You didn’t choose to be white but you can choose how to use your whiteness. Are you going to use it to nitpick black people over things that don’t really matter? Who is harmed by a white person not being allowed in an all-black space?
Or, How To Care For Your Black Friends Well
A Brief Guide for White People
Or, Maybe You Have Questions
Why Did You Write This?
America has never made restitution for the harms it has inflicted on Black and Indigenous Americans over the centuries. This adds a layer of complexity to the task of building relationships. Black-white friendships and relationships can be a form of reparations, especially when the person with more privilege leverages that privilege on behalf of the person with less.
Who Did You Write This For?
First of all, this essay is not for fragile white people. Nor is it for white people who are not pursuing restorative justice, restitution, and reparations. That is to say, this piece is not written for the average white American who believes the best way to fix the problem of racism is to ignore it.
Whiteness in America is a protective bubble that ensures white people never get exposed to racial tension or conflict except on the rarest occasion. Where white Americans are called “people,” black americans are called “blacks.” Black Americans live in these United States understanding the harsh truth that we were always the unwanted child and now we serve to remind this country that it has never once lived up to its creeds and values. As Langston Hughes said, we are a source of shame for America, and rightly so, given the centuries of human rights abuses perpetrated against people of color in this country, all while those in power declared “all men are created equal.”
This essay is for white folks who are working on contending with their own privilege and want to be better in their efforts to support their friends of color.
I also wrote this as a resource for people of color (POC) so that when their white friends ask them, “How can I be a better friend?” POC have something accessible, educational, and brief to send their way without needing to perform additional emotional labor.
What This Essay Is Not
This essay is not meant to be a declaration of the fragility of black Americans, but rather a tutorial for white folks who want to learn to build trust in their friendships with black people. Black Americans can handle white folks, no matter how ignorant. If you read this essay and immediately go and employ the opposite, your antagonism is not going to break us. That said, black people experience emotions and pain that white people are deeply ignorant about. While you, a white person who aspires to do right, may want to build or repair a relationship with a black friend, they probably don’t have any reason to trust you. If you want to change that, then this essay is probably for you.
So You Want to Have a Black Friend?
Are you SURE that’s a good idea?
I think black people and white people should be friends. I think we should live together, work together, fight together, play together, become family. I am, after all, a product of a black-white relationship.
However, the need for this essay comes from a place of pain. I’ve been deeply harmed by my white friends and white people need to understand how and why. Black Thought rapped in one of my fave freestyles ever, “I barbwire my wrists and let it fill the page.” My pain and experience is the the digital ink on your screen.
I am going to describe friendship with black people in terms that will make the relationship seem tenuous at best and impossible at worst. That’s because this is not a 100 level class. I expect white people to come to this essay prepared to educate themselves, and unlearn their own racial arrogance. I don’t think most white people are up to the task of being true confidante-level friends with black people. I am writing this to scare white people away from pursuing black friendships.
I write from my own perspective and don’t mean to imply that my experience is universal to the black experience. I write from my own deeply scarred and deeply vulnerable existence. So when I tell white people that friendship with me is hard, and not something to be taken lightly, I mean it. But I can only speak for myself. Does this advice apply to your other black friends? It may. Some of it, certainly. But it is the personal responsibility of white people to make sure that my advice aligns with the experiences and desires of black people in their own lives.
I have let far too many white people into my life without properly evaluating their ability to protect me. Being friends with black people for a white person is like going through med school. Much like a straight-A student at the beginning of med school, most white people reading this will be overly confident in their abilities. And much like med school, not an insignificant number of white people will wash out. This is hard work. I need you to anticipate the difficulty of this commitment. Because if you believe that being friends with black people is hard, you might be able grasp the amount work necessary, to have an inkling of how difficult this will truly be, and maybe you’ll make it through.
I am going to frame this process in terms where one is the patient and one is the healthcare professional. I think this is fitting. Many lives are lost because of the inordinate arrogance of health care professionals who believe that their previous experience applies perfectly to a new patient. Just as thousands of people die every year from the smallest mistakes, so millions of friendships languish or die because white people are not exercising adequate caution in their attempts to build a friendship with a black person.
So much racial harm in interpersonal relationships stems from ignorance amount white people when it comes to triage. And much like the patient-doctor relationship (to the chagrin of my conservative hate-readers who will use this essay as proof that the races should be separate), while black-white friendships can be difficult work, THEY ARE WORTH IT.
I am going to frame this in terms of black-white friendships, but MANY other relationships with similarly massive power differentials may benefit from this advice as well. The best way to determine how well this advice fits for your friend is to ask them.
1. From cultural competency to cultural humility
Or, despite your oversized privilege, you are not the authority on my experiences and needs
Whiteness is unexamined racial arrogance. It is a system, created explicitly to kill, steal, and destroy, which operates largely unhindered, unexamined, and unchecked. It is so fully in the bloodstream of American ideology that it is accepted as not only racially neutral but MORALLY neutral.
Much like cancer, whiteness is fast, adaptive, and powerful, but never neutral. Even when it is invisible.
The celebration and elevation of whiteness has largely been understood in the last several decades, rather than declared. Racism, on the contrary, has been deemed the wheelhouse of whiteness. Only white people are able to neutrally, objectively examine allegations of racism to see if these events are Really Racist™ or, as per the conservatives on Twitter, just people of color “overreacting.”
There are several ways to cause harm in any context, including racially.
Malice + action
Malice + inaction
Ignorance + action
Ignorance + inaction
Be aware that whiteness is racial supremacy. It was created with the explicit intention to justify the dehumanization and subjugation of nonwhite people. It was meant to assure white people that ownership, rape, theft of bodies and labor, were morally justifiable because nonwhite people were not fully human. Because of this, being white lends itself to having a strong faith in the ability of white individuals to be neutral, objective, and the final word in issues of morality.
Being white is no more neutral, and no less biased, than being black. In the immortal words of Sir Kendrick Lamar, sit down. Be humble.
2. What is Racial Harm?
In the context of relationships and friendships, racial harm is almost always unintentional or ignorant dehumanizing or othering. This often occurs with good intention. Think about having sore muscles after a workout or following a vaccination. A hug, something general welcome and a form of endearment, is slightly painful and something you need to recover from.
Racial harm works similarly. It doesn’t require intentionality or malice, it occurs when a white friend is simply being unaware of past harm or current recovery. Awareness requires intentionality above and beyond the normal ways to stand up for or protect any friend: verbally, physically, emotionally. With a black friend, it is very important to be sure you are also protecting them emotionally and mentally. Failing to do so will lead to a loss of trust, which may not be earned back.
In my own life, the ways white friends harm me without intending to usually fall into disrespect, entitlement or demanding, and assumptions. I am not your therapist, your life coach, your professor, or your priest. I’m your friend. I don’t exist to absolve you of your racial failings (please, stop treating me as a racial confessional). It’s not my job to introduce you to my black friends so that you can have more (I’m probably protecting them from you). I feel used when you show up because you need advice and emotional support, and for no other reason.
Whiteness claims that only action coupled with malicious intentions can cause racial harm. When I point out that acts of racism can be committed without explicitly naming race, I have been scoffed at and called delusional (and worse).
Please entertain a somewhat ridiculous metaphor in order to make my point. Imagine a scenario where a public beach or pool banned sunscreen due to harmful toxins. Perhaps the intentions are good, but the harm disproportionately falls upon people with white skin. I don’t have to say anything about white skin in my anti-sunscreen ordinance in order to passively harm white people. This is harm by exposure: failing to protect, failing to act, prohibiting people from acting in their own self interest.
The argument is that racism can only be racist words immediately followed by or preceding harmful actions is a common and insufficient definition of the ways that racism causes harm. This definition does not go far enough. Failing to protect someone from racial harm is a form of racism. It’s perhaps the most insidious form of racism since it requires nothing more than thoughtlessness or neglect. (Time to scrub in, Dr. White!)
An example of this that happens every day is a white parent who puts their black or brown child in the same space as racist family members. A child doesn’t need to be explicitly told they are considered less than their white peers in such a space. They will observe it with their own eyes and experience it with their own senses and emotions.
Another example would be a parent who fails to feed their child. CPS won’t give this parent a pass just because the parent never claimed to hate the child. Neglect is a form of abuse, no matter how you try to reframe it. And America has committed racial abuse for centuries, through active violence and passive neglect of black and brown humans, for which they have made no significant effort to resolve.
3. Sweat The Small Stuff
Think about a hospital. When someone is recovering from a serious surgery and requires life-saving medication delivered on a regular basis, one missed dose can be the difference between life and death.
Similarly, one dis/missed comment or concern can end a friendship between a white person and a black person.
Last year, a friend and I planned an intimate experience after having a lot of very long discussions about race, racism, systemic inequality, and power disparities in relationships. I had explicitly stated that I didn’t want to recap or debrief about our experience afterward because that process gives me anxiety. I don’t process intimate experiences quickly, and being asked to present an oral evaluation feels like another task at which I am destined to fail.
Afterward, this person made a snide passing remark about my performance.
It took me 10 hours to figure out that while this person hadn’t technically broken my request, they had seriously violated my trust. I had been explicit about my need to be protected in a very vulnerable space, and this person had disregarded the spirit of that request.
Treating someone’s needs like preferences is a natural function of a false belief in one’s own self-importance (white arrogance), and something that requires vigilance when engaging in relationships that have power disparities.
Another way to cause unintentional but very real harm is by being unclear or uncommunicative.
Last summer, I made a partnered white friend and our relationship quickly became flirtatious. This person also acknowledged the power disparity between us, and I made a point to bring up my concerns and vulnerability. Conversation turned to meeting up, getting drinks, and spending the night together. As the date approached, I was informed that my friend’s partner would be joining us as an observer. There was nothing inherently wrong with this idea, but being informed of a significant change to the hierarchy at the last moment rather than being asked if I was comfortable with this was a violation of trust. There was already a power disparity in our relationship, and I was not consulted about my desires. Instead of a balanced situation where my pleasure was prioritized, our date was turned into an encounter where two people were going to consume me for each other’s entertainment. Gross.
4. Regularly invest
So much of the problem of racial harm is simply white failure to listen with the intention to honor. When you’ve gone your entire life without having to take anyone’s needs particularly seriously (because you were never around people more vulnerable than you), perhaps you’ve never received a request like, “Please don’t comment on X.”
Other respect issues should be understood without having to make a request. You should not ask to touch my hair, and I should not have to tell you not to ask. When you are friends with a black person, small requests like these are very important. If you want to build trust, do not ignore these boundaries and needs.
It’s not that such mistakes are permanent. Black people have more grace and compassion and forgiveness than you can shake a stick at. (See: the entire United States not burned to the ground, yet.) But you need to make sure that you accrue A LOT of trust before making withdrawals from that friendship. I could make a strong argument that the best way to build trust by choosing to honor small requests over time. To remember small details. To consistently check-in, check-up, reassess.
Checking in requires awareness. It requires humility. It requires unlearning the inherent arrogance of white superiority, and learning racial humility. It requires asking for forgiveness, and honoring whatever request comes with it being granted. It will probably require being humbled in public.
The investment of small acts of trust, honor, and respect over time will go a long way in building a relationship with anyone, but they are essential to building a relationship with your black friend.This why I declared right off the bat that a friendship like this is hard work and most white people probably won’t be able to do it. Certainly none can do it perfectly, but perfection isn’t the goal here. Mitigating harm is the goal.
5. Good Intentions Are Not Enough
If you made it this far, you fancy yourself a good person and you want to do right by your black friend. This is great, but it’s not enough. Wanting to do right by people is great, but good intentions do not negate harm caused. Don’t believe me? Ask George Washington how he feels about his doctors’ good intentions to save his life.
Do not act on your own good intention. Act on knowledge. You cannot know what your black friend needs without asking. Don’t assume. In fact, assume that your assumptions are rooted in the anti-black bias that is almost certainly hardwired into your neurons (if you’re American at least). This comes back to having humility and self awareness. Understand that you will give yourself undeserved credit in this area because that’s what humans generally do, and work to recognize that the credit given to you comes at a cost from the black person.
6. My Trauma is not your Textbook
If I want to share a harmful or racist experience I have had with you, I will share it with you. I should not have to tell you not to ask me about my racial trauma, or any trauma for that matter. This should be understood. You have to prove that you are a trustworthy person before you ask me to confide in you. Otherwise, I will speak about my trauma on my terms when I feel like it. Your need to be educated can be fulfilled elsewhere.
Yes, you absolutely need to learn what racial harm looks like in the lives of black people. But you don’t get to learn on your friends. White people often act and speak as though they have a right to access and examine my trauma for their own education. The amount of entitlement and audacity white people show when asking me about racial trauma, without ever indicating that they understand that it is real harm, never ceases to surprise. Just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you get to blow into any hospital room and demand to do an examination of a patient. That’s abuse and assault. Yet somehow white people regular do that to black people in regards to racism without so much as a second thought. It’s a very deep violation of trust and a clear indication to me that someone isn’t trustworthy.
I sincerely believe you, white reader, are capable of having a strong relationships with people of color. Relationships that require the most intentionality and skill can be the most beautiful and fulfilling. Not dissimilar to marriage, it requires extra effort in order to work well.
On top of my strong belief in your ability, I think you have a moral responsibility to leverage your privilege to benefit people of color. One of the ways to do this is through relationships.
Relationships take effort. Relationships with people of color require work and humility that goes above what is generally needed for a white-white relationship, though privilege can vary wildly among white peers.
You can do this. You should do this. I want you to do this. Carefully. Intentionally. Humbly.
If you find my writing valuable, please me help out by sharing this piece on your social media platforms.
If you are able, please donate so that I can continue to educate folks. Thanks so much! xx, Tori
Cash app: $toriglass
I was scrolling through a social media platform when it caught my eye. A cute photo of a couple I like. They were grinning from ear to ear, in the middle of the woods enjoying a little getaway as celebration for their anniversary.
Then, I read the caption.
It was a long lecture about the true hardship of marriage. How marriage takes work and strong people don’t call it quits. My initial brain response was to assume this lecture was directed at me, but I quickly remembered that we tend to center ourselves in everyone’s story due to bias, not because it’s an accurate reflection of reality.
Yes, marriage is hard work, I thought to myself after reading the first of many paragraphs. And then I scrolled on, and tried to convince myself that the post wasn’t at all about me and was indeed about the “hard work” of a marriage that is not yet old enough to drive.
I’ve experienced a lot of rejection in my life from people whose opinions actually mattered to me, so I was quickly able to put the thought aside. Yes, I chose to work hard at my marriage. I also chose to end it. I could have kept working. I know people who work for decades. Some make progress, others don’t. I knew that I would face push back in the form of lectures, rude comments, subtweets, people talking behind my back. Honestly? That stuff is small potatoes.
I chose the end of my marriage. I was not forced to. I could have held out longer. I may be a delicate flower but I’m also as strong as they come. I could have made it till death, maybe not well, but intact.
People with privilege and comfort believe that choosing the end is the easy way out. They believe it’s a decision made flippantly, by feckless, immoral, below-average people. With all due respect, people with privilege do not have the knowledge or the depth.
Choosing the end is in fact often an exercise in deep humility. A self selected burden with consequences. It is choosing to be ostracized from your social circle and family.
Choosing the end of something important is not a flippant decision. It requires weighing the pros and cons, laboring for months or years over next steps, trying to find your way in the dark. All while being condescended to by people with more time, money, support, education, access, privilege, talent, beauty, and faith.
The end of life.
The end of marriage.
The end of a pregnancy.
The end of religion.
The end of a parent’s access.
The start of new boundaries.
I am still fully human, even when I choose to end something that I promised I could finish. My ending is not a reflection of diminished morality, corrupted integrity, laziness, or weakness, regardless of what evangelical subculture may preach.
This narrative is a complete disregard for our experiences, our lives. The dismissal of our trauma as irrelevant to our outcomes. The arrogance with which they lecture us about how they made better, more moral decisions. When really they just got lucky.
Our reasons for choosing the end are valid. Hell, sometimes they are necessary. A matter of life or death.
My decision to end may have to do with my (low) place in the societal power structure.
So it’s easy for those who are higher on the socioeconomic ladder to look down on those below in scorn and derision. Especially when we are deemed to have made wrong choices.
I am functionally beneath them. It’s fairly easy to criticize those beneath you, and praise those above you. You can see this a million different ways in the comments section of the entire internet.
The gainfully employed enjoin the poor to “just move.”
Those with the protection afforded by distance from crime, claim people living in poverty are indifferent to violence outside their door.
Those who can afford a surprise pregnancy look down on those who can’t.
Those who are protected by organized religion sneer at anyone who would leave.
Those who are healthy demonize the chronically ill who choose to end their own suffering in the comfort and peace of their own home.
Those who live comfortably in our stratified society are told that they are there because they earned it through hard work, good attitude, grit, and determination.
Aspiration culture is a hell of a drug.
I am not a victim in any of this. I have what I have, I make choices and deal with the consequences, I’m thankful for the opportunities where I get to grow and change and do better next time. But I will not allow others to view my decisions through the lens of their own privilege without push back. Others are free to judge me of course, just as I am free to not care about their judgment. They are not living my life.
This doesn’t make me a better person than anyone but it maybe gives me more compassion and understanding than most.
We Are Our Bodies
I’ve been digging around in an idea that pervades Evangelicalism. The Evangelical belief that we merely live in our bodies. American Christianity (which consists in large part of evangelicalism) has minimized the theology and, if you will, sacredness of the body, saying that the physical body was irrelevant except to house the soul.
When framed in the evangelical American context, this twisted argument has a lot of value. It was probably the easiest theological justification for America’s beloved human rights abuses: enslavement and genocide.
By necessity of white America's devotion to these practices, the black body didn’t matter to God.
The black experience didn’t matter to God.
Black suffering didn’t matter to God.
In this theology, suffering was how God taught his people lessons. It would make sense then, according to this theological hierarchy, the European Christians God “chose” to” save and lead” the physical and moral world could use suffering to teach lessons. Conveniently, it was decided using suffering (again, to be clear, these are human rights abuses) to forcibly extract land and labor from so-called inferior humans in order to build a global empire was acceptable to God as well.
The physical and mental anguish were presented as part of God’s perfect plan.
“You are a soul, you have a mind, you live in a body.”
This is what I heard all the time in church. I can’t help but wonder if this is leftover from the theology of white oppression. The difference between the mind and the soul was never explained, but in many ways they seemed to overlap.
Evangelical theology has a functional disregard for both the body and mind, minimizing very real mental health disorders and often attributing them to personal sin or spiritual attack. It requires you to cut off parts of yourself in order to be a true believer.
In order to be a Christian, you have to engage in a form of self-colonization. You have to amputate your blackness, Latinness, Nativeness. You have to amputate your sexuality, your queerness, your masculinity if you’re female, your femininity if you’re male, your passions, your dreams, your intelligence, your critical thinking. No form of otherness is accepted within their narrow interpretation of Christianity.
Evangelicals will tell you that the resulting emotional and mental anguish and suffering are just holiness working in your life. Somehow they never have to answer for the fact that permanent pain is not positive growth.
I want to push back against this theology.
Pain is not an indicator of health.
Pain is not how you judge success.
Embracing pain temporarily can have its place.
Embracing pain as permanent is not proof of personal or spiritual growth.
Surgery can extremely be painful. But the goal of surgery is to ALLEVIATE PAIN AND USHER IN BETTER HEALTH.
Exercise can be extremely painful. But the goal of exercise is to alleviate future pain and usher in better health.
Childbirth can be extremely painful. But the goal of childbirth is to alleviate pain and usher in better health. Both for the individuals and society.
Physical pain is often the first indicator of disease in the human body. Physical pain is a signal your body sends encouraging you to seek treatment.
So why should we make mental and emotional pain as an indicator of health or the end goal in the spiritual experience?
The Writer of the book of Hebrews (who was kind of a jackass) tells his readers, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
While I understand that the writer’s audience was possibly fearing for their lives, trying to feed their families, under threat of the Roman Empire, I would argue that this scenario is neither aspirational nor prescriptive.
What the writer recommends is not health, but war. I would hope this is apparent. Within the context of whiteness [a construct that is inherently and inescapably supremacist] implying that this passage is prescriptive is preaching self-colonization. It’s requiring you to amputate the "other" parts of who you are in order to ensure that you are in pain. When you are in pain, you are less able to think clearly and therefore easier to manipulate and control.
In so many ways, this theology hasn’t changed much since the days it was used to justify the enslavement and torture of black bodies. For many of us, so much has been taken from us in the name of Christianity or other fundamentalist versions a host of other religions. Our spiritual selves have been decimated, while those with power claim that pain is health, war is peace, bondage is freedom. For those of us systemically and historically disenfranchised and oppressed, they preach that our minds, our bodies, our experiences don’t matter in light of eternity.
We get to be free
How easy it is for one to preach such violence against our bodies when it doesn’t affect them in the least? How easy is it for the master to gather his wealth when his slave-drivers are the ones to crack the whip?
I am choosing to confront this spiritual violence, and call it what it is.
There is still good news. Just because something has been stolen from you by fundamentalism, by religion, doesn’t mean it is permanently lost.
Humans are spiritual starfish. We can grow back whatever religion steals from us.
Yes, healing is work. Yes, it takes time. But it is possible. We can take back what was taken from us in the name of God. We have grace, power, and autonomy. If you believe in God, our full selves are more glorifying to God than some mangled version of who we are. God doesn’t require that we burn our identity on the altar of whiteness. I would remind you that Jacob fought God to a draw. Zipporah fought God and won.
It is true that identity may not be who we are on an atomic level. I understand that. But it is as much a part of us as our physical bodies. There is no mind/body split. Our mind IS our body. These are not two separate entities (or three depending on how your pastor counted!) we are one.
We get to be whole.
We get to love our neighbors, serve the poor, fight for justice as our whole selves.
Do not mangle yourself for some White Jesus who expects your marginalization to continue as proof of your piety, while those with power, privilege, and supremacy do nothing to ease your burden. Jesus did not come to oppress the marginalized and put heavy loads on their backs. In fact, he condemned powerful people who were doing exactly that.
You get to be whole.
You get to be free.
From religion or with religion is your choice.
You get to do what makes you healthy.
When you’re healthy you can do so much more for others, which I think is very much the point. We are the ones who get to bring the kin-dom of heaven, and the more of us who are healthy, the easier the job will be.
The Case for Restorative Justice
I’m lucky enough to work in a neuroscience research lab, which has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn from some of the world’s leading scientists and research on neurodevelopment, neurocognition, and all things related to the human brain.
It wasn’t my intention to wind up working here, but my personal life and school led me to reading a significant amount on the topic of trauma, all of which very much contradicted present-day evangelical thinking.
Evangelicals love punishment
Punishment is a central theme in evangelical theology. They sincerely believe punishment works, and the data shows they are favorable to the harshest forms of punishment which are socially acceptable in any given situation.
This commitment to harsh punishment is a function of their theology. Specifically, there are two abusive punishments that they believe God is just in carrying out. The first is that that a radical prophet from the backwater of the Roman empire was brutally tortured and executed because God hates sin, no matter how innocuous. God hates sin so much that he (it, she, they, whatever) resolved that the only solution to sin was to commit horrific violence against an innocent man in the form of human rights abuses.
The second part is the belief that humans who were not privileged enough to know of this backwater radical from 1,000 or 2,000 years ago were all going to have their souls stripped from their bodies, and put into hell where they will be brutally tortured. For all eternity. All of this because someone had the extreme misfortune of being conceived. No one chooses to be born, however, according to evangelical theology, if you weren’t privileged enough to own a specific holy book, or, more likely, any book, you are going to burn forever in hell.
Long story short, the evangelical God has a THING for torture. Maybe it’s his kink? Do not ask me why, but I think you’d agree that if you saw your neighbor pull out a blow torch and use it on his child, you’d be calling Child Protective Services. This behavior is not considered remotely acceptable in most of the world. The evangelical God, if he were human, would rightly be labeled a sadist and sentenced to life in prison.
Based on these sincerely-held beliefs, evangelicals specifically, and to a large extent conservatives in general, also tend to gravitate toward extremely harsh punishments. I will give a few examples.
Evangelicals, despite decades of data to the contrary, believe that they are supposed to hit their children (usually called “spanking”) in order to punish them for any infraction, no matter how minor. This is based on a few Scripture verses, in which punishment is called "painful" which, they perhaps rightly interpret as meaning that when they punish their children, it should cause physical pain.
Evangelicals are also strong proponents of punishing the poor. They don’t generally refer to these legislative actions as punishment, it’s typically framed as teaching personal responsibility, employing the use of bootstraps, and encouraging hard work. This is typically accomplished by a concerted effort to cut welfare benefits even as the cost of living skyrockets across the country.
People who have broken the law
People who have broken the law are perhaps the favorite target of conservatives’ love of punishment. They are also the most at risk, given that the law and justice are often severely misaligned. The same neighborhoods are simultaneously over-policed and under-policed; one can be arrested for standing on the sidewalk while murders go unsolved.
The horrific and traumatic experience of being imprisoned in this country, along with the compounded trauma inflicted on children seeing their parents dragged away by cops perpetuates poor outcomes and turns what are often non-violent mistakes into intergenerational harm.
Punishment does not work
Thanks to the tireless and selfless work of neuroscientists and researchers we now know that trauma can severely reduce the likelihood of good outcomes in a person’s life. We know that hitting children doesn’t work, and we know what does work instead. We know that poverty and imprisoning people are traumatic events.
The logical response to this information would be to look for alternatives to punishment. Actions that do not perpetuate trauma and negative outcomes but which could work to support and restore that which was harmed or lost.
Unsurprisingly, evangelicals don’t seem to care for this approach.
There is no framework for restorative justice within evangelical thinking. This is rooted in the belief that an all-loving, all-powerful, all-wise Creator God uses eternal torment to punish billions of souls whose only wrongdoing was being conceived. It is rooted in the belief that God is constrained by some unknowable force he created, and this constraint left him unable to use any method other than violence to purify the world and restore it to himself. This doesn’t sound loving, powerful, or wise. It sounds like… depraved humanity.
Humans are the ones who use violence to accomplish our own ends because we incorrectly believe there are no other means available to us, or our patience runs out. If we were all powerful, all loving, and all wise, we wouldn’t feel the need to use violence because we would have more options at our disposal.
Evangelicals could reframe their beliefs if they wanted to. There is plenty of room in Scripture to support restorative justice, and as a bonus, the science supports moving away from causing pain with punishment and moving toward a way of addressing antisocial behavior that doesn’t perpetuate a cycle of trauma. Traumatic events make life harder and more expensive for both the victim and society.
Even looking at it strictly from the perspective of cost-saving, you would think evangelical conservatives would be on board with this change.
I suppose we can only hope (and pray if you are into that sort of thing) that evangelicals will one day shed their blinders and come to the light.
One of the ways conservative evangelicals regularly derail conversations about the value of black lives in America and the effects of police brutality is by invoking abortion rates among black women. If you’ve spent more than one day on the internet among conservatives, you know this is one of many oft-employed by those who assert they are pro-life, in order to make a racial justice appeal. “The most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb,” they say.
One of the defining characteristics of political evangelicalism is claiming the pro-life mantel, but, as has been said many times, one could make a very strong argument that evangelicals are merely pro-birth. The Republican party as it exists today is fully willing to throw me and anyone who isn’t a white man under the bus (or, in this case, Trump train) in order to stay in power. Respectfully, that’s not pro-life, that’s just power mongering.
Here’s the deal: if you don't care about black lives after they are born, caring before they are born is not only meaningless, it's violent and intellectually dishonest.
Such a stance is literally self-deception.
If you claim to be pro-life but you don’t support black lives once they leave the womb, your pro-life position is functionally meaningless.
If you claim to be pro-life but you’re unaware of or not disturbed by the fact that twice as many black babies die in the first 30 days than white babies, your pro-life position is functionally meaningless.
If you claim to be pro-life but you are either unaware of or have no problem with massive racial and socioeconomic health disparities, your pro-life stance is functionally meaningless.
If you claim to be pro-life but you’re unaware of intergenerational trauma, ACE scores, DNA damage, altered neurotransmission, and its effects in black communities, your pro-life stance is functionally meaningless.
Much like white feminism is exhausting to black women, white pro-life movement is exhausting for black women. Conservatives claim to care about black life in the womb, but their rhetoric, their policies, and their indifference to the quality of black life, in the womb and out of it, tell a completely different story.
When we can see that your words and your actions do not align, when you refuse to listen to us or acknowledge the documented disparities that take our lives on a daily basis, when you dismiss our experiences as irrelevant to your superior insight, it’s clear that “pro-life” means something VERY different to white conservatives and black Americans.
If you support the death penalty, which is disproportionately used on black and brown people, many of whom are discovered after the fact to be innocent, your pro-life position is functionally meaningless.
You can say words “I am pro-life in all circumstances” all day long but just because you say them doesn’t mean they are true.
When you believe that it is moral and just for poor people to die earlier than rich people for lack of access to equitable healthcare, you are demonstrably NOT pro-life.
When you believe that it is moral and just for black people to die younger than white people for lack of access to healthcare, you are demonstrably NOT pro-life.
When you oppose policies that allow low-income and working class white people and minorities access to quality healthcare, how can you claim to be pro-life? Do you want the poor and minorities to live but have severely diminished quality of life? Is that how you justify this untenable position? What’s your end goal for people if this is your belief? For them to suffer in poverty and die without a safety net so that you can put more money in your 401k?
This isn’t about your tax bill, this is about the fact that you claim you want people to live while simultaneously holding the position that their quality of life is irrelevant and that if and when they suffer, it's what they deserve.
I do not understand how you can call yourself pro-life when you believe new mothers should be forced to return to work three days postpartum with engorged breasts and screaming perineal stitches because she has to be able to afford rent and formula and daycare. And don’t start talking about how poor moms with no safety net and no paid maternity leave should just breastfeed to save money. You can’t breastfeed if you’re at work and your employer doesn’t allow you time or privacy to pump and a place to store your milk. God forbid poor and working class moms have access to formula paid for by taxpayers so their children don’t starve to death.
I don’t understand how you can call yourself pro-life when you would find it perfectly acceptable that black babies born to unwed mothers die of starvation while their mothers are at work so that you can keep a couple of cents in your paycheck. Without sufficient maternity leave, the time needed to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship is simply unavailable. Do conservatives and libertarians who want to slash all public assistance truly understand that before these systems were in place there were literal children dying? Is that the end goal here? Children being born so their parents can watch them slowly starve because there just isn’t enough formula for the month?
If your retort is “Private organizations and churches should be responsible for the poor,” then ask yourself why aren't said private organizations taking care of the poor right now? If evangelical churches and their parachurch organizations really did provide sufficient resources to expectant moms, these mothers wouldn’t be going through government agencies. Yet, pregnancy "resource" centers refer women to the same social programs that the conservatives and evangelicals staffing those clinics want to see slashed.
In my limited experience, most evangelicals “love” black people in the same way they “love” Nazis -- because it’s a theological mandate for anyone who claims to follow Jesus not because it changes anything about the way they live, engage with their communities, or their worldview. They do it because loving your neighbor is a theological requirement and scripture is clear that hatred of anyone is a one-way ticket to hell.
But, functionally it changes nothing about the way they live, or their worldview, or the doctrines which they espouse.
To be functionally pro-life is to affirm every person as made in the image of God, full stop. Regardless of how they behave or whether their choices meet our standards. We must recognize that there are times when specific individuals or groups need not only equal treatment, but special treatment when they have endured significant, targeted harms.
I recognize that not everyone can “help” or pitch in with every cause they believe in. That is not my standard of measurement for determining whether or not someone is pro-life. I measure someone’s pro-life position in the arguments they choose to fight and how they choose to fight them. If you claim to be pro-life, but you come and start a fight with me when I say Black Lives Matter, your effort to prove me wrong about the value of black lives tells me far more than any rhetoric that you may espouse about life before birth.
That said, if you really think it’s the responsibility of the church to assist then you should be able to tell me what you’re doing to help your church meet these needs. Giving money to your church doesn’t count since churches spend more than 90% of their income on themselves.
Insisting on making any conversation about black lives to talk about black abortion is a tell -- you do not want to discuss system racism because it doesn’t align with your preferred worldview.
When a black mother knows that pro-life only extends to the end of the birth canal, why would someone in her difficult circumstance have any desire to bring a child into the world?