Larycia Hawkins, my New Hero

by franz 0 Comments

Dr. HawkinsI’m returning to this blogesque space for several reasons. First, the person of Dr. Larycia Hawkins and her courageous actions over the last eight weeks. Second, the coincidental fact that this month is Black History Month. Third, a chance to bridge race (which somehow has become the substance of this space) and religion (which was its intended subject).

To get the full story of Dr. Hawkins’ last two months, you are best served by going to her very informative site: Here’s a recap for you, though. Dr. Hawkins, as part of her Advent practices, wore a hijab to church, posted a photo of herself in hijab to her Facebook page (there’s the photo for you), and added this comment,

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book, and as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Within days, she received a critical letter from Wheaton’s Provost demanding a theological explanation. She produced this, but the Provost found it insufficient and demanded an expanded theological statement within two days. Amazingly, she produced a remarkably nuanced, Christ-centered, inclusive, and entirely convincing theological defense of her actions and words within those 48 hours. (If you care about theology, go read the statement; it’s great.) Nevertheless, the Provost demanded still further explanations. We should already be loving her as a Christian and a theologian. Now she did something which makes me love her as a fellow teacher: she refused.

Correctly seeing that the Provost was demanding further statements in the hope that, despite her articulateness, she would eventually misstep (as we all do, sooner or later), and also correctly seeing that these demands were in any case unwarranted and unfair, she declined to continue the false dialogue. She simply reaffirmed her faith, her actions, her conviction of doing right, and her commitment to Wheaton College. Good call because basically the whole world—aside from whomever was pressuring the Provost and President to single her out for discriminatory academic punishment—was on her side.

The didn’t stop the prosecution though, Wheaton began her termination proceedings. Luckily, this is academia and the wheels of its (in)justice turn slowly. During these last six weeks, some kind of rapprochement must have been reached and some kind of sense must have returned to the Wheaton administration, because this weekend in a joint statement Dr. Hawkins and Wheaton announced they had “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation.” Sadly, that place does not include her remaining at Wheaton. I say “sadly,” because throughout this exceptionally ugly process, she never to my knowledge made a single statement professing anger or even resentment at Wheaton’s conduct. In fact, she went out of her way to reiterate her continued respect for the institution. (She is plainly much nicer than I am!) I think she really wanted to stay and I’m sorry she couldn’t.

A joint press announcement is forthcoming, but the parties agree that no questions will be entertained. They’ve clearly done the hard work of salvaging some dignity for Wheaton, and I can well imagine that that represents the limits of what Dr. Hawkins can stomach with respect to her ex-employer.

So, why is this worth writing and thinking about? I see at least three reasons:

  1. Because a tenured professor was stripped of her tenure and set up to be fired simply because she wrote something—on her own Facebook page, for goodness’ sake—that offended somebody. As Dr. Hawkins herself said of teachers, “If they’re not safe on their Facebook page, they’re not safe in the classroom. And that’s the end of liberal arts….That’s the end of the academy.”That should scare you.
  2. Because Dr. Hawkins’ words evidently mark the extreme limit of what is acceptable to say about the Abrahamic religions ( Judaism, Christianity, and Islam): that “we worship the same God.” Yes, you can say this, but apparently you have to be willing to lose your job because of it. Because that is what happened.That should scare you.
  3. Because the facts I’ve related just don’t feel like the full story, do they? Let me try another version in just one sentence: the first African-American female professor at Wheaton College steps out of line, rich donors who never liked her in the first place lean on the Provost, and he complies when they demand he fire her.That should scare you.

Dr. Hawkins became a target trifecta: a female person of color speaking out for the humanity of Muslims. Without an exceptional combination of intelligence, compassion, principle, and courage, she was toast. Luckily for anyone who cares about religious respect or academic freedom in America, she has that combination. Wheaton was not up to her level. Now she’ll move elsewhere. If I ran a college I’d be calling her up, right now. Plenty of time before September for her to tweak some courses for the new appointment—with tenure, of course—that I’d be proud to offer her.

Now let’s see if I can get myself in trouble.

I’m a Buddhist and Buddhist scholar, but I first began studying the Abrahamic religions in graduate school thirty years ago. While perspectives on God vary (read Dr. Hawkins’ document where she lays this out), there is simply no way we can see the Abrahamic religions, which all trace their origins to the encounter between Abraham and God, as worshipping different Gods. Did Abraham encounter many Gods? No, he encountered one. Well then, face the music: there is one God, the same God, for these three traditions. Squirm all you want but you have to deal with it. As the Jews pray, “Sh’ma, Yisrael! Adonai Eluheinu, Adonai Echad.” “Hear, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

Okay CSULA, you can try to fire me now! (Nah, I’m not cool enough, but I’d sure be in good company.)

Update 2/9/16: Just learned today about the firings going on at Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland. Ugly, very ugly. Tough time for teachers.

Workers, Slaves, Enslaved Persons

by franz 1 Comment

I’m not a professional in matters of race in America. You might call me a inspired amateur; I do think about race, but not every day. (You know that means I’m white, as is my whole family.) Still, as I say, I do think about race and I can think about such things carefully (my graduate methodological training was in psychology, anthropology, and sociology). So, when something is forced to my attention, something so egregious that I can’t believe it’s real, I’m spurred to write about it.Coby's Text

Dr. Donald E. Grant, Jr., a man I’m honored to call a colleague and friend, today sent me his petition to demand McGraw-Hill withdraw their brand new history book for Texas. McGraw-Hill’s failure? In a section titled “Patterns of Immigration,” the book provided a nice, colorful graphic asserting that “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” See for yourself; on the right is the text a bright teenager sent his mother when he saw these bewildering words in his textbook. (Coby, you rock! Hmm, you’re a teen, that probably sounded totally lame to you, sorry. I just meant that I’m happy you can see failure and shame, even when McGraw-Hill can’t. Read the end of this news story for more cool Cobyness; you’ll feel a lot better about the future.)

Now consider whether McGraw-Hill is accurate in labeling those millions of Africans (including, of course, women and children) “workers”? The answer is no. When they lived in their home cultures in Africa, some were agriculturalists, farming their land. Some were hunter-gatherers, sharing their resources. Some were moms. Some were kids. Extremely few were “workers.” You might reply, “Who cares what they were called in Africa? They were SLAVES in America; that’s what matters!” I agree the second whitewashing is much worse, but the first one is already indefensible.

To call the millions of people we kidnap “workers” and then assert we brought them “to work on agricultural plantations” smells like a rank assertion that they were job-seekers in backward Africa for whom we found good jobs in the booming economy of America. (I can hear Randy Newman’s chilling “Sail Away” in the back of my mind. It’s the perfect theme song for Dr. Grant’s petition and this post) And, frankly, it is true that millions of Americans did indeed make fine money in the economy of enslaved labor; it just wasn’t the enslaved laborers themselves. This kind of burying of the oppression of people of color in this country under a rhetoric of employment reminds me of the narrative of the treatment of Native Americans in the California Missions. We love our economy here, that’s for sure. People of color, not so much, but profits, you betcha!

Of course, as any humane person knows, the wholesale destruction and kidnapping of entire villages—entire nations—was not, at its heart, a job creation project. It was the enslavement of millions of persons and the destruction of the whole varied civilizational complex of West Africa. And when those kidnapped persons arrived on our shores they were not “workers,” god help them!, they were “enslaved persons.” No person who’s been enslaved can be considered a worker. He or she is more properly (or I should say “improperly”) seen as a machine. Many of those human machines broke on the middle passage. Some were quickly destroyed in the slave markets. Some were repaired and provided long years of service to their owners. But please, please, do not call these desperate people “workers.” They were enslaved persons. End of story. The fact that we’re arguing about this in the 21st century makes me sick.

A word about the title of this post: you may have noticed I’m using the phrase “enslaved persons” for persons I grew up calling “slaves.” I realized (embarrassingly late, I confess) that the word “slave” carries—partially unconsciously—the sense that such a person is naturally a slave, that that quality is somehow inherent in their character. As if being a slave was like being blue-eyed or brunette.

That is not only crap, it’s a disgusting evasion of what’s really going on, who is really creating slavery.

We need to remind ourselves that every person owned by another, especially in the pitifully recent example of the United States, was put into slavery and kept in slavery by another person who owned her or him and who chose to keep on owning her or him. Slavery is not built on a division of persons into free and slave. It is built on a division of persons into those who intentionally and continually enslave others and those who are intentionally and continually enslaved. Slavery was not (and, hideously still is not) an immutable condition; it was and is an ongoing choice by those so twisted as to value it. Calling those who are enslaved “enslaved persons” should also remind us to call those responsible not “slave owners,” but “enslavers.”

Words have power. Let’s let them teach us the truth. Perhaps even McGraw-Hill can still grab a little bit.

The Power of Racism 3.0

by franz 2 Comments

Some of us have been privileged, in this country and the colonies before it, to have had a crack team of social engineers constantly updating our central national operating system of Racism for over 500 years. Our first version, Racism 1.0, was a spectacular success, operating for over 350 years and wiping out practically all the civilizations of both North America and West Africa. For the next 150 years or so we had the greatly improved Racism 2.0. And just in the last few decades we’ve securely installed Racism 3.0. What a journey of progress it’s been! [But see below for another numeration.]

The principle features of Racism 1.0 were slaughtering or enslaving others. Pretty basic stuff, that was, but impressive in its brutality. After all, we did run that system for 350 years. And, talk about market share! Man, did we rock the world!

We upgraded to Racism 2.0 150 years ago. A big upgrade in that others—and, let’s be honest, we are talking about kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their descendants, plus some very useful Chinese—oh and the Irish (though we’ve since allowed them admin privileges)—now were considered human beings whom it was no longer strictly proper to murder, rape, or otherwise oppress. This was a real step up for the GUI, as it made the user look so much better even though the system was still extremely powerful. The user needed only a few keystrokes now to make the lives of people of color a misery through both legal and illegal means.

Now we have Racism 3.0. A really shiny new upgrade—at least on its multi-colored (or do I mean colorblind?) surface. Now we have laws upholding the equal rights of peole of color. Nice. Hey, we even have an African American President, at least for a while longer, bless him! But this is the tricky bit: Racism 3.0 has got sneaky power. It’s not in your face at all, yet it’s still formidable. Its power lies in the invisibility of its inner corruption. (I’m talking of course of its invisibility to whites. It’s plenty visible to everyone else!) You thought you looked good operating Racism 2.0? Now you can think yourself totally beyond Racism. With Racism 3.0, you won’t even know you’re running it!

Racism 3.0 is not laws allowing one person to own another (that’s Racism 1.0), or even forbidding them to marry each other (that’s Racism 2.0). Racism 3.0 is real estate agents not even noticing they they keep these people from buying houses in the same neighborhoods. It’s juries who acquit the white killers of black men—or grand juries who never even charge them. All totally legal, fair, and unbiased. That’s power of Racism as an operating system.

I admit we do notice those things at times. It’s a bug in the system and I’m sure developers are hard at work finding new ways to send this sort of process back into the background. But if the raw processing power of the code sometimes breaks through the code ceiling into the user interface, there is more, much more, working of the code that users never see. These operations can be big: the unexamined reasons for the backlash against “Black Lives Matter.” They can be momentary: crossing the street to avoid a young black man. They can be micro: assuming the student of color is on financial aid or asking a Korean American where to find good ramen. Heck, I came up with these examples almost as fast as I could type them. Buddha knows there are 10,000 more. And these are just examples of Racism 3.0’s power for administrators. I can’t fully imagine the power of Racism in the lives of people of color.

That, my friends, is Racism 3.0. Have you really noticed the power of that operating system? It’s mighty daunting to look into the code, to really break it down. Have you broken the code in yourself? I’m trying to break it in me. Laws are not going to get us to switch out of operating system Racism 3.0. Minds are. Let’s recode something altogether new.

Note: after writing this little piece, I thought to do a search for “Racism 3.0.” I found one elaboration of it from a blog by Jonathan Carroll all the way back in 2009! Thank you, Dr. Carroll. I also found a really serious article by Professor Palma Joy Strand of Creighton Law School titled “Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-constitution.” Professor Strand goes way way beyond what I’ve attempted to sketch here, not just in seeing an additional update to the system. If you had a little laugh reading this blog post, please read Dr. Carroll’s and Dr. Strand’s work. That’s the real deal.