Social media is pervasive in everything that we do. You can’t buy dog food or gas for your car without seeing an invitation to like the product page on Facebook or follow the Twitter handle.
So how do we as Christians engage the “clap back” and “you’ve been canceled” world of social media? After looking online and seeing so many faux pas and mistakes made by those who name the name of Christ, I’ve come up with “10 Commandments” of social media for Christians.
Pause before you publish
The one thing you must do before you do anything else in the world of social media is to stop and think before you click “Enter” and send that post or tweet or Instagram photo. Think through the ramifications of what you are about to send to the entire Internet.
Your friends and people you don’t even know have a window into this part of your world. Where most communication is private, this is public in a way that wasn’t public 20-25 years ago.
More often than not, we forget that the words and pictures we send are going into a vast public record and open to the peering eyes of our bosses, co-workers, church members, potential employers, family, and friends.
Think about the words that you are about to type and send. It can go a long way in maintaining your online and offline reputation.
World Star Hip Hop is not a credible news source
One of the things to think about is whether you are passing on credible information. Sometimes our hearts are already open to something that is more than likely a lie. We see the latest expos and what it really exposes is the bent of our heart.
Newsflash: Celebrity gossip is not news. So many rumors can be circulated in a matter of hours, and no one stops to check the facts but just publishes this stuff like it came from the mouth of God.
We have snopes.com now. There is no excuse. In this age where a story can spread faster than you can say “Ferguson,” we need to discover whether or not it is true.
Sometimes a story is just satire. Sometimes it’s for real. You need to know the difference.
Improve your offline to online ratio
I see some people on Facebook no matter what time of day it is. The phone is probably the first thing they pick up in the morning and the last thing they hold at night.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some people slept with their phone. These are the kind of folks who obnoxiously text and tweet while having dinner. This is not the person you want to be.
As a follower of Jesus, you must place a higher value on your offline relationships than online. Your online relationships are flat and cannot see into the depths of who you are, and vice versa.
Technology has the privilege of giving you the ability to edit the parts of your life you don’t want others to see. Not so with real-life flesh and blood relationships.
The more time you spend with others, the more time you see their real authentic selves, and the more time they see your real authentic self as well.
This is a good thing. This is why God created Eve for Adam. This is why the “one anothers” of the church exist. We are called to live in community together, and online interaction cannot replace that.
Would you want your grandma to see this?
First of all, as a Christian, some pictures don’t need to be taken. Yeah, that skimpy outfit just should not have been worn, much less photographed.
Second of all, some pictures don’t need to be published to the rest of the world. As a follower of Jesus, you are not just representing yourself, but the agenda of the King and His kingdom. You are representing your local and universal church family.
And if these things don’t strike a chord with you: You are also representing your own family.
Before you publish a picture, think to yourself: “Would I want my grandma to see this?”
Now if your grandma is living foul, then this doesn’t work, but if you’ve got one of those old, church mother, saved and sanctified grandmas, this can be very effective.
You wouldn’t want that grandma to see you getting “turnt” in the club or in a bikini gyrating with some dude.
If you can’t say it in person, then don’t say it
For some reason, people are bolder online. It’s not just the anonymity. This sometimes happens when people know each other. I think it has to do with the lack of proximity.
By being far away from each other physically, we are emboldened to say things we wouldn’t say if we were looking at someone directly in the eyes.
Remember this: If you can’t say it in person, don’t say it. There is nothing courageous about being an online prophet and an in-person yes-man.
Just because you get an amen corner online doesn’t make you bold. Real boldness is speaking the truth even when you don’t have an amen corner at all.
Pass on being passive-aggressive
Have you ever seen these posts that are directed to someone and no one at the same time? These are called “sub-statuses” or “subtweets,” and they are full of bitterness, anger, sometimes sarcasm.
They point out anonymous people’s faults. Sometimes they make you wonder if their online temper tantrum or cutting remark is targeting you. That’s not how saints of God air their grievances.
Private grievances need to be handled in private. Public grievances need to be handled in public.
Even if you are going to express your frustration, you at least need to name the person you are frustrated with. The Bible commands us to speak the truth in love.
Being passive-aggressive in your posts is anything but truthful or loving.
Leave the doomsday prophets in the Old Testament
As followers of Jesus, we are called to share the good news.
Often when I look at people’s Facebook pages and tweets, I am surprised when I see the latest gloom-and-doom prophecies about how the nation is going down the tubes or how Black America is doomed to fail.
A lot of what I see is just negative events or news articles.
Yes, there is a place for being realistic, but spreading negativity shouldn’t be our default. Our default is joy. Our default is peace. Our default is hope.
The things we repost and retweet need to be aligned with what we value as the people of God. They should speak to the wider world of our orientation toward the kingdom and the hope we have in Christ.
Bible-thumping doesn’t work (in person or online)
Have you ever talked to someone and the answer to every question was a Bible verse? These are the kind of people who figure out what kind of cereal to get with a Bible verse. And if it’s a religious question, they don’t actually answer the question, but just spew out Bible verses.
Don’t be that person.
Yes, we believe the Bible to be true in all that it affirms, but we also need to be aware of the world we live in.
Commenting on people’s posts with Bible verses that are most of the time out of context does nothing to win people over to Christ or a Christian perspective.
It’s best to meet people where they are and then explain what the Bible says about a subject than to proof text verses and expect to persuade people to your perspective.
Respect the Internet
The Internet has specific guidelines when it comes to communicating.
ALL CAPS USUALLY INDICATES ANGER. Now I wasn’t angry there, but sometimes we put all caps on things where we shouldn’t and unintentionally communicate anger.
Because Internet conversations are in writing, they don’t always convey the intended meaning. What we intended as a joke can potentially be seen as a threat or an insult. Emoticons can help.
The key is that as followers of Jesus, we don’t want to look like noobs on the Internet, and most importantly, we don’t want to offend people unnecessarily.
The Gospel is already offensive, and if people know that we are Christians, they may be offended by our very beliefs. We don’t want to offend them unnecessarily any other way.
Keep Jesus at the center
Last but not least, keep Jesus at the center of everything you do online. If being on Facebook or Twitter is becoming more of an addiction and less of a purposeful conversation tool, then drop them.
If you are unsure of whether to post something or respond to a comment, then think about the person and the work of Christ.
You will never go wrong by keeping Jesus as a model for your social media interaction.
I haven’t eaten with white folks in years and I’m getting a little concerned. I eat with black folks every day. They’re my family, so I have no other choice. If I didn’t eat with my husband and kids I think they’d get a little concerned about me.
But back in the day, I ate with a bunch of white folks on a regular basis. Once or twice a month, I’d be in some white person’s house, resting my brown feet under their dining room table (or coffee table, in some cases) and talking about racial issues in the American church. We were “eating” with white folks, and breaking more than bread.
As a Christian and a single parent, I’m convinced that if we fail to accept this truth, our efforts at rising above our circumstances and raising our children well will prove futile. We will continue to experience a daunting level of paralyzing frustration that immobilizes us. Our lives will become the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent conversations about the ills facing families, particularly minority families, focus heavily on the absentee father phenomenon and its devastating consequences. No argument there. Boatloads of statistics, polls, and surveys document almost ad nauseam the poverty, social maladjustment, and emotional fallout that can’t be denied. Given all the hell breaking loose, you’d think we’d be beating down church doors and wearing the pages of our Bibles ragged, searching for His answers to our problems. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative indicates that churches and spiritual leaders are not high on the list of sources dads consult for help with fathering issues. In one survey, mothers were asked to name the sources that fathers of their child look to for help. Only a third indicated that the father had “consulted a place of worship, minister, or rabbi.” Similarly, when fathers were asked who they go to for help, just a little more than half said they relied on a place of worship. It stands to reason that if God is not consistently and actively involved in our parenting, He’s probably equally absent from our children’s lives.
So, the hard truth is this:
The absence of an earthly father, while sad and unfortunate, can be overcome. The absence of God the heavenlyFather cannot be overcome and is deadly. There is no substitute for Him. It’s vital we shift our focus to include the absolute necessities of: (1) Our children knowing, loving, and following God; and (2) parents making Him the foundation of our homes. Not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else, but most certainly preeminent to all else.
How will our children’s lives be affected when God is the absent, forgotten Father? Consider:
•Psalm 127:1 tells us that if God Himself is not the builder of our lives and homes, everything else we do is vain and accomplishes nothing.
Practical application: If no one in a home seeks God’s wisdom about priorities and strategies that will make a child’s life what God intends — and no one introduces that child to his true Father — then having a present, active, involved father doesn’t accomplish anything. There aren’t enough workshops, programs, lock-ins, websites, or resources that will make an ultimate and eternal difference in that child’s life.
Action steps: Single-parent families and dual-parent families, first let’s take stock of our children and our homes. Have we allowed God to be the master-builder of our homes? Does God’s will and desire to determine our behaviors? Do our children know Christ? Do they understand that their lives must be anchored in Him for them to be meaningful and influential? If in a single-parent home, do they experience the power of overcoming obstacles created by the absence of a parent? If we must answer ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time for a new game plan. Second, go to the Word of God and see what He says you should be doing as a mother or father. Third, pick one thing and pray specifically about it every day for one week. See what He will do.
• A child’s life built around the absence of a father rather than obedience to the Word of God has a shaky foundation that cannot sustain him against the winds of circumstance.
In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus Christ compares the life of an obedient person to someone whose house is built on a rock. This house, though buffeted by the storms of life, will still stand, providing security and safety. In contrast, one who hears and knows His word but does not obey it foolishly relies on something that will not withstand the strong winds and adversities of life. This one will find himself without protection when trouble comes.
Practical application: While God clearly indicates the role of fathers, nowhere does He instruct us to completely build our lives on their presence or absence. God and His word alone are our foundation, and upon Him alone, we must rely. When we frame our children’s lives in terms of a father’s absence, we are in effect making that fact a foundation of their life. If we make them feel that their father’s absence or lack of involvement is the determinative factor of their success, safety, and quality of life, should we be surprised when they, in fact, succumb to poverty, and poor choices? We’ve drunk our fill of the liberal social science Kool-Aid that tells us poverty and incarceration are caused by fatherlessness. Think about that. My child does not live with his father. Therefore, he will be poor, angry, aggressive, and land in jail. Come on now. We are laying a false foundation in our children’s lives with this faulty mental paradigm. What about God’s instruction to be angry and sin not? What about His promise to comfort and heal the brokenhearted and to provide all our needs? It’s time for us to skip the Kool-Aid and drink the living water the Spirit gives, which offers a life-giving alternative to what we are now experiencing because our collective house has come crashing down.
Laying the false foundation of father-absence victimization reflects a heart and mind that have not yet fully grasped the absolute power of God. If God cannot give us victory over circumstances that come with absent fathers, how can He be who He claims to be? Friends, God is waiting for us to fully trust Him with our children’s lives, no matter the circumstances of their conception, birth, or life. If you’ve laid this false foundation by internalizing the horror-story statistics: (1) Go to God, confess your fear for your child’s life and bewilderment over what to do. (2) Ask Him to renew your mind regarding your child’s future. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of answers you get in prayer and as a result of prayer. (3) Find resources that give practical and biblical strategies for parents. (4) Most of all, actually begin todo what God tells you.
That’s it for now. Truth is hard to hear, hard to digest, and harder still to implement. Everyone’s talking about “speaking truth to power,” but I say let’s speak the Truth from Power. Next time, I’ll highlight one more way in which our children’s lives can be adversely affected if the Lord remains the forgotten Father. Until then, I close with this prayer for us all:
May God give us all spiritual wisdom and insight so that we may grow in our knowledge of God. May our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—us his holy people. Lord help us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you. Your power to save our children, to heal their and our brokenness, to make our children mighty and a praise in this earth, no matter what situations they are experiencing now. And surprise us, Lord with your unique answers to our unique situations (adapted from Eph. 1:15-20).
Election campaigns inspire hope, but they can also quickly lead to political despair. During the last two elections, America’s polarized citizens experienced significant swings between hope and despair.
As a philosopher who specializes in citizenship education and political theory, I believe that political hope can be taught in schools and colleges. It can lay a pathway to help citizens make good choices at the ballot box and sustain political engagement.
Despair in democracy
A recent study published in the Journal of Democracy found that across the globe citizens have “become more cynical” about the value of a democratic system and “less hopeful” of their ability to influence public policy.
Help students explore real social and political problems to better understand citizens’ struggles and needs. Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month, for example, could be used as opportunities to showcase the hopeful endeavors of leaders and everyday citizens who fought for civil rights and against the political despair of the times.
Challenge growing citizens to see that genuine political hope is a call to ongoing collective work. Programs such as the Freechild Institute and the Mikva Challenge provide a model for how to mobilize students to act to improve their communities. In these programs, young people are encouraged to identify problems and are supported in expressing their views about them. Students can learn how to imagine better futures and take steps toward it.
Reaffirm the value of shared political governance. An example of such mentoring comes from a school in Minneapolis where students became concerned that one school had a large playground while another one, next to it, had very little playground facilities. Instead of harboring hostile feelings, students took positive actions. They surveyed students of both schools and gathered evidence on the impact of the inequality. They also worked with the school administrations and the local press to voice their concerns. In the end, students put forward a proposal that was fairer toward everyone. In the process, students learned how to listen, collaborate and build trust – something all citizens should learn.
For example, after a gunman killed 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, students from that school and across the U.S. staged widespread protests demanding safer schools.
Some educators helped students learn how to not only express dissatisfaction, but help others understand it. Some teachers, for example, helped students describe the problems and experience of gun violence by creating press packets. Parents aided children in constructing messages to share with legislators.
Students learned how to put forward solutions to be discussed and tested. Members of the school newspaper were guest editors of a U.S. edition of The Guardian a well-regarded British newspaper, which outlined their vision for change.
Questioning power structures
Educators can cultivate critical thinking. This is not just the deep thinking that most of us expect in all classes. It is thinking that interrogates power structures, identifies injustice and asserts principles of democracy.
Following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, some educators, for example, helped students understand the history of racism in order to better critique policing injustice today and describe an America where black lives matter.
When students learn this history, their critiques of the present and their vision for the future are better informed.
Tell a story
Finally, educators can nurture imagination and support students in constructing stories about improved ways of living. Stories show examples of how to take action and why it’s worthwhile to do so.
For example, in one school, as students discussed current events, a poetry teacher engaged her students in writing and presenting poetry about Haiti’s earthquake and how citizens might recover. As she wrote, instead of just saying, “It’s so sad,” she asked them to bring their learning from the history of Hurricane Katrina to look at the tragedy with empathy and ask, “How do race and class affect the aftermath from a natural disaster?”
Storytelling also includes listening to the needs of others. Learning how to pay attention to the lives of others can improve citizens’ visions for the future.
American schools and universities can help budding citizens shape and respond to the next presidential election. And, I believe, well beyond 2019, they can play a role in reviving hope and democracy in America.
My first day in the classroom is one I’ll never forget. I was given a room of curious sophomore students — 43 of them.
I could feel the lump in my throat and every drop of sweat on my body. I was used to public speaking, and I felt good about what I would be teaching. But in that moment before the first bell rang, I actually thought about walking out.
When the bell rang, I called for the attention of the room. Most of the students didn’t even hear me. I called out again, a little louder. Now more students looked at me, but with some side-eye and a few dismissive smirks. Their conversations continued.
I had little to no control over the classroom and it was only the first two minutes. So, I did what any good teacher does who doesn’t know what they’re doing … I acted like I did.
I stepped out from behind the lectern and walked to the middle of the room. “My name is Mr. Miller, and this is research and study skills. I don’t repeat myself, so if you fail to listen, you will fail. If you don’t work in this class, you will fail. If you give me your butt to kiss, I’ll draw a butt and lips on your report card next to your F.”
Some kids laughed, and others rolled their eyes. They knew they were in for a long semester, and so did I.
But through all of the laughs, head-shaking moments, phone calls home, and “come to Jesus” conversations to come, I grew into my role. It was a combination of teacher, mentor, cheerleader, father figure, critic, guidance counselor, advocate, and even social worker. I found that Dr. Brooks, my grad school teacher who encouraged me to enter teaching, was telling the truth — there was a need that I could help fill.
I soon realized that my school’s administration saw another need I could fill: disciplinarian.
I developed a rapport with my students over time and I showed them respect. I earned their trust and collaboration, and that meant I rarely called down to the main office over a student. I did my best to handle things on my own. Being a Black man from Camden, like my kids, didn’t hurt.
But that, being a Black man from Camden, also qualified me for an invisible tax.
I was the only Black male teacher in my building, the high school. Black males made up only 3% of teachers in the schools where I taught at that time; as of last school year (2018-19), they made up only 1.7%. Currently, Black male teachers only account for 2% of all teachers nationally.
Meanwhile, nearly all of the students where I taught, from kindergarten through 12th grade, were students of color.
I now believe it’s why I, a first-year teacher, was given a class of 43 students, often without an aide to assist. The next semester, I was given freshman classes with some of the more “challenging” students. The principal told me she knew I could handle it.
I was a first-year teacher, but it didn’t matter. I was the Black teacher.
I was given lunch duty with more passive teachers. Some days, I was the only teacher. Whenever there was a commotion in the hallways and I was near, I was always asked to see about it and break it up. I did what I could, but I cannot say that I wasn’t frustrated.
Teachers often serve as hall monitors and are often called upon to help out. I understood that, but I was no fool. I knew who the strong teachers were and who the weak teachers were, and I was never paired with a strong teacher for any disciplinary purpose. I saw other adults breathe a sigh of relief when they saw me come around the corner. I am not sure what they all thought, but I was not their savior, nor was I trying to be.
However, Black teachers often leave the profession because they are seen and overused as disciplinarians while receiving very little support from administrators, among other reasons.
So if you start this school year with a Black teacher or Black male teacher in your building, and you wish to support that teacher and keep them as part of your school community, keep the following things in mind.
Black teachers are not the school’s de facto disciplinarians. They are not the enforcers of the schoolwide discipline policy. They are not the default representative for all Black people. If they go above and beyond for students, that does not absolve others from doing their jobs.
Black teachers do share a collective experience with other Black students, but don’t assume that we are all the same. Use our cultural knowledge to improve the climate and culture of the school community. But don’t abuse it, whether from the classroom or the main office.
I ended my first year feeling drained but accomplished. I grew as a professional and I grew in my craft. I understood that I brought value to my school community. The school community saw my value.
But I continued to be taxed, and I was my entire teaching career. Today, I miss the classroom, but I don’t miss that.
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Dr. Tsedale Melaku, a critical race and gender scholar at the City University of New York.
The United States thrives on being a multicultural and diverse society that guarantees individual freedoms and rights to all its citizens. However, even though the brutal institution of slavery and the era of racial segregation are a thing of the past, there are indications that systemic racism hasn’t gone away and still haunts American society.
In 1967, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, which was tasked by President Lyndon B. Johnson to probe the causes of the 1967 race riots and come up with recommendations for the future, concluded that the United States was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Almost half a century after those protests and despite the progress made, America is still a land of inequalities. According to Pew Research, 92% of African Americans think that “whites benefit at least a fair amount from advantages that blacks do not have,” and 68% say that whites “benefit a great deal.”
People of color in the United States face serious difficulties in securing education, employment, health care and quality housing. They have long been grappling with discrimination and profiling by law enforcement. It goes without saying that the criminal justice system is also substantially biased against people of color, and African Americans in particular. This is evidenced by figures showing that despite making up only 13% of the general population, African Americans constitute 40% of the prison population in the United States.
Many thought that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency would be a turning point for race relations. But talking points about a post-racial America were hushed by a wave of police brutality across the country that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked violent protests in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson reminiscent of the civil rights era. Today, under Obama’s successor President Donald Trump, America is hardly a color-blind, tolerant society. Hate crimes have been on the rise since Trump’s coming to power. White supremacists have been emboldened, and anti-immigrant rhetoric has become more widespread.
Dr. Tsedale Melaku is a sociologist, critical race and gender scholar, and post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean at the City University of New York. Her latest book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism, was published earlier this year.
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Tsedale Melaku about race relations in America today, the Black Lives Matter movement and the stereotypes that still engulf the question of race.
The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kourosh Ziabari: Some scholars I’ve talked to are of the opinion that it’s not easy being black in 21st-century America, and that racism is an obstacle to the black Americans’ access to quality education, health care, housing, and job opportunities. Do you agree?
Tsedale Melaku: The pervasiveness of structural racism is clearly evident in the multitude of studies that indicate the wealth gap between white and black households play a critical role in how American families are able to obtain employment, housing, quality health care, education and economic upward mobility. Just looking at the poverty rate in varying neighborhoods demonstrates significant racial disparities between black and white children.
For example, the average middle-income black child resides in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate as compared to a low-income white child. This significantly affects the life chances of black children. Another example of where hardship can be evidenced is through the recent article by sociologists Melvin E. Thomas, Richard Moye, Loren Henderson and Hayward Derrick Horton. In this study, they examine the combined effects of race, class and residential segregation on housing values for blacks versus whites resulting from the 2008 and 2009 Great Recession.
In addition to these factors and many more, I think the political climate we are in has not made it easy for people of color as a whole, but black people in particular, to live their everyday lives without the constant threat of structural, symbolic or physical violence that may be visited upon them through unfair policies and practices in place that continue to block access to necessary resources. So yes, I do agree that being black in America is still not easy, and will not get any easier until we address systemic issues of racism, sexism and classism.
Ziabari: How is it possible to debunk the myths and stereotypes that generate gendered racism and create barriers to African American women’s employment and professional development? What is the role of the media in perpetuating or downplaying these stereotypes?
Melaku: First, we need to acknowledge that these stereotypes and myths are part of a broader narrative created to keep marginalized groups in subordinate positions. Understanding that a white racial frame — an extensive viewpoint including racial stereotypes, assumptions, narratives and interpretations embedded within the minds of whites that people of color can also adopt — views whites as superior and the racially oppressed as inferior. This frame is used to justify continued white privilege and dominance.
My book, You Don’t Look Like a Lawyer: Black Women and Systemic Gendered Racism, based on extensive interviews with black women lawyers, highlights how race and gender create barriers to their recruitment, professional development and advancement to partnerships in elite corporate law firms. Through in-depth analysis I discuss how their experiences center around systemic gendered racism embedded within institutions. The book covers topics including appearance; white narratives of affirmative action; the differences and similarities with white women and black men; exclusion from social and professional networking opportunities — the “Boys’ Club” — and the lack of mentors, sponsors and substantive training. I work to highlight the often-hidden mechanisms elite law firms utilize to perpetuate and maintain a dominant white male system. Black women’s social identity creates unique daily racial and gendered microaggressions, which also manifest in their professional, social and economic development.
This is key when thinking about the ways in which black women, and other women of color, face significant challenges conforming to and maintaining a dominant Eurocentric aesthetic in the workplace, as well as how this white racial framing impacts the perceived ability, competence and subsequent recruitment, training, development and promotion of this demographic.
The image of a lawyer does not invoke the image of a black woman because media representations of professional people tend to be white, and mostly male. Only recently have we begun to see images of black women in powerful lawyer positions in the media thanks to Shonda Rhimes, like Olivia Pope or Annalise Keating, but there continues to be a disconnect between media representations and actual perceptions of black women’s reality.
Ziabari: In recent years, there were several instances of US police using violence against and mistreating African American men and, in cases like that of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and E. J. Bradford, killing them. Do you think the law enforcement system in the United States is particularly biased against black citizens?
Melaku: The police shooting of any person should concern all people, and we need to ensure that the people who are in a position to protect and serve are doing just that. Countless studies have shown that there is significant bias in law enforcement that makes people of color, and black men in particular, vulnerable. For example, the work of Gaurav Jashnani, Priscilla Bustamante and Brett G. Stoudt examine how order maintenance policing approach — also linked to “broken windows” policing — incorporated by urban law enforcement has a disproportionate impact on the experiences of low-income people of color.
The lived experience of people of color is centered in this research to evidence how stops, ticketing, and arrests by urban law enforcement negatively affect communities of color, leading to unwanted criminal identities that continue to pathologize black and brown people and push them out of public space. I strongly urge that we continue to have a dialogue with law enforcement agencies, lawmakers and government officials about the seemingly unaddressed violence, policies, and practices that are visited upon marginalized groups, and black people in particular.
Ziabari: Has the Black Lives Matter movement been able to fulfill its goals, including bringing anti-black racism to the attention of politicians and combating racial inequality, profiling, and police brutality? What’s your assessment of what this movement has gained in the years since its founding?
Melaku: The Black Lives Matter movement is a broad-based social movement that works toward campaigning against systemic racism that disadvantages black people actively pursuing human rights through a variety of ways, including advocacy, activism, education and consciousness-raising, among others. The movement attempts to publicize often unrecognized challenges black people encounter, ranging from poverty, racial profiling, gender violence, mass incarceration and various other forms of racial inequality in the US.
More research is needed to understand the importance of the movement in highlighting the disparities black men and women face in America. While this is outside my field of expertise, existing academic work is being done to understand the successes and opportunities arising from the Black Lives Matter movement. Scholars such as Dr. Barbara Ransby, Dr. Frederick C. Harris, Dr. David Pate, and Dr. Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., work to engage real conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement and the long historical reasoning behind the disparities reflected in the black experience and what could be done to make changes.
Ziabari: Are you concerned about the spillover of anti-black attitudes from the United States to other countries? In October 2016, a United Nations working group issued a warning about systemic anti-black racism in the criminal justice of Canada. What’s your take on that?
Melaku: Without question, there will always be concern about the political response of the United States and what that means for its citizens at home and abroad, as well as people of color in other countries. As a powerful and influential leader in the world, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are always working toward equality and justice for all people. We need to hold true to the principles that we espouse. Black and brown people across the US and beyond protest due to the persistent frustration and anger over pervasive institutional and individual discriminatory practices they face on a daily basis which is fueled by growing anti-black sentiments.
Ziabari: How do you think the artists, media personalities, journalists and academicians can contribute to addressing racism and eradicating different forms of discrimination against people of color?
Melaku: I think all of us need to engage in more critical discussions about the implications of our actions and particularly the ways in which systemic racism penetrates all institutions, creating unjust and unequal outcomes for people of color. In addition, there has to be the recognition that this is work that should not only fall on the shoulders of people of color but all people because this is a human rights issue. Further, people who are in positions of power should use their influence in order to move the needle further toward reaching more substantive changes in the lives of people who are disproportionately affected by systemic racism and its impact on their social, professional, educational and economic life chances.
Ziabari: A recent Government Accountability Office report found that black students in K-12 schools in the United States are far more likely to be disciplined for different types of maltreatment than those of other races. Does this indicate that racial inequality in the United States starts in the schools?
Melaku: This is a great question that many scholars have taken up within their research in various ways. Take the work of Dr. Carla Shedd for example. She published a very important book, Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Justice, that provides an incredibly in-depth analysis of how class stratification, racial residential segregation, and disinvestment in public goods such as education, social support, etc., in Chicago have deleterious effects on the life chances of adolescents. Dr. Shedd particularly highlights how schools either emphasize or improve the varying social inequalities that shape the lives of students from marginalized backgrounds.
In contrast, my research focuses on schools as paths to mobility instead of pipelines to prison. Racial inequality does not begin, nor does it end, in schools. The black women I study earn positions in top law firms because of their academic successes, but racial and gendered inequality persists even in those contexts, which speaks directly to the systemic nature of racist and sexist practices embedded within varying forms of institutions.
Ziabari: According to a NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, two-thirds of Americans believe racism remains a “major problem” in society. Only 3% of respondents said they believe racism doesn’t exist in the United States. To what extent does racism affect social relationships in America today?
Melaku: It is important for us to look at history, and the history of race and ethnicity in particular, when attempting to understand the current cultural, social, political and economic climate in the United States. We are a nation of immigrants, built on indigenous people’s land and stolen people’s labor, with a distinctive history of controlling migration according to racial and ethnic framing and preferences. In recognizing this history, we must come to accept that the optimistic and often rosy image of US equality and freedom glosses over continuing discriminatory practices embedded and widespread in institutions, from housing, employment, education, political and economic structures.
Social relationships are driven by the ways in which race, gender, class and other important identities intersect, combine or overlap to either privilege those in positions of power or oppress those viewed as inferior. As evidenced in my research, the way social identity affects the experiences of women and people of color is indicative of the fact that we still have a long way to go. This dynamic significantly impacts social relationships in America today, as [it has] in the past.
This article was originally published on Fair Observer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.