Category Archives: Politics

Losing my (civic ) religion

Gaining a heart for justice

 

 

My journey as a social and community activist and supporter of human rights and dignity is made up of great intersections and thresholds. It started with being in arts program that is about conflict resolution and healthy self-expression through art and storytelling. The passion got nurtured through the law and government magnet program in high school. I developed a heart for culture care and the integration of art, culture and faith through listening to The Kindlings Muse podcast and reading Makoto Fujimura’s writings on the role of art and creativity in our culture and our Christian faith. My involvement with Asian Pacific American Student Organization during my time in undergrad catalyzed the passion for racial justice. My friendship with a long time college friend who participated in the Occupy Wall St phenomenon introduced me to activists I can call friends, set in motion a drive to seek out Christians who are called to advocate for justice and the importance of economic justice. These experiences deepen my heart for humanity and my calling as an activist. At the same time, I made me very cautious and critical of various aspects of the U.S. political process, structures, leadership and domestic and foreign policy. Not just the U.S. but various nations. Creating empowering structures are important to me and the U.S. political process and structure has not always been trustworthy in being just.

During my summer trip to Washington DC in 2004 as a participant of the National Young Leaders Conference, I took in all that I learned about the U.S. government structure and the three branches, the political process, and elements of U.S. history. I got a taste of each branch of the government through an ongoing simulation where we pretended to be members of congress and senate. I even got a picture with my local congressman when I entered the House of Congress. As a law and government magnet honors student with a passion for ethics and justice, being a part of the conference exposed me the complexities of our government, politics and justice. Looking back at that experience seeing the nature of the process, it fueled my passion for justice and creating better communities. It also led me to see that being an attorney will not be a way for me to channel my passion for empowering people.

Learning about social systems and how they affect people often fascinate me because I am often passionate about having quality structures and cultures that empower and nurture people. Having a deep sense of justice, ethics and care is a part of me. Several people from my father’s side of the family are attorneys. My grandfather and his brother operated a well-respected and ethical law firm in my dad’s hometown in the Philippines. One of my cousins is now in law school, studying to be an attorney. When I enrolled in the law and government magnet program in high school, I thought I want to learn about law and being an attorney because I want to help people and make a difference. I studied constitutional law, civil law and criminal law. We had internships when we worked with offices in court houses, law offices and social services. The senior class competed at Model UN as a part of our international relations class. We performed mock trails inspired by literature we read or historical event we learn in history class to learn about the trail process. I had opportunity to learn about different government systems of other countries during my AP government class. Political and legal discussions are often an ongoing affair. We explored issues ranging from fair trade to affirmative action. The overall deep dive of law, government and politics I had as a student grounded me with critical thinking, civic education and an understanding of how the sociopolitical and legalities affect how people organized and vice versa. It was also through that experience and other experiences as an activist where I figured out not all aspects of government and political process served human rights and dignity.

I learned about the fact that white, male landowners were given privilege to vote when the country was founded. Having a black people being described as 3/5 of a person in the Constitution in the name of compromise along with slavery being primary way of labor was legal and embraced. The reparations of making sure freed slaves received the 48 acre land and mule never followed through. I learned during my third year of high school in U.S. history class. We had a mock trial showcasing the case for reparations for the Japanese Americans who were in internment camps. Much of Congress rushed to pass the Patriot Act, which lower the standard of probable cause and due process, granting local, state and federal law enforcement to search citizens’ private communication through wiretapping in the name of counter terrorism and national security. Through conversations among some of justice minded friends and from my biology teacher in middle school, I learned that marital rape was exempts from ordinary rape laws, meaning that a someone, the wife usually, being raped by her spouse is not considered a crime or even morally wrong until 1993.

One of the more wrenching aspects as an activist for human rights is the constant reminder that a lot of systems are often not up to par in serving the common good unless communities and various social movements pressed it and created their own solutions. Depending on the nation’s history and collective consciousness, there were solutions that worked out while there were others fell short, suppressed by the backlash and political climate. As I became connected with other activists and community members who are participating in various social movements, political battles, community organizing and human rights advocacy communities, I lamented at how deep and embedded the injustice, cruelty and power hoarding is in our systems, paradigms and hearts. I am often overwhelmed with empathy, bewilderment and ache.
I remembered the outrage and shock I felt three years ago when I received the news from my friend’s Facebook that she had been wrongfully arrested and charged for suspicion of inciting a riot along with her five other friends who were doing a protest demonstration at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium against the Mexican ex-President Vicente Fox. Fox was there as one of the speakers for the “Distinguished Speaker Series”. The Pasadena Police charged her ‘crime’ as a misdemeanor. She invited me other friends to her home for dinner after being released to explain what happened. The protest was to call out Fox for enabling and instigating state violence toward the Indigenous population and to call for international solidarity with autonomous Indigenous communities called the Zapatistas. What the protesters did was outreaching, and passing out flyers and literature to educate pass byers and attendees about the State violence toward the Indigenous communities. There was no civil disobedience involved. Yet it still end up receiving confrontation with the Pasadena Police. My friend came to the demonstration at a later time since she spent time supporting a friend of hers who was a victim of unlawful eviction earlier in the day. When she walked to the protest site, the police didn’t think she was with the protesters until they saw her walking toward her friends. It did not help that racism and racial profiling played a role in this. When she and the five others were arrested, four of them were charged with felonies while she and her other friend got charged with misdemeanors. My friend is white while most of her friends that charged with felonies are Latino. Most of them are male as well. It was chilling and scary that this happened in my backyard.

There were times that I wished that I did not know the things that I know about the banality of evil and injustice in the mist of my backyard and beyond. I questioned myself on whether I am actually impacting anything. Since I am a part of the society and its systems, am I automatically complicit of its destructive nature by virtue? Is there more that can be done? So many injustices to tackle, so many movements to connect with, so little time. Where do I start? Many thoughts like these raced to my mind more than once. Once one starts a journey to stand for the least of these, that person’s life will not be same. It will be a living tension to face the depths of injustice while remaining to be giving and open to receive love and grace. Between giving care to yourself and constantly find ways to put yourself out there to be in solidarity with the disempowered and tackling symptoms and root causes of injustice.

I can say that it is through the grace of God that my heart is still the heart of flesh. The fear, the sense of powerlessness, the hurt, the guilt and disillusionment and the feeling that everything is futile can make you want to drop off the face of the planet and shut off everything. I often remind myself that I am dealing with principalities and powers and that everyone is my neighbor. Stepping away and dropping out is not option. If I just drop out, I know that I will be enabling the banality of evil, separating myself from being a part of the possibility of a transformed world. I have no faith in the imperialist structures and ideologies that made up the American political process. However, I am called to bring Shalom in this world and it means engaging with the political realities that my communities and other communities.
It is ongoing emotional labor to stay plugged and to continue with relationship and community building. I keep my finger on the pulse to sense transitions, conversation and consciousness shifts and collective morale. Being a social and community activist since my last year of high school, I have observed a lot of conversation shifts and movements ranging from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter. From the increased interest in economic alternatives to capitalism to gentrification. I also saw shifts regarding presidential election cycles in every four years that is revealing a long overdue major wakeup call regarding the truth on how the systems actually functions to serve the principalities and powers. The overall experience is nothing short of overwhelming but dropping out is not an option when so much is at stake. Rather, I accepted the call to be a vessel of God’s goodness, love and justice, bringing forth the new heaven and earth through transforming ourselves, our relationships and our communities.


Xeres Villanueva wears many different hats between a budding entrepreneur, a comrade and a social activist for various social justice issues. She worked with InsideOut Community Arts as a mentor, an art education organization dedicated to empower middle school students. She was involved with various groups, past and present, such as Asian Pacific American Student Organization, Gay Christian Network, St. Monica Catholic Community Gay and Lesbian Outreach, Food Not Bombs and Stop the Traffik. Xeres is currently a part of network of social justice thinkers and practitioners called Asian American Pacific Islanders Christians for Social Justice and Jesus for Revolutionaries.
She also wrote an Oral Oratory speech “Living Miracle”, which won the 2005 Spirit of Hope Award. She takes delight in reading, cooking, and watching live music performances.

Claudette Colvin, Respectability Politics and Human Dignity

Manushka Gracia-Desgage is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh graduate with a degree in English Writing. She has a passion for writing, law, God, and social justice. She spends her time tutoring 1st and 2nd graders.

March 2, 1955 was a monumental day in Montgomery, Alabama. When they hear this, most people will assume that I’m referring either to the stand that Rosa Parks took or the introduction of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But both will be wrong. March 2, 1955 was the day a 15-year-old Black girl stood up for justice. Before there was Rosa Parks, before there was a Montgomery Bus Boycott, there was Claudette Colvin.

        Claudette Colvin’s place in history is generally denied or passively mentioned. From elementary school on to the rest of our lives, it is cemented in our historical schema that Rosa Parks’ arrest was the spark that ignited the bus boycott which served as the springboard for the Civil Rights Movement. However, nine months before Rosa Parks took her stand, Claudette Colvin found herself in the same situation and did the same thing. And that’s about where the comparisons end. When Colvin was arrested, she was grabbed by the wrists and jerked up from her seat. Her books went flying everywhere. She was dragged and kicked. Parks, on the other hand, was relatively peacefully escorted off the bus with two officers carrying her belongings for her. Her hands were not cuffed. When she got to city hall, her fingerprints were taken and she was given permission to phone her family.

        Rosa Parks was the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP; Claudette Colvin was a teenager who came from a family that wasn’t part of the prominent sect of Black Montgomery. Parks was deemed as a composed, acquiescent, and levelheaded person; Colvin was seen as feisty, emotional, and demonstrative. Parks was light-skinned; Colvin was not. In short, Claudette Colvin did not embody the politics of respectability that the religious leadership of the Civil Right Movement wanted to project.

        Once Colvin was charged and convicted of “assaulting” an officer, the support she reaped from leading Black officials dwindled. People had hoped to use Colvin’s case as the means to challenge the system of segregated bus seating. However, she was regarded as an uncontrollable teen and too young to be the face of such a powerful and transcendental movement. She was from King Hill, the place seen as the bottom-feeder of Montgomery, Alabama. The leader of the Montgomery NAACP, E.D. Nixon, put it this way: “I had to be sure that I had somebody I could win with.” Claudette Colvin wasn’t seen as that ‘somebody’.

The bus boycott ensued not too long after Rosa Parks made her stand. In the meantime, NAACP lawyers were mounting a case to attack the constitutionality of segregated bus seating. When the case was formulated and prepped to go to court, Claudette Colvin was one of the four witnesses chosen to testify in the case that came to be known as Browder v Gayle, a case that changed the course of history but is widely forgotten. The testimonies of Colvin and the three other women (not including Rosa Parks) had helped the federal court abolish segregated bus seating in Montgomery, AL.

        After the case was over, Colvin was once again ignored and undermined. There were no congratulatory phone calls, no visits, no letters, no anything. She was pregnant. Yes, she was pregnant. And so she wasn’t exactly someone to be heralded in their eyes. It didn’t help that she didn’t reveal who the father was, a man that had taken advantage of her sexual naïveté, and the fact that her child was light-skinned, prompting most to assume that the father was white (even though he wasn’t).  Colorism (read: internalized White Supremacy) was part of the reason why the Southern Christian Leadership Conference ostracized Claudette Colvin.

        There’s a famous picture of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a key figure of the Civil Rights Movement, and Inez Baskin of the Montgomery Adviser. It is a portrait of the three on a bus on the first day of integrated bus seating. Claudette Colvin is nowhere to be found in that photograph. It’s a glaring absence every time I look at that portrait. A 15-year-old girl from the shunned town of King Hill who was raised by a great-aunt and great-uncle who were maids made a stance that adults of higher status didn’t have the gall to make. She sparked a fire that grown men and women didn’t dare risk to spark before her. Yet, the most mind-numbing part of her story is not the back seat the laws expected her to take, but the one the people that shared her skin color (and, of course, those who don’t) forced her story to take. They didn’t want her to be the face of the boycott movement because she was viewed as a feisty teen who didn’t respect authority. The same authority they were tirelessly fighting against. The irony. Nine months later, Rosa Parks was catapulted to iconic status for doing the same thing. The difference was that Parks was, number one, not a teenage. Number two, Park’s hair was silky and shiny as well as her skin was much lighter. Lastly, Park’s family wasn’t lower-lower class like Colvin. Did I mention Parks wasn’t a teenaged mother either?

        The aspect of self-hate that permeates throughout her story is interesting to note. Black leaders who dedicated their lives to fighting for racial equality were still victims of some level of self-hate. Rosa Parks, to them, was a more politically respectable figure to make the poster-person of the Montgomery Bus Boycott because of what she presented: lighter skin, smoother hair, more privileged background, and an appeased spirit, akin to W.E.B. DuBois’ Talented Tenth. White people wouldn’t feel challenged by someone so docile and who resembled them more than Claudette Colvin. It showed that, despite the fact that the black community had garnered enough audacity to contest the racism laced in segregated bus seating, they were still colonized intellectually. Their mindset was still, “We need THEM to accept US,” a mindset that still plagues our people today, when our mindset should be, “We ARE just as good and just as worthy. We don’t need acceptance.” Using Claudette Colvin as the face of the bus boycott movement would have shown that our people were aware that we are so valiant that even a 15-year-old girl with poor parents, coarse hair, and dark skin could change the course of history. But instead, the all-too-familiar rhetoric prevailed.

In spite of it all, the truth doesn’t change because of how one feels about it.  Courage doesn’t have a preconceived mold. When you stand up for what is right in the face of hostile forces, you could be two years old or 222 years old. History can be made by ordinary people who come from meager circumstances. Claudette Colvin changed history regardless of who people decide to put on the historical poster. Colvin’s courage was the bank from which Rosa Parks withdrew her courage. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to fame from what Colvin had the courage to do.

        Historians have often dismissed Colvin’s story, citing her as a passing notion, a mere detail that helps provide color to a bigger story. But historians don’t make history, history makes history. History is still history even if no one talks about it. Biblical history shows a God who takes persons like Gideon, the youngest child from the least respectable family, and transforms a deliverer, yes the poster child of divine liberation. God is not a respecter of persons because God has created us with infinite worth, the imago Dei. The liberation movements of human beings should be committed to human dignity, which is a matter of the heart, and not the superficiality of respectability politics. While Rose Parks will always be seen as the face of the Montgomery Boycott, nevertheless, Claudette Colvin was THE catalyst. She is not forgotten. Just like Rosa Parks is not forgotten. As Colvin herself said, “I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.” And that’s all that matters. 

An Open Letter To White Allies

Rebecca Lujan Loveless is a multi-ethnic girl from Maui, Hawaii. She lives with her husband Josh and kids Gavin, India & Kingston in Orlando, Florida. She loves writing, cooking, reading & traveling the world.

Dear White People,

Try, please, please try to read this post without defense. Take a deep breath and know that I am not personally attacking YOU. I don’t know you. I don’t believe you are a bad person. Talking about racism is NOT about you as an individual. In fact, I actually believe that we are all made in the image of God and that our truest selves are good, curious, compassionate people. So if you can read this while laying your armor down, I really believe that the grace in you will respond to these words like a shot of epinephrine. Take a deep breath now…

In recent weeks there has been a lot of information being passed around about systemic racism, classism and the privileges that creates those systems. It seems for the past two years, social media posts and hashtag trends have tended to address race and racism. My newsfeed and timeline have been flooded with a lot of white people gently tiptoeing into a conversation that actually goes on ALL THE TIME, just not in most White-dominated social circles. One Facebook friend even said, “the last time this was brought up was when Trayvon Martin was killed.” In this friend’s dominant culture perspective, he hasn’t had to listen to the outrage in Chicago/Texas over the murder of Sandra Bland,in Ferguson over the murder of Mike Brown, or the criminalization of Marissa Alexander or the breach of justice of Eric Garner or the horrors Denise Brown and her 4-year old grandson experienced or the throngs of black and brown bodies enslaved in our mass incarceration system.

It seems that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has sparked cautious conversation amongst white people around the idea of being an “ally”. This term, while not new in the realm of racial equity, seems to have become a buzzword lately as white people try to figure out what to do with concepts that conveniently have been hidden from their viewpoint. The idea was birthed out of a well-intended place that dominate culture should consider issues of race and side with people of color. In and of itself, being an ally can potentially be beneficial for both parties involved by strengthening their fight against their common enemy. However, as a white person, YOU represent the enemy. YOU represent the system that keeps minorities out of reach from opportunities so that you can succeed.

Now, I know you might be thinking right about now. You may be saying to yourself, “All lives matter” and “Not All White People.” You may be thinking that you don’t fit into this category because you’re not a White Supremacist like the KKK and you believe in equality and all that. I get it. I do. But what if I told you that your self-preservative thinking might be part of the problem? So if you are setting up your arsenal right now for why you aren’t racist and how you’re an “ally” because you have black friends or you have a half-Asian cousin, this next part is for you (FYI: statistics show that this is a lie a vast majority of the time anyways).

Being an “ally” is really only another, more dressed-up version of White Savior mentality that inadvertently says that PoC can’t experience equity without white allies sticking up for them. Being an “ally” is rooted in the reality and faulty belief system that white people have always been and therefore, always will be at the center of what is good and right and moral and just. Being an “ally” often means that white people get to say what is or isn’t racist, sexist, classist etc. Being an “ally” puts YOU, your actions and convictions at the center of making things right. It’s just another path on the same journey that keeps minorities on the margins, voiceless until we give them permission to speak.

In my own personal life, over the past several years, I have been coming to terms with my own deeply-seated racism and my ignorant complicity with all kinds of systems of oppression. This is a terrifying and heart-breaking realization to go through. Believe me, I had the instinct to run from this realization. To dismiss it as “I didn’t know so it’s not really racism”. My own self-preservative predisposition was to listen to well-meaning advice of my loved ones to “not be so hard on myself”. But if I didn’t give myself the chance to sit in the discomfort of what I was taught and subconsciously believed and lived out, I would never have had to opportunity to begin building a new belief system from scratch. A belief system where it was necessary to where PoC can freely do the educating. As a result, I have sought out education by and relationships with PoC who have graciously and many times sternly, with righteous anger, helped me see how very ineffective ally-ship actually is.

I have become increasingly interested in being a co-conspirator in the fight against oppression [in this case, against PoC]. The difference for me is that I can stand back and support my minority culture friends who are leading the battle and rely on them to know how to do it in a way that makes sense to them. It de-centers ME and puts PoC at the rightful helm of the cause of justice and equity.

Some would say that even the term “fighting” for justice is counter-active to peace. I disagree. MLK says, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice.” You cannot have actual peace, real-long-lasting-soul-pervading-unexplainable peace until you get at the root of what is disturbing that peace. Conflict isn’t the absence of peace but it is often the path we tread towards it.

White Christians, can we let our minority culture brothers and sisters lead us? Are we humble enough to admit how we’ve participated in their oppression? Are we courageous enough to plumb the darkest parts of our hearts and see how we’ve participated in hate? Can we take a listening posture, and hearing about how negative stereotypes effect the lives of People of Color while confronting our own biases, seen and unseen? Can we feel the sorrow of that, without running away, until it compels us to true repentance? Can we openly, honestly admit our wrongs so that we can begin the long path towards justice and reconciliation?

If you like the idea of being an “ally” then go talk to ten people of color and ask them how they feel about you being their “ally”. Listen. Really listen. Dig deep into the recesses of your self-control and let people of color tell you what that means to them. I believe having actual conversations with actual people who actually experience oppression would be very eye-opening for dominate culture to experience.

I truly believe in all of humanity being made in the Image of God. Let that infinite worth by the power of the Holy Spirit rise up in you and let it lead you to reveal the things hidden in your heart that maintain our White Supremacist culture and may She guide you to persevere in the dismantling of racial oppression. I believe in you.

With heart-breaking and bold love,
Rebecca

essay originally posted here.