Race, The PAOC, The Clippers and Me
Preamble: I recognize that the issue of race is a touchy one. I have done my best to share out of my experience, my thoughts and my hopes. The videos and articles here may have edited strong language. Because this is not an issue that comes up in christian circles, my sources are what Christian leaders would define as 'secular', and you take what you get. That said, I have used articles to open up dialogue on this issue, not to simply entertain readers or myself. These views are my own and in no way reflect Master's College and Seminary, though I did have the okay from President Rich Janes to share my thoughts. If at the end of this post, you have direct anger, please leave your email in the comments so we can have proper dialogue.
Who would have thought that me, a die-hard Lakers fan would have a blog written that has something to do with the Clippers. But this was too rich to pass up.
This past weekend, the celebrity news site TMZ released an audio recording of a man alleged to be Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Stirling making racist comments to his now ex-girlfriend. This woman took pictures of basketball hall of famer Erving ‘Magic’ Johnson and LA Dodger Matt Kemp for her Instagram, leading to the man on the phone to make comments on how she shouldn’t associate with people of color in public. (Be aware: language will offend)
Naturally, there has been outrage over these comments. Yet even though they are alleged comments, due to this owner’s track record of shoddy dealings and racism, no one in the basketball world is acting surprised. In fact, comments have come from all over the place denouncing this man’s actions, even from the President of the United States of America and Donald Trump (and Fox News. THIS is worth watching).
As I watched and read up on this case and now await the ruling by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Stirling’s fate (which will come at 2 PM EST today)...
(Ed note: It is now after 8 PM EST. Mr. Silver, on behalf of the NBA Board of Goveners has officially banned Mr. Sterling from all basketball interactions for life. He also fined him 2.5 million dollars for his remarks and is working to get a majority vote to force Mr. Sterling to sell his team. The NBPA is pleased with this but will not be fully satisfied until Mr. Sterling is no longer an owner in the NBA. The players were prepared to boycott games and are still prepared to should the NBA fail in this task. Lesson here: the players are more than guys who throw balls at nets. They are VERY smart. And the owners know it. The Decision, in hind sight, was a small moment when the preverbal whip was taken from the master. Harsh image but true statement. I'm not a fan of LeBron James as a player, but he started this ball rolling when he said "I'm taking my talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat.")
...I couldn’t help but think about my own job within a large fellowship of mainly Caucasian individuals and how race place a factor in who we are. Race is a tricky subject to talk about, you see. On one hand, you don’t want to be the supposed Malcolm X-type/Black Knight (pardon my pun), angry for every joke or slight. But on the other hand, you can’t turn away and laugh at every joke to simply be one of the boys. And as a reader, to say "Chase you're making a big deal out of nothing" is to say that racism isn't a big deal in some respects but to make it huge is to negate the argument of sexism/feminism and other issues that we face as a fellowship.
So what do you do? And how to appropriately speak to about a fellowship you love while noticing the discrimination (some accidental, some purposeful, some “just-the-way-it’s-been) within? And how do you deal with the one who says, “It’s not a big deal”, when they have no clue what it’s like on this side of the fence. Let me start with my story a bit.
I grew up in Pierrefonds, Quebec for most of my life before moving to Peterborough, Ontario for bible college. In Quebec, there was occasional racism but as long as you had a crew of friends who could fight, you were good. There was also classism (rich versus poor) and linguistic discriminations (English verses French) to boot, which made for a fun pot to cook in. I only heard the word “nigger” a few times in elementary school from two boys: Nathan Manning (Grade 4) and Stephen Comeau (grade 5) (Ed note: I was asked by a friend, why I chose to use their names here and not use names in other examples. I did so to show that moment like these, even at a young age aren't forgotten. This isn't to highlight how bad they were but to show the obvious scar that remains to this day). I got followed in stores a few times but beyond that, life was fun. My friends on my street were Cambodian, French-Canadian, East Indian and Greek. We played baseball, street hockey (I owned my own stick to the chagrin of my dad!), basketball and football. We never made jokes about race. We laughed about things that kids laughed at like "Why were your shorts so short?" and "Your mom is so fat (how fat is she...)..."
My dad was a big reason for my thinking. My dad never let me wear my pants really low or talk with a fake rapper accent. He made me talk properly (which is how I talk now) because he felt that no one would take a black man seriously who talked like they “had no education”. I also grew up hearing from mom and dad that a white person was more likely to pick a white person over me, so I had to work twice as hard to be noticed and picked for various tasks. (Just so you know, many black students hear this from their parents all the time. They may also hear that the reason they don't get things from authorities is because of their colour among other possible truths/non-truths. Some of these students know exactly when to drop the "It's because I'm black" or "blame the black guy" line. It's also something to note that these words mostly comes from black males.)
So I carried this mentality and my experience into Bible College in Peterborough, Ontario. Remember, I was never face to face with anything bad that I couldn’t handle. No one asked me about why my hair was my hair, what I ate, why I liked rap, etc. I was just Chris Chase, from Pierrefonds who went to private school, youth group and liked people. And so it was a culture shock for me when I experienced actual racism for the first time in Bible College.
I experienced a few things while in school but here are my favorites
- One day while hanging out in the halls in our dorm, a guy came out wearing a white pillowcase on his head. No joke. (Ed note: The guy who did this wasn't being a horrible person but it was situation that started as a laugh and then went dark. But I should say, he emailed me today to apologize for it, which was totally unnecessary but received with kindness. Thankfully he was and still is a great guy and I look forward to seeing him again one day!)
- I was suddenly from Jamaica all the time. And could rap. From Jamaica? Nope. Rap? LONG AGO!
- One guy after asking me if I was playing on the basketball team because I was the “only black player”, told me and my roommate that he could ask that because he has a black aunt.
- And the kicker: My then girlfriend, now wife, was told in the main lobby by her close friend (someone she grew up with) to go off with her “black boyfriend” and make black babies. In front of other people. And when I reported it, it was purposefully forgotten about. No whether he was jealous that I was with his girl or what, I wanted to pound his head in. And while writing that last sentence, I realize that God still has work to do on my heart when it comes to forgiveness...(Ed note: Wifey just reminded me that he said, "Make black babies and round up the slaves." Remember, this was her close childhood friend.)
Now when you’re younger, you just laugh some of this stuff off. You laugh at people calling you a white black person (because of course, they are the authority on that stuff). You laugh at them putting up supposed gang signs or wearing their hats different when you come into the room (Because things like Cultural Appropriation are all the rage now, with our Django Unchaineds, Miley Cyruses Avril Lavanges, Katy Perrys and more. Just a thought: If you have to say, it's not racist, it's probably racist). You laugh at the girls who say they wanted to marry black guys to have “beautiful babies”. You faintly smile when someone says “Smile!” when you’re in the dark because supposedly, your teeth can glow. You even sadly join in, talking about other races and about your own. And look forward to getting out of dodge when it's all said and done.
You also realize that in the midst of that, not every person is ignorant. Some people just get nervous and say something thinking it’ll be funny (Like the friend who says "You're the first black person I've ever met). Some people don’t know what to say. Some people are just plain rude. And some people are just good people who see you for who you are and not what you look like or what you do. (Shout outs to people like Matt Joy, Josh Singh, Ben Wright, Chad Ralph and Bob Mercer from my school days. And special notes to Shane Fitch who, during a random lunch at general conference in 2006, made me feel like a full person. I've never forgotten that moment, dude. Of course there have been others, but these guys stand out at this moment.)
In my job at MCS, this is the heart of my boss and friend Rich Janes. Rich, who pastored in Ottawa and has a great appreciation for leaders of different nationalities and genders and never talks down to anyone ever. He celebrates diversity and desires that to be a marker of our institution. And while I am there to represent a diverse group of people, that never gets leveraged either. We constantly talk about our message and how it can reach numerous people so our school can look more like our world. I love that. (Ed note: We're also careful to avoid making ethnic diversity a PC thing. It's a hard line but we're working on it diligently.)
I also take some responsibility in how I present myself to set a precedent on race, especially among our MCS students. Here are some things I do:
- I work hard to not make race jokes. They are too easy and are for cheap laughs. Plus, the moment I say them I make it okay for others to do the same.
- I identify any minorities by their country of origin when giving description. I won’t call someone Asian or Brown. I find that lazy. (Now I realize that a guy like Russell Peters who makes jokes about all races gets paid DOLLARS to do this, but it's a niche market. It some ways it helps but it other ways, it just gives the majority lines to "accept" the minority. But it never translates well. Ever. A minority joking with a minority never sounds the same as when the majority does it. When the majority does it, it has that bully sound to it. And if you've ever seen The Office's Diversity Day, you know it never ends well.)
- I don’t laugh when someone says a race joke around me. In fact, I’ll abruptly stop the conversation and ask, “What do you mean?” to see what they end up doing next. I also don’t make “gang sign” pics and get kinda bugged when others do. (I mean, would you do that on a missions trip around kids who live that life? Urgh...)
- I ask someone to explain what they mean when they say “That person (who is black) is so white.” I’d love someone to define what that means one day…
- I don’t preach “black” i.e. “southern gospel-T.D. Jakes-y”. I got called a black preacher once and I think I disappointed the group when I sounds more like Jerry Seinfeld than Chris Rock. I never got invited back...lol...
- I don’t accuse anyone of “trying” to be another race. I know Caucasians who grew up in a hip hop culture and because that’s what they’ve known, they walk and talk differently than their brethren. Years ago, they would be called a “wigger”, an obvious offensive play on the word “nigger”. After 30+ years on earth, I kinda know the difference between the one who’s been in it, and the one who is faking it for fun. The one who fakes, I have no issue asking them why. Their answers are always priceless. (Special note here: It's works on the other side too. A caucassian friend of mine was told to "stay black" sarcastically by a black speaker once because of his appreciation for hip hop culture. I can't speak for why this man did that, but i know that it hurt my friend deeply and that returning evil for inherited evil helps no one at all. What he did was wrong too, even if it comes from a deep hurt).
- I always remind people that if they can't dance, it's not because they are white, but rather because they simply aren't talented. Don't blame your lack of rhythm on your skin tone. Blame it on the "lack of boogie" and get some music in you. I know it's mean but hey, what can you do...
Racism, like classism, sexism (any job a guy can do, sometimes a girl can do MUCH better), is an old inherited paradigm created by scared individuals worried about losing what they’ve created to the “un-approved.” It is sad that “fathers pass that to their sons” and that hatred of any kind still exists. It is sad when I hear from a minister at a church “We were told that the PAOC was an old white guys club and that we couldn't get in.” and you can hear the rejection in their voice. That’s not good. Because people like that will tell their kids to avoid the call or join in with someone else. Because these kids are looking for heroes, someone they can model their lives after, because the heroes now (rappers, athletes, social networkers, etc.) don't fully fit the bill. And many of the pulpits in the PAOC, especially in the larger urban centers, sadly don’t reflect their congregations.
The flip side to that point is many of these lead pastors would love to hire the best person available who might be of color but because they aren’t in school to train for ministry, they can’t. And they aren’t in school because there aren’t many role models…classic catch 22. (Ed note: I do plan to ask questions from our fellowship about how many non-caucassian pastors are there currently leading in regular mainline churches. I'm sure the number is low but I'm still curious.)
But there is hope. That same man who knows of the PAOC as an old white man's clue serves with a lead pastor who loves people and loves to see people of all stories elevated and grow in Christian leadership. My former boss hires based on who a person is and gave me opportunities to lead not based on my colour but based on genuine sonship. And my current boss is committed to changing the perceived tide with honest dialogue and a heart for urban centers. That makes me smile. That gives me hope that one day a kid will go to MCS, Summit, Vanguard or Horizon and be loved for who they are. It also gives me hope that they'll find ministry posts in places outside of large cities simply because they were the best person for the job, not because hiring a person of colour shows progress of some kind.
Questions will come their way because of genuine interest and not because of ignorance. And they will feel safe and ready to do whatever it is that God calls them to.
Man...there is so much more I can say about this and want to say but I will leave it here for now with some last P.S. stuff...no footnotes today. OH WAIT: In this midst of all of this, the beautiful game of soccer had it's own moment in the racist sun. Look at what happened and how this victim took matter creatively into his own hands.
ED NOTE: I just watch Tim and Sid's tv show where they had a panel discussion which included Butch Carter, former Raps coach (#wearethenorth). When asked what he learned from everything, here was what he said:
Side note 1: While this is a big deal now, Mr. Sterling has not has a great private and public reputation when it comes to race (also: private always comes out publicly, y'all). This was the issue that broke the camel's back but he has done far worse. PLEASE listen to sports commentator Bomani Jones give his thoughts:
Side note 2: Please don’t ask to touch a black woman’s hair. If they let you, it’s because they are being polite. But really, many of them hate it. Imagine someone always just touching your head. It's weird.
Side note 3: I'm writing this from a black man's perspective with an obvious bias. I would love to hear about this from some of our PAOC 2nd or 3rd generation cultural pastors or students in schools in our country. Is it the same for you? How do you define yourself? Do you often make jokes at your own expense for the pleasure of others? Do you have a hierarchy among your own social groups? Do you see yourself lead pastoring in one of our mainline churches someday? Let's talk.
Side note 4: I'd love to hear about how sexism plays itself out in our fellowship too. We spend so much time talking about whether we can drink or not and meanwhile, women are graduating from our school at an exciting rate only to be relegated to certain roles based on their gender. Or they can pastor but only in far regions. Ladies? Thoughts?
Side note 5: Lastly, you NEED to read this article by two men on Grantland titled "The Owner and The Owned". Fascinating and sad.
Side note 6: I won't post these videos here but checking out some of the late night commentary on this thing was quite the trip. Funny how Hollywood is fast to talk about how wrong it is, while the church is quick to talk about how great their sunday service was (#blessed).
ED Note: Here are some stats on the discrepancy between african american players and owners of three major US sports. The heading for the article is "Three leagues, 92 teams and One principle black owner." Forbes also has their annual list of billionaires and our of over 1200, 6 happen to be black. 1 happens to be, yup, Oprah. This is data found post-sterling press conference.