Category Archives: Personal

This category is for posts that are more personal in nature

Facebook Debates and Discussions

I have had way too many of these discussions and debates to not save them somewhere, in order to reflect, and continue to pull these thoughts together into a more a cohesive framework. Perhaps this post is more for me than a wider audience, but my personal blog seems the best home for me to store these social media posts.

This will be a work in progress.

Peace!

P.S. I’m saving these primarily for the discussions and debates in the comments of my posts.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/108057782707617/permalink/350597515120308/

A Personal Prayer of Repentance

Class with Dr. James Cone today awakened something in me that had been dormant for a couple years now.

This is my confession, that in my righteous desire to reject the anti-Christianity of conservative white evangelicalism (and even some “liberalism” that has no sense of urgency for the liberation of Oppressed Peoples), I became arrogant and self-righteous in my demeanor towards my God who instilled in me the only faith that could rescue me from the horrors of heroin and crack addiction.

This faith was the very simple faith that a lowly Nazarene named Jesus loved me enough, and deemed me worthy enough, to sacrifice his life so that I may have life to the full.

Yes, in my justified effort to rid myself of a dead religious tradition, I turned my back on the One who saved me quite literally from spiritual, emotional, psychological, and even physical hell on earth.

It was a deep abiding faith in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice for me, which is rooted in divine love for me, that empowered me to love myself enough to believe in myself enough to surrender my understanding and my will to my God who was the only One who could get me through hell 100x’s stronger than I was before.

It was faith in Jesus’ love for me that kept me from giving up on life as I sat in a sunless jail cell for 18-hours a day during the first three weeks of my five-month stay at the Cook County Jail.

CCDOC ID - Redacted CopyIt was a faith that was given to me, not by any merit of my own, that emboldened me to hope for a better future for myself and for the people I encountered.

It was faith in the cross and the Resurrection of Jesus that gave me a peace that surpasses all understanding, because it made no rational sense for me to have been given the hope that despite being a three-time convicted felon, despite burning every bridge with everyone who had loved me—somehow—my God would make a way out of no way—and somehow—not only would I survive but I would thrive beyond anything I could ever ask or imagine.

I’m here to testify that, even though I can’t explain theologically or rationally how it happened, my God delivered me from hell.

Somewhere down the road, I became unfaithful.

As I achieved many of my dreams such as earning a bachelor’s degree and going to graduate school, I became ensnared and enamored by some of the glitter of a privileged rejection of faith.

Well, it caught up to me, and the conviction hit me hard today that I mustn’t turn my back on the One who’s never let me down.

I think it’s a combination of a few months of really intense activism (to say the least) and a couple of years of wrestling with questions about God, along with the simple truth (which James Cone spoke in class) about a simple faith in the Jesus who identifies with the oppressed, which have brought me to this prayer of repentance.

To be clear, I STILL reject the white Jesus of white western Christianity;

I still have no desire to fully embrace as “Truth,” the Christian creeds which were created by flawed human beings who were influenced by the Roman Emperor Constantine;

I still believe that no one religion is the “chosen” religion of God;

I still believe that divinity is manifested in myriad ways to different people, including through non-theistic, non-“religious” experiences;

I still believe that diversity of religions is actually part of a divine order.

However, as for my personal experience, all I know now is that I need Jesus.

Thanks be to God that divine love, forgiveness, and grace are everlasting.

Amen.

http://www.facebook.com/HolyWeekOfResistance

Related Links:

The Evangelical Ethic and The Spirit of Colorblind Racism

Addicts Need Treatment Not Jail

Towards a Black-Womanist Theology of Mass Incarceration

#FergusonOctober: a glimpse of a movement for real justice

Dear Judges of America’s Justice System: Addicts need treatment not jail

**Below is a letter I recently submitted to the Second Municipal District Court in Skokie, Illinois, on behalf of my brother who was awaiting sentencing for drug-related charges. I am sharing this because I believe it applies to so many of our brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, mommas and daddies who are plagued by addiction. While most people who use illicit drugs do not get addicted, this letter is written on behalf of those who do.

January 2, 2014

To The Honorable Judge William T. O’Brien:

My big brother Bobby and I were once one and the same. We grew up under the same conditions inside of the same home. Yet, today our lives seem to be irreconcilably different, as he is awaiting judgment in your courtroom and I am on the first winter break of my first year in graduate school. I believe the key to my brother’s successful rehabilitation and reentry as a productive, addiction-free, member of society can be found in my and Bobby’s divergent paths.

I snorted my first line of heroin with Bobby on the night our father was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison. I was 13 years old and Bobby was 18. Fortunately for me, I was eventually admitted into a residential school for “at-risk” youth called, Mooseheart. Here, I discovered my knack for academics. I graduated at the top of my class, but what I had in “book smarts,” I lacked in common sense. My flirtation with heroin at 13 paved the way for my illicit affair with it at 18.

During my years of active addiction, Bobby and I were virtually inseparable until I was incarcerated at the Cook County Jail in 2008. I completed the HRDI rehabilitation program in jail, but after seven years of heroin and cocaine addiction, a four-month program behind bars would have hardly been enough to keep me sober without a long-term, voluntary, aftercare program. Unfortunately, most people who cannot afford the legal representation that is necessary to avoid jail-time come from communities with little-to-no access to the resources of the middle and upper strata of society.

The key to my success was completing a transitional living program called the Koinonia House in Wheaton, Illinois. At the K-House, I gradually transitioned into “freedom,” while still having protections and support groups around me to keep me safe from myself. During the 15-month program I enrolled in community college courses and stayed “plugged-in” to productive sectors of society. Upon graduation from the program, I received the Chuck Colson Scholarship for ex-prisoners at Wheaton College in Illinois. Earlier this year I earned my B.A. in Sociology and now I am at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Bobby has the same desire and ability that I did to achieve long-term sobriety and build a positive, productive quality of life. However, Bobby will neither receive the full treatment that he needs for recovery inside of jail nor overcome his addiction without a long-term gradual and therapeutic transition into “freedom.” You may ask why I was able to get “clean” and Bobby has not, but the hard answer is that heroin and cocaine addictions are unpredictable and relentless beasts.

I know that having a sincere heart and will power was not enough for me to achieve long-term sobriety. I am only here because of the 15 months that I spent gradually transitioning into freedom, in a therapeutic, supportive, and in my case religious community. Bobby is no different from me in this regard. I would humbly plead that your Honor would grant Bobby this chance to free himself from his own prison of addiction via a long-term residential TASC program. Indeed, as I am sure you know, he has three little girls who desperately need him to get his act together…but he cannot and will not do it alone. Thank you for your time and work.

Respectfully submitted,

Daniel I. Aguilar

Towards a Black-Womanist Theology of Mass Incarceration

My experience as a formerly incarcerated convicted drug felon from a low-income brown family has led me to ask the question, what does God mean for those under the oppression of mass incarceration? To speak of mass incarceration is to speak of a system of racial oppression.[1] It is also to speak of the failure of that system to rehabilitate persons, and the victims this failure creates. To speak of mass incarceration is to speak of the creation of nonpersons out of criminally convicted persons by replacing names with inmate numbers, personal histories with criminal histories, and by withholding social and political power through felon disenfranchisement laws and the institutionalized legal discrimination of criminal offenders.[2]

In this essay, first, I will describe and employ the task, sources, and Christology of black theology to locate God’s liberating work in the efforts of those who are working to dismantle mass incarceration at an institutional level. Then, I will describe and employ both the survival/quality-of-life tradition and Christology of womanist theology to locate God’s involvement with those who are not liberated, but have to endure through the struggles of mass incarceration instead.  Finally, I will explore the tension between these theologies and offer a third way to see the meaning of God amidst mass incarceration. The goal of this essay is to utilize the aforementioned elements of black and womanist theologies to argue that God is involved in the dismantling of mass incarceration and in ensuring the survival and quality of life of those who have to endure it.

BLACK THEOLOGY AND MASS INCARCERATION

The task of theology, according to James Cone, is to investigate the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that all those who are oppressed would believe that God is both with them in their suffering and in their struggle for liberation.[3] This is so because Yahweh sided with the poor and oppressed of Israel, and because Jesus sided with “the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors.”[4] Therefore, theology must articulate how God sides with the oppressed nonpersons in society today. In light of slavery, Jim Crow, segregated ghettoes, and continued racial disparities in the U.S., the best description of oppression in America is found in the “ontological symbol and visible reality” of blackness. [5] Since white supremacy has been and still is the source for the racial oppression of blacks, then whiteness, in black theology, is a symbol of the oppressor. In other words, Christian theology in the U.S. must either be identified with those who are oppressed by white supremacy, in general, or identified with the black community, in particular. Therefore, in relation to a system that is at least operating in the form of a racially discriminatory system creating nonpersons disproportionately out of the black community, black theology affirms that God is on the side of those who oppose this system. We can now examine the sources and norm of black theology that affirm this idea.

One of the sources of black theology is the black experience in America.[6] Cone asserts that among other things, “The black experience is police departments adding more recruits and buying more guns to provide ‘law and order,’ which means making a city safe for its white population.”[7] When Cone wrote those words in 1970, the prison population was one-fifth what it is today.[8] However, according to Cone, black experience is not just “encountering white insanity;” it also includes God’s work in empowering black people to strive for their social and political liberation in the face of that insanity, such as in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. As outlined in Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, the current system of mass incarceration was conceptualized by the Nixon administration as an effort to appeal to disgruntled racist white voters in the South who felt they were being disenfranchised by the gains of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Nixon regularly associated the Civil Rights Movement with “lawlessness” by alluding to the race rebellions and civil rights protests in major cities across the country. In other words, white supremacy was the initial force behind the “tough on crime” mentality that galvanized mass incarceration. Since mass incarceration was an attempt to quell the events of liberation in the black community, specifically, and it reinforces white supremacy via the disproportionate criminalization of black and brown people, generally, then black theology must identify God’s presence in any community that is affected by, and attempts to dismantle, this system.

Revelation, as a source of black theology, urges black theology to take seriously the system of mass incarceration. As evidenced by the exodus, revelation for the Christian faith is God’s work “in human history for the oppressed of the land.”[9] Therefore, for black theology, “Revelation is a black event – it is what blacks are doing about their liberation.”[10] In a more general sense, revelation of God occurs when “a condition of oppression… develops into a situation of liberation.”[11] In relation to mass incarceration, revelation provides a source for describing God’s work not only in opposing mass incarceration on the institutional level, but for transforming the lives of individuals who have been affected by it as well.

Prisoner reentry and rehabilitation have the potential to be some of the most fertile processes for the manifestation of God’s revelation in the lives of individuals. Criminal behavior such as the selling and using of drugs, theft, and other crimes can be the result of internal oppressive forces. Even before being literally incarcerated, addiction was my metaphorical prison. If God’s revelation occurs when the oppressed are set free, then God’s revelation occurs whenever a habitual criminal or addict changes her or his life around for the better. In this sense, the fact that 7 out of 10 released prisoners are rearrested within three years[12] can be interpreted as the rate at which God’s revelation is denied in the life of criminally charged or chemically dependent persons. Exploding prison populations and the lack of decline in drug use demonstrate that the system is not helping to free drug offenders from the throes of addiction or associated lifestyles such as drug dealing. For this reason, black theology must describe God’s revelation as present in the process of opposing the system of mass incarceration through the rehabilitation of criminals and successful prisoner reentry programs.

Finally, black theology affirms that the person of Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God’s revelatory event. Cone asserts that “black theology takes seriously the historical Jesus” because Jesus was “the Oppressed One whose earthly existence was bound up with the oppressed in the land.”[13] Because of the resurrection of the oppressed Jesus, it means that Jesus is not only “present today” in oppressed communities fighting for liberation, but he identifies with those communities as well.[14] Therefore, Jesus is identified with the oppressed black community. In other words, Jesus is black. Today, prisoners who are working to liberate themselves and their families can find hope and strength in the Jesus who identifies with their struggle to be liberated from: the self-oppressive chains of addiction (or some other self-destructive behavior) and the oppressive forces of a system that disproportionately incarcerates low-income black and brown people in the United States.

WOMANIST THEOLOGY AND MASS INCARCERATION

While black theology is useful for describing God’s work of liberation through the dismantling of mass incarceration, Delores Williams’ womanist theology can best describe the experiences of those who are not liberated by God. Williams asserts that the norm of liberation in black theology does not work for the experiences of African-American women.[15] Instead, she finds the representation of black women in the story of Hagar in Genesis. First, like the experiences of many female African-American slaves in the U.S., Hagar was a female African slave “who was forced to be a surrogate mother” for her slave master.[16] Similar to African-American slaves who ran away, Hagar also ran away. Given the high chances of infant mortality during her day, especially if she was to give birth in the wilderness, Williams believes that God directed Hagar to return to her oppressor’s house because it was the only way for Hagar and her child to be saved. Thus, for Williams, God seems more concerned with survival than liberation. Finally, after Hagar and her child (Ishmael) were exiled into the wilderness, God promised that their “descendants will be numerous,” and that Ishmael would be a warrior and skilled hunter. This suggests, for Williams, that liberation “is not given by God; it finds its source in human initiative” through resources for survival and strategies to improve one’s quality of life.[17] Williams names this reinterpretation of Hagar’s story the survival/quality-of-life tradition of African-American biblical appropriation.[18]

We can see God’s response of survival and quality of life to Hagar’s predicament as parallel to God’s response of survival and quality of life to persons behind bars. This is evident through my experience of being incarcerated at the Cook County Jail. Prior to my arrest, I was shooting heroin into my veins daily and smoking innumerable amounts of crack cocaine. At best, my life as a drug addict on the street was rapidly approaching death. Though under radically different circumstances to Hagar, my time behind bars can be interpreted as God being more concerned with my survival than my liberation. At that time, there may not have been any other way for me to escape inevitable death other than to be incarcerated. Despite the fact of unjust enforcement of laws, most people behind bars have serious issues they need to overcome, and maybe they can find hope in the fact that God is still concerned with their survival despite the fact that they are behind bars.

Next, I believe the prison experience is similar to the wilderness experience of Hagar. In the wilderness, Hagar had “serious personal and salvific encounters with God… which aided Hagar in the survival struggle of herself and her son.”[19] Like Hagar, inmates enter into a situation that seems grim and hopeless. But it is in this state of being that I believe persons are most able to encounter God – at least that was my experience. Behind bars, in a seemingly grim and hopeless situation, I believe I had a personal and salvific encounter with God. This type of encounter is not unusual and is sometimes referred to as a “jailhouse conversion.” The problem is that many times, inmates may have a personal encounter with God in prison, but will fail to take the human initiative to acquire skills for improving their quality of life. Granted, the system does very little to help this initiative, but neither did Abram and Sarai do anything to help Hagar in the wilderness. The Hagar story does not justify mass incarceration, but it does say that despite this injustice, inmates can find hope for survival and improved quality of life by taking human initiative. When they take that step to improve their quality of life, in the same way and with the same faith that Hagar did, inmates and released prisoners can trust that God is with them.

Finally, we can see the meaning of God in the reality of mass incarceration by understanding the Christology of womanist theology. Williams would agree with Cone, that there is redemption in the person of Jesus Christ, but in contrast to Cone, she rejects the salvific and redemptive power of the cross.[20] According to Williams, to glorify the cross by portraying Jesus as a surrogate who suffers in the place of others, all too often results in the exploitation of black women who are told that God intends for them to suffer as Jesus suffered. Williams says black women must reject the notion of Jesus’ surrogacy as a redemptive act. However, Williams believes that redemption can still be found in Jesus Christ through his ministerial vision. According to Williams, Jesus did not intend to redeem humanity through death on the cross, but through a “perfect ministerial vision… giving humankind the ethical thought and practice upon which to build a positive, productive quality of life.”[21]

In dealing with mass incarceration, it is important for the loved ones of criminal offenders to reject the surrogacy role and to embrace the ministerial vision of Jesus. I know from personal experience that the loved ones of both literally and metaphorically incarcerated people often believe that they must stick by their loved one no matter what. Especially when a person is behind bars or in some sort of trouble, there is the potential for their loved ones to feel they have to personally fix all of their problems. Often times this results in a sort of surrogacy role for the men and women who suffer right alongside their loved ones in prison. In dismantling mass incarceration, theologians must affirm that there is no redemption in senseless suffering. This does not mean that people should abandon their incarcerated loved ones, but if abuse is any part of that relationship, then nobody should believe that God intends for them to suffer in that relationship in order for the other person to be redeemed or liberated.

JESUS, LAZARUS, AND THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

There is a clear tension between black and womanist theologies in addressing the issue of mass incarceration. In the former, liberation comes through systemic changes and programs that would eliminate the oppressive nature of mass incarceration and provide rehabilitative services for criminal offenders. In the latter, redemption and salvation comes from human initiative, in which those who are directly affected by the system, such as inmates, see that God is with them when they take the human initiative to change their lives for the better. I believe a melding of these visions can be seen through the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.

After receiving the news about Lazarus’ illness, Jesus told his disciples that he would go to him in Judea. The disciples, deeply concerned, questioned the efficacy of going into dangerous territory to help Lazarus, but Jesus was not deterred. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ sister, Mary, she was deeply worried that it was too late to save her loved one because “he had already been in the tomb for four days,” but Jesus comforted her by reminding her that he is the resurrection. Even though Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, upon witnessing the pain of Mary and the community of those who loved Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” Finally, Jesus told members of the community to remove the tombstone. Then, he called out to Lazarus, and Lazarus responded by coming out of the tomb. Finally, Jesus called on the community once again to unbind Lazarus and to let him go!

In this story, Lazarus is the prisoner. As a former drug addict and inmate, I can attest that being in this bondage can feel like one is spiritually dead. Like Lazarus’ loved ones, even the loved ones of inmates can sometimes lose hope that the inmate can overcome being “dead.” But like Jesus, the Christian community is called to be compassionate and to empathize with the pain of others—indeed, even weeping alongside those whose pain would otherwise not directly affect one’s self. Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead alone; members of the community were involved in removing the stone. As such, the Christian community must be involved in removing the structural barriers that keep inmates ‘dead’ and going in and out of prison (i.e. advocating for macro social prison reform). Like Lazarus, inmates must respond to Jesus’ call by taking the human initiative to walk out of the tomb. This is similar to the human initiative to improve one’s quality of life in womanist theology. Finally, Jesus calls on the Christian community to help Lazarus and the inmate re-enter into society by “unbinding” Lazarus and helping him to remove the vestiges of his former state of being. In this story, we can see that God’s involvement in mass incarceration involves structural changes, human initiative, and a Jesus who is the resurrection and raises the dead (i.e. rehabilitates individuals) even before and after the event on the cross.

CONCLUSION

 I believe we have an adequate answer to the question: What does God mean for those under the oppression of mass incarceration? Cone’s black theology showed us that God sides with the community that is working to dismantle an oppressive system that is in the business of creating perpetual nonpersons out of poor and disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities. As evidenced in the book, The New Jim Crow, this system is truly massive and oppressive and without a theology that attempts to overthrow social structures for the liberation of the oppressed, we will not fully address the problem. Similarly, Williams’ womanist theology is crucial for giving hope to those who do not receive liberation, but who endure a prison sentence, either as an inmate or an inmate’s loved one, instead. This womanist approach is crucial for addressing the reality that despite the oppressive nature of mass incarceration, criminal offenders must take some responsibility for working to improve their own lives as well. Without this view we would not fully address the problem of mass incarceration, either.  Instead, I’ve offered a potential melding of these two theologies by showing how each uniquely addresses the problem and by offering a third tradition of Jesus, Lazarus, and the Christian community to demonstrate that the work of dismantling the system of mass incarceration is the work of doing God’s will.


[1] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York; [Jackson, Tenn.]: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, c1986.).

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid., 24.

[7] Ibid., 25.

[8] Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[9] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 31.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 48.

[12] Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[13] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 118.

[14] Ibid., 31.

[15] Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness the Challenge of Womanist God-talk (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, c1993.).

[16] Ibid., 2.

[17] Ibid., 5.

[18] Ibid., 6.

[19] Ibid., 3.

[20] Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness the Challenge of Womanist God-talk.

[21] Ibid., 165.

© Daniel Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For Christ and His White Kingdom – An open letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy

In February 2012, Wheaton College was jolted by a racial incident infamously known as: #chapeltweets. Participants in the Rhythm & Praise chapel service at this small evangelical liberal arts college (with the motto: “For Christ and His Kingdom”) were publicly mocked and insulted on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.  The chapel service, which presented forms of music, dancing, and painting largely from the African American tradition, was derided as an unworthy expression of worship. Tweets and memes ranged from being naïve and racially insensitive to malicious and borderline overtly racist. Examples include (more at the end of the post):

chapeltweetblackkids

black father meme chapel breakdancing meme chapeltweetsblackface chapeltweetsentertainment chapeltweetblackjoker terrorist meme

In the aftermath of these and other tweets, many students responded by downplaying the importance of race, claiming that the tweets were not offensive and that students of color who were upset were being overly sensitive. While the initial furor of the Chapel Tweets incident has died down, students of color continue to be underrepresented at Wheaton College. Moreover, the elephant in the room has not been addressed—that is, Wheaton College and other white evangelical institutions in the U.S. continue to operate to varying degrees under the framework of white supremacy.

Yes, white supremacy is the ethos of my alma mater, but here is what I am not saying: I do not believe that the people running the school or even most of the student body are white supremacists, if by the term, you mean they embody racial hatred and believe that the white race is superior to others. No, it is much more subtle (and systemic) than that—but this is the ethos of Wheaton, nonetheless.

I graduated from Wheaton in May 2013 and could very easily rid myself of anything concerning it, but two main things have urged me to write about my experience with white supremacy at Wheaton College. First, white supremacy is evil and when left unchecked has spawned the suffering of countless innocent people all over the globe. Second, I actually do care about the future of Wheaton, because I believe there are good people there who could transform it into an institution that cultivates students and leaders for improving our world.

Today, the inertia of white supremacy continues to drive racial inequalities in the U.S.—Wheaton College is no exception to this phenomena. I want to briefly outline some racial inequalities in the U.S. then talk about how racial inequalities at Wheaton are embedded in this system of white supremacy as well. When referring to Wheaton College, I am working primarily with an understanding of white supremacy as a system. See Tim Wise’s definition below:

As a system, racism is an institutional arrangement, maintained by policies, practices and procedures — both formal and informal — in which some persons typically have more or less opportunity than others, and in which such persons receive better or worse treatment than others, because of their respective racial identities. Additionally, institutional racism involves denying persons opportunities, rewards, or various benefits on the basis of race [whether intentionally or unintentionally], to which those individuals are otherwise entitled. In short, racism is a system of inequality, based on race.

White supremacy is the operationalized form of racism in the United States and throughout the Western world. Racism is like the generic product name, while white supremacy is the leading brand, with far and away the greatest market share.

WHITE SUPREMACY IN THE U.S.

This blog is insufficient to provide an adequate lesson in the history and development of white supremacy, such as: European conquest and colonization, Native American genocide, Black-African slavery, the Jim Crow Era, programmatic racial segregation, New Jim Crow, etc. Still, let’s examine, briefly, some current racial inequalities that people could explain by saying that either, “people of all races have equal opportunities, thus disparities are a result of flaws in certain groups’ cultures” or current disparities are a function of white supremacy.

According to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, wealth gaps between white, Hispanic, and black households have risen to record highs in the United States.

median net worth by race

In 2009, the median net worth (MNW)[1] of white households was “20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:1). The U.S. poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is 25.8% and 23.2%, respectively; whereas poverty rate for whites is 11.6% (Macartney, Bishaw, and Fontenot 2013).

A study of all 3,141 counties in the United States, published by the University of California Press, provided “a place-based portrait of spatial inequality and concentrated poverty over the past two decades” (Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2012:370). The study finds there are disproportionately high levels of poverty concentration among black and Latina/o populations compared to non-Hispanic whites. Based on the latest data from 2009, 36.3% of the total black population lives in high-poverty places, while 49.2% of poor blacks are concentrated in high-poverty places.[2] For all Hispanics, 23.9% live in high-poverty places, while 33.3% of poor Hispanics live in these communities as well. In sharp contrast, only 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites live in poor communities (Lichter et al. 2012). Additionally, research indicates that over 60% of black and Hispanic students attend public schools where the majority of students are below the poverty line; compared to only “18 percent of white students” who attend high-poverty schools (Logan, Minca, and Adar 2012:288).

I hope it is obvious that I do not believe that these stark racial disparities are a result of morally devoid cultures in black and brown communities. Social scientists have presented ample evidence for the origins of racial segregation in past discriminatory housing practices such as “redlining,” restrictive covenants, and steering (Massey and Denton 1993; Sernau 2006). Racial residential segregation of people of color is one of the most damning tools of white supremacy, which perpetuates race disparities in areas of wealth, incarceration rates, employment discrimination, and more. Another leading cause of racial disparities in the U.S. is related to the underrepresentation of students of color in higher education. It is evident that a degree in higher education can be a ticket out of poverty.

RACIAL INEQUALITIES AT MY ALMA MATER

When we examine the racial demographics of Wheaton College, through data from the US Census Bureau and Wheaton College’s Office of Institutional Research (only accessible while on-campus through Wheaton’s intranet), we see that Wheaton falls unacceptably below average in providing equal access to education for black and Latina/o students. Data for 2010, indicates that the enrollment percentage at Wheaton College was a paltry 2.90% for black or African-Americans and 3.90% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. In comparison, enrollment at peer institutions during the same time period was 9.20% for black or African-Americans and 6.20% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. Enrollment for all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities in the U.S., during the same time, was 12.92% for black or African-Americans and 8.06% for Hispanic or Latina/o students.

In other words minority enrollment averages at peer institutions are double what they are at Wheaton; minority enrollment averages in all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities are three times greater than they are at Wheaton. Moreover, in 1976, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. was 16.6%. By 2004, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. had nearly doubled to 32.5%, while Wheaton College, in 2012, had remained thirty years behind the national trends at a disgustingly low 17.5% total minority undergraduate population—or as the Wheaton website describes it “just shy of 20% of the campus.”

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment" survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), “Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities” surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), “Fall Enrollment” survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp
Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

So what is Wheaton’s excuse for denying equal access to higher education for black and Latina/o students, thereby participating in the larger framework of white supremacy? Certainly, it is not the lack of black and Latina/o students in higher education as evinced by the significantly higher averages at other schools. (Cue  attempts to justify low enrollment rates for students of color at Wheaton by attributing it to “personal choice” or something like that. Also, this is where many people will say, in so many words, “Yeah, but Wheaton isn’t all that bad when you compare it to other similar colleges that are doing a horrible job at enrolling students of color!”)

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHAPELTWEETS?

Wheaton College does not have to have an active policy of denying people of color access to their institution in order to perpetuate white supremacy, but the fact remains that African-American and Latina/o students are egregiously underrepresented at Wheaton. Of course, this reality is complex, but based on my three years as a student and two years as the Executive Vice President of Community Diversity on Student Government, I want to offer what I think contributes to Wheaton’s complicity in white supremacy.

After the #chapeltweets incident, a few dozen students rallied together to respond to the insensitivity and racism of their fellow students. We met through the late hours of the night trying to figure out how to respond. #Chapeltweets was unique, because it was so public and galvanized our emotions and desire for change. Students of color (and a few white students) had had enough with racial insensitivity, ignorant jokes, and lack of institutional support for race-related equity on campus. So, we drafted a petition called, The Diversity Initiatives: A petition for institutional change. In it, we described the reality of white supremacy at Wheaton College as such:

The pain, frustration, and anger of many students at Wheaton College stems from a much deeper place than #chapeltweets. Many unique challenges for students of minority cultures, races, or ethnicities exist. These unique challenges do not affect ALL [students of color] or ONLY [students of color], but those students who do not fit into the dominant American, white, middle to upper- middle class, culture. While overt racism is not rampant, issues of racial prejudice, cultural supremacy, ethnocentrism, and insensitivity afflict these students in profound ways. For many, it is not an acute, shooting pain that can be described in one incident. Rather, it is the dull, subtle, and constant reminder that students of minority cultures are merely invited guests in someone else’s home. Furthermore, the College has unintentionally affirmed and reinforced the elevated status of dominant white culture among our community, as a result of inadequate intervention in institutional practices that affect the campus climate.

The emphasis on quantity over quality, regarding the approach to increasing diversity, has neglected the experiences of minority culture students once they arrive on campus.

Whether it is the lack of professors and staff members with whom we can identify culturally (88.3% all-white faculty and 87.7% all-white staff), the lack of College Union events that are inclusive of people of color (91% of all artists/bands hosted by College Union between 2000 and 2012 were white), the lack of academic material that educates our peers about white supremacy, the lack of affirmation of our own cultures on a less-than-superficial basis, or the lack of significant support for student-led initiatives that attempt to promote racial understanding on campus, students of color eventually realize that Wheaton College is an institution primarily for its white American students.

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

My former Professor of Anthropology wrote that, “Racism does not require racists. All it needs to thrive is people who deny the wider historical and cultural context in which their words and thoughts live.” I’m here to tell you that the denial of white supremacy is the pervasive attitude among Wheaton students. Year after year, a loud contingent of Wheaton College students vehemently deride “student-led initiatives which [attempt] to promote racial harmony and reconciliation” on campus.

Most white students at Wheaton, however, will tell you that racism is not a problem on campus. They are partly right. Most white students at Wheaton are willfully oblivious to the effects of white supremacy on campus, because it literally only affects a pittance of the campus population. So it’s understandable that white students would say that something that they do not see is not a problem. Let me take this brief moment to acknowledge the voices of white students who feel marginalized by my words. First, I have found that white people who acknowledge the reality of white supremacy tend not to get offended when people of color merely state that it exists or when we point out that most white people deny its existence. If you are white and you are aware that white supremacy is a problem, not only in the U.S., but also systemically at Wheaton, then I am probably not describing you in this post. If you feel offended by my description of white apathy toward racial realities at Wheaton, then I can think of no other reason for you being offended other than you do not agree that white supremacy is a problem on campus, and thus, you would fall into the category of students that I am describing. To deny white supremacy is to deny the experiences of students of color who are affected by it. To deny the experiences of anyone is to deny their existence, which is why students affected by white supremacy are further marginalized on campus.

I can tell you what all of this means to me. It means that as a result of Wheaton’s failure to educate its students on the reality of white supremacy in the country and abroad, and as a result of the racially apathetic student culture that derives from the institutional failure to affirm minority cultures, that I will not be recommending Wheaton College to any students of color without any serious caveats for how they will feel alienated merely because they won’t fit in with the dominant and celebrated white culture on campus. I know for a fact that I am not the only alumnus of color who feels this way. So if Wheaton wants to increase its enrollment averages for African-American and Latina/o students, I suggest (for now):

  • Make radical changes to how the most-supported campus organizations promote and exalt white culture
  • Drastically increase funding for students of color from low-income communities to attend Wheaton
  • Implement a serious academic curriculum that lightens the burden of small student groups like Solidarity Cabinet to educate the campus community about race and puts it on the faculty through a required “gen-ed” on race relations in the U.S.
  • Be sincere about claims related to hiring more faculty of color (and all claims related to diversity for that matter)

At this point, I am not interested in talking about small changes to the structure (and infrastructure) of Wheaton College. If it were even 20 years ago, then maybe we could still give Wheaton a pat on the back for trying to resist white supremacy through one or two added scholarships for Latina/o students, a half-funded scholarship for African-American students, a small change here, a small change there…but it’s almost 2014 and what we need is results! Real results are past due. We will celebrate Wheaton’s achievements on race relations when they are worth celebrating for our time.

I’m speaking to everyone in the Wheaton Community whether you are a student, faculty, administrator, staff, or alumni. Let’s urge the institution to put its money where its mouth is and to provide equal access to higher education for African-American and Latina/o students, immediately—because diversity is more than just “colorful” photos on pamphlets, brochures and websites, and thirty years behind national trends is unacceptable.

Works Cited

Kochhar, Rakesh, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor. 2011. Weatlh Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. Retrieved (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/07/SDT-Wealth-Report_7-26-11_FINAL.pdf).

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. 2012. “The Geography of Exclusion: Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty.” Social Problems 59(3):364–88.

Logan, John R., Elisabeta Minca, and Sinem Adar. 2012. “The Geography of Inequality: Why Separate Means Unequal in American Public Schools.” Sociology of Education 85(3):287–301.

Macartney, Suzanne, Alemayehu Bishaw, and Kayla Fontenot. 2013. Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007-2011. Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau. Retrieved (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf).

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” in The inequality reader : contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender, edited by David B. Grusky and Szonja Szelényi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sernau, Scott. 2006. Worlds Apart : Social Inequalities in a Global Economy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

Related Images of Wheaton College Racism:

forum wall ntalkpendulum danny aguilarSTARSForumWall chapeltweetEJchapeltweetCrazinesschapeltweetsairplaneflaggerchapeltweetsblacksinforum wall postsolidarity meme 3The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) image 2The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) page 2


[1] MNW “is the accumulated sum of assets (houses, cars, savings and checking accounts, stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc.) minus the sum of debt (mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.)” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:4).

[2] Individuals were considered poor if they lived in families with incomes below the official U.S. government poverty threshold for their family size.

Addendum:

I am adding this addendum because I do care about Wheaton College, very much so. Do not take my strong language as hateful, but please read it as passionate (and frustrated with failed efforts to work within the system for two difficult years). I tried to make it clear that I do not believe that people are actually operating as conscious white supremacists, but evidently that is not as clear to some people.

Either way, PLEASE READ: An Open Letter to Students and Alumni of Color at Wheaton College by Brian Howell.
http://brianhowell.blogspot.com/2013/12/an-open-letter-to-students-and-alumni.html

Thank you, Brian, for this follow up to my blogpost. There is nothing in this post with which I disagree. You certainly emphasized some of the progress more than I did, and that is fine. My intention was not to imply that nothing has been done at all, or that there weren’t any people at Wheaton who have been sincerely trying to work hard to change the institution for a very long time.
Indeed, there are many people striving for change who I have worked with personally…and there are many who resisted me and continue to resist change as well.

I still affirm my claims that the institution has not supported these individuals enough to make the changes that are necessary for the college to be where it should be in 2014.

By the institution, then, I’m referring to people who for whatever reason haven’t made the decisions that would radically change the policies that continue to support white supremacy. My one fear with your blogpost is that some people might say, “see Wheaton has been making some progress! Therefore, we do not need to keep putting pressure on them to do more.”…To do what is necessary.

Finally, my post was indeed a call to action, a call to stay engaged or to get even more engaged, NOT a call to withdraw from all things Wheaton.

Thanks again for joining the conversation (as you have been for so long. Indeed, I learned a lot of what I know, from you.)

This I believe

As a kid, I remember my mother waking up early every morning, and in twenty below zero Chicago weather, heading out to board the CTA bus for work. This strong woman had been through more than I could ever imagine.

I watched her leave my father because he was involved in drug trafficking. After some time she started dating and her boyfriend moved into our apartment. Jose expressed his affection for my mother by slapping and punching her. One day I jumped between his swinging fists. I begged him to stop…but I was too small to make a difference. Punched to the ground, all I could do was weep beside my mother. Our neighbors never responded to the sound of our cries.

Things are better now and my mom is no longer with Jose. Regrettably, I chose a path of drug addiction and crime. I lived and begged on the street, robbed people at knifepoint, and even stole from the purse of the woman I once tried to protect as a little boy. Eventually, the Cook County Department of Corrections taught me that the fast lane does not run forever.

I was given more than a second chance at life during my six-month incarceration in the Cook County jail. I received the gifts of grace, love, and forgiveness. As I worked through my recovery behind bars, I was humbled by the people who responded to the burdens of their drug-addicted neighbor. However, when a prisoner is released from jail, they are likely to return to a community that is not conducive to rehabilitation. According to the Department of Justice, seven out of ten released prisoners are rearrested within three years.

But by the grace of God, I was literally met at the prison gate by fellow Christians who welcomed me into the church. Life Church in Wheaton, IL chose to do the risky thing and let a convicted criminal into their congregation, into their Bible studies, and even into their homes for dinner and fellowship. They did not judge me, nor did they allow me to be lost in the vicious cycle of arrest and re-arrest that is often the American criminal justice system. These particular Christians knew they did absolutely nothing to earn God’s love, yet he loved them anyway. They knew that sharing God’s love was the true and right response to receiving what had been freely given to them.

As graduation approaches, I am truly overwhelmed by the love that radically changed my life. Because of the love I have received, I have been able to forgive the neighbors who ignored my mother’s cries. Because of the love I received, I am compelled to share that love with others. I have learned that humans are dualistically capable of committing great acts of evil and great acts of love, for I am one of them.

It is no doubt that my experiences as a victim of domestic violence and as a recipient of undeserved forgiveness and love have influenced my passion for social justice. Today, I urge everyone who has received God’s forgiveness and love to realize that they too have done nothing to earn it. Because of this, I believe it is not an option or special calling to share God’s liberating love with others. However, sharing the Gospel is more than just sharing words; it is sharing works as well. The story of the Gospel is one in which God chose to leave the good place of heaven and identify with all of oppressed humanity, by taking on their burdens and liberating them from the bondage and consequences of sin. It is this act that compels me to identify with the struggles of those who are oppressed by unjust systems in the world.

We live in a world with crying neighbors everywhere; where some cries are never heard because injustice is deeply embedded into our nature as fallen human beings from our largest to our smallest institutions. Injustice in the world puts people in bondage, but God desires his people to be free, that they may worship her.

Therefore, I choose not to ignore the muffled cries of the oppressed.  I choose to resist building my life only focused on my own family, and to reject any inclination to seek guilt-absolving ignorance or amnesia about the evils of this world. I seek to live in a way where I identify with the least of these and learn about their burdens as best as I can. I am no longer too small to fight back when injustice is present, nor do I fear the threats of any man who tries to stop me. I believe God’s love for humans grants them a unique value higher than any other part of his creation. My hope is for all humans to seek in the best and most sincere way as possible to eradicate human suffering and to ensure that the spreading of God’s love is not impeded by injustice in the world.