Resources on Racism in Madison and the US

In our adult forum today, we’re joining the conversation about racism and inequity that has been taking place in Madison and across the country over the last year. I’m posting here some resources that might help us think about these issues in our own lives and in our community.

First of all, white privilege. Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” introduced the term: white-privilege

Second,the conversation was jumpstarted in Madison by an article by the Rev. Alex Gee, Jr. That is available here. In the year since its publications, Gee has formed a new orgnizationt, Justified Anger, that seeks to keep issues of race and inequity at the center of our political and cultural life in Madison.

About the same time that this conversation began, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released its Race to Equity Report that provided a shocking look at racial disparities in Dane County, WI (where Madison is located). The report is available for download here: WCCF-R2E-Report.

Some books to read:

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

If you’ve never read it, or if you haven’t read it recently, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a powerful challenge to whites, especially white Christians, who criticized the nonviolent protests and boycotts in Birmingham in 1963. More than fifty years later, in the wake of Ferguson and Eric Garner, its words retain their power and are as relevant as ever. Read it here: king


Uncomfortable Ironies: MLK Day and homelessness in Madison

I wrote last week about the scramble to provide day shelter for homeless people today, MLK Day because many of the facilities that typically provide shelter for homeless people were closed in observance of the holiday.

At Grace, today was a wonderful day. More than 120 people came to us for shelter, food, and fellowship, staying for a few minutes, a few hours or all day. In addition, twenty volunteers pitched in to make coffee, provide lunch, and clean up afterwards. It was a community effort and I was excited to work with and deepen relationships with staff from First United Methodist and Bethel Lutheran Church. I was also excited to see volunteers and agency reps working with individuals in writing resumes and filling out housing applications. One volunteer drove someone to the emergency room.

My joy and gratitude at what we accomplished was tinged with grief and anger. As I looked around the room and thought about the holiday that was being celebrated, I couldn’t help but think about the irony of it all. At noon in the State Capitol, there was a celebration of MLK Day at which Governor Walker spoke. I’m sure it was a rousing event. At 5:00 pm, there was another celebration two blocks away in the other direction at the Overture Center. Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and close confident of Dr. King spoke. I’m sure it was quite inspirational. In between these two celebrations of the life and legacy of MLK, at Grace, 120 homeless people and twenty volunteers came together to create community on a cold day. It was forced community–forced by the reality of a city and county that can’t find it in their collective will to provide adequate shelter for the neediest among us.

The greater irony was probably that of those three gatherings together, the one at Grace was the most integrated. Forty-five years after Dr. King’s assassination, Madison is a city that is deeply divided racially, a city in which the level of achievement among African-Americans lags far behind that of whites, a city in which there is enormous economic and social disparity between whites and blacks, a city where there is a far higher percentage of African-Americans among the homeless than in the general population.

On a day when the political, economic, and cultural elites of Madison and Wisconsin were celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., at Grace we were witnesses of his shattered dream and hollow legacy. As we celebrate Martin Luther King, and celebrate as well our community coming together to help the homeless, we should also bear witness to the continued brokenness, racism, and economic injustice of our society.

MLK on the Good Samaritan and fixing the Jericho Road

Dr. King told Andrew Young then, “….Andy, I think the Good Samaritan is a great individual. I of course, like and respect the Good Samaritan….but I don’t want to be a Good Samaritan.”

Dr. King continued, “…you see Andy, I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don’t want to pick up anyone else, along this Jericho Road; I want to fix… the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody….”

He revealed his glory: A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Epiphany, 2013

January 13, 2013

A number of years ago, when we were living in SC, Corrie was invited to participate in an appreciation Sunday for one of her students. Gloria, I believe her name was, was soon to graduate from college and go off to seminary in Atlanta. She was in her forties, a mother, and for several years had pastured a CME church in a small town in the mountains of western NC. It was down a country road several miles off the main highway and when we got there, we found a typical mill village. At some point in the late 19th or early 20th century, an entrepeneur had built a factory, built houses for the workers, and milled cotton of some sort or another. When we visited, the mill was long closed, there were a couple of churches, the CME which was our destination, a United Methodist church, a school, a convenience store, and houses, some of them well kept, others rundown. Continue reading

Martin Luther King

I came across the astounding story that a Pentagon official declared during an MLK event at the Pentagon last week that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. MLK denounced the war in Viet Nam, in part because he was a pacifist but also because he thought it would detract resources and energy from the war on poverty. Here’s a link to a story that talks about the controversy. The full remarks suggest a more nuanced understanding than the early blogosphere outrage suggested.

Apparently, the official in question is a graduate of Morehouse College and was a classmate of one of King’s children. One might forgive him for trying to make a connection between King and the current conflicts. But I find it hard to stomach the notion that King would have “recognized that we live in a complicated world.” King knew that the 1960s were complicated as well. The final sentence of the speech does put it all in a larger perspective:

The irony of next Monday is that Mrs. King’s dream of a national holiday for her husband has become a reality; Dr. King’s dream of a world at peace with itself has not.

This is not the only way in which King’s legacy is being shaped to fit a contemporary narrative. The focus of the celebration tends to be on racial equality and cooperation. But as several people have pointed out today, King was assassinated while he was in Memphis helping organize a sanitation workers’ strike and he was also heavily involved in planning for the “Poor People’s Campaign. The historian Al Raboteau points out the central role of poverty in King’s thinking and efforts. (h/t Jim Naughton at Episcopal Cafe).

It is important to remember the fullness of his witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The collect for the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., from Lesser Feasts and Fasts. He is remembered in our liturgical calendar on April 4, the day of his assassination.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.