Tag Archives: education

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Why I Can’t Educate You Further on Racial Issues

(Editor’s Note #1: My wife and I recently traveled to Quest Church in Seattle to hear a guided conversation with Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. It was an excellent conversation (as is the book, I’ve been listening to it on Audible), and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the author, along with theologians and pastors Brenda Salter-McNeil and Gail Song Bantum, as they discussed the issues. In the Q&A section, Ms. Brown made a statement that is very similar to the one that I’m making here, so out of respect I’m citing her as a source, albeit not a primary one.)
(Editor’s Note #2: If you’re in a hurry and want to skip the first half that explains how and why I felt the need to answer this question in this way, scroll down to the picture labeled “My Response Below.”)

So I there I was, arguing about racial issues on Facebook.

Again.

(Those of you who know me well should not at all be surprised by this.)

Okay, actually, arguing is a bit of a misnomer, because I’ve actually resolved to do less of that on Facebook. (I was going to say, “I’ve stopped doing that,” but I work as a pastor now, so the consequences of lying in a blog post are even greater than before.)

What I was doing, though, was having a spirited exchange with a few people (mostly mutual friends, or friends-of-friends) on the topic of racial injustice, which is where I spend a significant portion of my time on Facebook. I also do a lot of normal Facebook type activities, but because this particular online forum is the only place where I can interact with people who are both ideologically or politically opposed and honest enough about their beliefs to articulate them (as opposed to most church communities, where people are either unchallenged in their beliefs or far too polite to ever get into such discussions), I tend to have these kinds of discussions often, and almost exclusively on Facebook. I readily admit that talking about highly-charged political and/or emotional topics online is less than optimal, but in our segregated America, my choices are usually either to talk about it on Facebook or not talk about it at all (which in many cases is how we got into this terrible situation to begin with). So, as in many other situations, Facebook conversations about race seem like the best of several bad choices.

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You Done Messed Up, A-A-Merica

Right now, Christena Cleveland and Keegan-Michael Key are two of my favorite people in the world. Though they operate in different disciplines and run in very different circles, they are both excellent at what they do. And I often find myself highlighting their work on social media.

christena clevelandChristena Cleveland, a social psychologist with a focus on overcoming racial and cultural divisions between groups, blogged recently about a phenomenon she refers to as the white male industrial complex. Adapted from an Emily Rice quote about the “ally industrial complex,” it’s her term for the ways in which Christian social justice work, like everything else in American society, tends to be oriented around the tastes, whims, and emotional climate of white men. (More on this later.)

Keegan-Michael Key is the taller, lighter-skinned half of Key & Peele, the incredibly funny sketch comedy duo on Comedy Central. And his brilliant comedy chops are the key to this, one of their most popular, sidesplitting sketches, entitled “Substitute Teacher.”

Behold…

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Cable-access commencement: Snore no more!


So I’m flipping channels at my sister’s house last night, after I helped move her TV across the room. Since I don’t have cable TV at home — which is a good thing, more or less — whenever I can watch it at someone else’s home, it’s always a slightly foreign experience.

(This probably deserves its own post, because there’s this whole mini culture war going on surrounding TV that I find fascinating… you have, as Christian Lander observes, a lot of people who love not having a TV, trying to spread the gospel of turn-off-the-TV-once-in-awhile-it-rots-yer-brains, while plenty of others find so much meaning and personal significance in the television they watch — or at least love cracking wise about it.)

Anyway, I watched the last ten minutes of a “Becker” episode … which was the first time I had ever watched “Becker” … pretty standard sitcommy stuff. Just enough to realize that I wasn’t missing much.

Some interesting commercials… including a mildly patronizing commercial about how men should ostensibly be rewarded with Klondike bars for not being insensitive oafs. I’m calling it mildly patronizing now, but I must admit… I did laugh. (This one is also amusing.)

But the thing that held my attention the longest was a local public cable broadcast of the Cleveland High School commencement ceremony.

It had the look of a the typical high school graduation exercise. Flowing robes, academic regalia, flash bulbs popping, and a range of facial expressions adorning the graduates, from beaming smiles to awkward grimaces.

But the sound of this particular ceremony was different. Because whichever school administrator had been tabbed to announce the names had clearly not gotten the memo.

Which memo?

You know, the one that gets circulated every year around this time, where cautious parents and school officials attempt to prevent overzealous family members from going over the top in celebrating their loved one’s achievement. It may be in the form of a letter going out to parents, or it could be in the form of an editorial by a local columnist (such as this blog post from Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune).

I find that what underlines much of this sentiment are the underlying assumptions that graduations have traditionally been solemn affairs and that anything that people do to pierce the air of gravitas is disrespectful and causes the event to take much longer than it should.

This strikes me as being a cultural issue. I don’t just mean of ethnic culture, but of the shifting priorities and values that are taking place in our broader popular American culture. People now (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘people under 35’) are fluent in the language of spectacle. The rise of user-generated content on the internet means that high school graduates now live under the assumption that anything good that they do can and should be an excuse to draw attention to themselves, to celebrate it, and enjoy their three minutes of fame. (Because fifteen minutes is so last century.)

Which is why I was so enthralled by watching this ceremony, because the announcer was pronouncing the graduates’ names with as much gusto as possible. I mean seriously… this guy was way into it. Move over, Ben Stein; hello Ray Clay.

Janeeeeeeeeane Krystooowiak! Larry! D! Jaaaaaaamison!! Eugeeeeeeeeeene Hoooperrrrrrrr!

And so on.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now obviously part of it was the camp factor of it all, especially because some of the students were really getting into it. You could see a little pep in their step. And it made the resulting cheering and hollering — you did it, mookie, yeahhh!!! — feel a little more natural and less out of place.

Other students just walked across, all stoic-like. For some of these kids, it was probably the first time in their life hearing their names read aloud over the public address system. So I can understand if they felt a little shy and awkward about the whole thing. I imagine it might feel a little disjointed for that reason… but I also bet they enjoyed it deep down, even if they didn’t have the stage presence of some of their more charismatic schoolmates.

Of course, I only watched it for five minutes before I was ready to flip to something else. I might feel differently if I would’ve had to sit through the whole thing.

I am, however, reminded of the timeless, often-quoted passage in the third chapter Ecclesiastes (no pun intended… no really) that describes all the different activities under the sun for which there is an appointed time.

The thing is, though, is that the writer of Ecclesiastes (presumably Solomon) never really tells us when those times are. So it’s up to people to use their own discernment — and, if they’re believers in Christ, the leading of the Holy Spirit — to figure out when it’s okay to laugh and shout and dance and when it’s better to just stand there and savor the moment in dignified silence.

Kudos to the Cleveland H.S. staff for realizing that those times can change.

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Educated Blacks Also Fair Game for Satire


Like any good meme, the trend of what certain kinds of people like/dislike is spreading like wildfire.

Thus, I give you: Stuff Educated Black People Like.

This site makes me laugh big time… at myself.

(That is, when I’m not laughing at White people. The latest one to slay me: #88, Outdoor Performance Clothes.)

But seriously, this site may be illuminating to many White folks who know Educated Black People (EBP) because it puts into a context some of the deeper reasons why we tend to enjoy:

  • Neo Soul
  • Baked Chicken
  • Business Cards
  • Poetry Slams
  • Talking About Uneducated Black People

And much, much more.

What’s really interesting to me is examining all the intersections between the two sites. There are a lot of commonalities, actually — Barack Obama, for example. Or how Atlanta is the new Canada.

(Bonus points for whoever designed the masthead image to StuffEducatedBlackPeopleLike, which I’ve included at the top of this post. Besides being identical in style and form to the original and their overt comparison in the “About” section, you’ll notice a small tribute in the form of a picture of some Black folks in a fraternity step show. In the background is some kind of poster ad — for sushi. Classic.)