White Poverty and Despair

It’s been awhile between posts. This has been a hard post for me to write. Mainly, I’ve had to get over a near overwhelming sense of indignation, an effort to find a way to write this in a way that does not betray that anger, but rather some sense of concern for the direction of this country.

I didn’t want to write anything else, until I figured this out. I hope I accomplished this aim. I will admit, it’s short on answers, but the answers are really the same ones that we’ve heard all along: whites and people coming together around the things that we have in common – even mutual pain.

While there’s much about which to write aside from the war of words between the Republican and Democratic nominees, I’ve wanted this blog from its inception, to promote meaningful dialogue. I hope its done this. And I want to try and avoid knee jerk political punditry. Politics actually does matter. Policy does matter. And I think that even in this very odd season, we can get around the partisanship and ask policy questions that matter to us and the people we care about.

One of the issues that has had me thinking and rethinking about how to view this election, is, of course poverty and for whom should the poor cast their vote?

Interestingly enough, while it appears by the polls, poor minorities will overwhelmingly vote for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump’s recent refrain when making his appeal to the black electorate is ‘What do you have to lose?’ And bases this question on how the cities run by the Democratic Party haven’t made that much of a difference in their lives. Leaving aside, for this post, the fact that many, if not most, of our poor urban cities – particularly in the south – happen to be in red states, or the absence of specifics by which Trump intends to make the lives of poor black citizens appreciably better, there is a very interesting irony, regarding Trumps base voters. Trump’s base, is primarily described white men, with a high school diploma or less, from communities suffering from high unemployment and the correlating poverty and the nihilistic attitudes that are the pathology of such neighborhoods: drug abuse, alcoholism, rising mortality rates and subsequent fears that their children’s future is no longer as bright as the American Dream once promised.

In other words, the same issues that have plagued black communities for decades!

Don’t take my word for it. The same question is the subject of several articles in the Atlantic Monthly. Look at some of the titles, The Despair of Poor White Americans: The Original Underclass, All Hollowed Out: The Lonely Poverty of the White Working Class, Who are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really?

And this passage from ‘The Despair of Poor White Americans…’

“Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis, and the language of sociologists and pathologists predominates. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 was published in 2012, and Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis came out last year. From opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they made the case that social breakdown among low-income whites was starting to mimic trends that had begun decades earlier among African Americans: Rates of out-of-wedlock births and male joblessness were rising sharply. Then came the stories about a surge in opiate addiction among white Americans, alongside shocking reports of rising mortality rates (including by suicide) among middle-aged whites. And then, of course, came the 2016 presidential campaign. The question was suddenly no longer why Democrats struggled to appeal to regular Americans. It was why so many regular Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump.”

It is interesting that the exportation of jobs and decent education and the importation of jobs and crime in these poor white communities, mirror the same impact of the same policy driven woes in the black community.

William Julius Wilson, a brilliant African-American sociologist, has outlined the process which has caused so economic suffering in our black urban centers suffer, many years ago.

In his classic work, ‘When Work Disappears’, Wilson talks about the decline of manufacturing jobs, formerly located within the urban core. Jobs which offered good wages, upward mobility within the industry and economic stability for workers. These were jobs that required a high school education and relatively low skills, with the ability of learn.

With the loss of manufacturing jobs came service industry jobs. They required little education or experience. They provided opportunity primarily for women. They were referred to as ‘pink collar’ jobs. With the internationalization of these low skill, low wage jobs, came the flight of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries where low skill, non-unionized labor was prevalent. The collateral damage? Male workers. Both white and black, but for black men, bearing the burden of racism, it was particularly devastating. The results? Hopelessness, negative feelings.  Boys head to the streets. Social isolation. Social networks fall apart. Marriages fall apart. Out of wed births increase. Increased drug dealing and drug addiction. And the spiral continues.

Yet, here’s the thing: when these things were happening for decades in the black community, the cry from the white community was, ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps’. The same things were happening undercover in the white community and now its a major crisis in our politics and our society. Now, this pathology calls for  a champion to correct it…Donald Trump.

Still it’s not just poor white communities dealing with the pathologies that have impacting our urban centers for decades. Even wealthier white suburbs are dealing with an epidemic of our failure to win the war on drugs. In a riveting  episode on the subject 60 Minutes, deals with how an area of the rust belt, has been impacted by drugs. Read the conclusion of that episode with one of the mothers whose family has been devastated by the problem…

“Bill Whitaker: I’m sure there are some who would be watching this and would say, “Heroin addicts are junkies and they brought this on themselves, so why should we care?”

“Tracy Morrison: Because we don’t throw diabetics who sit on the couch eating Bon Bons and smoke and they weigh 300 pounds in prison. We don’t belittle them and there’s not a big stigma; we don’t do that to people that chain smoke and develop lung cancer. It’s a chronic relapsing brain disease, period, amen, end of story and we need to accept it– even if it makes people uncomfortable. And if people don’t like that, I’m sorry.”

It is what many black families have been saying for decades…

Reflecting on the state of affairs in these two all too American communities, challenges me with another thought: why aren’t we working together…indeed fighting together…to bring about the policy changes that can impact our future and those of our children. Of course the most obvious reason is we’ve all had a game played on us. As black Americans, we see racism as a predominant cause – almost to a fault. And while racism is either a result of or cause of much of the divide, poor whites, particularly those suffering from those same pathologies that have impacted black communities for decades, comfort themselves in a threadbare cloak of superiority believing that the pigment of their skin keeps them of society’s bottom rung. In the meantime, there’s a predominant class making off with the goods!

Do we need a new politics? You bet. Do we need more accountability? Right again. Do we need to have better people engaged in our politics and a more informed electorate? Absolutely. All of which will take time and a movement that has more integrity, creativity and political power than we see currently. But whether out of our mutual pain, or politics, or sense of survival, we must come together…before its too late!



Dallas’ Homeless Problem is Solvable – if We Ever Decide to Solve it…

I don’t get the tepid reaction to the report of Dallas’ Homeless Commission last week.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t there (I understand that we weren’t able to provide the full report, including whatever itemized numbers we provided for our solutions), so I was unable to gauge the attitude of the council to the report.  And perhaps because we (or somebody) had said we were coming back with a final report in November. I know that in more than a couple of meeting, I argued for a full on report regarding the solutions – in other words not only provide the report and the numbers  –  but a full estimate an estimate as possible on how much it would cost to fully address homelessness – because I really believe, we may never have an opportunity like this again.

Nonetheless, nothing about the final report in November is going to change: we will still need, about 2100 units of housing, most of which will actually be in apartment complexes considered ‘market rate’. We will need to greatly expand the number of permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs, which should be standardized and coordinated relative to the type of services they deliver. But the council needs to realize that the standardization cannot be addressed through ‘minimal standards’. They need to be committed to radical interventions, which include opportunities that address the physical, mental and social needs of the people in those programs. And the fiscal infrastructure that addresses the housing needs, including programmatic needs, must be a creative packaging of local and federal funding. But that funding will take more than the proposed $3-$9 million. We need to be thinking of addressing at least 25 percent to half of those impacted over the next year to year and a half. And the city, needs to seek to address this by investing in more than housing. Frankly, the problem is as bad as it is now, not only because of the Great Recession, but because the city of Dallas, through successive city councils has done just enough to make sure that all but the poorer sections of our city never saw how bad the problem was.

So time is out for trying to address this issue on the cheap. We need a substantial financial commitment to a population that has never had one from the city before.

Where does the money come from?

  • Delay plans for the deck park, near the zoo for a year, commit some of that funding to solve the homeless problem
  • Explore even more creative uses Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds which should be allocated for affordable housing
  • Reallocate the  uses of all of or portions of some of our fees and taxes, like room rental taxes to address homelessness
  • Use a portion of the upcoming bond package to address homelessness, either for gap funding for developers, or to provide case management services

In other words – TRY SOMETHING! Don’t simply be skeptical and dismiss the prospect of dealing with the problem substantively, out of hand.

When we give our final report in November, we will be approaching the colder months of the year, and the holiday season, when people are feeling more ‘charitable’. There will be plenty of feel good stories about how we are ‘helping’ the homeless. Most of those efforts will be laudable expressions of individual generosity. Some will be groups providing seasonal acts of good will. But I have seldom had anyone call me in spring, during our rainy season, or the dog days of summer, or in September when thoughts turn to the start of school and football games and ask what they can do to help the homeless.

We need entities that are committed all year-long to making sure that homeless citizens have an opportunity to live lives of self-sufficiency and productivity.

Our report says that on any given night, there are as many as 10,000 homeless people sleeping on our city streets. A  Dallas Morning News editorial yesterday, reported several cities – in Texas no less – that have creative ways of dealing with this problem. The fact is, the 10,000 people counted on as homeless in Dallas, represent less than 1 percent of our city’s total population. It’s hard for me to believe that represents an unsolvable problem.

The DMN editorial concludes, “We’re eager to hear more details on how these strategies could be implemented when the commission returns  to the City Council with a final report in November.” That’s an awful mild form of acceptance for the newspaper of record for a ‘can-do’ city. If we are going to address homelessness as the epidemic that it is, it has to be an all hands on deck effort.

I’m counting very few people and institutions, other than those of us who deal with this everyday, who seem to be all in…



Dallas’ Homeless Epidemic…

TZ1-HOMELESS COMMISSION_1470188162918_1790345_ver1.0I wasn’t at Dallas’ City Council briefing yesterday, when the Dallas Homeless Commission gave them the results of our study compiled over the summer. Believe it or not, I was in meetings, trying to build support for a new permanent supportive housing initiative! So, I was relegated to news reports.

Let’s just say, that I am unimpressed with the response of our council…

According to the Dallas Morning News, the range of responses went from calls for more ‘innovative’ responses to calls for the city to ‘own’ the problem…

“Reactions from council members were mixed. Some were critical of the commission’s first presentation, saying the group didn’t try to find new ideas to address homelessness…“If the council doesn’t get serious about this problem … we’ll have this problem perpetually,” council member Lee Kleinman said.”

Here are the facts: The city of Dallas has ignored the ‘new ideas to address homelessness’ for decades. The ideas presented ARE the new ideas to address homelessness based on best practices across the nation. And in response to Lee Kleinman…RIGHT ON! This problem DOES belong to the city of Dallas. If there was no CitySquare, no Austin Street Shelter, no Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Dallas homeless would still be the problem of the city of Dallas.

The response of Dallas Commission on Homelessness to its charge, was that the city initially invest, $3 million which would house about 600 homeless vets and chronically homeless adults (I DO have a problem with the ask, because its way too low – although, I’ve been assured it’s actually closer to $9 million. Dallas has at least 3800 homeless people. Any proposal that doesn’t include enough money to address the needs of at least 25% to half of them in the next 18 months isn’t realistic…but that’s just me…).

Dallas has doesn’t have a Homeless problem. Dallas has a Homeless epidemic. If we had nearly 4000 citizens, afflicted with any disease…the Zika virus, ebola, pneumonia, that’s just how it would be defined…an epidemic. That’s how we need to see it, an epidemic, one from which most of the people afflicted, will almost certainly die. They will die sicker, and younger, from diseases that are more treatable and/or curable than the rest of our more healthy population.

The difference is they are poorer than the rest of us. That makes it easier for us not to care as much. That makes them easier to ignore and to drag out arguments about what we can and should do about them, and to substitute and confuse our arguments for action. Until we all become incredibly less rich…in ways we can’t even imagine…




We All Must Respond to Homelessness

Cindy Crain is the Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. By all accounts, she’s doing a tremendous job faced with challenging circumstances.

Although in some way or another, I’ve been dealing with homelessness as a pastor and as a non-profit executive, I’ve seen the problem grow worse through the years. And although, I have served with Cindy on our city’s Homelessness Commission, I am waiting to see whether or not our city council will accept and employ our recommendations.

Cindy’s wisdom, expressed in today’s Dallas Morning News, let’s us all know that everyone has to have some skin in the game, if we are going to solve this problem…not just the police. Police Chief David Brown, has lamented that police are asked to do to much. I tend to agree with him…the answer to homelessness is not citations and jail…it’s a home…

Here’s Cindy Crain’s Op-Ed piece…

Three months ago, a patrol officer called me regarding a person experiencing homelessness who was trespassing. I asked the officer to hand his cell phone to the man. I calmed him and recommended a solution, and he agreed.

Unfortunately, my staff and I were not immediately available to help. The Dallas Police Crisis Intervention Team was working on stacked calls. The two street outreach workers were knee-deep in cases involving the Interstate 45 tent city removal.

I called the officer back. I could clearly hear his frustration and agitation. He had been on this call for more than an hour, and it was hot outside.

“Ma’am, if y’all cannot get here soon, I am going to take him in.”

They say when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

Police are equipped with a citation book, handcuffs, and so-called APOWW, or apprehension by a peace officer without warrant. An officer can call the crisis intervention team, but they are charged with far more than homelessness.

The day after the closure of the second major homeless encampment at I-45 and Coombs two weeks ago, I visited the site. I happened on the clean-up crew preparing to load possessions on a truck just outside the perimeter, a line difficult to discern for all the brush.

There, a homeless woman was deeply distressed and a police officer was working to understand the circumstance and necessary response.

Texting and calling, we resolved the situation together. As I resumed the walk-through, the officer asked, “Why didn’t she get housed like all the rest?”

My response was that we were only able to house a few.

The officer, “So, they were all just scattered all over?”

“Yes, sir.”

He shook his head, and I handed him my card and to call if I could be of service.

I have listened to officers lamenting the load that homelessness places on their time, patience and conscience. I recently started to listen to police band radio over the internet. I began to listen to Dallas Police 1 Central and 2 NE division locations.

Within the first 15 minutes I heard a call and recognized the address. Half an hour later, another. For days I listened and kept hearing descriptions and addresses that told me homelessness was a prominent culprit.

Nationally, Dallas has a reputation for its criminalization of homelessness. I know personally that this reputation in no way squares with the sentiment of the men and women who wear that Dallas badge.

Last week, members of the City of Dallas Homeless Commission expressed concern that the budgetary needs of Dallas Police were now in conflict with proposals to address homelessness.

I see no conflict.

In fact, the work of the Homeless Commission is a critical component to the goals to strengthen law enforcement resources. The Commission recommendations fall solidly within the learned best practices identified throughout the country.

Data improves our knowledge and accountability. Adopting the philosophy that housing ends homelessness — and the more rapidly navigated the better — will dramatically adjust the course of the homeless response system.

Aligning new street outreach with shredding entrance rules for homeless shelters will better define a clear and accessible path off the streets.

And then there is the housing. Last week at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in Washington, I met with peers from Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego and Houston.

All shared the same challenge: There’s no available affordable housing, the unsheltered homeless population continues to grow, and the homeless response systems are blamed. We are all wringing out every possible last-drop solution to counter more than four decades of declining investment in affordable housing.

In Dallas, systemic solutions are now in play. We will retool existing resources. But we need the commitment and strategic, targeted investment to counter the market and societal change. We all must respond, not just the Blue.

Education is Always a Great Investment…Especially/Even in Dallas

Dallas County is looking to give homeowners a tax cut…Dallas Independent School District is asking the citizens of Dallas to vote on a tax increase!

I think it’s worth it. Here’s an explanation why, taken from this month’s DMagazine…

“With the news that Dallas ISD will ask voters to approve a tax hike in November, the most important election of my lifetime has somehow become even more so. On Friday, when it was announced that DISD trustees will soon discuss a 13-cent increase and the required Tax Ratification Election, or a TRE, the first reaction from a lot of people was: “Seriously?” The idea being that property taxes are already going up so much that the middle class feels like it’s being stretched pretty thin.

“You are, and that feeling is totally understandable. Which is why it’s so crucial that you understand three things:

1. The structure of this tax increase is very innovative, giving voters the opportunity to line-item their votes, and putting measures in place that will allow voters to sunset the tax increases in six years if student improvement metrics aren’t met.

2. Texas property taxes may be the fifth-highest in the nation, but your school district tax rate is shockingly low. Don’t conflate the two. It’s why the district needs money, and it’s why hundreds of districts around the state are asking for or preparing to ask for TREs themselves. More than half (28 of 55) of the area ISDs have recently passed TREs, and 24 of those approved the maximum $1.17 tax rate per $100 of value, which is the maximum allowed by state law. (For example, Frisco ISD is also asking for a 13-cent raise in its TRE vote next month.)

3. The money will be used to support high-quality pre-K, teacher pay, and early college programs. The benefits of each of these programs/initiatives is significant to students, parents, neighborhoods, and the city at large.”

Read more about it here

What do you think?

Black vs. White Anger…Must We Be Enemies? Can We Be Allies?

One of the things, this time in our history is showing me is the degree to which we all think our circumstances are ‘unique’: blacks and whites, elite and plebiscites, old and young, working class and middle class. We all think we have a more of a grievance than the other guy.

Nowhere is our conflict national played out more starkly than in our politics, and our capacity (or lack there of) to see one another as allies rather than ‘enemies’.

Take for example Donald Trump’s core constituency – the white male without a college degree, which means they have a high school diploma. These are people who, at one time had relatively good paying jobs, and have either lost those jobs through off-shoring, because of technology and because of age, education or lack of training, have little to no opportunity (as they see it) to participate in a new economy. They are experiencing a rising drug abuse problem, one of the surest signs of hopelessness and despair. They pay less and less attention to the impact of religion, aside from the more cultural and communal aspects of faith.

Yet, blacks, Hispanics, the so-called ‘natural constituency’ of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, say pretty much the same things.

Take a look at this video clip from Saturday morning’s ‘Smerconish’ on CNN. A young man, J.D. Vance who grew up in Appalachia, has written a book entitled,  ‘Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’ in which he seeks to explain why these people, in terms of culture, in terms of dwindling career prospects and fears of lack of opportunity for their children feel the bitterness, resentment and disaffection that he claims as the rational for supporting Donald Trump.

But, this rationale has been pointed to as the reasons for the poverty within the black community. William Julius Wilson, wrote a book years ago, entitled ‘When Work Disappears’, in which he describes the rise of poverty and the crumbling of society and culture within the inner city…

“There is a new poverty in American metropolises that has consequences for a range of issues relating to the quality of life in urban areas, including race relations. By the ‘new urban poverty’, I mean poor, segregated neighbourhoods in which a majority of individual adults are either unemployed or have dropped out or never been a part of the labour force. This jobless poverty today stands in sharp contrast to previous periods. In 1950, a substantial portion of the urban black population in the United States was poor but they were working. Urban poverty was quite extensive but people held jobs. However, as we entered the 1990s most poor adults were not working in a typical week in the ghetto neighbourhoods of America’s larger cities. For example, in 1950 a significant majority of adults held jobs in a typical week in the three neighbourhoods that represent the historic core of the Black Belt in the city of Chicago — Douglas, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park — the three neighbourhoods of Chicago that received the bulk of black migrants from the South in the early to mid-twentieth century. But by 1990 only four in ten in Douglas worked in a typical week, 1 in 3 in Washington Park, and 1 in 4 in Grand Boulevard. In 1950, 69 percent of all males 14 and over who lived in these three neighbourhoods worked in a typical week, and in 1960, 64 percent of this group were so employed.

“However, by 1990 only 37 percent of all males 16 and over held jobs in a typical week in these three neighbourhoods. The disappearance of work has adversely affected not only individuals and families, but the social life of neighbourhoods as well. Inner-city joblessness in America is a severe problem that is often overlooked or obscured when the focus is mainly on poverty and its consequences. Despite increases in the concentration of poverty since 1970, inner cities in the United States have always featured high levels of poverty, but the levels of inner-city joblessness reached during the first half of the 1990s was unprecedented. I should note that when I speak of ‘joblessness’ I am not solely referring to official unemployment. The unemployment rate, as measure  in the United States, represents only the percentage of workers in the official labour force — that is, those who are actively looking for work. It does not include those who are outside of or have dropped out the labour market, including the nearly 6 million males 25 to 60 who appeared in the census statistics but were not recorded in the labour market statistics in 1990 (Thurow 1995). These uncounted males in the labour market are disproportionately represented in the inner-city ghettos…”

“The disappearance of work in many inner-city neighbourhoods is in part related to the nation-wide decline in the fortunes of low-skilled workers. The sharp decline in the relative demand for unskilled labour has had a more adverse effect on blacks than on whites in the United States because a substantially larger proportion of African-Americans are unskilled. Although the number of skilled blacks (including managers, professionals and technicians) has increased sharply in the last several years, the proportion of those who are unskilled remains large, because the black population, burdened by cumulative experiences of racial restrictions, was overwhelmingly unskilled just several decades ago (Schwartzman 1997). The factors involved in the decreased relative demand for unskilled labour include:

• the computer revolution (i.e., the spread of new technologies that displaced low-skilled workers and rewarded the more highly trained),

• the rapid growth in college enrolment that increased the supply and reduced the relative cost of skilled labour, and

• the growing internationalisation of economic activity, including trade liberalisation policies which reduced the price of imports and raised the output of export industries (Schwartzman 1997; Krueger 1997; Katz 1996).

“Whereas the increased output of export industries aids skill workers, simply because skill workers are heavily represented in export industries, increasing imports, especially those from developing countries that compete with labour-intensive industries (for example, apparel, textile, toy, footwear and some manufacturing industries) hurt unskilled labour (Schwartzman 1997), and therefore would have significant negative implications for American black workers. For example, 40 percent of the workforce in the apparel industry is African-American. But, inner-city workers in the United States face an additional problem — the growing suburbanisation of jobs. Most ghetto residents cannot afford an automobile and therefore have to rely on public transit systems that make the connection between inner-city neighbourhoods and suburban job locations difficult and time consuming.”

Granted, while black unemployment improved throughout the ’90’s, the reasons for unemployment and poverty is are virtually the same. Certainly the results are. Yet, white anger around these issues is considered almost ‘righteous indignation’, while black anger is considered to be a type of rage of an ‘unworthy’ class.

Why aren’t we allies?

There is clearly an election year effort to divide our country along race and class lines. There always is. It appears to be working…again.

Elizabeth Warren made reference to a speech made by Martin Luther King in which he spoke of the origins of the efforts of a more affluent white class to divide poor blacks and whites, along race and class lines. The speech was actually given at the end of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Here is the excerpt that contains the actual quote in context…

“Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

“Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

“To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

“If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion…”

It is interesting to me that the party of individualism and self reliance is actively courting the votes of those who perceive themselves as ‘victims’ of ‘the system’. It’s ‘the man’ keeping them down in other words. They are blaming the government for their children turning to drugs (whatever happened to “Just say ‘No’?). And what’s the difference in jobs leaving to go overseas and jobs leaving communities and moving to the hinterlands where public transportation doesn’t go?.

It seems like poor and near poor whites have much more in common than separates them from poor black people. They would appear to be natural allies. Yet they and their interests are being pitted against one another. And yet the answer for one group is that the government will fix your problems. The answer for the other group is ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. And both are being told someone else is to blame for their lot in life.

Anyone see anything wrong with this picture?



Yes, Virginia, There is a Progressive Church…

Please read my good friend Eric Folkerth’s blog post, regarding ‘progressive’ Christianity.

It’s an interesting piece in which he relates his interview with a reporter after she watched the Democratic Convention last week. She was surprised at how often God and faith were mentioned during the quadrennial political confab.


But then again, not really. Eric’s right in his piece…the public’s view of Christianity is labeled ‘evangelical’ (code word for conservative, Biblical literalist and Republican). The idea that there are believers who may question certain Biblical passages, or doctrinal orthodoxies, but who name Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is, for many in and outside of the Church…particularly in America…inconceivable.

The reason for the reporter’s interview of Eric, was Rev. William Barber’s speech at the DNC. It was, by almost any measure, a powerful, eloquent, sermon-like, call to America’s ‘heart’. But more than that, he, more than any other preacher I’ve heard in a long, long time, gave the type of speech reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King. Barber, who is a pastor, and leads North Carolina’s NAACP, and who came to prominence as leader and spokesperson for the Moral Monday protests, which for years brought thousands of North Carolinians to the state capitol to protest the right wing political agenda of the state legislature,  interwove the themes of his speech with the claims of Christianity, the aspirations of our Constitution with the spiritual fervor of the black church. He did so, as did King, so masterfully that there could be no ‘church-state’ argument.

Apparently, the reporter has never listened to King, or has a rather ahistorical view of American politics. Even I was taken aback when Eric quotes her as saying, “So, how come we don’t hear about you guys more often?” Eric’s response was spot on, “Because you never call us. Because, when there is a some social/political issue in the world, the media calls the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, or First Baptist, get a quote, and then posits that as the response from “all Christians.””

The idea, that the ‘real’ Christians are considered to be ‘evangelical’ clergy and members of ‘mega-churches’ is offensive to me, as it is with many other believers who are ‘progressive’. We need to remember (or learn), that legitimate Christianity comes in all hues and colors, and to anoint as legitimate only those Christians who gather in large numbers, or who vote a certain way, or who are courted by particular politicians is short-sighted, but wrong.

My only argument with Eric’s blogpost is that he leaves out the substantial influence of the Black church when he mentions historic examples of ‘progressive’ Christianity. I’m not only talking about Martin Luther King, but those who influenced him. Clergy of great stature, the theologian and mystic Howard Thurman, James Cone, Theodore Parker and Benjamin E. Mayes, all helped shape King’s theological world view. In fact, the notion of ‘liberation theology’ (championed and advanced by James Cone, in America), is actually a Latin American theological construct advanced by Archbishop Oscar Romero and Father Miguel d’Escoto. And in effect takes Biblical stories like that written in the Book of Exodus, and says, that Christians can read God’s dealings with humanity from the bottom up; that the poor, have a special place in the heart of God, so special, in fact that the more you identify with the poor, the dispossessed and the marginalized, the closer you are to the heart of God.

‘Evangelicalism’ in America, identifies more with a Calvinist approach to scripture, which says that the ‘elect’ are the most materially successful, and draws all kinds of straight (and frankly crooked) lines from hard work to material prosperity, which frankly many of us don’t see in the Bible or, at least balance with equally strong calls to compassion and mercy to the poor in scripture.

It is that liberation (or progressive, if you will) theology that kept African-Americans alive, throughout slavery,  Jim Crow and segregation and which fueled the modern era Civil Rights Movement. The Black Church has always had an admixture of conservative political, cultural and spiritual thought, as a part of its social world view, while reading a ‘progressive’ ethos in scripture, which fostered a ‘conservative’ focus relative to our citizenship in this country inspired and encouraged the development of black businesses, supported education and other voluntary associations, and that helped black communities survive and thrive in the midst of oppression.

But, I think there is a sense in which the Black Church has been marginalized in the mind of mainstream America, when President Obama’s pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, was vilified for his ‘god-damn America’ sermon. In context, it is actually a patriotic sermon, which points out black America’s hopes and dreams for America and America’s disappointment of those hopes and dreams. It forced many black America’s pastor’s into silence or forced them into a hyper-conservative posture, in which more and more churches preached more and more, only ‘salvation’. As opposed to speaking out more obviously on issues of ‘social justice’, in reaction to that criticism, a more corrupting type of ‘Hollywood’ version of church, pushed aside the more ‘progressive/prophetic’ Christian message of the black church.

Eric extols the United Methodist Church’s ‘open/welcoming fellowships’ for the LGBT community, is an outgrowth of that influence, because long before, the were open to the LGBT community they were open to and supportive of the Civil Rights movement’s aims and objectives.

Still, I would be remiss if I were to leave anyone with the impression that the progressive church, is a modern-day construct around issues of race and sexual orientation. It was the progressive church, which around the turn of the century before last, championed what would be termed, in this modern era, ‘social justice issues’. Issues such as child labor laws, poverty and unionization. Arguably, it wasn’t until later on in the century – around mid to late 40’s, I believe, that a more conservative strain of Christianity, began to impact America’s religious community. First around issues of faith, and around the late 70’s early 8o’s around faith and politics.

Let me end by saying, I’m actually offended by the usage of the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘progressive’ when it comes to Christianity. They are essentially political designations. However, I also understand that they are cultural designations as well. I have read some conservative Christians write, that they cannot see how any ‘real’ Christian can ever vote Democratic. Which means that even within the church, we have divided ourselves along political and cultural lines. Its important, I guess, to label, in the same way we label cans of vegetables. We have to know who we’re dealing with. Those of us who are ‘progressive’ are Christian with a different perspective. And the world needs to know that perspective. So Eric was right, if the press keeps going to conservative mega-church pastors as the only legitimate ‘spokesmen’ for the Christian Church, the world will think, this is what the Church ‘thinks’. No, it’s not. We are diverse in thought – even within progressive circles. We simply agree on one thing…Jesus is Lord.

Now, if we can all agree on what that means!

What do you think?