Archive of ‘Race and Culture’ category

Selma and the Cross

Photo by Spider Martin

Last night I had the privilege of seeing the movie Selma for the second time, generic and today is the 50 year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, discount rx when over 600 marchers were brutally attacked on the Edmund Petus Bridge in their attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery.

It’s incredible to think that 50 years ago, generic Black women and men were fighting to gain the right to vote and today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, our African-American president addresses the nation from the Edmund Petus Bridge.

It is also striking to watch the movie to realize how true it is that Selma is now, and to sit with the realization that Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, delivered from Alabama’s capital 50 years ago, is just as poignant and relevant today.

A few weeks before the march from Selma, Alabama, black activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a state trooper. And today, young black men and women continue to be shot and killed without consequences for those who kill them. While watching Selma, the absolute disregard for the value of black lives by the police force, government officials, and white U.S. citizens becomes apparent. And yet today we still have to continuously proclaim Black Lives Matter because it is still clear that they don’t to many policemen, government officials, and white U.S. citizens.

In the movie, Dr. King speaks with Cager Lee, Jimmie’s grandfather, after the death of his grandson. Dr. King says to him, “There are no words to soothe you. But I know one thing for certain: God was the first to cry.” Mr. Lee responds, “I believe that,” and as followers of Jesus, we need to believe that, too.

The Cross is the most horrible, powerful, and beautiful moment of history and cannot be contained within a single meaning. The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion is deeper and more beautiful and mysterious than we can ever know, but I am confident that a part of its significance is to show that the Lord Jesus suffered and died in solidarity with the countless women and men who have, throughout history, been strung up on trees, been beaten and mocked, been scorned and objectified, been made to feel as though they are forsaken by God.

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” –which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks split…When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” -Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51, 54

The darkness, the tearing of the temple, the earthquake…I believe that is how God cried, how He mourned the loss of His son who had died feeling utterly forsaken by his Father. And I believe He still responds this way when His sons and daughters are murdered and beaten. We have a Savior who joins us in suffering and sides with those who are persecuted. While the Cross gives us the comfort that Jesus is not outside of our suffering but that he suffered in solidarity with those, like Jimmie Lee Jackson, who are abused and killed, the Resurrection gives us the hope that restoration is coming because no lie can live forever.

Dr. King knew that the Cross is the most powerful moment of history where love for enemies and non-violence converged to utterly destroy evil. He knew that hate and fear are agents of destruction and that love has the power to overcome both.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.

Today as we remember Selma and the countless Black and White lives that were lost in the struggle for civil rights and human dignity, let us also remember that our fight is not over. As followers of Christ it is our responsibility to continue with this struggle, to continue loving our enemies, to continue calling out the image of God in everyone we encounter, and to continue to fight for race-equality in our nations.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! Our God is marching on! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2

My family went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 this past weekend. I really liked the first half of the movie–the plot was good and there were both touching and funny scenes. But the movie was ruined for me once they showed the face of the movie’s villain, shop Drago Bludvist:

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything NewWhy is it that the villain in this movie is the only character who isn’t white? Drago has darker skin than anyone else in the movie and sports a hair full of black dreads. He may not be black, this web but he’s definitely isn’t white. Compare him to the other characters of the movie and you see that he seriously sticks out:

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything New

Come to find out, he is also voiced by the only black actor in the cast, Djimon Hounsou, which means that even his voice sticks out among the other Scottish-sounding characters:

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything New

I told my family that this really bothered me after the movie but, besides my sister, no one had noticed (edit: my mom says she did too notice). And the thing is, having an ethnically ambiguous, darker-skinner villain is so commonplace that it doesn’t seem to raise any red flags. We’re used to movies portraying evil things/people as physically dark, and Dragon 2 uses that same technique to show us who is good and who is bad. But just because many animated movies have traditionally used light/dark colors to show good/evil doesn’t mean it’s not racist. What the filmmakers are communicating is that there is no way that the kids watching the movie could know who the bad guy is if he’s not black brown.

And I don’t buy for one second that it’s “just a movie” or “I’m reading too much into it.” Kids are being taught that the darker your skin is, the more evil you are.

It reminds me of the Clark experiment. In this experiment, African American children were asked questions about two dolls–the dolls were identical except one was black and one was white. The kids were asked which doll was prettier, which doll was good, which doll was bad, which doll they wanted to play with, etc. and there was a significant preference for the white doll.

This experiment shows that young kids are very capable of internalizing racist messages. A young child of color who leaves the movie theater after seeing Dragon 2 is probably not explicitly thinking about the implied racist message that was just communicated to him/her, but that message may very well be internalized and be one of the thousands of things that chip away at his/her self esteem.

If you were to ask a child who hasn’t seen either of the Dragon movies which of these two men is the bad guy, who do you think they would guess?

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything New


The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything New

Ok, maybe it’s not quite a fair comparison because Drago’s facial scars make him seem a little more menacing. So here, I’ve edited a photo of him to make the two characters more similar:

The Issue with How to Train Your Dragon 2--He is Making Everything NewSo comparing the first picture and the photo above, who do you think kids would guess is the bad guy? I have the suspicion that they would guess Drago. Why is that?

My dad asked me if I thought that the movie makers were being intentionally racist. I don’t know. But the thing is, whether it was intentional or not, it is racist. So Director Dean Deblois, would you rather me think that you’re completely ignorant and don’t realize that you’re promoting racism or that you intentionally want to promote a racist message to lower the self esteem of the children of color who see your movie?

I love this excerpt from Olivia A. Cole’s blog:

“How can we make sure the audience (kids) know that this guy is bad?” a lazy director/writer might ponder. “Oh, I know! We’ll make him darker-skinned! That way the kiddies will know that he’s a bad guy.” Because….darker-skinned people are…bad? Interesting, too, that Drago Bludvist’s skin is just light enough to make him ethnically ambiguous, which leads me to believe that the “Make him black…but not too black” conversation was had at some point during production. As if an Eastern European name and not-quite-brown skin would be enough to deflect accusations of racism. But the fact remains: Dragon 2 effectively created an Othered character to act as the villain.
How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel are great films about friendship, family, courage, and overcoming disability to be who you are, and DeBlois showed how creative he can be with his writing and directing. So where is the creativity in having a villain who is dark-skinned and foreign, drawing on old stereotypes that are better laid to rest? You can do better, Mr. DeBlois. I know you can.

I think this is an issue we need to take seriously. It’s absolutely devastating to me that children of color not only grow up feeling like they are bad because of the color of their skin but that even our kid-friendly movies are promoting that message.

And if you still think that I’m making too big of a deal out of this and seeing racism where there isn’t any, let me ask you this question: Who would you be portrayed as–the hero or the villain? 

Why Jesus Cares about “I, too, am Harvard” and you should, too

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Disclaimer: I am a white person of privilege. This privilege does not come from socioeconomic status but simply from the color of my skin. The reality is that in America, I have a higher chance of being hired for a job than an equally qualified black woman. Once I have that job, I will be paid substantially less than an equally qualified white man but I will still be paid more than a woman of color in my same job position. Statistically, I also have a smaller chance of being raped than a woman of color or of mixed race. These are the privileges that the color of my skin afford me and the fact that it makes me sad doesn’t change anything about the situation. My goal in this post is start the conversation about the incredible racial injustice that still exists in America. These are the lives of my sisters and brothers. And they matter.


The systematic racism that is prevalent in universities across the United States (and the world) have recently been brought to attention with campaigns such as “I, too, am Harvard.” The fact is that many white people in this country like to pretend that racism does not exist any more and yet for people of color, living in the midst of racism is just reality. As Ta-Nehisi Coates poignantly writes about America in this article, “Racism is just the wind, here. Racism is but the rain.”

The Church is not in any way exempt from or irrelevant in this conversation. How is it that the one place that is most supposed to affirm the beauty and identity of every single human being ends up being a place where people of color often end up feeling left out or misunderstood? Why is it that followers of Christ feel ok ignoring or even arguing against the reality of racism in our country and in our churches? Why is it that many white, wealthy, suburban churches who decide to start urban ministries don’t partner up with the pastors who have labored there for decades? The fact of the matter is that racism has infiltrated into the minds of many Christians and American churches. And yet racism is absolutely and completely opposed to Christ.

Every single human being on this earth is made in the image of God.

Racial segregation and prejudice have no place in our churches. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” –Galatians 3:28

We need to look at the places that we are still not living out that “oneness” in Christ Jesus. And we need to start bring the Holy Spirit into those places, into our conversations, into Sunday mornings and outreach ministries. The issue of how to include, listen to, and affirm the marginalized in society (which not only includes people of color but also the economically poor, gay people, women, drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless people, people of other religions, etc.) is what, I believe, should be the number one goal of the Church. Because, it seems to me, that this was one of Jesus’ main goals in His entire ministry…it’s certainly what He spent most of His time teaching and living out. We need to follow in His footsteps, to teach what He taught, to do what He did, because this is how we bring Shalom, this is how we call God’s Kingdom down.


I, too, am Oxford


Langston Hughes: I, Too, Sing America

Bloggers who have authority on this topic:

Osheta Moore

Christena Cleveland

Rachel Held Evan’s Ask A Racial Reconciler, interview with Austin Channing Brown