Emily Timbol

Racism in Full Color

Nov
20

I have a terrible memory. If you ask me the name of my 4th grade teacher, how old I was when I first rode a bicycle, or what my GPA was in high school, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Much of my youth and childhood is a (happy, normal) blur. There’s not much about the day-to-day of my education I remember.

But there is one thing, in particular, I’ve never forgotten.

I’m not sure what class it was in, or even what grade, but the footage itself is seared into my memory. Dark skinned men, women, and children captured in grainy black-and-white footage, being assaulted with high-power water cannons, police dogs, and fists. For wanting the right to vote. To sit at lunch counters. To do the things I take for granted everyday. I was sickened, horrified. Brought to tears.

Learning about our countries violent past changed me. I grew up with privilege. This is part of why the footage and history shocked me so much. Affected me in a way it wouldn’t affect non-white kids, familiar with the ways racism had stained their past. But this new knowledge opened my eyes. It sparked a longing to fight for justice. For a while I dreamed of being a lawyer, or working for a non-profit that fought for international human rights. Even going so far as to apply to overseas positions and majoring in political science, to help achieve this goal. I (wrongly) thought that the true human rights crimes were taking place in developing counties, overseas. I thought that the days of egregious human rights injustices in our country were long past.

There was always a part of me that longed to have been able to be there, before. I had a deep love for Dr. King. My high school yearbook quote was from him, and I displayed a poster of his I Have a Dream speech prominently in my college dorm. Whenever I’d look at it I’d think about how much I wish I could have been there, marching on Washington, doing something tangible to enact justice.

For a long time, I longed to be able to somehow transport myself to those black-and-white times of the past, where people of privilege like myself had the opportunity to stand up to injustice. A time when silence in the face of racial hatred and prejudice lead to death and harm, but speaking up against it could save lives. I wanted to be able to stand up, in real time, to those horribly racist people doing and saying things that were evil.

The irony, of course, is that this time is now. Racism isn’t just relegated to those black-and-white photos of the past. Racism still exists today.  The vile, evil, violent kind carried out in broad daylight by thousands of white Americans fifty years ago didn’t just die. It’s still advocated for by some people, and it’s still seen as valiant by others. This is as obvious to many black people as the weather, but many white people don’t realize it because we’re blanketed in privilege. I had to go looking, and more importantly, listening, for it.

I’ve known this truth, that the racism of the past hasn’t gone anywhere, for some time now. But it hasn’t been until this past week that I realized something depressing and terrifying. I realized that the longing I had before, to be able to march against evil men like George Wallace, can be satisfied today.

This week, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination for President advocated for a Nazi inspired registry for Muslims. When asked about the similarity to what happened to the Jews during WWII, this candidate didn’t even attempt to defend himself.refugees

In addition to that, this week, I’ve seen:

  • Christians saying that the safety of American citizens is more important than the lives of refugee children
  • Americans defending the policies of WWII era America that turned away Jewish refugees who later were killed in concentration camps
  • Christian politicians claiming that even five year old refugee children shouldn’t be allowed admittance into our country
  • Christians who oppose all forms of government aid and welfare to the homeless and veterans claiming that the government shouldn’t be taking care of refugees, because we have  homeless and veterans in need
  • Christians defending war and war casualties as something God is OK with and even supports
  • A Christian man say that, “You can love your enemy while putting a bullet between his eyes.”

I’ve experienced something I never imagined I would in my lifetime; a type of overt, hateful racism carried out in the age of color, that I used to think existed only in black-and-white. I’ve watched attitudes so many of us (naively) thought were crushed in the 1960’s and 70’s resurface, and then get broadcast on a national stage. I’ve watched my country experience a level of intolerance, fear, and injustice that I thought we were decades past.

I realized this week that in 30 or 40 years, it’s entirely possible my children or friend’s children will be watching video of events going on this week in America, and feel the same sense of revulsion I felt watching films of Civil Rights era violence.

And I realized that I—we—have an opportunity to speak out against this evil, to do something to combat it. The opportunity to stand up to racism never passed. There was never a time when people with skin darker than mine were safe from it, and they are not safe from it now.

It’s a horrible feeling, realizing that the thing I wished for came true. But now that I see what’s always been there, I will be praying for opportunities to do what I’ve always longed to do. To bring about justice. Because there’s a chance that 50 years from now a young person will asks me what I did to fight the terrible policies that led to the death of innocent refugees.

And I want to have an answer.

 

On Being White, But Not Really

Sep
15

The literary world was shaken this past week when it was revealed that white writer Michael Derrick Hudson had won a poetry contest after using an Asian pen name during submission (a name he stole from a former classmate.) Hudson was completely unapologetic. He felt that the fact the poem was rejected 40 times under his own name, yet accepted under his Chinese pen name, meant that there was some discrimination at place when editors thought he was white. This ridiculous idea was perfectly dismantled by writer Jenny Zhang in a Buzzfeed essay that went viral, They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist. I loved her essay. But it gave me some pause about whether I was the “They” in the story, or the “We.”

So, as writers are wont to do, I wrote an essay in response, for The Salt Collective. Below is an excerpt. You can read the full essay here.

I’ve only had a racial slur directed at me once in my life. It was so unexpected, so rare, that my reaction was pure confusion.

“Did that redneck just call me a ‘coon’?” I asked my friend. “That’s bad right?”

We were in high school, at a church beach retreat, and some older boys had gotten into the hot tub we were in. When I said something one of them didn’t like, he replied with, “Shut up, coon.”

I am not black. That particular summer I was incredibly tan, and it was dark out, and I do have kinky, thick, dark hair. I convinced myself that he was either really stupid or really drunk, or both. But I couldn’t shake it. Because I’m not, technically speaking, white.

This experience was one of maybe only a handful of times racism seemed to affect me, personally. I was born more resembling my white mother. My sister was born looking more like my 1/2 Filipino, 1/2 Italian father. I look white to most white people. And indeed, 3/4 of me is. Because of this, I’ve almost always considered myself white. Race isn’t about accuracy right? It’s about perception. Prejudice. Overcoming systemic disadvantages and injustices, and dealing with frequent microagressions. These didn’t happen to me.

They did happen to my grandfather, and my father, and my sister. My grandfather was segregated when he left the Philippines to join the American Navy (illegally) at 16. They made him a cook, like the other “coloreds,” and he served captains and white officers. When he met my Italian grandmother years later, they married and settled in Italy. They moved to America when my father was ten. My father met my (white) mother in the 80’s, they married, and I was born. My childhood was normal, and happy.

When my little sister came along, six years after I was born, women would sometimes stop my mother in the grocery store or on the sidewalk. They’d coo over how cute my sister was, then pause, their voices lowered to a hushed tone. “Is she adopted?” I remember feeling confused and angry each time this happened.

My sister and I both grew up surrounded by languages we didn’t speak or understand. At family get together’s there were buffets of pasta dishes lovingly made by my Italian Zia’s, sitting next to Pancit and Lumpia cooked by their Filipino husbands. Tagalog and Italian were spoken just as much as English. This was nothing but normal to me, so I never considered it wasn’t, for a “white” girl.

– See more at: http://thesaltcollective.org/am-i-a-white-writer-or-an-asian-writer/#sthash.Pb64TaWZ.dpuf

No Longer a Dreamer

Aug
13

Since I first read Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates now infamous essay, The Case for Reparations, I’ve been enraptured by his words. Coates is a gifted writer, for sure. But what drew me in wasn’t the style with which he wrote, but the words he was saying. Specifically, it was the way his words completely shook up my previous understanding of, well, most everything. To use an analogy from his latest book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi is perhaps most gifted at waking people up from their Dreams.

Coates described “The Dream” as a metaphorical place crafted and fiercely protected by mainly white people (or people who believe to be white.) It was a place he could only view through the television set in his poor, Baltimore living room. The Dream sheltered white children from the gangs, violence, beatings, poverty, and permanent required state of vigilance that Ta-Nehisi and his black friends had to maintain. It was a state of thinking. A way of seeing the world, or specifically, America, as a mostly good place full of equal opportunity for everyone. A place that was just. Had good laws. People living The Dream see police as protectors, racism as something mostly overblown and from the past, and poverty and violence a result of laziness and bad choices.

Of Dreamers, Coates says:

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Since first reading his essay on reparations, I felt the tendrils of The Dream loosening their grip on me. It didn’t take much time, or research, to awaken completely. All it really took was a willingness to look at the world (and history) not through the lens of my own experience and privilege, but through the eyes of the oppressed.

When you start looking at the history of our country as told through someone other than the victors, America’s gleam begins to fade. Starting with the slaughter and decimation of the Native peoples whose land we claimed, building on the backs of generations and generations of slaves (250 years to be exact, as Coates notes–black people in America have been free for far less than than they were in chains) then 75 years after those slaves were freed another race of citizens dehumanized all over again. During this time thousands were lynched, hundreds of thousands killed by bombs dropped, and many men, women, and children languished in abject poverty.

No country has survived without making grievous, heinous errors. No nation is without pain or war or poverty. The point in Coates spotlighting this history and me echoing his words is not to attack America or reject the good our country is done. The point is to decimate The Dream. There is danger in glossing over all this bad we have done, and focusing only on the good. When history classes spend twenty minutes teaching on slavery and two weeks teaching on America’s exceptionalism, we put kids to sleep to the reality of where we are today. When white kids grow up only understanding the world through the haze of The Dream, they can’t comprehend the reality of police brutality against black citizens, or the history of poor black neighborhoods caused by redlining and white flight, or the effect their own seemingly small microagressions have on their “black friends” or family. If you’re Dreaming, you can’t grasp why any of these problems having anything to do with you. With the present. Like Coates said,”We meant well. We tried our best.” But  “’Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

The best way I can describe, in my own words, what it’s been like this past year to wake up from the Dream, is through the film The Truman Show. To me, The Dream is like the world expertly crafted for Truman. It’s ordered, neat, has neatly clipped lawns and well-dressed neighbors and a feel that everything is good, and right. It’s not Truman’s fault that he was born into this bubble. There’s nothing actually wrong with him leading out his days oblivious to the uncontrolled world outside his little town. But it isn’t real. It’s a lie. And slowly Truman starts to realize this, the more he pays attention. Streets don’t magically clear themselves for everyone, just him. Time doesn’t revolve around everyone’s needs, just his. A part of Truman realizes that it can’t be this way for everyone. And it isn’t.

My favorite part of the movie is the end, when he unknowingly sails his boat into the wall painted to look like the sky. Truman goes through a cascade of emotions when he reaches out and touches that plaster. Understanding, horror, shock, anger, fear. But then he finds the door to the outside. What propels him through it isn’t just his desire to see the woman that disappeared from his past again, but I think, to know the truth. It’s scary to wake up from The Dream, but not everyone wants to stay asleep.Truman show

At times, I feel like Truman, fruitlessly banging my fists against the plaster sky. Because there’s no going back. Once you wake up from The Dream, and you see the inequality and injustice all around you that you, a Dreamer, benefit from, you have no other choice. You have to walk through that door. You have to turn your back on the safe and known and accept the truth.

You have to work to awaken the Dreamers.

When Grace is Given Only to Abusers

May
28

I’m a big fan of grace. I love that it’s a core tenet of the Christian religion;  we don’t just base our faith on the existence of our sin, but on the fact that this sin has already been paid for and covered by Christ. My faith is not one where I have to earn love or acceptance or forgiveness–it’s already been given to me. Grace is great. Yay grace.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not a big fan of abuse. Especially sexual abuse. Worst even, if that abuse is carried out on a child. In the line of things we can experience as humans, the grace of God and the evil of sexual abuse are about as far from each other as possible.

I’ve seen quite a few friends, writers, theologians, and even politicians, seemingly making this same point this week–that sexual sin is evil and heinous, but despite this, God’s grace still covers abusers. Each time I’ve seen this argument made I’ve wanted to grab a Bible and throw it at the person making it.

This is not because–in theory–I disagree that God’s grace covers all sin. But because the grace they were talking of is not from God. The grace they are referring to is the one granted to certain “sinners” and not others, given selectively, and often politically.

This is the grace of Christian celebrity. Well, the “right” kind of Christian celebrity.

I know this because, as the “wrong” kind of Christian (the feminist, non-submitting to my husband, supportive of LGBT people kind) I’ve received very little grace from the majority of mainstream Christians. Of course, what I’ve experienceDuggar2d pales in comparison to what my LGBT Christian friends have faced from their religious churches and families. Weirdly, for myself and my friends, there aren’t as many statements of support as there are condemnations and demands for repentance.

But personal anecdotes aren’t evidence right? Maybe I’m just a jerk and that’s why people don’t like me (very possible.) Thankfully for my argument, I’m not the only Christian whose experienced a lack of grace from her “brothers and sisters” when confronted with “sin.”

The furthest memory I have of a popular Christian “falling from grace” (so-to-speak) is Amy Grant. Back in the 90’s, when I was growing up, Amy Grant was one of the hugest, most successful artists in Christian music. She was like a more wholesome Taylor Swift. Amy had the first Christian album to go platinum, and was (to my knowledge) the first Christian artist to crossover and have a #1 hit song on the Billboard charts. Her fan base was solidly, overwhelmingly, Christian. Some fans were displeased when she went more mainstream, but the real waves weren’t made until 1999 when Grant filed for divorce, and then remarried a year later. Even though I was only 14 then, I remember how all anyone could talk about was how sad it was that Amy Grant had lost her faith. How wrong she was, how the popular culture had changed her, and how much they’d miss listening to her music. Christian stores removed her albums from their shelves. Popular Christian leaders and magazines released statements of disappoint in her choices. And her career was never the same.

You know what Amy Grant didn’t get? A whole bunch of articles written by conservative Christians reminding everyone about grace.

More recently is the public “farewell-ing” of pastor, author, and speaker Rob Bell. Bell, who was riding a long wave of success and popularity among both progressive and not-quite-as-progressive Christians, published his now infamous book Love Wins and the religious shit hitteth the fan. For his heinous act of asking questions about our modern understanding of hell Rob was publicly attacked by a barrage of religious leaders, many who before had worked with and spoken of him fondly. John Piper’s infamous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet has almost become a meme in Christian culture, for it’s brevity and ridiculousness. In 2011, you could not randomly click on an article on the Christian net without seeing some kind of rebuttal or warning about the dangers of Rob Bell’s book, and by extension, his faith. I watched all of this from the side of someone who thoroughly enjoyed Love Wins and found its questions stirring. I read many, many articles, posts, and tweets surrounding the book and controversy, from people on all sides.

You know what I didn’t see? A plethora of Christians who disagreed with Bell’s book reminding everyone that God’s grace covers even those believers with differing theology.

Of course, these are just two examples. There’s also the backlash that followed when Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of hugely popular Christian band Jars of Clay, tweeted a modest support of same-sex marriage. It was so fierce and swift that he was forced to issue clarifying statements, no doubt to quell whatever damage his band-mates and managers feared. There’s also the ostracizing of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp, who lost almost all of her supporters once she came out as a lesbian. Again, two examples of Christians who did such heinous things as send a tweet and come out of the closet, nearly having their careers destroyed because so many Christians swiftly and immediately rushed to condemn and turn their back on them.

I’ve watched all of these Christians face the wrath of the religious populous with the same disgust I feel now that Josh Duggar is basking in support. Josh Duggar, in case you’ve been in a coma, is the oldest son of the Duggars, an Arkansas family made famous by TLC for having 17 children who all live under strict religious patriarchy. Josh confessed to molesting at least five girls, four of whom were his sisters, over the period of at least one year. He confessed this after the details of the abuse allegations leaked to the media.

Almost immediately, I saw people defending Josh. First it was that popular plea for us to “wait for the facts.” Once those came in and confirmed what everyone feared, the defenses changed to something along the lines of, “he was 14, this was over a decade ago, the media is just trying to attack a good family” or, “we’re all sinners, what he did was wrong, but he without sin cast the first stone.” And of course, my favorite, “God’s grace covers all sinners.”

First of all, I don’t pay my taxes to pay for God’s grace. I pay them so that the agents of the law can protect me and my family from criminals and predators, of which Josh Duggar is both. No where in the Bible does it say God’s grace is a legal pardon. Jesus didn’t get that thief on the cross next to him down, remember? He served His (unjust) punishment right next to the man He later welcomed into paradise. What I want more than anything is for Josh Duggar and predators like him to not be able to skirt around flimsy statutes of limitations, or use powerful family and friends who call in favors to avoid persecution for sex crimes. Remember–justice and grace are two different things. There’s no justice in sexual predators walking free.

Secondly, if your first response when faced with the news that a popular Christian celebrity molested his pre-pubescent sisters is a reminder of God’s grace, there is something wrong with you. I mean that seriously, not facetiously. Sexual abuse, especially of minors, is a disgusting, revolting, maddening evil. It should make us recoil and feel those warning hairs rise on the back of our necks. It should twist knots in our stomachs and cause our appetites to cease. If you value the autonomy and lives of women and girls, hearing about their abuse should break you. Like it absolutely breaks them. Even more so if this abuse was carried out by the hands of someone who claims to follow Christ. A Christian sexually abusing a child is an evil of which I can’t find comparison.

Part of being a Christian is (or should be) a duty to “the least of these.” While the meaning of this has been debated recently, all who have studied the Bible can agree that the protection of children was sacrosanct to Jesus. Their harm is a grievous sin. As Christians, our response to grievous sin should always first be to the victims. Caring for them, supporting them, loving them. This is what it means to be salt and light. Then, and only then, can we begin to wrestle with the unfairness and pain of what it means for God’s grace to cover everyone. Lest we forget, this idea of grace should not be one that’s easy for us to accept. It’s one we often have to struggle with, and pore over, and argue with God about. I know that (if Josh Duggar truly is a Christian, which judging by his “fruit” he’s not) grace that covers harmful families like The Duggars under the same net as people like me, is something I don’t stomach easily.

But that’s because God’s grace is not the same as man’s. God’s grace doesn’t just extend to conservative Christian celebrities who star on reality TV shows and fit the idea of what we think a “good” Christian should look like. God’s grace doesn’t lift and wain and falter with the political tides. It’s not something that we have any say over, whatsoever. And it’s certainly not something that nulls the rights of victims of abuse.

 

The Duggars, and Sex Abuse Within Purity Culture

May
22

Ever since I saw the police report and confession from Josh Duggar, eldest of the TV famous Duggar family, detailing the sexual abuse he carried out on young girls, I’ve felt disgust radiating throughout my entire body. Angry, violent disgust, the kind that made me want to throw my computer across the room. I tried writing some coherent thoughts about these allegations, and how the Duggars’ josh_duggarindocrtination of purity culture directly lead to the abuse and cover-up that occred, but I couldn’t. Instead I ended up writing a thousand words about my own experiences with purity culture, and how it almost ruined my life.

But these allegations aren’t about me. So since I can’t bring myself to clearly express my thoughts on exactly why this tragedy should not surprise anyone, I thought I’d let my friends and people I admire do it for me.

If you haven’t read the below posts, you should. They have helped me understand why “purity” is something I no longer believe in, support, or will teach my kids (if I have them.)

Because,

Teaching virginity is anti-Christian. Even if it weren’t, Virginity itself is an allusion.

Aside from virginity, there’s the fact that Purity Culture teaches shame more than anything else. Purity Culture also encourages “forgiveness” for abusers more than punishment. But if abusers are “welcome at the table,” then those they abused are not.

Lest you think this story is uncommon, know that abuse within Purity Culture is not rare. Everytime I see a woman in the church share her story of sexual abuse (and the cover-up that followed) I see comments flood in with similiar stories.

Purity Culture needs to stop. It needs to cease to be taught in churches, and unlearned by those who have believed in it.

If it doesn’t, stories like this will continue to be common.

Christians, we can do better. We NEED to do better.