Confession as Resistance and Solidarity in Bloomington

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An Indiana University student was arrested over the weekend after police say he attacked a Muslim woman, yelling racially charged comments at her and trying to remove her headscarf. Police on Monday did not identify the woman, but said that she had been dining in a Bloomington, Indiana, restaurant’s outdoor seating area Saturday night with her 9-year-old daughter when she was approached by 19-year-old Triceten Bickford. Police said the woman claimed Bickford was yelling things like “white power,” “kill the police” and derogatory statements about black people.

The following are remarks I gave at the Bloomington Against Islamophobia event today.

Good afternoon, my name is Mihee Kim-Kort, and I’m a Presbyterian minister and director of a campus ministry here in town and one of the conveners of Btown Justice. I’m honored to stand with the wider Bloomington community to speak out against Islamophobia.

A major tenet of Protestant faith is the act of confession, both as individuals and as a community. Confession can serve as a means to honestly and genuinely express not only one’s failures – or the failures of a community, but as way to acknowledge and lament the fragility of humanity. In that vein, I want to offer these remarks up in that posture – I am wholly and painfully aware of the ways in which those who profess to follow the Christian faith have failed over and over in not only the areas of tolerance but compassion – we do lip service but when it comes to truly knowing and loving our neighbors we have so much more work in front of us. Moreover, we have also been complicit in perpetuating those value systems – guilty of prejudice and violence towards those who are NON: non-Christian, non-white, non-male, non-hetero, non-normative at so many levels.

In the same way confession acts as a mode for honesty and vulnerability, as a way of interrogation and self-reflexivity, it is a way to proclaim and affirm the realities of the struggle and what it means to cling to hope despite the realities around us. Click To Tweet

As I reflected on the actions of the IU student, I couldn’t help but feel sad for him. He is a symptom and product of white supremacy. It is in the air we breathe and we consume it like food. This is to not excuse him or his actions or justify any of the violence done towards our brothers and sisters but a way to hold us accountable for our own actions and what we are called to do with the words and opportunities before us, too.

I identify as Asian American. My family and I have experienced physical, spiritual and emotional violence. We have received demeaning and disrespectful treatment, we have been used and tokenized and propped up to support white supremacy while being made to feel like an outsider. This is typical of many AAPI. In the eyes of some, Asians in America are, writes Erika Lee, “perpetual foreigners at worst, or probationary Americans at best.” If Asians sometimes remain silent in the face of racism, and if some seem to work unusually hard in the face of this difficult history, it is not because they want to be part of a “model minority” but because they have often had no other choice.

But I believe as one theologian writes that “prophetic grief transforms our sadness into seeking faith-rooted justice for all so we must speak up and repent by dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, communities, families and hearts, and by becoming humble, supportive allies in the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement, accountable to those who suffer most.‬‬” ‬‬As a person who is committed to a faith that is centered around the life of a 1st century Palestinian who from the beginning stood with the marginalized, the rejected and isolated, the non-normative of society, and even himself experienced state-sanctioned violence and execution, because of his life – I believe and confess and affirm that black lives matter. Muslim lives matter.

#BlackLivesMatter and Standing in Solidarity

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The following is the text of the speakers at the National Day of Resistance protest in Bloomington, Indiana published here with their permission. Rasul Mowatt is Associate Chair and professor in IU’s Public Health program. Chanelle Fox is a fourth year law/master’s in public health student. Both were incredibly inspiring – sharp, provocative, thoughtful, articulate, and have pushed me to pursue more of this work in our town. I offer their reflections here for your edification. Because “we need to learn Black Things today.”


Come in and let’s gather closely. Most of you do not know me, and I do not know you. But, we do not need to know each other to be close.

In beginning, I like to think back to the experience and opportunity of working for a Shule, a Black Independent Institution/School. These were/are remarkable schools for Black Children. Now I know most of you are not Black, and only some of you here today are children, but we would begin each day with a simple question:
‘What are we here to learn today’ and the children would in turn respond, ‘We are here to learn Black Things today.’

So, when I ask you, the crowd that is gathered here today,
‘What are we here to learn today?’ [Crowd: ‘We are here to learn Black Things today!’]

This makes me think of John Henrik Clarke, an elder and incredible historian that I had the opportunity to be around for some time towards the end of his life. He has been quoted with saying, ‘If we are going to be masters of our destiny, we must be masters of the ideas that influence that destiny.’

You see, there are many perspectives that we can draw from in engaging in something like this, and we when we invoke ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ then it is also necessary to have a broader understanding of Black political perspectives [beyond MLK]. With this in mind, and based on those perspectives there are several questions that I ask each of us to consider as we stand here, walk down Kirkwood, and gathering at Fountain Square.

1. What do you want to do?
Think it through, really. Are we attempting to simply imitate what others have done? One location does a die-in, so we want to do one? One location blocks streets, so want to block one? Do we want to be seen? Or, do we want to change something? You see, others have chosen to take a hard look at this and it makes me think of Chazz Giovani and the small group that gathered with him in New York City’s Grand Central Station to take Eric Garner’s last words, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and turned it into perfomance art that was powerful because it came from a place that was not based on imitation but from the heart and what they were experiencing there, in New York.

Whatever comes from the heart will touch the spirit.

2. Where do you want to do it?
I ask this, because you must determine were you want to do this work, to do this fight. Do you want to do this [work] here, in Bloomington? In Ferguson? Where ever you come from? Do you need to study abroad to engage in change? Because change is needed here.

Many of us, are waiting the return of the show the Wire on Dec. 26th. And interestingly connected to the police killings of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, and Michael Brown, the character Prez, former cop who accidently killed a Black boy is a now a teacher, is at a teacher’s training and is disgusted that the school systems operates very similarly to the police department in moving numbers to benefit the system rather than changing lives and communities, and she turns to him and simply says, ‘Wherever you go there you are.’

See: “The Wire: Know Your Place (#4.9)” (2006)
Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: I don’t get it. All this so we score higher on the state tests? If we’re teaching the kids the test questions, what is it assessing in them?

Grace Sampson: Nothing. It assesses us. The test scores go up, they can say the schools are improving. The scores stay down, they can’t.

Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: Juking the stats.

Grace Sampson: Excuse me?

Roland ‘Prezbo’ Pryzbylewski: Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.

Grace Sampson: Wherever you go, there you are.

3. Why are you here?
Really, why are you here? What is your motivation? Ask yourself this. The reason is that others have or might not have thought this out. Some of us are aware that Harvard law students are currently asking to be exempt from their final exams or have them extended because they are traumatized by the current events in the city and country. Many are questioning this, as to how could you turn these tragic deaths into something that is about you. Many think that this exemplifies what happens when people do not know why they are doing a thing, why they are here/there. But we should be here because we work, not protest, work on prison relief, wrongful convictions, arrest disparities, etc. in this community.

We need to be here, because of the work we do and because of the words of these women.

Toni Morrison said it best, ‘The function of freedom is to free someone else.’

4. How long are you going to do this?
Most of us, all of us, should know that State Sanctioned violence, summary executions, wrongful incarcerations have been going on for a long time. Longer than the oldest person gathered here today, not suggesting that anyone here is exceptionally old. But we must realize that if we are going to be about this, then we need to be prepared to be engaged in this for a long time, a very long time. Otherwise, why are we are…is it just to be in this moment, only? What are we doing for those who are most likely to be locked up or killed, the most disposable among us?

And this leads me to my final question for us to think about…to keep in mind:

5. What’s your price?
We all have one. How high is yours? Is it that job you always wanted? A certain amount of money? A certain man or woman that you have an eye for? Some thing? What is it that will make you not want to engage in this fight anymore? What is it that will make sway away from doing the task? What is your price? Know it. Know that price and try and make it as high as possible.

So these are the questions that I leave us to think on as we continue on this day we have chosen to gather. We must realize that this is no game. Think of Ramsay Orta and what he is currently experiencing. We would not know much of what happened to Eric Garner if was not for him recording the incident with his smartphone. He has been arrested and we cannot think that this is simply a coincidence.

So I end with what I asked you near the beginning, as I began this, ‘What did you learn today?’…I can’t hear you…‘What did you learn today?’ [Crowd: ‘We learned Black Things today!’]

Indeed. For if we have learned Black Things today and we are going to do Black Things tomorrow.

 


 

First of all, I want to take a moment to honor the many lives that we have lost to senseless murders by the police. I’ve thought a lot about what I should say, given that I have a platform to speak on behalf of a community that is hurting. I thought a lot about my own conversations that I’ve had with other people of color and white allies.

A few things come to mind when I think about how I, and many people of color, have felt in regards to the national conversations about race. The best word I can use is – solidarity.

To perform solidarity is to always be cognizant of what this means, and to whom the meaning belongs. It is performed by constantly being in conversation with systems of power, our roles, and how we can all work to deconstruct it. It means recognizing our own positions of power within the greater struggle of justice. I ask my white allies to please constantly be critiquing and critically analyzing their own privilege and power within the structure of white supremacy. I ask that you think before you act, think before you speak: That you act and speak slowly, and with humility. I ask that you are cognizant of the fact that your privilege has protected you from understanding – from knowing – black rage, from violence being committed not just on your body, but the bodies of those that you love daily, relentlessly.

I ask that you check yourself before you “whitesplain” to a person of color just how right you are on matters that you could never fully understand. I ask that you remember that for so long black voices have been silenced, and ask you not to perpetuate the violence and systems of oppression by drowning us out with your own voice. Because the reality is if we can’t breathe, then imagine how hard it is for us to speak, much less be heard.

Thank you.