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Social Issues

I used to be a homophobic racist, too


I grew up in the Deep South– from the time when I was 10 years old until I was 22 I lived in a small town that was, culturally, very much like “Lower Alabama.” I’ve talked about my experiences growing up in this community before– how the media only really reported crimes committed by black people, how the town was still run by people in the KKK, how I was in a revival service where a black family was commanded to leave.

When Duck Dynasty first became popular, I was initially confused. I saw a few minutes of the show, watched a few commercials, casually flipped through a few of the books, and it just boggled me. I’d grown up knowing families that were virtually indistinguishable from the Robertsons– and I wondered why so many of the people I knew seemed obsessed with the show. I didn’t get it. I chalked it up to my experience with rednecks of the Duck Dynasty variety; to me, there wasn’t anything novel about it. I shrugged– just more reality television.

And then yesterday happened.

The GQ article “What the Duck?” went up Wednesday night, and some of the people I follow on twitter– in this instance, men and women of color, people like Rod— resignedly made the comment that it was doubtful that anyone was going to notice the blatant racism in Phil Robertson’s comments. They observed that the internet would probably explode over his bigotry (and I do not use that word lightly) and skip right over the racism. Women like Trudy have shown me how racism is constantly downplayed, ignored, and dismissed.

They were right.

When I woke up and went over my Facebook feed the next morning while eating my Frosted Flakes, my heart sank and my stomach twisted. I’d already read the original article, so I knew what he’d said, and the racism had leaped out at me. It broke my heart that many of my friends– and not just Facebook “friends” but real-life-relationships-with-meaning-friends– were posting endless streams of “I <3 you, Phil!” and “I support you, Phil!” and “Bring back Phil!” pictures and statuses.

I hoped against hope that none of them were really aware of what Robertson had actually said. I hoped that they were merely jumping on the bandwagon, that they all believed that Robertson’s comments had been mild and not a gross divergence from what most conservatives say or believe. I hoped that if I took the time to talk about his racism and his bigotry, if I gave them the original quotes from the GQ piece, that they would realize that Robertson was not an example they wanted to be lauding.

I was wrong.

But the biggest reason that it broke my heart, seeing all of that yesterday, was because not even a few years ago, I could have easily said the exact same things that Robertson did. And, looking back, I did say some of those things. I argued against gay marriage using the same ideas that Robertson expressed. I’d dismissed racism using the same exact methods. I’d done that. I’d been that person. Perhaps I hadn’t quite used the “coarse” language Robertson had– but it doesn’t matter how I said it. I’d spent most of my life erasing the brutality and horror of racism and bigotry.

So I spent all day yesterday trying to engage with people, trying to show them how what he said was so bigoted and racist. I gave them the quotes, over and over, tried to point out to those who were arguing that people were over-reacting to his comments and dismissing the issue as “irrelevant” that maybe you think it’s irrelevant because you’re straight. Maybe you think it’s not hateful because you’re white … But trying to point out that being blind to the suffering of black people under Jim Crow made me the racist one.

I gave up.


I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

There’s already been enough commenting on the bigotry displayed in Robertson’s statements, and while talking about homophobia and anti-gay bigotry are important, I thought that most people understood that lumping gay people in with bestiality and terrorists is unloving– usually. Yesterday kind of shot that horse in the face, a bit. But, coming from the background that I do, I actually do understand why people don’t think the comment above was so bad. Look, he’s not racist! He’s identifying with black people! Or He’s not talking about racism. He’s talking about entitlement programs. It’s extremely frustrating, but I get it.

So, I wanted to try and do my best to succinctly explain why this comment was so horrifically racist.

First of all, Robertson is talking about growing up Louisiana, and he’s 67, which would have made him 22 the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. He was a teenager and a young man during some of the darkest days in the South, and in this comment he makes the claim that he “never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.” He’s talking about a time when racial segregation was everywhere, Jim Crow laws were in effect, and lynching was so bad in the United States that Paul Robeson was able to argue that people in the US were committing genocide under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention. Life for black people in the South was so brutal that nearly every black person who could get out of the South left— over 6 million people.

This is what Robertson was talking about when he said that he “never saw the mistreatment of any black person.” A few things are making this sort of statement possible. The first is that Robertson, because of his racial privilege, is capable of dismissing the  atrocities of pre-Civil Rights racism as completely non-existent. The second is something that most people in America have done– in order to ease our guilt, in order to glory in the “good ole’ days,” we have erased the stories of black people. We have looked into the eyes of suffering, and as a people, we have ignored it.

Instead, we have created a different story. We’ve created, together, this bucolic vision of white people and black people laboring side-by-side: both poor, both oppressed. We’ve bonded this cobbling together of nostalgia, and shared suffering, and catharsis and redemption, and we’ve used it to argue for a “post-racial America.” If we can take down the burning crosses, and bury the countless dead, and together exalt in “I have a dream!” echoing in the empty chambers of our hearts, then we can give ourselves absolution.

And, with our guilty consciences expunged, we can move on to ordering men and women of color to move on with us. That Jim Crow is over and gone. That racism doesn’t exist anymore. That they should join with us in the shared effort of the American dream. That they need to give up their Affirmative Action and other “entitlement programs” and stop “singing the blues.”

That’s why what Robertson said was so deeply racist. It wasn’t that he declared all black people inferior to white people. It wasn’t that he donned a white robe. It was that Robertson did what we have all done.

He closed his eyes.


the sky is falling, overreactions, and facts

sky is falling

If you have conservative Christian friends on facebook, then you’ve probably seen this article on how Christians are about to be court martialed for talking about Jesus. The first time I saw this article appear in my news feed, my eyebrows shot up into my hairline. A few years ago I would have begun immediately panicking and doing everything I could to stop this terrible atrocity from taking place (i.e., signing this petition). But, that was then. Today, I searched for the headline, realized that there wasn’t a legitimate news source reporting on it, and I also noticed that most of the places running the story were . . . well, corners of the internet I’m familiar with, and no longer trust. Yesterday, the Washington Post covered it, and they actually went and obtained some facts. Like, an actual statement from the Pentagon, instead of the inflammatory, inciting words of a rather intense political idealist.

But, my instantaneous thoughts when I read all of the original articles were tempered by my own personal experience. I’m a military brat, so I have a passing familiarity with military procedure and policy, and military culture. It has been long-established military procedure to reprimand anyone who gets pushy about their faith– or non-faith. It’s just not allowed, especially because of the rank system. That’s one of the first things people miss: military life is absolutely nothing like civilian life. We don’t even operate under the same court system. Military personnel are required to live by a stricter code; they still have First Amendment rights like every other American, but the practice of those rights is a helluva lot more limited than it is for say, someone like Westboro.

And, as someone who feels a tear-jerking patriotic swell anytime I see a “God and Country” bumper-sticker, I can tell you, honestly, that the Christian culture in the military can be obnoxious at times. Just like Christians everywhere else, we can get pushy and demanding and get carried away and do or say something ridiculous. Which is what Weinstein, the man who called proselytizing “treason,” is reacting against. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not pretty.

In short, the sky is not falling.

So why did so many people run around acting like it was?

The answer lies in something called the persecution complex. This is not a new idea, and it’s certainly not limited to Christians. I’ve seen it happen in pretty much any group of people who collectively feel passionately about something. Sometimes the concern is valid, and should not be dismissed as merely the persecution complex when that’s not what is happening. Marginalized groups who talk about racism aren’t reacting to nothing, and when feminists start talking about the War on Women, we’re not making it up. But, sometimes, our passion and fervor can run away with us and we start jumping at shadows.

In my experience, however, conservative Christians are almost entirely reacting against a perceived threat that just doesn’t exist. Just because our government isn’t operated purely on fundamentalist views of “biblical principles” doesn’t mean that Christianity is under attack.

One of the problems with the persecution complex and how it shows up in Christianity is that there’s a couple of verses that have been twisted in order to teach that if you’re a Christian, you should expect opposition:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” — Romans 9:33
“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” — I John 3:13
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” — John 15:19

There’s a tactic that shows up a lot in Christian sermons and discussions, and it’s illustrated by the above. When there’s more than one verse that sounds like they’re talking about the same thing, then, suddenly, it’s perfectly alright to ignore context– having more than one verse means that you are using Scripture to “comment on Scripture,” and that’s supposedly sound hermeneutics. Wrong, but that’s worth its own post. So, before we move on, let’s look at context.

John’s passage is in the middle of Jesus’ explanation of the role of the body here on earth, where he uses the Vine & Branches metaphor. He follows that depiction of grace, growth, community, and love with a warning: our life isn’t going to be a bed of roses, and sometimes, people are going to despise us. On occasion, whole governments have tried to expunge Christianity. This happens, I’m not going to deny it (although Christians aren’t the only ones singled out for their beliefs). This passage, however, does not give Christians free license to believe that simple disagreements are persecution. Just because someone doesn’t think the way we do and feels strongly about it doesn’t make what they’re doing “hate.”

I John, 3:13 is in the middle of verses that are focused entirely on the body of Christ loving and caring for each other. In my Bible, the section is headed “Love One Another,” and its concluded with an entire portion dedicating to laying down our lives, and not closing our hearts to the needy. So, it seems pretty clear that if the world does hate us (and again, disagreement is not hate), what’s our reaction supposed to be? Run around screaming and Signing All the Petitions? Not exactly– we love,  and we continue on with our lives.

The Romans passage is probably the one that’s been the most twisted and the one most harmed by terrible applications. This is the verse a lot of people turn to when they start talking about the Gospel being inherently offensive (which, problems), and the fact is that the context has nothing to do with how it usually gets applied. First of all, it’s in the middle of Romans 9, which I will be honest and say I barely understand. But, it appears at the end of the chapter, after a thorough dissection of justice and the law. And, verse 33 follows Paul’s question about how some have conflated the Gospel with the Law. He’s making a reference to Isaiah 8:14, which, ironically, is preceded by this little gem:

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warmed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, “Do not call conspiracy all that his people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

So, a verse that in the New Testament, completely removed from any context, has been used to say that “the Gospel offends people,” is actually a reference to not believing in conspiracies and living in dread.

Huh. Irony.

I’ve seen the damage that this “persecution complex” can do. It allows people who claim to be Christians to be filled with vileness and hate. It’s been used to justify the actions of so many preachers and evangelists who use this verse as a “get out of jail free card” anytime they want. Oh, you’re offended? Obviously, it’s not me and what I’ve said and how I’ve treated you, it’s the Gospel! You’re just offended by Jesus, and the Bible, and you think it’s foolish. That’s not my problem, it’s yours. And oh, poor me, the world hates me and says I’m a bigot and a hater, welp, the Bible said they’d say that! I’m just preaching truth here!

Things like this are why it’s hard for me to stay quiet. Because this, this is wrong. Not every single person who posts conspiracy articles on facebook are like this, and I’m not accusing them of that, but this is where that mentality leads. This is how Scripture, which is overflowing with love and grace, has been used to hurt and wound. Because of three verses surrounded on all sides by a call to love, Christians have formed an entire system for evaluating each other: how persecuted are you? Because, after all, a good Christian is one who everyone hates.

Social Issues

I didn’t stand up for my gay friend. I still regret it.

I met Michael* when I was fifteen, at a summer music camp. We didn’t become best buds, but we did become friends, and that friendship stayed in place when we went to the same college three years later. We were in the same degree program, and had nearly every core class together. We never became “tight,” but we did help each other out. We’d take over for each other when a particular soloist we accompanied had become just too much, and we always made sure to give each other a boost in the sea of criticism that could be the music program at times. We had eachother’s back.

I knew Michael was gay from the day I met him, but it didn’t matter. He was my friend. He didn’t come out to me until a few years ago, but I’ve always treasured his friendship, and the day he came out to me, I treasured his honesty for the gift it was.


Four years ago today, I remember the whispers.

My college campus was small– around 4,500 students, total, so it wasn’t that difficult to at least recognize everyone even if you didn’t know him or her. I knew the names of everyone in my major– and I knew the names of most of those who were studying speech, art, or music. It was a small, tight-nit community. We were hard on each other, as the competition could get intense. When two sopranos go for the same lead in a musical… that’s not something you want to witness. But, we were close. Friendly, even, when there weren’t any auditions.

Our tight-nit community, however, was a strangely public one. We were the performers on campus. The college had a bazillion required activities, and most of them were Arts related. There were vespers, where the speech and music major would put on an hour-long religious spectacle. There was the once-a-semester Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza.

Then, there was church.

Attending the college’s church was mandatory. You could “check in sick” and skip church, but you’d be required to attend a video recording of it the next Saturday, so most people rarely “checked in” on Sunday. They put up with the monotonous, televised, rote-like-clockwork service and then took a nap. However, music majors were required to perform at least once, sometimes twice, in church– for a grade. A few of us got “famous” that way. There was the impressively deep bass singer who became famous for singing “Mary, Did you Know?” There was the spectacularly talented young man that everyone knew, and simply being a peripheral friend made you popular by association.

It was eleven weeks before we were all supposed to graduate. We were working on our shows and our recitals like deranged maniacs whose life depended on this single, solitary event (it rather did). We were all losing our minds in one way or another, and trying to get each other through this grueling process.

So when two of my friends in the music program were “kicked out,” many of the music majors were left feeling bereft. These two young men had been two of the most supportive people in the program. In an environment where backbiting and maliciousness can sometimes run amok, losing the positive influence of these two. . . it wasn’t devastating, but they were missed.

Over my years at this college, I’d known a lot of people who got “kicked out.” Some reasons “made sense,” after a fashion. Sometimes that person “obviously deserved it” because they’d committed some heinous violation that was quite obviously against the rules you just don’t go around breaking– like my roommates who persisted in having some strange version of threesome phonesex on speaker while I was in the room (getting them kicked out hadn’t been my goal– I’d just wanted a new room, ‘cuz that was uncomfortable. However, I’d had to explain why I wanted a new room, so...) Sometimes the reason was absolutely ridiculous– like the young man who got kicked out for “disturbing a public gathering”– he threw a paper airplane before a church service started. Sometimes the reason was absolutely insane– like one girl who got kicked out for kissing her boyfriend over the summer when she was not on campus, leaving a love letter in her boyfriend’s mailbox, and the boyfriend’s ex going through his mail and then turning the new girlfriend in. The ex-girlfriend was rewarded for her faithfulness to the school, even though she’d committed a felony to do it.

However serious or ridiculous the reason was, long story short, the people on campus usually knew what it was. It’s difficult to keep secrets, and the kicking-out process in a brutalizing, time-consuming thing. By the time that person is kicked out, the Scarlet A is fixed in place.

But for my friends… no one really knew why.

So, the rumors started.

And, because they were music majors, most of the rumors had to do with their sexual orientation. The Arts already made a man “effeminate” by default, and in fundamentalism, “effeminate” is a hair’s breadth short of being “rainbow gay.”

I was in my first-hour class the first time I heard one of the rumors. Supposedly, the two men had gotten caught making out in a maintenance closet.


I was five the first time I ever stood up to a bully. There was a black boy a few doors down from me, and he was constantly getting picked on by a group of three older white boys. Looking back, I’m pretty sure one of the boy’s father was a white supremacist– but when I was five, I had no idea what racism was. All I knew was that they were picking on him, and that was mean. I stood up for him one day– and ended up with gum in my hair, spit in my eye, and sand in my underwear. I spent every day for the rest of that summer hiding underneath the playground equipment– with the boy I’d stood up for.

My tendency to bite off more than I could chew in defense of someone I cared about, or who I felt didn’t deserve it, only got stronger as I got older. I punched three separate boys at 8, 11, and 14 for daring to make fun of by baby sister. I told off Richard* who was making fun of George* because of his last name. I befriended a little girl in kindergarten who had a port wine stain and no one else would talk to her. I slapped the boy I had a crush on in first grade because he’d knocked over my block tower for being “taller than his.”

But four years at a fundamentalist Christian college had silenced me.

When that belligerent, bigoted young man started hootin’ and hollerin’ about my friends, I said nothing. I sat in my chair, kept my eyes fixed squarely on the front of the room, and remained silent.

That silence felt like it was burning me from the inside out. I desperately wanted to march to the back of that room and give him a big, loud, angry piece of my mind. I wanted to slap him for airing his bigotry. I wanted to tell every person who was laughing exactly who they were laughing at, and that no one deserved that. I wanted to tell them all that what they were doing was wrong.

I didn’t. I didn’t say anything over the next few weeks as the rumors became more flagrant.

I was afraid. Afraid of the administration coming after me for defending him. I was afraid that they would suspect that I knew Michael was gay, and that they would kick me out, too, for not turning him in years ago, like I should have– like the rules required me to. I was afraid that if I defended him, that some of the people who knew me would judge me for not “taking a stance against sin.”

I was afraid of myself.

I lived in doubt for those weeks– wasn’t I supposed to be shocked and horrified by his sin? Wasn’t I supposed to agree that the administration had done the right thing by kicking him out? Wasn’t I supposed to be happy that “the truth had found him out”?

Conflicted doesn’t begin to explain what I was feeling. I missed my friend– one of the only people who had a kind word for me after I’d survived another terrifying performance. I missed the person who agreed to usher my recital, and was there for me when I finally came offstage and instantly collapsed.

And I was ashamed for not being brave enough– to not being who I knew I’ve always been. For not defending him. For not speaking up against all the wrong.

So, today, four years later, I’m apologizing, Michael– and I promise it won’t happen again.

Photo by Hamed Parham