Browsing Tag


Feminism, Social Issues

Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" video has some problems

If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s new music video “Shake it Off,” I’ve embedded it above. I don’t think you need to watch it for my commentary to make sense, and there’s no reason to listen to the song since I won’t be critiquing the lyrics extensively– so, if you really don’t like Taylor Swift as an artist, feel free to skip it.

Before we get started, I need to admit to some bias: I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid her ever since she released “You Belong to Me,” which practically screamed I’m not one of those girls. She also believe[s/d] that the definition of feminism is “women who are against men and also want everything without working for it.

Because of all that, I was happy to hear this:

I go on too many dates
But I can’t make them stay
At least that’s what people say
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright

Taylor Swift, unfortunately, has faced a lot of slut-shaming for her supposedly “high number” of relationships– I googled, and apparently that number is six. In my personal life, I’ve been in serious long-term committed relationships twice, have had short-term relationships twice, and have been out on a few dates with one other person, bringing my “number” to five. I’m pretty sure six relationships is pretty normal, which makes me a little baffled why she’s drawn so much criticism. Anyway, I’m delighted that she’s confronted this perception of her head-on.

There’s a few other things going on in the video that I think are positive– I appreciate that she’s not taking herself too seriously, and my overall impression is that it’s supposed to be fun and lighthearted.

However, I want y’all to notice something:

taylor swift ballerinataylor swift contemporarytaylor swift cheerleader

Now, this:

taylor swift stereotaylor swift hip hop

I just want to ask you some questions: which set of costuming decisions could be taken seriously, and which ones are a joke? Which set of clothing, makeup, and other styling decisions are overblown and ridiculous exaggerations of a particular culture? And of these two sets, which are typically associated with black culture in America?


But, we have to move on.

taylor swift ballerinas white

taylor swift hip hop black

Question round #2!

In which picture can you see the women’s faces? Which picture is Taylor Swift not in? In the course of the music video, we only get to see one woman’s face in the booty-shaking-leapard-print-blinged-out segment, and she’s possibly white, maybe Hispanic. I couldn’t tell, and I think that was probably intentional, since the woman they chose was “racially ambiguous.”

Ok, next:

Here’s photoset A:

taylor swift ballerina leapingtaylor swift contemporary leaping

taylor swift gymnast leapingtaylor swift pop lock

And photoset B:

taylor swift booty shaking

Which set demonstrates stunning beauty, grace, athleticism, and breathtaking physical abilities? And which one limits an entire dance style, one filled with a rich cultural heritage with a complex, developed style, to a single move that Miley Cyrus appropriated last year? Which one is, again, associated with black culture, and which ones are considered serious art forms or have entire Olympic events organized around its existence?

And then there’s this:

taylor swift white guy hip hop

That last one is the one that frustrates me the most. There’s whole sections of the video dedicated to breakdancing, which is a style of dance that was created in New York by black people and Puerto Ricans in the 70s. Since I became utterly obsessed with dancing when I was in college, I’ve thought of traditionally black styles as . . . well, they’re beyond description, and I love all of them. Krumping, in particular, is my favorite, but I also think that hip-hop is pretty spectacular, as well. But here, in this video, the person shown doing the most breakdancing is a white guy. They show a black man breakdancing for a few half-seconds, but this white dude gets maybe 10 seconds total through the whole video, doing a bunch of really impressive moves, while I think the black man is only shown doing not even a full rotation of a headspin.

But here’s the icing on the cake:

taylor swift staring

This shot comes at the end of a segment when Taylor has been crawling under and through the legs of twerking black women, and she’s turning and staring at their rear ends the entire time, then comes out on the other side and laughs.


If it’s not obvious by now, I think this music video is incredibly racist. What I noticed were the following:

  • the video erases the existence and individuality of black women
  • When black women are shown in the racist and stereotypical identifiers of “black culture,” they are nothing more than sex objects. The other black women in the video who are depicted as gymnasts, cheerleaders, and contemporary dancers escape this. That is horrifically racist, and is part of the larger culture that makes black women’s bodies inherently and overtly sexual. The promise of this video is that black women, you can escape being sexually objectified as long as you conform to white/suburban/European standards. It is respectability politics in a music video.
  • it portrays traditionally white/European art forms as serious, beautiful, athletic, stunning, and difficult; but traditionally black art forms are shown as laughable, overtly sexual, and reduces the style to a single movement: “booty shaking.”
  • The one form of black dance shown in the video is almost completely taken over (appropriated) by white people.
  • White expressions of fashion and style are credible and treated as aesthetically pleasing; black styles are painted in caricature, are exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness, and the intended result seems to be amusement, not appreciation.

If you are a person of color and noticed something else, or you’d like to add (or correct!) something here, please feel free. I very much would appreciation your voices and thoughts in the comments.

I think we also need to have a conversation about cultural appropriation. I’m still educating myself on what that is and how to identify it when I see it happen, so I’d appreciate all of you sharing your thoughts on that aspect of what’s happening in the video. For example, I know that the fact that Taylor Swift has dressed up in these “costumes” is problematic because of the appropriation element, but I’m not informed enough to fully articulate why that is.

Anyway, I didn’t want this to go without comment: too often white feminists are completely silent when a white female artist does something like this (Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, anyone?), and I didn’t want that to happen again. If I see any good articles written by women of color about this, I’ll link them at the bottom here.

UPDATE 9/12/2014: This post is now almost a month old, and the comments are becoming repetitive, with the same racist arguments being presented multiple times. Since the discussion is no longer moving forward, I am closing the comment section on this post.

Social Issues

the facts are these

I am a man

I haven’t said anything about what happened and is still happening in Ferguson, Missouri for the primary reason that if I did say something, someone else has already said it better, and I’ll be linking to what I think are some important articles at the end of this post. I also haven’t blogged about it because I incorrectly assumed that if I knew about it, then everyone I know and have the opportunity to reach would also already know, would already have seen the same posts and articles and tweets and pictures that I have.

But over this weekend I found out how untrue that was. So, I’m taking a break from my review series to hopefully contribute something helpful.

So, if you have no idea what anyone is talking about when you see “#Ferguson” or hear someone mention Michael Brown, this is what you absolutely need to know.

On Saturday, August 9th, Michael Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, and some of these shots appeared to have created multiple entrance and exit wounds. It is possible that the first four or five shots were not fatal, that it was only the sixth shot– which seems, to some experts, to have been delivered “execution style” to the back of the head. He was killed by a man named Darren Wilson.

Wilson was a white police officer. Michael Brown was a black teenager.

The Ferguson police department has a history of civil rights violations and also were so inept in their duties that their records were rejected for “major errors in data” by the Missouri Department of Public Safety; they also criminally charged a man for bleeding on an officer’s uniform after they beat him. The officers involved in that situation also appear to have committed perjury in open court.

Because of what Wilson did to Michael, and because of this history, the Ferguson community, which is almost 70% black, began protesting– a right protected by the Bill of Rights, and a right which is under literal, physical, brutal attack. American citizens are guaranteed the right to peaceably assemble, to petition their government for a redress of grievances. The people of Ferguson are embracing their duty as citizens to make it known that they will no longer tolerate such reckless disregard for human life and a completely out-of-control police department.

Since Saturday, many citizens have been tear-gassed, including senators, children, and news crews. After tear-gassing the Al Jazeera news crew, the police took down the video equipment and then approached the KSDK news crew with guns drawn. Multiple journalists have been arrested. Wesley Lowery, who was assaulted during his arrest, said that he was not given any names of arresting officers, would not be given badge numbers, was not told what he was being arrested for, and was released without knowing anything and without having any paperwork whatsoever. Multiple reporters have been threatened, detained and imprisoned under similar circumstances, and many have beguan wearing gas masks and bullet-proof vests because the area is so dangerous.

The police have been firing rubber bullets and tear-gassing peaceful protestors all week. These methods are technically considered non-lethal, but they are capable of doing horrific damage, like what they did to pastor Renita Lamkin and Mya Aaten-White:

rubber bullet 1mya aaton white

And the situation is continuing to deteriorate. After two nights of trying to enforce a curfew, the governor has opted to summon the National Guard to Ferguson. President Obama has sent the Attorney General to co-operate with the Department of Justice and the FBI, who are conducting investigations into Michael’s murder and civil rights violations.

At this point, it would be easy to get caught up into all of the rights being openly attacked by our own police force– violation of the right to free speech, unlawful seizure, to peaceably assemble . . . but that would not just be a mistake, it would be wrong.

We cannot forget what the community of Ferguson is protesting, and why all of this is happening. They are protesting because their police officer, a man sworn to protect and defend their community, murdered one of their children. We also must not be distracted by the smoke-and-mirrors show that the police and much of mass media has to offer.

Those are the facts.

I would highly recommend you read the following articles. I think they would be valuable to read, as they offer an important perspective on the reality of systemic racial oppression in America. For what are hopefully obvious reasons, I’ve decided to include only articles written by black people.

Things to Stop Being Distracted by when a Black Person Gets Murdered by Police,” by Mia McKenzie.

Black Bodies, White Souls,” by Austin Channing Brown.

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder,” by Janee Woods

10 Ways Racism Killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner” by Chauncey DeVega

For accurate, up-to-date information, I recommend you follow this list on Twitter.


Feminism, Social Issues

liberation theology, Moses, and us

prince of egypt

So, in preparation of launching my YouTube channel, I created a Tumblr. I had never gotten into Tumblr before, and I regret not finding out about how awesome it is sooner. Like Twitter, it’s the social media that you make of it, but once you’ve found a few good people, it sort of balloons into a parade of wonderfulness. I saw an amazing gifset from The Prince of Egypt featuring Tzipporah, so one night when I was up with insomnia I watched it– and liked it. A lot. It was nice finally seeing a biblical story without any white people in it (Noah, I’m looking at you).

Watching The Prince of Egypt was the first time I’d really thought about Moses and The Exodus since I’ve started looking into Liberation Theology, and one of the things that stood out to me this time was what Moses had to overcome in order to become the man that could lead the Jews.

He had to overcome his classism.

This is something the book of Exodus actually seems to emphasize as part of Moses’ story, although I have never heard a message taught from this perspective. Moses was a child of mind-boggling privilege– fantastically wealthy, raised as the grandson of a god, and educated in one of the most advanced civilizations of the time. Exodus 2 doesn’t say how or when Moses discovered that he was not actually an Egyptian– only that Pharaoh’s daughter raised him as her own son, but sometime before the events of verse 11 it seems that he knows.

What the story does illustrate in two different ways is how Moses overcame his privilege. He probably could have remained in the palace indefinitely, embracing a system that justified brutality against those deemed lesser, but he didn’t. He committed an act of violence in defense of a victim. He does the same thing, again, when he sees his future wife being driven away from the well by a group of shepherds.

He could have ignored the oppression happening right in front of his face when he saw a supervisor beating a slave. He could have thought this is the way things are supposed to be, or if I get involved, I could lose everything, but he didn’t.

He could have thought it was right for the shepherds to take what they wanted, to use their strength and status to drive women and girls away from water. He could have thought I am only one man, what can I do? But he didn’t.

I don’t want to read too much into Moses– the text does not speculate as to his state of mind, or to his motivations. But, it is entirely human to go along with the power systems that benefit you without questioning them. The status quo is maintained not because there’s a group of conspirators actively making sure classism, racism, and sexism remain systemic and institutionalized, but through sheer force of numbers the people who accept “the way things are” keep these kyriarchal power structures in place. It would have benefited Moses to play along. He could have remained in luxury and privilege, but he didn’t. He chose to recognize suffering of those the culture he was raised in had collectively decided “deserved” to be slaves, and do something about it.

That’s also what the Bible says God responds to.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

I’m not sure why it took God so long to do something. He didn’t act when Pharaoh ordered all of the firstborn Jewish boys slaughtered. He didn’t act for however long they were enslaved until he sends Moses to liberate them, and that … bothers me. I wish there was some explanation for why then, why not before, what changed, but the Bible doesn’t give us any.

But it makes me wonder– Americans enslaved Africans for centuries before we decided to go to war over it. Segregation and Jim Crow went on until a woman sat on a bus and four boys sat at a lunch counter and a black preacher said “I have a Dream.” It took a woman sitting down and writing Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) to point out the inequality between the sexes, and another six centuries before women could vote, own property, and legally divorce abusive husbands (this is an oversimplification for brevity).

It seems that people like Moses, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and Rosa Parks, are necessary, that it takes regular, every day, run-of-the-mill humans to stand up and say “No More.” I’m not sure what it says about God, but I like what it says about people, about you and me.

I just finished reading Robert Reich’s Beyond Outrage (which became the documentary Inequality for All), and he makes an interesting observation in the book– that the class of political activists he calls “regressives” (conservative Republicans) are advocating for economic Darwinism– a political and economic justification of classism, essentially. Rich people are rich because they worked hard and therefore deserve to be rich; poor people are poor because they are lazy or inept and therefore deserve no help from society or government. It’s a  “meritocracy” and “boot-strapping” and “rags to riches” that, frankly, doesn’t exist (in the case of meritocracy) and isn’t possible for most people.

And it’s going to take us– all of us– standing together and saying “No More.” What’s wonderful about the story of Moses is that it shows us what it takes, and what we have to lose, and that we’ll need patience and perseverance– but it also shows us everything we have to gain if we “go out to where our own people are.”


(update on Elsa: she seems to be doing ok at the moment. She ate and drank regularly yesterday, and she hasn’t vomited — at least, not yet. I played with her for a while today and she was her enthusiastic self, but when I picked her up she meowed like it hurt her, and she’s currently curled up in the corner behind a chair. That’s not all that unusual, but one of the possible symptoms is “hiding” for long periods of time. She’s yet to have a bowel movement since she ate the string, but I’m trying to remain hopeful. Thank you for all your encouragement yesterday– this is starting to exacerbate my pretty constant low-level anxiety, and hearing from you helped.)

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.

Social Issues

bounds of their habitation: a request for guest posts


It was our first pre-marital counseling session, and I was nervous. I wasn’t thrilled with being forced to do this, but John* wanted his pastor to marry us, and that meant going through at least four separate counseling sessions. However, both of us were in a different state than his pastor, so the only option I had was going to a pastor that made me . . . uncomfortable. I already was struggling with trusting this man. He’d exercised church discipline against a woman who dared to express a different view than him without seeking the approval of the church body first. When I was being attacked and lied about by one of the church’s young men, he had dismissed my concerns as “hysterical” and “humorless.”

As I sat in his office, on a sofa I felt like I might slide off of at any moment, I struggled to be in that moment, and not dwell on the past. I just needed to get through this– and then do it three more times.

“Well, first things first.” He opened. “There’s some questions to get out of the way. I know I’m not marrying you, but it’s my responsibility to make sure that you both are ready and qualified for marriage. I don’t want to do wrong by the pastor that is marrying you.”

We nodded. That seemed sensible.

“There are a few things that I have stood by my entire ministry. There are some couples I just won’t marry, because I think that it’s unbiblical. So, first off, have either one of you been married before?”

My laugh was a half-strangled twitter. “No.” John* echoed me.

“And you’re both of the same faith? You agree on matters of salvation, on standards? That’s part of what it means to be equally yoked, you know.”

We told him that we were– and the questions continued for another 20, maybe 30 minutes. Most of them were fairly easy to answer, and fairly obvious. Toward the end of our session, the atmosphere had lighted up a bit. John seemed comfortable, and the pastor was leaning back in his chair, fingers clasped over his stomach.

“Well, you two passed with flying colors,” he laughed, “so no worries there. And there’s other questions I don’t even have to bother to ask you, of course. Don’t get me wrong, but I can’t in good conscience marry mixed-race couples.”

I struggled to keep my mouth from dropping open. He what?

“I realize there are plenty of folks who are willing to do that, and I’m totally alright with that, to each their own and all that. But, to me, the Bible is pretty clear on the subject. The children of God aren’t supposed to inter-marry. It’s all over the place– if they do, they’re bound to a cursed and shameful life, and they’ll never receive God’s fullest blessings. Now, I can’t say this in front of my congregation, it would step on too many toes, but I just feel that this is right. God confirmed it in the New Testament, in Acts, when he said that even though we’re all of one blood, we have the ‘bounds of our habitation‘ and we need to stick to that.”

I was silent for the entire 20-minute drive home.

I waited for my mother to come home from the grocery store, and immediately pulled her into her bedroom and shut the door. I explained to her what the pastor had said, and watched her become more and more horrified.

“He actually said that?”

“Yes, Mom, he did. I’m never going back to that church.” It took everything I had not to cry.

That 45-minute conversation with that pastor was the last nail in the coffin of my faith.  I didn’t come back to it for another four years.


I’ve talked about the completely horrific racism I was exposed to— and that I participated in— a few times before. Growing up in Christian fundamentalism only exacerbated the fact that I was also growing up in the Deep South, in a tiny town controlled and dominated by the KKK and by systematic racism from every source– newspapers, radio, television, the polls  . . . I was completely inundated by a culture that had never grown into the ideas of the Civil Rights movement. I spent almost twelve years of my life in a place where Christian schools were created in order to avoid desegregation laws. I’ve been to churches where people of color weren’t allowed to walk through the doors. I’ve listened to racist rants cloaked by “common sense.” I’ve uttered ideas I knew were racist and then dared to follow them with “and if that makes me racist” and a shrug. I’ve said the words “stereotypes exist because stereotypes exist.”

Leaving fundamentalism behind and trying to grow out of it has been a painful process for me, because it has meant that I had to open my eyes to my privilege, to the ways I had benefited from and contributed to systemic racism.

I’ve done that with the help of incredible, amazing, women and men. There have been some articles I’ve read that have been a knife-stab deep in my gut and my conscience. There have been some pieces that were powerful and illuminating, and helped me see the world in a completely different way. I’m grateful to all of these people who have helped me move past what I was taught as a child.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that there is only one way that we’re going to be able grow past racism, and it’s by listening to those who have been affected by it. Get on twitter and follow amazing people like @graceishuman and @msloola and @detoursfromhome and @cscleve– read what they write, listen to them respond to a world that ignores and silences them. Follow their blogs, if they have one. Keep track of where they’re writing.

And that brings me to this: racism is endemic to evangelicalism. It’s especially severe in Christian fundamentalism.

But, as a white woman, I am completely lacking the experience to talk about this. I can shout from the rooftops what I’ve personally witnessed, but I am only that: a witness, and nothing more. However, what I do have is a blog. And amazing readers. And facebook likes, and twitter followers. Not very many– we’re a small community here, and I love that– but it’s within my ability to help amplify the experiences and stories that I can’t personally share.

I would like to begin another guest post series, with your help. I want to set aside space here for men and women to tell their stories of what it is like to be a person of color in Christianity today. This can be stories, or responses to particular events or articles, or it could even take the form of an interview.

I’m passing the mic.

Pass it with me?


laughing in spite of . . .

new girl

When New Girl started running trailers before the pilot episode in 2011, I thought it might be a show I could get into. However, when it started, I was in the middle of my first semester of grad school, so while I caught a few episodes, I didn’t stick with it. At the time, I was actually struggling with how Zooey Deschanel was being presented in the media– she was being painted as the ultimate quirky girl– there was a Lord of the Rings reference in the first episode, and the premise for Jess’ character was that she was unique, and zany, but, in the end, absolutely adorable and someone who everyone can’t just help but love because she’s just so darn cute.

As someone who is actually a gigantic nerd, and someone who is actually bombastic and someone who is actually quirky and zany and all of the above, I can attest to the unfortunate reality that I am not so adorable that everyone just thinks I’m the greatest.

At times, the fact that I have friends who do think I’m just the greatest feels like a small miracle. My life doesn’t look anything like Jess’ character. I have that energy level, that zest for life, and guess what? It sometimes annoys the crap out of people. And when that happens, I don’t wave my arms and decry their annoyance and say “I love weddings and I’m going to dance my face off!” until everyone who was annoyed starts slow-mo chicken dancing with me. Even if I do go slow-mo chicken dance, the annoyed people don’t join me. Usually, they make fun of me, and, in my experience, I become the butt of a lot of mean-spirited jokes and I have to deal with dismissive, mocking behavior from that point forward.

So, I didn’t stick with New Girl for very long.

But, me and Handsome decided to give it another go last night.

We watched the first five episodes or so (thank you Netflix), and the whole I’m-so-spunky-don’t-you-just-love-me part of Jess’ character didn’t bother me anywhere near as much. Hardly at all, actually. I attribute that to the past three years of growth and development I’ve survived. I learned to adapt, I learned how to recognize social situations and behave appropriately, I learned how to read people enough to know when my rambunctiousness would be enjoyed and when it wouldn’t– mostly. So, maybe Jess’ character goes through some of the same development, and I’m curious to see if that happens.

This time around, something else stood out to me:


If you’re not familiar with New Girl, that is Schmidt, who is an in-general “douche with a heart of gold.” He serves a similar purpose on this show that Barney does on How I Met your Mother— he’s so disgustingly chauvinistic, you love to hate him. He’s a pig, and all of the characters on the show know it, so they exact their revenge on him in various ways (like the fact that he’s the only roommate who ever puts money into the Douchebag Jar). He’s also blinded by his arrogance and narcissism, which just helps his roommates make fun of him.

However, one of the ways that the show’s writers have decided to make fun of Schmidt is through his work environment, where he is the only man. Everyone else that he works with is a woman, and they endlessly mock him for a variety of things, only a small part of which is deserved (in the pilot episode, they’re making fun of him for wearing a pink tie).

In some ways, Schmidt’s work situation can be viewed as social commentary on how ridiculous sexism is; the writers are making it clear that the women are not making fun of Schmidt himself (like his friends do), but only of his gender, which, we viewers are supposed to automatically understand is nonsensical.


I have a problem with this because reverse sexism is not a thing, in exactly the same way that reverse racism doesn’t exist. Neither of these exist because they are not possible in a white and male privileged culture. I’m not saying that women can’t objectify men, because they can and they do (which New Girl shows when Schmidt’s Santa costume leaves his chest completely bare). I’m also not saying that people of color can’t treat white people badly in a stereotypical and negative way. These things happen.

However, these behaviors are not racism and sexism.

These things are certainly rude, unprofessional, and some actions could even be labeled unethical. But, a woman objectifying a man is not sexism, because a woman, in male-privileged culture, does not have the power or the ability to limit the purpose of a man’s existence (either in his personal or professional life) to his physicality or sexuality; however, this is exactly what happens to women when men objectify them. They are contributing to and being a part of a culture where women exist to serve the needs of men. The reverse is untrue.

So, when I was watching New Girl last night, I had a hard time not throwing my remote control through  my television. It also just kept getting worse, complete with Schmidt making a rape joke.

But, I also laughed. Some parts of the show are genuinely funny. I thought Coach was hysterical (whyyyy did they replace him?), and the scene wear Jess goes on a rampage to get her stuff back from Spencer made me want to whoop and cheer.

So, I was torn.

Because, as a feminist, I’m aware of how the treatment of women in media contributes to the treatment of women in reality. When a popular television show makes a rape joke, it only reinforces the idea that rape jokes are ok, that rape, victimization, and violence against women itself can be funny.

But, as a feminist, I’m also aware of the fact that sexism is everywhere. Really, everywhere. It’s maddening how ubiquitous it is. I cannot read hardly any book, watch any show or movie, or listen to any song or conversation without encountering sexism in some form. And, trust me, it’s exhausting. Some days, I really wish I could go back to a more innocent time when I was completely blind and ignorant to how pernicious and omnipresent sexism is. I want to just be able to laugh at a show like New Girl without having to grit my teeth to get through the sexism and the rape jokes.

I’m slowly learning that there has to be some form of balance. I can’t constantly be reacting to every single example of sexism I see. Sometimes, just for the sake of my own sanity, I have to let it go, and I have to be able to do that without feeling guilty about it. I have to have priorities, or I’m going to completely burn myself out.

I have to be able to flinch, but then move on if it’s not something I can personally do anything about. Sexism at my church? You bet your Bunsen burner (sorry, old Adventures in Odyssey reference) I won’t quit going after that until it’s gone. But in the media I consume? Then . . . then, it’s not quite so clear. Sometimes, I will quite watching that show, or reading that book.

Sometimes, though, I’ll laugh in spite of it.


racism, privilege, and blindness


I will be discussing racism today, and my experiences with it. I am a middle class white person, which means that my perspective is one of privilege. If my attempts to confront this issue in my life are offensive, dismissive, alienating, or, yes, even racist (by the conclusion), please do not hesitate to point out to me those errors.

After my father left the military, his new job required him to travel, so in the year I turned thirteen he spent a lot of time away from home. He did his best to make sure that when he was home, that something special was going on, that he was spending time with me and my sister. One of the outings we took was to the county courthouse so Dad could cast his absentee ballot, since he was going to be in Japan.

It was the first election I’d ever paid any attention to, and the only highlight I distinctly remember is something about Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet– and the Snickers commercial that resulted. When we arrived at the courthouse, something big seemed to be going on. There were buses everywhere, and there were huge crowds of people waving signs and shouting, blocking the doors into the courthouse. We were forced to go around to the back and find our way through the maze of hallways to the election office.

When we eventually made it to the office, there was a long line that wrapped its way through the corridors, and the atmosphere was tense. I could tell that the crowds and the environment were worrying my father– there was an almost violent edge to all the noise.

It took me a while to realize it, but eventually I noticed that the line we were standing in was almost exclusively made up of African Americans, and there were a few people who seemed to be “in charge” wandering up and down the line. Out of boredom, I started listening to the conversations happening around me, and what I overheard disturbed me, even at thirteen. The people in the line had been paid to be there– two women standing near us were making plans to go get manicures with the money they’d gotten after they were done voting. When we got closer to the office door, one of the “in charge” people handed my father a sample ballot; it was pre-marked in favor of the Democratic party, and when the woman handed it to my father, she made a comment about how it showed how he was to vote. My father took one look at it, threw it back in her face, and loudly announced that “he wasn’t there with them.” We ended up having to leave before my father could vote because the people in line focused a lot of animosity toward us.

That was the day I became a racist.


Less than a year later, I turned fourteen and 9/11 happened. I was at homeschool group with other children from church when we got the news. We sat, huddled around an old radio, listening to what was happening. I didn’t really understand the significance of what was going on until we were at a hospital in a waiting room, and I watched the second tower fall. When we found out that it had been caused by radical Islamic fundamentalists, I remember seeds of hatred and bitterness against Islam being planted. Over the next few years, I was taught that it wasn’t just radical fundamentalists– every single Islamic person wanted us all dead. I believed that Islam was inherently violent, that all “true Muslims” wanted to kill Americans. When the Patriot Act passed, I cheered.


After hurricane Ivan decimated the community I grew up in, there was one thing that stuck out to me in the aftermath: it was the first time I remember noticing Hispanics, and they were everywhere. They popped out to me– they were at all of the construction sites, in all of the fields. Where had they all come from? I wondered. I didn’t even realize that the influx was a problem, until I was educated on how Hispanics were stealing American jobs, American resources, that they were coming to this country to “breed our liberty away from us.”


When I went to college, everything I learned reinforced my racism. I was taught about the “curse of Ham,” and that “the blacks” were intended for being a “servant of servants” for all eternity. I was taught that inter-racial marriage, if not outright sinful, was at the very least a terribly bad idea. I knew that “stereotypes exist because, well,  stereotypes exist.” Racial profiling was just “common sense.” When Arizona passed SB 1070 the year after I graduated, most of my friends were thrilled, and my alma mater hailed it as a great piece of legislation that would put this country back on track.


During my first year in graduate school, I was in a conversation with Zachary*, a person I had already determined was a “flaming liberal.” He disagreed with me about nearly everything I ever said– and conversations with him were incredibly frustrating. At the time, I didn’t realize it was because every single argument I’d been regurgitating since I was thirteen was horribly awful. I was so completely and utterly blind to my racism, to my privilege. I was arguing that “racism only existed because black people insist on being treated differently” and if they just buckled down and worked hard like the rest of us white people, they wouldn’t have any problems. I capped off everything with the “stereotypes exist” line, and I’ll never forget the look on Zachary’s face.

He was appalled, horrified.

He looked like he was about to vomit.

And suddenly, so was I.

Because, all of a sudden, it hit me, and the experience was like being crushed by a train.

I’m racist.

For the next month, any racist thing I’d ever said came back to haunt me. I would be flooded by memories of horrible, hideous things I had said and done. I remembered nodding my head in agreement when pastors visited my undergrad college and talked un-ironically about racial profiling and water boarding. I remembered being annoyed by the very mention of “entitlement.” I scoffed at Affirmative Action. I completely dismissed anyone who claimed to have been oppressed– “marginalization” was a dirty word. I applauded people like Morgan Freeman who wanted us to just stop talking about racism. To make it a non-issue by ignoring it.

But, I was still conflicted, and experiencing dissonance so bad I didn’t know what to do with it. Because, I grew up in the South. My best friend wore the Confederate Battle Flag on every item of clothing. An evangelist who came to our church every year had it sewn onto the back of all his coats. Every truck that passed us in the road had the Browning logo and the Flag, displayed side-by-side. Nearly everyone I knew walked around proclaiming that “The South would rise again!” I sat in revival services where black people were expressly told to leave. I grew up in a town where there was literally a “wrong side of the tracks,” and where no one went anywhere near subsidized housing. And I’d grown up in a place where black people were paid to vote democrat, and black teenagers viciously butchered their white girlfriends, and black men slaughtered white women at construction sites . . . and I had no idea, no ability, to know that white people committed the same kinds of atrocities, they just didn’t end up in the racist newspaper, or covered by the racist news crew, or announced on the racist radio programs.

I’d grown up identifying “black culture” as inferior. It never once occurred to me that the “black culture” I was exposed to, the kind of culture where famous musicians refer to women as “bitch” and “ho”, wasn’t black culture at all, but a style purposely propagated, marketed, and sold, by white people for white people.

I was blind.

I didn’t even begin to realize the depths that racism continued (and continues) to affect me.

Until I became a feminist.

And I started being able to identify how, as a woman in a heavily patriarchal culture, I had experienced oppression and marginalization my entire life. How I had been convinced I was inferior, and weak, and how I’d made huge and significant life choices based on what I believed about myself. And, for a little while, I wanted to be able to say that being oppressed and marginalized myself meant that I couldn’t have oppressed and marginalized anyone else. That I understood what it was like. That I could sympathize.

And I realized that was racist, too.

But we do have one thing in common: we’re constantly told to shut up. To move on. That because women can vote and black people can sit at lunch counters, that we’ve achieved equality. We even have laws forbidding employers and landlords from making decisions based on race or sex. Why can’t we just be happy with that? We have the same rights as every other person in this country.

Legally, maybe that’s true. I’m not convinced that it is.

But, culturally, that isn’t the case at all.


taking things literally and why that's a bad idea


I was so proud when Christina asked me to go with her to a revival service in Alabama. Her family regularly traveled what I thought of as “great distances” in order to be “ministered to by the Word.” But she had never asked me to one, and I happily said yes. Excitement mounted as it came closer– this was supposed to be a “good ol’ fashioned tent meetin‘” and I was picturing things like ladies in bonnets and “chicken on the ground.”

We arrived on the “campground,” and there was a gigantic tent set up with rows and rows of metal folding chairs. A generator was beating away somewhere just to run the huge fans and audio equipment. As evening fell, it got darker, but not cooler. It was Alabama in the middle of a sweltering summer. But, I was enthralled by the mystery of it all. Here was where a great thing would happen, I just knew it– like those boys who prayed in a hay stack and started the Second Great Awakening.

We sang all the old “revival hymns” and then settled in for the preaching. I don’t really remember what the sermon was about, although it must have been about sin because of what happened in the middle of it. The evangelist called a man up out of the congregation, and I watched him walk up the dirt aisle to the front. As he passed me, I stared at his eye patch and wondered if he was Patch the Pirate. When he got up to the front, the evangelist asked him to share his testimony.

Slowly, the man shared his story of a lifetime of sin and abuse, but he culminated by telling of his addiction to pornography. He concluded his tale by lifting his eye patch and telling us that he had followed Matthew 5:29, where it says if your right eye offends thee, to pluck it out. He, in obedience to God’s word, had done just that– and thus, God gave him the strength to overcome his addiction.

Clearly, I did not pay attention to the rest of the sermon. I remember just sitting, dazed, through the rest of it, because I knew if I one day ended up struggling with a sin like that, I was not going to gouge out my eye. I struggled with feeling “convicted” the rest of the sermon. Shouldn’t I be willing to do whatever it takes to obey God? How much more should I value my relationship with him and having a pure heart over my fleshly pleasures? Over trying to avoid pain, and protecting myself?

We came back, and I also don’t remember what the evangelist preached the second night because of what happened. A few minutes after he had started preaching, there was a slight commotion. I don’t remember exactly what made me turn around, but when I did, I saw a black family sitting down in the remaining seats in the back. I didn’t think anything of that and turned my attention back up to the front– where the preacher that had organized the meetin’ was standing up.

“You!” He yelled, striding boldly to the back of the tent. “Yes, YOU!” He pointed. Suddenly, I realized that he was gesturing at the black family. “You don’t belong here. Here,” and he flayed his arms wildly over the throng gathered under the tent folds, “is the bounds of OUR habitation. These are OUR borders. You just get– get back to where you belong, boy. You’re not welcome here.”

“Amens!” and “Preach it, brother!” started echoing from all over the tent.

And I watched, horrified, as the father stood up. For a moment I could see rage engulf his face. Cords tightened in his neck, and I watched as his fist clenched. He was trembling, and I knew it wasn’t in fear. But, after a long moment, he reached down for his wife’s hand. He pulled her up, then turned and picked up his daughter. He faced the preacher again, his daughter in his arms, but then didn’t say anything. He just . . . left.

As they walked back out into the night, the hollers and jeers came to my ears like they were traveling through water. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I remember looking down at my hands and watching them shaking– trembling violently. And I couldn’t identify the emotions that were rampaging through me. I glanced over at Christina and her father– but their faces were impassive. They didn’t seem to be affected by what had happened. I looked around the tent, and saw that some were gathering up their families and leaving, and I could see anger mixed with disappointment on their faces. The evangelist and the preacher screamed after them as they left, calling upon every biblical invective I’d ever heard.

The evangelist returned to his sermon eventually, but after ten, maybe fifteen minutes of preaching, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get out of that place. Christina grabbed my hand and asked where I was going, and I muttered that I had to use the bathroom.

I stayed in the bathroom as long as I could without Christina or her father wondering where I’d gone, scraping together my determination. I was not coming back to this place. I was not coming back, and I did not care what Christina thought of me.


There is a term for what happened in those two examples, and it has actually been referred to as “the evangelical heresy” (and no, I’m not talking about individualism). It’s called biblical docetism, and it is an extension of gnosticism, dualism, and Arianism. All of these systems promote a common thread that “physical” things represent evil, as they are corrupted copies of the pure, “spiritual” realm. Dualism eventually leads to a mind vs. body dichotomy. Arianism teaches that Jesus was not truly incarnate– he only looked like or seemed to be physical (the term docetic comes from the Greek word dokein, “to seem to be” ).

Biblical docetism is an approach to understanding the inspiration of scripture. There are many perspectives on this, including “verbal plenary” view and the “degree” view, among others. People who hold the docetic view– and many of them have no idea that this is what it’s called, I sure didn’t– all tend to ignore the human component of scripture. They see the Bible strictly as “the Word of God.” Some consequences of this view are:

1) Being able to randomly select any passage of scripture to see how God will speak to them. This includes being able to draw huge spiritual implications out of simple things like Paul asking Timothy to bring him his cloak in 2 Timothy 4:13. And yes, Spurgeon, I’m looking at you.
2) Believing that every single scripture applies to everyone, everywhere, and always. Including 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is used to support Dominionism. And segregation. And all kinds of evil things like slavery and the oppression of women.
3) Believing that the chapter and verse organizations and the canon order are inspired, too. This is less common, but it happens among re-inspiration advocates. Let’s give a shout-out to Micheal Perl and Peter Ruckman, here.
4) Completely ignoring that the writers had personalities, preferences… or that they had anything to do with the Bible whatsoever. We can learn a lot about Peter’s impetuousness, or Paul’s logic, or Luke’s compassion, but that has no bearing on fundamentalists who see the Bible as only the Word of God.
5) There is no such thing as progressive revelation. Because God wrote it, and God is timeless, and God is omniscient, there isn’t any such thing, actually. God wrote Genesis, and God wrote Revelation. It doesn’t make a lick of difference that John the Revelator had witnessed the Resurrection and had some inkling about what was going on, and Moses couldn’t even really understand the Messiah. This can be disastrous from a hermeneutics perspective, because then you start assuming all kinds of things into the text that cannot sensibly be there.
6) They pay absolutely no attention to genre. At all. Every single element in the Bible is exactly the same as all the rest. There’s no reason to pay attention to the nuances between historical narratives and poetry, or biographies and epistles.

7) The supremely over-literalization of Scripture. I cannot stress this one enough. You cannot take the Bible too literally, or you end up thinking, saying, believing, and doing all kinds of insane things. Like plucking your eye out when you have a porn addiction. They have no understanding of metaphor, myth– they cannot account for different narrative structures. To them, every single parable Jesus told literally happened. They turn the entire Bible into a perverse form of itself– as dry and un-human as an encyclopedia.

And, most dangerously, because they believe in a non-fiction, give-me-the-facts-ma’am approach to the entire Bible, they prioritize imperative statements over anything else. They reduce the beauty of the Bible down to a bunch of commandments and lists. They take the suggestions that exist inside an over-arching narrative and force them to be the filter for everything else. And this fails us, because the Bible is a book of story before it is anything else. It gives us story after story— and nothing about these stories in inherently prescriptive. They describe human beings in all their glories, triumphs, and absolute failures.

And when you believe that miniscule imperative statements trump entire narratives, you miss out on the complexity that is woven into scripture. You lose stories like Deborah and Junia and Phoebe and Tabitha and Lydia and Anna and Priscilla– because these stories about powerful women conflict with the limited suggestion of one author to one friend. You lose the ability to learn from the value of contradictions, because instead of recognizing contradictions as the human component of individual perspective and human narrative, the contradictions become something you have to explain away or deny.

And that traps us. It limits our ability to learn, to grow, to understand, to seek, to question. Dichotomies, dualities, and binaries come into play– with only one being “right” and anything else being “wrong.” We lose the ability to appreciate a modern narrative of multiples views, multiple understandings. We lose variety and complexity. And, looking around outside, our world is nothing if not complex.

(My list of seven consequences of biblical docetism was structured for me by Bibliology and Hermeneutics.)