Diversity conferences are often not really diversity conferences. That's because the views of the people speaking at these conferences on race are not usually diverse. Such was the case at a diversity conference held at St. Louis University Aug. 4 - 6, 2016.
Diversity conferences are often not really diversity conferences. That's because the views of the people speaking at these conferences on race are not usually diverse. Such was the case at a diversity conference held at St. Louis University Aug. 4 - 6, 2016. There were members of clergy present at the conference. But the only white members represented from local churches, were people who believed in a progressive or radical reform. One pastor, from the Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, Rev. Mike Kinman, criticized the current capitalist system in place in the U.S. That certainly is a diverse voice.
But alas, there were no people invited to the conference who disagreed with the Black Lives Matter movement. In fact, one prominent white man in attendance was arrested with some of the protesters in Ferguson in the evening. He was there when the looting took place, and stayed in jail for hours with some of the looters who were caught by police He thought capitalism was a bad system.
It’s really hard to know what a conservative Christian, one who might vote for Trump might think of all of this. From attending all three days, I gathered, or collected, a number of concepts about how whites are supposed to respond correctly to what happened in Ferguson. First, although the concept of white privilege was developed (really created) more than a decade ago, there is a heightened sense that this is something that should be promoted. It's hard to defend this from a Biblical perspective, although not everyone may think of Jesus when they think of faith.
Blacks have trouble excelling or competing against people against other races in college, mostly because they are ill prepared from home or their school, or because of the environment they grow up in. They can’t meet the demands of what college professors want from them. When black students attend most colleges with a majority of white students, they rarely or never major in hard sciences like chemistry or biology, or like math, or even computer science.
I talked to one of the organizers of the diversity program at St Louis University, Bridgett Walton, about black students who attend schools like SIUE. They often end up dropping out. Instead of acknowledging that blacks should study harder at an early age, and throughout high school, she said it was a result of white privilege. Thus the paradigm, or excuse, is formed. It may not be formed in stone, but it is slowly hardening.
This was a theme that formed throughout the sparsely attended conference: blacks don’t need more discipline. We should feel sorry for them because they have to learn the English language or improve their math skills. One of the demands made by the students who stopped a homecoming parade at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, MO, was to hire more black professors, so black students can feel more at home in college and better handle all of the white people. All this because a student was said to have called a group of black students the N word.
Some of the people attending the conference, some Black Lives Matter activists, talked about their experience as black activists; the blacks at the Mizzou homecoming protest, all dressed in black, militantly shouting, wearing clenched, fisted T-shirts, a symbol of the Black Panther movement of the '60s.
It’s hard for blacks to talk about the fact that they are not doing well in school, having trouble graduating from high school, having trouble getting through college. It’s a sore topic. More black women graduate from high school than black men. It's easier to make demands than to ask for help.
But there was no talk of black crime in the inner city at this conference, although it was included in the conference title: Ferguson. There was no talk of getting more blacks to graduate from high school. There was not talk of getting more whites involved in the inner city. If there is a problem with white police after Michael Brown, it wasn’t brought up.
As a white man, I asked about the need for blacks to do better in school. This was taken as an affront. One black woman, angry that I asked the question, said she knew a black student who was unjustly accused of something, or wrongly punished. She, like others, did not want to talk about motivating black students to do better in school. Why? Because I am white. Rather than see me as someone who was genuinely concerned, she took me as someone ready condemn her race.
Earlier in the conference, I asked how people from “Republican” wealthy white conservative church can bridge the gap between “Democratic” black churches in the inner city? Although the conference was called “Race, Faith, and Justice: Ferguson and Campus Demonstrations,” there were no white male pastors invited from anywhere outside of the city. This formed a natural bias among people on the panel. The result is that there was lots of pathos and venting about what has happened in Ferguson and elsewhere, but few solutions offered that involved bridging the obvious gap between whites and blacks, even for churches.
In some ways it resembled a block party, a backstage pass (or invite) from blacks who knew other blacks who were protesting with other blacks or were arrested in the Ferguson protests. A white guy came, proudly wearing his Black Lives Matter T-shirt, a veteran of being arrested at the Ferguson protests. Where was the faith in all of this; there was faith, but kind of a black tinted faith. You can join the Black Lives Matter “church” if you believe that blacks are oppressed. You can join if you don’t want to propose any solutions different than what we believe.counter what we believe.
I mistakenly said that Michael Brown did not graduate from high school, instead of what his mother really did say, that she had trouble “getting him” through school to graduate from high school, as he did. It was paraphrased. How can blacks do better in school? As a result, a black woman who said she was a friend of Brown’s, thinking I had deliberately made the mistake, came up to a microphone and called me a troll. The reference is that I was not really there to contribute something to the conference; I was there to take names and addresses, and then post them online.
What is needed is civility when the norm seems to be incivility. We can be uncivil, but you still need to be civil. If any white person who attempts to contribute anything to a discussion about blacks is dismissed because of his race, it does not bode well for the future of race relations in Ferguson or St. Louis. If only people who agree with each other are invited to a conference on race, faith and justice, at a major university, does it represent a truly collaborative process. If this is the church in action, some are probably not going to join because of their race.
© 2016 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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