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Blog

These are my thoughts, yo.

Filtering by Tag: siloam springs

Dear White Friends

jasmine banks

Reasons.jpg

I lost a lot of friends recently. Who is to say if they were ever real friends. My inclination is to answer my own question with a resounding "NO". When I lost my "friends" Mainstream Media was circulating stories of Michael Brown and the Ferguson situation after a police officer shot another unarmed black boy. The same rhetoric spilled out: "he was no angel" and all that. The rhetoric was all the usual attempts that are made to blame shift. We know. Black boys can't be innocent. Hide your children. Hide your wives.

I sat at my keyboard many times. I stared blankly at the screen refreshing over and over. I read as people that I just sat across at our local restaurant made comment after comment filled with undercover racism and vitriol. I read one comment too many and something inside me broke open. I posted a status update. It read:

 

"Dear White Friends,

If we were together in person would you allow someone to call me a nigger and not say anything? Would you stand by while people used terms like monkey, pimps, thugs, and coon to describe my people? If you wouldn't stand for that in person- help me understand why you are allowing these comments on your Facebook pages? Please don't say freedom of speech. That page belongs to you. Your lack of safeguarding it and keeping nasty comments full of racism in check is offensive and signals acceptance. I thought we were friends. It is okay to have a no tolerance policy on hate speech and take a side. People of color actually need you to take a side- ours. Because Ferguson is all of our future if we don't start saying very loudly that we won't stand for these kinds of lines and belief systems that permeate our culture. Sure it is only deleting a few racist comments on Facebook and letting people know you aren't down with that shit-- but maybe that is how it starts."

I was promptly unfriended by many. Those that didn't unfriend me challenged me publicly and privately. I got called a racist (ha!) race baiter (deep eye roll) and I was even questioned: "You aren't even fully Black by your avatar..." Because if I wasn't "fully Black" then obviously I didn't belong in the conversation.

Over the proceeding weeks, I experienced a deep sense of despair. I thought through how I was supposed to engage in a community that largely didn't seem to give a damn about the world my very black sons and daughter would have to live in. I recycle for their kids. I vote, pick up my trash in the community, and attend city government meetings too. I was and am doing my part as a neighbor in this community to insure that, not just MY kids but, THEIR kids live lives full of vibrance  (vibrance involves being able to walk down the street without being questioned because of your skin). I felt a looming sense of betrayal that so many of the people I interact with on the regular seemed complacent and unbothered. So many were very ready to point out "Black on Black violence" and dismiss the situation all together.  After a month things calmed down on the social media front and the masses focused on the next big thing- likely some celebrity and their divorce.

Meanwhile, I found it hard to hope. I am part of a community that has less than 1% people of color, and I feel that heavy burden daily. It wasn't until an unexpected encounter at a meeting broke me open again, that I started to consider that my words were heard. Then I received another message, then another, then another, and another. The people in my community were hearing me. They were taking action. A dear friend of mine wrote me a note explaining what he did... all because of my post on Facebook. Here is what he wrote me (parts redacted to protect his professional identity)

 

Jasmine, I've been meaning to tell you this story for a few weeks: you inspired me to do something (it was a small something) about the underlying racism that we encounter all around us. I was going to tell you tonight, but I thought the story might sound a little self-serving in a group so I thought I'd just write you, as a way to tell you: you are making a difference. Keep it up. To preface the story, I am not, by nature, a very confrontational person. I tend to be pretty private about my views, and keep my cards close to my chest. But when everything started going down in Ferguson, I finally realized: people are getting KILLED! I can't just sit back and say, well “to each his own.” And every time I opened facebook, you were all over the place saying (to paraphrase), “white people! Do something! Don’t just let the people around you with racist feelings go unchallenged! Stand up!” So…to get to the story: a few months ago, I got hired....and.....I wanted that to be out in the open from the beginning. No issue was really made of it and they hired me.  Every morning at 7, guys do a brief devotion before starting the work day. All the guys take turns leading. It’s mostly harmless, occasionally encouraging. But there’s one guy who always uses his turn in devotions to rant about some issue or another that the liberal media is distorting and ruining our country. I usually just roll my eyes and let it slide, like he’s the crazy uncle you just tolerate. But when he started to rant about what was happening in Ferguson, and I began to feel the underlying racism coming out, my blood started to boil and I got just plain mad…my heart was racing, I felt my ears getting hot, and all I could hear was you in the back of my mind saying, “white people! Do something! Don’t just let racism go unchallenged! Stand up!” So I did. So I stood up in the middle of 15 good old boys, and walked out of the room. That was all I could bring my non-confrontational self to do. If I was truly brave I could have stood up and said something like “this stops now!”, but I was too mad to even speak, so I just got up and left. My boss wasn’t there that day, and nobody said a word to me about it. I didn’t think much of the next day, and I went on with my life. A week later when my boss got back into town, he took me aside and said, “listen, four guys have come up to me and told me that you got mad and just plain walked out of devotions the other day. You want to tell me why you would do that?” I said, “well sir, the things that were being said in that room, I didn’t want to affirm by my silence anymore. I am not going to be a part anymore of a lot of the stuff that goes on in the name of Christianity. “ And what my boss said to me really took me by surprise. He said, “I’m proud of you. Stuff like that should never happen, and I am going to talk to that guy today, and make sure he knows that he is never EVER to use devotions to further his political agenda or run anybody down. Thanks for walking out.” And just like that, it was over. I thought nobody had noticed, or cared, but because you kept plugging away on facebook, and because you kept shouting, “white people! Do something! Don’t let racism go unchallenged! Stand up!” it gave me the good sense to do a very small something and to make a small change in one little corner of a little backward Christian universe. All that to say, thank you. Keep at it. You are being heard. You are making a difference in small and big ways.

 

These are the reasons we keep talking, even when it is hard.

Your Christianity is Keeping Us From Being Friends

jasmine banks

If you are hanging out with the same kind of Christians I am, you'll understand. I've been one of those Christians. I am now in deep recovery and working hard to silence those "old tapes". The first step to admitting you have a problem and all that jazz...

See. I live in a very conservative town. Someone would even call it a "Christian Community," though too many of us who are working to inject diversity and tolerance into our community would give a deep side eye to those who claim such titles. Siloam Springs, Arkansas is a town where there used to a billboard that declared, "Now Entering God's Country". It also used to be a sundown town.

The irony isn't lost on this African American woman.

I had to learn how to live in Siloam Springs as one has to learn to live in a foreign country where the outlets don't fit your flat irons electrical plugs and the words for beer and emergency are too alike. A single misplaced syllable could land you in trouble. Siloam Springs is home to John Brown University. My Alma Mater. I'd like to claim I was tricked into attending this school, but I wasn't. When I signed on the federal loan dotted line I knew the school I was headed to. I wanted to have my identity rooted in "good Christian ideals". It wasn't until I arrived that I realized that the cultural paradigm established by the founders of this university were diametrically opposed to how I was made. So I learned to fly under the radar (which looked like getting in lots of trouble for having pre-marital sex and drinking A SINGLE SMIRNOFF ON A SCHOOL TRIP). <- To be fair I agreed not to do these things by signing JBU's Lifestyle Contract.

I became extremely jaded and then looped back toward gratitude concerning my time at John Brown University.

Nowadays, I zip around Siloam Springs free  from Lifestyle Contracts. I still, however, have to interact with folks who came out of a heavily indoctrinated experience and I still struggle against  how their Christianity keeps us from authentic connection.  Here is an example of the kind of exchanges that make it hard for me to connect with these people.

Me: "Hey! How are you."

Them: "SO blessed. God is so awesome."

Me: "Um... that is cool for you."

Them: "And you!"

Me: "What are you up to these days."

Them: "The Lord has been so faithful. __________ got a new job, our church prayed for it and God gave it to him and I've been home being a stay-at-home mom."

Me: "Yikes. I remember stay-at-home life... that was hard"

Them: "It can be hard, but we know this is where God wants me so I feel grateful that He has made a way."

Me: (blank stare)

Me: "So. Um.... coooooool."

Them: "It was SO good to see you."

Me: "Mmhmm. So good."

 

Y'all. I am not saying this is inauthentic for EVERYONE. So many people I've met in this town speak like this and function (seemingly well) in this kind of cultural dynamic. But me? I don't know how to move beyond that point. What I do know is this: Christianity was never supposed to be about keeping people away from the real parts of you. It seems like the narrative of Christianity is filled with gravitas. It was and should still be about redemption, grace, and community. When we strip things down to platitudes, though, we lose that gravitas.

I am willing to take responsibility--- maybe I just don't get it. When everything about your life is a rejection of your own will or uncomfortable emotions or, well, anything personal... I don't know how to navigate. Is there a course for this? I'll take it! Maybe I'll get credit toward cross-cultural studies.

 

 

"Can I Touch Your Hair?" A Black Girl in Siloam Springs and a Moment of Racial Reconciliation.

jasmine banks

Macenna-before-and-after.jpg

My God sister, Macenna, is beautiful. We were both raised similarly. We learned that our kinky/curly hair was ugly. We grew up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma in the Charles Page Family Village.  I can recall fond memories of Macenna's hair. I was in junior high. I knew how to braid. I would come over to Macenna's house. She would sit between my knees and I would grease her scalp, comb through her hair, and twist and braid. Macenna and I were both born to White mothers and Black fathers. Macenna's hair is kinky and coarse and mine is coarse in some spots, but mostly smooth spirals. Both of our hair textures are "ethnic." Macenna would cry and wail, "I HATE MY HAIR!" Her hair was relaxed, a style she knew from a very young age. One day, during Macenna's senior year, I showed her Around The Way Curls. "Please stop relaxing your hair, I begged!" I clicked through every blog post of Shanti and Antoinette.  Look how beautiful their hair is, OUR hair is! Will you just try it, please?

Macenna agreed and I  helped her purchase a starter kit from Carol's Daughters. I sent her home praying she would give it a try and break her addiction to the creamy crack.

She stuck with it and her hair grew to reveal a beautiful afro. Her natural cinnamon and chocolate toned hair is amazing. She is natural and won't go back.

Macenna

Today we shopped in downtown Siloam Springs. Siloam Springs, for those who don't know, is not a place where you might be able to see a lot of Black women with natural hair styles. There is gentrification to the max and diversity isn't something we can claim. So when we landed on the topic of hair in one of the local vintage shops, Amandromeda, I was more than a little nervous.  I've sat through uncomfortable conversations with well meaning white women  in Siloam saying they wished they had a "ghetto booty" like me. I've fielded questions from white stylists "why do you have this nappy section around your forehead". They all, of course, claim not to be racist... but we all know these kind of ignorant statements are latent racism. I've typically not said too much. I figure people aren't looking for me to educate them. With my nose piercing, arm full of tattoos, and outspoken stances of feminism and sexuality I do well enough to not be verbally accosted without adding race to the table.

Macenna and I talked about hair wraps as Amanda Orcutt, the owner of Amandromeda, sat behind the desk. Amanda grinned and joined our conversation. "What does your hair look like without the bandana, what shape is it?" Macenna took off her bandana and happily showed off her beautiful afro. She pulled up images on Facebook. "Here is my hair after a deep condition and braids." Amanda gushed, "Oh my! It is sooooo beautiful." She paused then proceeded: "Is it okay if I can touch it?"  Macenna's smile grew wider and she leaned in as Amanda walked around the counter. Amanda pawed at Macenna's hair. "I just love it" she exclaimed.  I told Amanda about Macenna's hair evolution and how it was a struggle to  embrace our natural hair. She scrunched her wild mix of curly and straight hair. "Me too", she said, "I used to flatiron my hair and I am trying to be okay with how it is naturally."

This is racial reconciliation.

Amanda saw the race line and she stepped over it. She fearlessly asked to experience Macenna's hair, appreciated it, and then connected herself to two Black women by letting us know that her White natural hair was hard to embrace as well. We reconcile ourselves to each other when we honor our differences AND express empathy for shared existences.

A black girl visiting Arkansas, in a town where you can barely find a product to care for her coif, encountered a beautiful act acceptance in the heart of Siloam Springs. Thanks Amanda Orcutt what you did today was brave and beautiful.