"Race in America After Ferguson" Event Part II, Q&A Session


Photo by Zac Davis.  Article by SPS Student Megan Wildhood.

During each professor’s presentation, audience members sent in questions via text message.  Tali Hairston, the Director of the John M. Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development mediated the question and answer portion of the session:

Directed to Dr. Nienhuis: “What do you do against your privilege?”

Dr. Nienhuis: “I had the privilege of learning from teachers who exposed privilege to me, so that’s partly awareness.  But then stepping into [the concept] of going against [something] is slow, small baby steps.  We make conscious choices about where we live, what schools our kids go to and what communities we participate in.”

Directed to Dr. Bantum: “If Michael Brown is guilty of something, does that change your thoughts?” 

Dr. Bantum: “If Michael Brown committed a crime, it was the police officer’s job to make sure he gets to a courthouse alive.  Darren Wilson is either a criminal or terrible at his job.” 

Question for anyone: “If we want our police to be militant, what is the role of the Christian?” 

Dr. Bantum: "There is no ‘between’ the police and the protester – the church should create a body too big to be shot.  The utter tragedy of Ferguson is the silence of the Church but even more than that, the ignorance of the Church.  It’s the whole Church – for certain the White Church but if we’re listening to Ferguson protesters, it’s also the Black Church.  The Church would rather build pews and pay pastors than care for its people and if we don’t have an answer to that, we are being deeply unfaithful.”

Directed to Dr. Segall:  “Is protest a viable solution in our iPad, iPhone society?” 

Dr. Segall: “Protest can be a desperate act at times.  People with power don't have to protest to get what they want.  Protest captures attention and should be read as a cry for democracy but it also highlights stereotypes.  When people protest, they are going up against tanks and people with guns – in the case of Ferguson, Michael Brown has sparked traumatic memories of historical subjugation, brutality and oppression.

Directed to Dr. Bantum: “What are the ways we can engage someone from the traditional suburbs just trying to do the nice things?  How do they do it in their communities?”

Dr. Bantum: “After Ferguson, I was posting and writing like crazy.  I got so many emails from students, most of them white saying, essentially, ‘We’re trying but no one understands.’  There are people who are risking and that’s the point.  Jesus says, ‘Who is my brother and who is my mother?’”

Directed to Dr. Nienhuis: “Do you deny that African Americans and Latinos are in some way complicit with their condition?  How do we expect white people to see when comfortable Christianity makes it so hard to see?”

Dr. Nienhuis: “I don’t like the way the whole question is set up.  We are all in our contexts.  We’re all complicit but that’s context.  I don’t worry that the cop is going to hassle my son or think of his future and go, ‘Hey, I hope he doesn't end up in prison.’  Privilege is invisible to people who have it.” 

Hairston suggests that white parents and black parents probably pray very differently.  Dr. Segall says that the language of white privilege is not enough, you just need to start there.  She’s reminded of an African American woman preaching, who said, “If I went to Ferguson, this would be my sign: ‘Don’t Shoot, That’s My Son.’”

Question for anyone:  “What are your thoughts on the ‘Let’s work with what we have’ vs. ‘capitalism creates this hierarchy of bodies’ dichotomy?”

Dr. Bantum: “The idea that any human system can avoid this stuff is an utter lie.  The question is not about ‘The System’ but ‘to what extent will an institution or individual risk its own prosperity in service of the other?’  What if every curricular aspect was tied to justice rather than evangelical niceties?  We don’t need the whole system to be radical but we as a people can be radical and who knows what God will do?”

A follow-up question was directed to Dr. Bantum: “Can you be radical and nice?”

Dr. Bantum: “No.  We cling to visions of humanities that are wrong.  My rage is helping you because it is saving you from yourself.  If we believe in the profundity of human sin, there is no ‘nice’ way around it.  The cross surely shows us that.”

Question for anyone: “Where does the idea that Michael Brown was guilty of something come from?”

Dr. Presciado: “People still need to be educated.”

Dr. Bantum: “Black bodies are visible.  Every other body that came to America had to establish itself over and against ‘those negroes.’  It’s not just education, it’s formation and conditioning.”

Question for anyone: “5,000 lynchings on our soil, not one law [on the books to make it illegal].  Three beheadings by ISIS and billions of dollars are being funneled into the military to start a war.  How do we speak politically to this?”

Dr. Segall: “I teach about ISIS.  One question to consider: ‘Why are so many people coming over from Tunisia joining ISIS?’  Maybe this is a protest and we need to hear what they’re saying.  What is the narrative that we’re not hearing?  They’re reacting against the West, the West has always told them what to do, the colonizers drew the lines and some are starving while others have plenty.  What is the story you’re not being told?” 

Dr. Bantum: “What the folks in Ferguson are doing is pressing against the levers in the system.  Sometimes protest is marching in the streets, but the other way to protest is to understand the system.  The Christian Right understood this very well – get judges, work locally, mobilize in tiny ways around a singular issue.”

Dr. Presciado: “I feel very strongly that there is a lot of ignorance going on.  I don’t know what the correct formula is but there nothing wrong with gaining all the facts and information.  It’s good to talk about it but what about when midterms come in?  We don’t have to have the solution for everything.”

Dr. Nienhuis: “I have very little hope in our political system and yet I believe with all my heart that the inevitable future of all creation is reconciliation.  What does this word mean?  If it all gets reduced to evangelical niceties, we’re not being faithful to Scripture.”

The four presenters and Dr. Lim then each lead a breakout session in various locations on campus to further the discussion.  Perhaps the most important takeaway from the session I attended with Dr. Segall and Tali Hairston was that privilege is external and so there is nothing we can do about it.  It is the awareness of privilege that those who have it can do something.  But we know that discussion is not enough, even if they continue after midterms.  Dr. Bantum’s call to make a decision, to either be for or against the evil that is crushing so many beloved by God, is what I hope continues to ring and rage as we struggle to be honest, hopeful and faithful in a racialized world.

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Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014