suppose. At least this casting is a bit more accurate.

Starting from top left: Australian actor Ryan Corr as Joseph, Israeli actor Tawfeek Barhom as James, Matthew Moshonov as Matthew, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, and French actor Tahar Rahim

This being said, Hollywood is not off the hook. The fact that in most biblical films, Jesus is cast as a white man while the people of color are relegated to the supporting cast is a greater symptom of the American white savior complex.

 

The simplest way to define the white savior as an entertainment trope is a white character rescuing people of color from their plight. While many well-meaning people defend these characters as benign and even admirable (perhaps citing that they learn a lesson about themselves and “those people” and become “better” in the end), they are actually rather harmful.

The danger of the white savior mentality is that it enables the savior to look down on the ones they try to “save.” It allows the savior to say, “You are only worthy of my time, attention, and compassion as long as you are beneath me. Never equal to me, and definitely not above me.”

The white savior complex “racializes morality by making us consistently identify with the good white person saving the non-white people who are given much less of an identity in these plot lines. It also frames people of color as being unable to solve their own problems.”

This racialization of morality frames white people as the good guys, and the people of color as either the bad guys or the ones needing saved.

White savior mentality does not embolden people on the “receiving” end to take agency over their own lives.

One of the primary results of the white savior/one needing saved relationship is enmeshment, which can occur “in any relationship where there is a power imbalance due to structural inequality, and ensures that the power imbalance stays firmly in place, resulting in frustration and resentment for the oppressed group.” This ensures that the person or people being saved become fully dependent on their saviors to survive and thrive, while the saviors get a nice dose of purpose and goodwill from having saved someone. They are dependent on each other for the wrong reasons.

The white savior mentality does not allow people of color, or those being “rescued” or “saved,” to voice their own concerns or opinions about their own lives. Instead, the saved remain subservient to their saviors, who tell them to trust in the savior’s goodness and logic above their own needs.

This is prevalent in reality, as seen in the accusations of TV personalities and news anchors concerning black culture and black individuals. There seem to be zero forms of protest that a person of color can participate in which white leaders will not criticize. This is why Black Lives Matter can be deemed “the new KKK” with little to no mainstream backlash. It’s why any criticism about white supremacy and privilege is clapped back against with cries of “reverse racism” and accusations of “not letting the past be past.”

Feminists are not exempt from this.

Rafia Zakaria writes in Al Jazeera, “Nonwhites are expected to approbate and modify their own lives or positions to participate in this [white feminist] narrative. The parameters of this paradigm ignore differences in privilege that separate the white and nonwhite feminisms. White women dominate the mainstream American feminism because they can still draw on white privilege and occupy the entire category.”

If left ignored, women of color will continue to be ostracized by a movement which claims to seek liberation for all.

This is why, for the literal love of Jesus, we need to drop the white savior complex, from our media and from our lives.

Jesus regarded everyone with whom he interacted as inherently worthy of his love and attention. But white savior mentality does not acknowledge the inherent dignity within every human being as a child of God.

If we continue to call ourselves the Body of Christ on earth, yet continue to ignore our siblings’ cries for justice, then we are attempting to cast off our hands and feet, destroying the Body from the inside out.

We will also damage our testimony as Christ’s body on earth to those who are not in the Church.

A personal case in point: I have a Middle Eastern, Muslim father, but I did not grow up with him. I grew up with my white mother and white family, so I learned about Arabic culture from them and the media.

And they didn’t exactly paint the best picture. Especially post 9-11.

Post 9/11, I thought all Arabs were terrorists, because that’s all I saw in the news, in TV shows, and in movies. I thought they were oppressive to women and democracy and all the other things Americans claim to hold dear (but they really don’t).

I know how this affected me, and I know how it could affect my younger siblings, and the people with whom they interact, especially in an era of proposed “Muslim bans” and chants to “Build the Wall.”

I worry about representation because of what it will tell the world about my family.

So what do we, the white Americans wrestling with our white savior complexes, need to do?

A small way to break this oppressive cycle is to consume more media with better representations of people of color, in which they, not us, are the predominant actors, writers, producers, and directors.

Love comics? Check out Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and America Chavez.

Looking for a new show to binge-watch on Netflix? Check out Luke Cage, The Get Down, or 3%.

Want a Redbox night? Rent Moonlight or Get Out.

If you don’t consume media with predominantly POC casts and production because you think it’s “too harsh” on white people, or you wonder why you’re not in the lead role like you’re used to, you might be feeling a trace of what black, Latinx, Arab, and other “minority” communities have felt for years.

We often have the audacity to ask, in a culture we dominate, “What about me?”

I asked that question as a four year old when I was dyeing Easter eggs with my cousins because I didn’t want to share the Easter egg dye with them. As a child, I acted like a child, as do we all. Now, it’s time to leave our childish ways behind.

Will watching and reading more stories in which people of color are the heroes and heroines change the world overnight?

Of course not.

It can, however, begin to change our mentality, break stereotypes, and empower people of color.

And for the literal love of Christ, we can do that much.

Reading and Waking Up: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Hate

Goodreads

Let me begin this entry of my Lenten reading series by claiming my own privileges and biases: I am a white female coming to terms with my own complicity in an unjust system which values people like me above black Americans. As such, I am writing these reflections for people who want to become more aware of the injustices in our nation, who want to be good allies, and are doing what they can to nudge those in power and privilege into solidarity and action with the oppressed and marginalized. 

It started out as a therapeutic exercise for author Angie Thomas to process her grief over Oscar Grant’s murder, and the title comes from Tupac Shakur’s interpretation of “THUG LIFE,” or “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone.”

To many publishers, and even author Thomas herself, it was “too black” to be profitable. But thanks to efforts promoting more diverse publishing, and a strong national need to confront racial tensions, “The Hate U Give” is here, and it’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks.

It’s the story of a young woman, Starr, who by age 16 has already witnessed the death of two of her friends, one at age 10 from a drive-by, and again at the novel’s beginning by a police officer. It’s about how the media depicts black victims and police officers in different ways, how witnesses are questioned, and how juries and communities alike respond.

It’s a story of Starr struggling to find her true voice after years of code switching between her “ghetto” neighborhood and upper-class, predominantly white private school. It’s her struggle to be her true self, not her “too black” or “too white” self, around everyone.

It’s brutal in its honesty about the grief, anger, and hope the black community experiences when young lives are snatched away in their prime, as well as the grey areas of how to best support a struggling neighborhood while caring for the safety of a family.

It shows the amazing, strong marriage of a black man and black woman, and the navigation of an adorable teenage interracial relationship. Anyone looking for OTPs will find them aplenty in this novel.

It shows the strengthening of old friendships and familial relationships, the strains of being friends with people who refuse to acknowledge their own racism and biases, and the power of repentance and forgiveness.

It’s simply an amazing book, and I recommend it to anyone who has questions about the Black Lives Matter movement and its legitimacy, the issues black Americans continue to face, the difficult topic of police brutality, and lovers of 90s rap and hip-hop and retro sneakers!

What started out as a step in one woman’s grieving process developed into a story I hope may pour love into the black community while alerting the white community of the consequences of our unacknowledged and damaging behavior. I pray it will be a wake up call to repentance and solidarity, that we may undo the hate we’ve given so less people will be f***ed up in the future.

Please click here to read the Teen Vogue interview with author Angie Thomas!

Geeking Out is Hard to Do

Melanie Biehle

As of late, fulfilling the “geeking out” part of my blog title has been difficult.

I haven’t been able to buy comic books since I can barely afford rent and food. Instead of re-reading Harry Potter, I’m reading The Hate U Give and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to wake up to the issues people of color in our country face. I also can’t binge-watch anything because I gave up Netflix for Lent, and in turn, they’re getting rid of Buffy on April 1st (seriously, God, what’s the deal with that?).

On the surface, the geeking out isn’t happening. But at the same time, it’s alive and well.

I am reading, analyzing, and studying the books on my Black Lives Matter reading list in order to better understand the pain, hope, and calls to action in these stories.

I am engaging in politics by studying legislation and political processes, and calling my representatives to attempt to engage in the conversation with them, even though this isn’t going so well with my current house rep…

I watch news stories, read commentaries, and try my best to have conversations about these passions without attempting to correct everyone on why they’re wrong.

This is where things get difficult…

Some might think calling this “geeking out” minimizes the important work being done in these movements and makes it sound more like a hobby of mine than an actual struggle in which to engage.

But it’s the best term I can think of to describe how passionate I am about engaging with this, to be as devoted as I am to my these phenomenal works of human effort in ways similar to and more dynamic than the devotion I show to most favorite and fandoms.

These are human stories and lives, and they deserve my and our fullest attention and devotion.

So geek out over politics if it makes you engage in them with thought and articulation. Geek out over social justice if it moves you into solidarity and alliances with people who want the same rights as the most privileged in our society. Talk with people about how to rewrite the damaging narratives in our society into a grand reality in which we see each other as equals and embrace our differences as things to be celebrated, not shunned.

Geek out by writing your stories of worlds only you could dream so we can see the beauty in our own world. Geek out by writing your own story to show others they do not struggle and yearn alone. Geek out by creating art which inspires us to be and do better, to give us comfort and peace in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, to make us remember how good laughter and tears are for our souls, to put us inside the skin of another and see the world through their eyes and gain a little empathy.

Geek on, friends. We need this passion not only to survive, but to thrive.

We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

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Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Reading and Waking Up: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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Let me begin the first entry of my Lenten reading series by claiming my own privileges and biases: I am a white female coming to terms with my own complicity in an unjust system which values people like me above black Americans. As such, I am writing these reflections for people who want to become more aware of the injustices in our nation, who want to be good allies, and are doing what they can to nudge those in power and privilege into solidarity and action with the oppressed and marginalized. 

As part of my #BlackLivesMatter reading list, I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

To describe it as eye-opening is an understatement.

I knew there was underlying racism in our prison and criminal justice systems, but I didn’t know how it could happen. Like many other white Americans, my education conditioned me to believe racism in America is dead and gone. I’m still dealing with those biases, and Alexander’s thorough work brought the stories and statistics long hidden in the dark into the bright light of day.

Overview

Alexander’s thesis is this: the current mass incarceration of black Americans in the United States acts as a new system of control reminiscent of Jim Crow society. She begins by explaining the relationships between black slaves and white indentured servants early in American history. Since the indentured servants and slaves otherwise occupied the same class and social ranks, they collaborated together against the white land owners for whom they worked and fought side by side in rebellions. To prevent further collaborations, the white land owners pushed an agenda of white supremacy, which caused a cease in interracial collaborations. Alexander then goes into detail about emancipation, the failure of Reconstruction, and the rise and “downfall” of the Jim Crow laws, setting up the stage for the start of the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of black Americans which followed.

As of now, there are over 2 million people imprisoned in the United States, compared to 300,000 people thirty years ago. Four million more are on parole or probation. However, despite the fact that the use and selling of drugs across races is similar, three out of four young black men are likely to serve time in prison, and black men are often admitted on drug charges “at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.”

Alexander compares this mass incarceration of black men for drug use the “New Jim Crow” because of the permanent and legal revoking of the rights of incarcerated citizens upon receiving a felony conviction. Revoked rights include the right to vote, access to government assistance, and securing a job, similar losses black Americans legally sustained during the Jim Crow era. Unfortunately, few are able to push back against these losses, because so many legal cases have supported a “colorblind” criminal justice system, and racism is only seen as a matter of intention instead of a subtle, systematic issue. This is because the only ones deemed racists today are the KKK and people who act in outright ways to show hatred and hostility to black Americans. Subtle, even unintentional and everyday, acts of racism are not regarded as racist, because they are “unintended” and, to some, invisible.

Now What?

This is an excellent and important read, because to those unaware, Alexander provides insight into the racist (intentional or otherwise) structure of our legal and prison system. When a disproportionate amount of black people are imprisoned for drug crimes committed at an equal/greater rate by white people, something in need of confrontation and change is lurking below the surface.

The problem is not guilty people being imprisoned for drug use. The problem is the obvious racial biases inherent in the War on Drugs, which result in the targeting of black Americans and black communities at a rate disproportionate to Americans involved in drug crimes. The problem is mandatory minimum sentencing laws which require any person charged with any type of possession to be sentenced from five years to a decade or more in prison. The problem is the inability to be able to plea anything other than guilty, even when innocent, because of biases surrounding race and lack of financial and legal assistance.

This is a human rights issue, and unfortunately, because these human beings are labeled criminals and felons, few seem willing to rush to their defense.

However, if we claim to be a just and equal society, we must stand up for all Americans, and the incarcerated are our citizens. If we claim to be Christians who follow Jesus, who is found with the imprisoned, we must advocate for their full inclusion in the world as children of God.

The stories, facts, and questions Alexander raises can increase awareness around the nation and push activists, new and seasoned alike, to confront the injustices occurring in a system called to uphold the law. Alexander, who wrote this book seven years ago and before the Black Lives Matter movement officially began, calls the activist community to cease ignoring this issue. Her advice and wisdom seem all the more appropriate and timely now.

The insights from Alexander’s work can also begin the long overdue conversations about race which honor the voices of black Americans, those incarcerated and free, and white voices affected by crippling poverty. They can push white people to confront their own biases, intentional or otherwise. As people shaped in a society in which most of the power is held my white people, racial biases are inevitable, and we must confront, acknowledge, and deal with them, or else we refuse to heal and be good allies to our black brothers and sisters.

In short, Alexander reminds us we need to find solutions to make America a true democracy for ALL. In the fight for justice, we must seek it for “all of us, or none.”

To become involved in the fight for prison and criminal justice reform, check out The Sentencing ProjectNAACP – Criminal Justice, and/or FAMM – Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Ignoring the Bodies, Losing our Souls: A Plea to the American Church

hands

BloxImages

Christians talk a lot about the fear of gaining the whole world and losing their souls.

Have we ever wondered if we can lose our souls by ignoring the world?

Martin Luther’s enabling of common people to be able to read the Bible in their own language and focus on Scripture emboldened the peasants of his time to air their physical grievances with their rulers, resulting in one of the largest rebellions ever. Yet before he ordered the princes to destroy them like “mad dogs,” Martin Luther said the liberation was for their souls, not their bodies.

American slave holders refused to let slaves learn to read the Bible, lest they get any ideas about what freedom really means, for the body and the soul. They also kept the upside-down Gospel to themselves, because they knew God’s call to never enslave a brother or sister, someone equal to you in all things. In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass describes the bleak reality of “the Christianity of this land: “We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!”

Christian artists like Toby Mac claim Jesus ended the debate over which lives matter since “he died for all.” Prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham uphold refugee and Muslim bans, despite the biblical commands to welcome the foreigner, by saying “it’s not a Bible issue.”

What has happened?

Have we tried so hard to forget the importance of our bodies that we’re threatening to lose our souls? Have we forgotten we are part of Christ’s living Body, and when part of us isn’t well, the rest of us suffers? Have we forgotten our complicity in structures of unjust power, because as long as our “souls” were right with God, everything else would fall into place?

Is this why we can come to worship on Sunday and ignore the detained and barred refugees and immigrants on the news? Is this why we can give our tithes and offerings but talk about the “deserving poor?” Is this why we can pray for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” while resisting any type of change that gives more people more access to the rights and privileges we take for granted? Is this why we can pretend we care about “equality” and “justice” while condoning police brutality because “if people would just behave, the police wouldn’t have to retaliate?”

This Lent, may we repent of our complicity to physical neglect for the sake of a misguided idea of spiritual preservation.

May we remember we are living, fragile, beautiful bodies, made from dust and destined to return to the same dust into which God first breathed life. May we remember our bodies and spirits are intertwined, that our souls are embodied and this flesh is both our struggle and our gift.

This Lent, may the Body of Christ remember to take care of her physical needs, the physical bodies which compromise her, or else she will risk losing her soul.