If Racism Don’t Live Here, It Sure Do Visit A Lot

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I know only what Ms. Brown has reported. I am not speaking to the facts. I am responding to someone in my larger community putting out a call. Until there is any provable reason to think otherwise, I take this as something to which I must draw attention. I wasn’t there, and this blog is more about the issues the story raises rather than litigating the narrative.  

The door of the car that Dietrina Brown worked so hard to acquire, now a daily reminder of a recent trip to the Kroger on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road that so many of us frequent. You can read the whole story here. In full disclosure, I do not know Ms. Brown. Her story was brought to my attention by a member of the Beloved Community Project (BCPYS), of which I am Founding Director of Interfaith Spirituality and Education. She’s my neighbor, though. Our towns are right next door. She’s a child of God. She is someone who has to drive by the hundreds of Trump signs in every corner of our county.  She has to think about her race each and every moment of the day because we have a society that won’t let her forget it, but shuns her when she talks about it. It is stuff like this that requires we say Black Lives Matter. This, and the bodies left in the streets while communites reel in disgust, grief, anger, and desperation. 

The denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has called for its majority white membership and clergy to stop with the thoughts and prayers. To stop with damaging theology that asks the oppressed to suffer for a greater glory and yet does nothing to afflict the comfortable. This is not about demonizing people. I am tired of hearing that I am ashamed to be “white” or that I am advocating self-hatred. I am not trying to guilt or shame anyone; I used to think that dealing with my own racism and implicit biases meants admitting I’m a bad person. Luckly, growing up in YS, being surrounded by diversity and living in a place in which social justice commitment is in the water, I learned that no one wants guilt. It does nothing but destroy. Awareness and compassion, though, are vital; when they replace guilt and shame, persons get in touch with their own call to this movemet. To this transformation of consciousness. They own their own part in being within a larger community that rises up in love and solidarity around issues such as stopping racial terror. 

I believe that we all are created imago dei. If I want to see God, I cannot hold out for a burning bush or theophonic speech. I have to look into the eyes of my neighbor. I have to be so counter-culture that I actually love myself. Not engage in Trumpian narcissism. But love myself. Understanding that God has planted within me, within all of us,, something divine. Our bodies are made with star dust and our minds can unravel mysteries and bring things into creation. My denomination has called for me to use every ounce of privilege I have in standing up and shoutin’: ENOUGH.
In our neighborhood, this has happened. The n-word scratched onto a car. The open disdain that is being boldly paraded around our streets is new only in its audacity; for those of us who have lived here for decades, we have always known. Every single one of my friends of color from here or who have visited here has had a racist incident in Fairborn. I am not claiming that Yellow Springs doesn’t have racist incidents; we do. Generally of very different flavors, but racism just the same. And I certainly am not saying that all people who live in Fairborn are racist. So let’s not get it twisted and start arguing against things that are not there. I know, not all white people. Not all Fairbornites. 

But the car-scratching type of racism visits here. A lot. I know because I see it every weekend when people who obviously despise everything we as a village stand for, come in and gawk at us and talk loudly and point. Who glare at me, pastor of a congregation that has been around since 1855, when I go bounding down the steps of the church because…well, I look the way I do. They take pictures of “hippies,” and we locals always laugh because those aren’t hippies and they don’t live here. YS cosplay is real, except the only people in on it are the locals. We don’t dress up. We live up. These types of tourists walk by each shop and say, “that’s diff’rnt.”They glare at two men holding hands, or feel it is incumbent upon themselves to bring Jesus to Yellow Springs, seeming to forget that we have a house of worship for every 300 or so citizens in the village. We’ve got spiritual life covered, and Jesus is well-represented. Come find out on Sundays, 10:30 at First P resby. Or visit any of the other wonderful  spiritual communities to which we are home; the pointing tourists don’t care to actually learn about this, though. They shout “All Lives Matter” at us because of our BLM signs and T-shirts. They generally try to do a beeline to D.C., one of our favorite sons, and then townies like me gotta jump in and let them know that this is not a photo op. This is home. He’s not Rick James, bitch. We hear the snide remarks about Obama, or how drugs are legal here, or how if you order the right way Ha-Ha’s will give you psychedelic mushrooms on your pie. I know the owner. He is way too cheap to ever do something like that 😉 Each weekend we are visited by people who make it known how the abhor us. Again, not all tourists. Not saying that. Let’s not go tilting at windmills.

Our local commerce is not important enough for us to tolerate some of the behavior that is going on; the racists don’t really care anymore because too often there are not consequences. I know that I am going to be accused of being racist or prejudiced against white people, but I am not casting aspersions. There are well-meaning whites who feel so attacked and backed into a corner, and their internalizing of racist fallacies is so deep they feel like they are losing something that belongs to them; they feel heard and understood by someone like Trump. They genuinely don’t see their own racism, and their own circumstances are challenging enough that learning you play a role in other people’s oppression is not exactly great leisure time activity. I get it. It is because white supremacy thinkimg is so ingrained in our culture and sense of self, extricating oneself from it is hard work, yo. 

I thank Ms. Brown for sharing her story. The attention should be on her, helping her to feel more safe, more heard, more empowered, more confident that this will not go unchecked. I am asking for everyone who reads my blog and lives in this area, share Ms. Brown’s original post. I don’t want this to seem like an effort to up my own traffic. The spotlight needs to be on the incident. If you do repost this blog though, thank you and let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the prize.

For those who cannot help Ms. Brown directly, there is something you can do. I can’t tell you exactly what because I don’t know your life and situation. But there are organizations thatcan help, like BLM or SURJ. If you are interested in being part of something new, the BCPYS is in the process of forming. There’s tons of information on our FB page and we are in the process of launching a website; we are also proudly affiliated with the national boycott to end police brutality that starts December 5.

Speaking up is hard. Not looking away is hard. But white people, we have got to step up in the real world. That is scary which is why we all need to be talking to each other on the regular. We have to talk about race. We have to listen to our friends of color bear witness. God is calling for us to be present and acknowledge the very real pain and fear that traditionally marginalized and oppressed people bear. These experiences are literally written onto the body. If you have never held a 300 lb black man with a PhD as he sobs into your embrace because the latest racial slight from the academy is final proof that he would never actually be accepted, you might not understand why I cannot be silent. I cannot look away. God has blessed me with so many friends. And it is like the rainbow coalition up in my social world. If you can’t do it yet, if you can’t speak out or take a lead that’s okay. But I ask that you start doing a little work each day.  We cannot shrug this off. Black people are literally begging us to not be indifferent to their murders and marginalizing, and we’re like, “Well, I’m not racist so I don’t know what else I can do.”

This happened in our neighborhood because we have a culture in which it is allowed to happen. I’m not saying the police; I’m not saying Kroger. I’m saying us. The people who live here. We are letting is happen unless we release a primal scream that will make the devil himself shift uncomfortably in his throne.

To Ms. Brown. I hear you. I see you. I thank you.

All things in love, friends, and in love all things.

 

A Tale of Two Springs: Life in a Tourist Trap

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In the short time it took me to drive downtown this morning, drop Miriam off for work, get my gallon of diet chemicals and drive home, I saw a bicyclist have to swerve out of his lane because of the SUV that was turning in front of both of us, only to speed away while I made a gesture that was not the sign of the cross.

Shit. I did that right in front of the church, too. Bad pastor. Bad, bad pastor.

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An entire family was wandering from Short street onto Walnut, which means nothing if you’re not from here, but locals are seeing it. They stopped traffic on both sides–this was a family of about 5, mind you–and all but one of them made it to the sidewalk without looking to see that there were cars, I dunno, using the fucking road as it is designed to be used! The one who did notice did not respond the way I would have had my entire family’s collected ass been hanging out on public display looking like a jack-o-lantern in December. Like Christmas lights in March. He gave a pathetic little wave, not even bothering to do the awkward half-run, half-walk that I felt was owed because of the fucking severity of the offense. At least give me the worst impression of a speed walker you can muster up while still pulling up your metaphorical pants because, you know, the ass thing.

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I mean, what the fuck is wrong with some of the people who come into this village and act like the laws of basic human decency don’t apply? I know, I know, it happens everywhere. But unless you live in a tourist trap like this, you might not understand the particular type of entitled stupidity that we locals endure. It used to be just a few times a year; like, we’d meet our jackass quotient in June and October; but now, because Street Fair has become something unto itself, there’s free-range jackass as far as the eye can see. Even the living ancestors can’t remember a time when jackasses were so plentiful. And not just on Street Fair.

Hmmm. Do I want to go there?

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I tend to stay out of the Street Fair Wars.

Oh, do you not know of the Street Fair Wars? Child, we have lost a lot of good people in the SFW. Decent people who have been shoved to one pole or another, either adamant that it return to the original sidewalk festival (some of us even know that there was a film made with just such a conversation 20 years ago), or believe that Street Fairs are an engine of the local economy and the tent poles upon which our ever-growing list of festivals and events hang. Many argue that the benefits to local business owners, of which my wife’s family is one, are negligible, and that most of the money is made by interlopers and professionals who travel from event to event. Others argue that the benefits come through sustained relationships with local businesses that begin with exposure at Street Fair.

But like I said, I try to stay out of it.

As pastor of First Presbyterian, and therefore part of the attenuating Strawberry and Apple Festivals, I remain neutral. But I have friends on all sides. Most people are reasonable, but it is pretty much a guaranteed fight if you get the wrong people in the room together, throw some liquor in them, and then toss out something like, “I feel like the village was more authentic when the event was for locals,” and watch a bloodbath ensue.

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I appreciate that there is life in the village. I really do. There is almost always something cool going on; we have vibrant art and music and theater scenes. There are lectures and dozens of organizations that span the whole of intellectual and spiritual life. But there are times when I don’t go downtown; there are weekends that I only venture to the church on Sunday. I have friends who leave the village completely on SF days each year because they are so tired of people parking on their lawns and then getting into fights over it. People who just don’t want to receive the energy. Because, for some reason, a percentage of that energy is hostile. There are people who come here to stare at the freaks.

The richness of Trump supporters coming to where I live to look at “freaks”surpasses even the phony net worth that the Orange Baboon claims to possess.

So these are clear Tea Party conservatives who are not “live and let live” Christians, but people who say wholly inappropriate and aggressive things to bait people or to slam our collective values. I have a dear friend who has an incisive, cutting wit and who, with his badass wife, runs one of the coolest shops in town. He posts these stories about customer questions and reactions that are so jaw-droppingly ignorant, this is me on video cam while reading one of his updates:

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Here’s the deal. I may disagree with you on 100 out of 100 things, but I’m still going to love you. I’m still going to extend respect. Because I follow Jesus and I take the shit seriously. But I don’t understand the point of coming into a community with the expressed purpose of denigrating local shopkeeps, the products they carry, the way they price their items, the food options that are available, the sort of political beliefs that are expressed through signs, flags, T-shirts, and conversations, and all the other disrespectful, jackwagon shit that goes on more and more in this place I love.

In the scheme of things, it is a small price to pay for living in this place. This is totally a first world problem, and I am blessed to be where I’m at.

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I was uncertain about writing today. I have to confess something through, Faithful Reader. Things are unsettled right now in The Shire. There is a very serious situation involving rape, race, harassment, sexual assault, predatory behavior, social justice circles, accusations of racism, of misogyny; there’s pain and fear and uncertainty. And that’s what I want to write about, but I can’t. Not now. It is not mine to write. Not yet, if ever. But I can’t pretend that it is not happening. I write so I can joke about; so I can use words to create humor so my mind won’t drift to the people I love who are scared. Who are angry. Who feel unsafe and unheard.

So this blog is the tale of two Springs. Both real. At times unreal. But the place where I call home.

Oh, and one last thing. For the love of God, will you leave Dave Chappelle the hell alone? Damn, people. Act like you got some sense.