Diagnosis: Racial Bias

“This is the week, here we go!” I tell myself with a mixture of dread and excitement.

For the last two years I have co-led a weekly class where several hours of the course are dedicated to racism and bias in medicine. I walked into the week with a bit of dread because I know, given the demographic and geographic characteristics of my medical students, there is going to be resistance. I had to prep myself going in that at least some of my students were going to reject a reality that plagues our healthcare system: racial bias.

I knew this because I live and work in the State of Idaho, in a medical program that exclusively draws it’s students from the State, many from rural communities. However, I was also excited because I had the opportunity to teach such an important topic. These are future physicians many who are not aware of these facts. What’s great, is that now we are requiring these topics to be a part of their medical education.

Medicine and Racial Prejudice

Race and medicine is a topic in which everyone – patient and provider alike, regardless of racial or ethnic identification – needs to be made aware. The racial biases that exist in our world bleed into our healthcare system preventing many minorities from receiving equitable care. Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as medical persons addressing the avoidable, historical, and current injustices that create health disparities or differences in health outcomes across groups. These differences show up for example in rates of death and disease between groups based on their race, religion, gender, or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

I’m sure many of you are saying to yourself, “well this doesn’t happen today.” “People are not dying from various illnesses or infections because medical personnel are refusing to care for them based on their race, religion, gender, or what have you.” “That goes against their oath to care for sick persons!” The truth is that yes, this is still a problem in 2019. African-Americans and other racial/ethnic minorities have historically been and remain affected by healthcare disparities. And it is important that we call it out so we can address it!

A History of Malpractice

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that various sources, including the bias, stereotyping, and prejudice of health systems and health care providers, are contributing to racial and ethnic disparities. In fact, they suggest they may be related to worse health outcomes among the racial/ethnic groups affected (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004).

For example, the framing of blacks as primitive and inferior has resulted in denied treatment for real ailments. This was seen in the 1932 Tuskegee, AL syphilis experiment on black men. These men were denied treatment for syphilis just so white physicians could identify how syphilis destroys the body. Or, in the case of Henrietta Lacks whose body was used for various scientific experiments for breakthroughs in medicine without her permission, or the permission of her family.

Even as far back as 1758, race has been factored into how patients are viewed and treated. A scientist named Carl Linneaus put humans into categories based on their race assigning them physical and psychological characteristics. Europeans he described as “fair…gentle, acute, inventive…governed by laws,” whereas Africans were described as “black…crafty, indolent, negligent…governed by caprice” (Witzig, 1996). In other words, this scientist used, or manipulated science, to describe Africans or those of African descent as sneaky, lazy, careless, and as people who act on a whim. Can you see how these stereotypes impacted, and still impact, how people of color are treated in society at large? But also, in medicine.

Enduring Effects

Black patients still suffer the same treatment and abuse their ancestors suffered. This history of racism in the U.S. has lingering effects that are evident in the medical care African Americans and other people of color receive. When I coordinated health programs in Tuskegee, AL I saw firsthand how the history of that tragedy still impact blacks in that community. Many, almost 80 years later, still have a poor relationship with healthcare professionals and struggle to trust medical providers. The sad truth is that they still have reason to distrust.

In 2015, the CDC published a report with a special feature on racial and ethnic health disparities. In this report, black mothers had the highest percentage of pre-term births; Hispanic and black children and teenagers had the highest prevalence of obesity (21.9% and 19.5 % respectively, compared to 8.6% in whites); black men (42.4%) and black women (44.4%) had the highest prevalence of high blood pressure, and Hispanic adults were the largest groups without health insurance, followed by blacks (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016).

More recently, the Harvard Public Health magazine has published its winter 2019 report entitled, “America is Failing its Black Mothers.” In this report Amy Roeder writes that “African American women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than are white women. According to the World Health Organization, their odds of surviving childbirth are comparable to to those of women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, where significant proportions of the population live in poverty.” The study goes on to state this is directly linked to racism and racial bias in medical practices.

Assumptions and Responses

These realities produce several common racial biases in medical practice that include:

  • Lower rates of major surgical procedures for black Medicare patients
  • Lower rates of pain control medication given for broken bones for African American children seeking care in emergency rooms
  • Lower quality of basic hospital services for things like pneumonia and congestive heart failure in black patients (Tsai et al., 2016)
  • Fewer referrals for kidney transplants when a patient is on hemodialysis (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004)


But there are ways that people of color can navigate racial bias when seeking medical attention:

  1. Listen to your gut. If you know something isn’t right with your body or your provider pay attention, make a note, and make a complaint.
  2. Come prepared for your visit. Have questions related to the reason for your visit ready with notes about your symptoms along with any concerns you have.
  3. Bring someone with you. It is always good to have support and an extra pair of ears to listen to what your provider is saying. They may even ask questions that you haven’t thought of.
  4. Be firm and aggressive. If a provider dismisses your conerns, it’s ok to ask them to explain why you should not be concerned. Make them explain things to you until you fully understand. It’s ok to keep asking questions. Even if someone seems impatient or irritated, it’s your right.
  5. If possible, go to a doctor of your race/ethnicity. There is a chance that this person will be someone who will better understand your physical, mental, cultural, and social needs.
  6. Get recommendations on a healthcare provider from people of your race/ethnicity when possible, people you know have a similar experience as you.


“Even well intentioned physicians may be susceptible to stereotyping and may unknowingly contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in health care,” (Betancourt & Ananeh-Firempong, 2004). Fortunately, these topics are being taught and discussed more and more within healthcare education. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of work to be done and one cannot rely on every provider to accept and “buy-in” to the reality of racial bias as experienced by their patients.

The fact is, it should not be the responsibility of the people oppressed by the injustices of the healthcare system to fix it. However, until it is fixed we have to protect ourselves. We have to do what we can to get what is needed from a broken system, including self-advocacy, researching providers before visits, identifying and using various support systems (e.g. friends and family), as well as being open to getting second opinions. Ultimately, when it comes to your health always be aware, and always come prepared.

White Table Talk

A Conversation About Race and Politics

Recently, over dinner with a group of friends, the topic of race relations came up, as it often should.

“As a white person who advocates on behalf of racial justice,” one sister said, looking in my direction with knowing yet curious eyes, “you must have some interesting conversations with other white people. As a person of color, I’d love to be invisible in the room to overhear the kinds of things they say and the responses you give.”

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “Maybe I’ll write about it. An article could be the next best thing to you being invisible and in the room.”

So, here are the most common things I hear from white people regarding race relations constructed as a single conversation. And let’s name our semi-fictional man, Bob.

White Table Talk

Ty, you really need to focus on preaching the Gospel and not get distracted with political issues like racism. It’s divisive.

Thanks Bob. I appreciate your concern. You are aware, however, that Jesus not only preached the Gospel, but He was the Gospel in the way He dealt with people. Luke writes in Acts 10:38, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, [and He] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

In fact, some of His contemporaries – specifically those who were favored by the systems of His day – didn’t like Jesus siding with the oppressed. They became enraged every time Jesus sided with those who were on the outside of social favor and on the downside of political power. So, yeah there was division. But it was the necessary kind of division. Remember, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Bringing Jesus where there is injustice is not a distraction, Bob, nor is it contrary to the Gospel. It is vital if the Gospel is to have any kind of tangible meaning.

But Ty, shouldn’t Christians stay out of politics?

Yes and no. I think you are conflating legit political involvement with illegitimate political involvement. Because we believe in religious liberty we believe in the separation of church and state. So, we do not believe the church should use the state to enforce its theological beliefs and worship practices upon the free human conscience. In fact, that’s what religious liberty is all about. We believe in fighting religious oppression and defending an individual’s right to worship according to his or her own conscience—regardless of that person’s religious affiliation.” In other words, the idea of the state partnering with the church to enforce a particular set of religious beliefs is a kind of politics we want no parts of.

But with regards to human relations – in all matters of equality and justice – Christians should be foremost in political activism. Bob, if Christians had stayed out of politics slavery would not have been abolished and women would still not be able to vote or own property. If Christians had stayed out of politics the Civil Rights Movement and the activism of pastors like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would never have happened and we’d still have segregation. Christians were a formidable force in these crucial movements. And Christians still need to leverage their influence today to advance the cause of racial justice and equality.

But slavery has been over for a long time Ty. Like you just said, it was abolished. So why can’t they just get over it?

Well, Bob, that’s because it’s over and it’s not. It’s over as a legal institution, but the consequences of slavery are still present within our criminal justice and economic systems. “They” can’t get over it because “we’re” not over it. Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow says it like this: “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Truthfully, Bob, there are systems, some overt and some subtle, that are fundamentally oppressive and racist, and these must be challenged and overcome for one simple reason: they are wrong. They are unjust, unfair, and even unconstitutional.

But Ty, it’s not fair that my hard-earned money be taken from me in taxes and used to give people stuff they did not earn.

Okay Bob! Now we’re getting to the real issue. Your concern is not that I’m distracted from the Gospel with politics, but that I don’t share your political views. And if I were to share your political views, you would not be concerned about me being political.

Well no, I just think it’s unfair that I would have to pay for something I had nothing to do with. I mean, Ty, they are demanding reparations – meaning free money – taken from people who had nothing to do with slavery. It’s ridiculous.

First of all, Bob, they are not demanding free money. They are asking for the very things you say are important to you: fairness, justice, the righting of colossal wrong. Your financial thinking, at its core, is right, because you are concerned for fairness. That’s what they are are concerned about too. You believe people should not get free money, which is exactly what they believe. They just believe, as I do, that if stolen money is returned to the person it was stolen from then that person has not received free money. Consider a parable on generational economics:

My uncle Jedediah stole your uncle Gunther’s Toyota Camry and drove it 100,000 miles on a paper route that made him rich. Then he gave it to me. I racked up an additional 50,000 miles on it delivering pizzas to wealthy pizza connoisseurs who gave me big tips, which I used to get a college education. Then I got a great job with my new degree and bought a big house and gave the Camry to my niece, Donatella.

Donatella used the Camry to get a job as a legal aid, which put her in proximity to a fine fella named Rodrick Sebastian Tennyson III. The two of them, Donna and Rod, got married and procreated an adorable baby boy they named, for reasons unknown, Bob. Then little Bob grew up to be big Bob and inherited the Camry, giving him the distinct advantage over all his buddies in becoming an Uber driver.

To whom does the Camry belong?

Okay, Ty. I see what you’re saying. All those people in Jedediah’s family lineage gained an advantage from a car he stole from Gunther. So, if Gunther’s grandkids were to ask Bob for the Camry back, they would not be asking for a free car, but for their car. And if Bob were to discover the truth of the history of the stolen car and return it to Gunther’s grandkids, he would not be giving them a free car, but making a wrong right by returning the property to its rightful owner.

Exactly, Bob!

But Ty, I never owned slaves and neither did any other living Americans.

True, you did not personally own slaves. Point taken. And nobody is suggesting that you did. But you are in possession of stolen property, as I am. In this tangled web of privilege, our whiteness affords us protection and advantages that many African Americans in this country do not have. So, the least we can do is equalize the playing field so they can catch up and have a fighting chance.

Okay, I get that. But I’m not racist. I like black people! In fact, I have some black friends!

These black friends of yours, Bob, have you ever been to any of their homes?


Have any of them ever been to your home?


Ok, Bob, they are not your friends. Sure, you may like them, but they are not your friends. But the issue is not about whether or not you like black people. People of color are not asking white people to like them. Many, if not most, don’t care if any white person likes them. What they are asking for is far more basic and substantial: justice and equality. And honestly, both of those have nothing to do with flashing a smile or being nice.

Well, I’m not against them.

I don’t doubt that, Bob. But are you for them? In the American context, to be non-racist isn’t enough. The only acceptable position for a white person is to be anti-racist.

Why is that? What does it even mean to be anti-racist?

That’s a great question, Bob. A scholar by the name of Ibram X. Kendi just recently wrote a book entitled, How to Be an Antiracist. You should check it out. In it he says, “to be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” The fact is, Bob, to be non-racist is to maintain the status quo of disparity and injustice. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” To be antiracist, then, is to stand against racism and use one’s influence to remove it from every dark nook and cranny of the nation. Only action will bring about the kind of changes that need to be made.

I see what you’re saying, Ty.

Thanks for listening, Bob.

A Call to Conversation

In order to change the consciousness of whites and blacks around the topic of race and politics, we must be willing to talk amongst ourselves and with each other. Whites and Blacks who are committed to racial equality must make it a priority to first converse with their respective friends and family who are not yet converted to this cause of justice. Once we all can commit to having the hard conversations, both amongst ourselves and with each other, once we can commit to reading the materials necessary to broaden our understanding, and ultimately commit to engage to make substantive change then will we begin to see justice and equality in both policy and people’s hearts. Let’s talk!

Disparities in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Present a Need for More Diversity in Tech Fields

“Why diversity in Artificial Intelligence (AI) is non-negotiable.” “’Disastrous’ lack of diversity in AI industry perpetuates bias.”  “A lack of diversity in tech is damaging AI.”  “Artificial Intelligence is on the brink of a diversity disaster.”  These are headlines from articles discussing one of the technology sector’s hottest topics – diversity in AI.  Why is this a hot topic and why should you care? Because AI affects your everyday life and a lack of diversity in its development can have detrimental effects on people of color.

For instance, if you’re darker-skinned and have ever had problems getting the automatic soap dispenser in a public restroom to dispense soap for you, you’ll want to check out this video uploaded to Twitter in 2017 by Chukwuemeka Afigbo, then Facebook’s head of platform partnerships in the Middle East and Africa. As the video and the article reveal, the soap dispenser’s problem is optic, not AI in nature. But the fact remains that the dispensers were manufactured without the developers understanding a unique set of potential problems for a particular group of people in the general public. Basically, because of lack of testing on people of color the technology has a tendency to periodically malfunction. This is directly related to our topic and shows that the lack of diversity in technology in general, which includes AI, is problematic for people of color.

I first need to say that AI is an extremely complex subject and the length of this article will only allow us to scratch the surface of this particular AI topic. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to read the articles that I link to as a starting point for your research.

Artificial Intelligence in the Material World

Are you aware that you most likely already use AI in your everyday life?  Do you say “Hey Siri…” or ask Alexa for information?  You’re using AI. When you scroll through your Facebook feed or view the “Movies you may like” feed on Netflix, AI is powering the algorithms that determine what shows up in your feed and on that list of movies. AI isn’t coming; it’s here!

What Exactly is Artificial Intelligence Anyway?

In her article “What Is Artificial Intelligence? Examples and News in 2019,”  business reporter Anne Sraders provides a definition I like: Artificial intelligence is the use of computer science  programming to imitate human thought and action by analyzing data and surroundings, solving or anticipating problems and learning or self-teaching to adapt to a variety of tasks. An important thread to pull from that definition is that the computer is programmed to learn from data sets it is given.

So why the concern about diversity in AI? Under the covers, AI allows for bias to be introduced in two ways: creator bias and data bias. A lack of diversity on teams that develop AI products and services makes it easier for these biases to go undetected. Consider these examples.

AI and Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM

Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have had problems with their facial recognition technologies correctly identifying women and darker-skinned people. Amazon has been heavily marketing its technology to law enforcement agencies as a way to quickly identify suspects, but its technology is reported to have the most problems making correct identifications. When the issues with the software were first identified in 2018, all three companies released “more accurate technology,” implying that they reworked their software’s code – they presumably addressed creator bias. That said, Amazon’s rates of misidentification in the follow-up 2019 study are still very high which is causing concern. Can you see how law enforcement using a facial recognition software package that has problems identifying people of color or people’s gender could be problematic?

AI and Human Resources

Human resource departments have started to use AI to help them fill job openings – feed a stack of electronic resumes into a program that will identify the best candidate for your job. In his article “Why Adding Diversity in Artificial Intelligence is Nonnegotiable,” Danny Guillory explains how data bias works. He states that in a generic job search for an engineer (this search will produce a result set of mostly Caucasian males), when profiles are selected (hired) from that search, AI will ‘learn’ this and then continue to select that same type of profile in future searches. It is not trained to, and will not ever on its own, think outside the box, which, in this case, would be something like selecting a woman’s or a Latino’s profile. “In this mode,” says Guillory, “groups of people can be systematically eliminated. If certain groups are not included in the data sets that AI is taking into consideration, in the long run, problems or challenges that are outside of the data set may not be able to be solved for at all.”

Lack of Diversity in AI and Tech Fields

Sarah Myers West, Meredith Whittaker and Kate Crawford, researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute, released an extensive report on AI earlier this year where they stated, “The use of AI systems for the classification, detection, and prediction of race and gender is in urgent need of re-evaluation.” and “The commercial deployment of these tools is cause for deep concern.”

Dr. Timnit Gebru, Co-Founder of Black in AI

The lack of diverse employees at tech companies has been widely reported, and this is a major part of the problem.  In an interview with AI Business, Payal Jain – chair of Women in Data – says, “There [are] three things that are really important when we start thinking about AI and machine learning.  It’s not so much about data—it’s all about people. Firstly, we’ve got to be aware of our own biases. Secondly, we need diverse teams to work with the technology. With 78% of people working in AI being male, there are biases that they naturally will not spot. Finally, we’ve got to make sure we’re giving the machines non-biased datasets.” 

Timnit Gebru, co-founder of Black in AI, says of the need for diversity in AI in an interview for MIT’s Technology Review, “When problems don’t affect us, we don’t think they’re that important, and we might not even know what the problems are because we’re not interacting with the people who are experiencing them.”

Black in AI and the Importance of STEM Programs

This is why women and people of color in technology are working to address the issue. Organizations like Women in Data, Black in AI and Women in Machine Learning have been formed because the organizers are working to develop ways to address bias in AI, connect under-represented people in that tech sector and educate about the problem. Gebru says she and a friend started Black in AI in 2017 after she attended a Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference in 2016. (NIPS is considered one of the world’s largest AI conferences). There were about 8500 attendees. “I counted six black people,” she said. “I was literally panicking. That’s the only way I can describe how I felt…. Because six black people out of 8,500—that’s a ridiculous number, right? That is almost zero percent.”

It is these kinds of realities and disparities that make it extremely important for us to continue to encourage young people of color and women into STEM careers. This will help to increase the diversity pool as more ethnically diverse developers are added to the field to help prevent creator and data bias. STEM fields have and continue to be difficult for women to complete degrees in, but the industry has learned a lot about what is needed to help them succeed. Organizations like GirlsWhoCode allow teen girls to learn to code in an environment where they are surrounded by other women. Networking groups like the National Society of Black Engineers provide spaces where encouragement and mentorship can be found. This Harvard Business Review article lists six things successful women in STEM careers do; a topic we may cover in a future Message magazine article.

The fact of the matter is, AI is not going anywhere. It will continue to make its way more intimately and permanently into our daily lives. We need to be sure it does that as bias-free as possible.

The 2020 Census Part I: Bleaching MENA’S and the Bible

“I’m shouting into this void saying that we’re not white and no one is listening.”  ~ David Shams

Like Michael Myers of the Halloween movie franchise, the proposed 2020 Census question refuses to die. Having lost the 2020 battle, the Trump administration is still considering inserting the question into the 2030 census. This citizenship question stalks immigrant populations threatening to reallocate billions of federal dollars and to redistrict several congressional seats. However, that’s not the only controversial part of the Census. Today, this weighty instrument that once listed “Hindu” as a race needs careful reexamination.

Consider this interesting box on the Census form. Under the question of race, citizens are asked to state what kind of “White, Black, or American Indian” they identify as. Examples under “White” include German and Irish, which one would expect. However, other choices now include “Lebanese and Egyptian.” The Census website further defines “White” as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples [emphasis added] of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.”

Voices from Within the MENA Veil – Stripped, Erased…Bleached

Many American’s whose ancestry and origins are from the Middle East and Northern Africa find this new racial classification of “White” insulting and culturally dismissive. Laura Doan in an article for The Daily Texan cites that “many MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) people don’t have a white identity, but they are defined as white by the U.S. Census Bureau and almost every college application.” Here are how some MENA Americans are responding to this classification.

It was such a weird thing to grow up and be told, “You should be proud to be Jordanian. You should be proud of where you come from.” None of these forms are allowing me to feel proud of it, because I’m just white according to them.”

Sarah Shabbar

Léa Sleiman ’22, a Lebanese student from Beirut…has always embraced her Lebanese heritage…However, when Sleiman arrived in the U.S., she began to experience an identity crisis. “Because my ethnicity and culture were not recognized in America, I was stripped [of] my identity.”

Leen Rhazi

I’m shouting into this void saying that we’re not white and no one is listening.

David Shams

I am a brown person. How do I know?…When it’s dark outside and I’m walking by myself, white people sometimes cross the street to avoid passing me…My origins are from Egypt. Every day, I live my life in America as a brown person. Defining me as white and likening me to a European, as the census does, is absurd…to compel everyone from the Middle East and North Africa to select “white” on the census is to force us to participate in our own official erasure.

Moustafa Bayoumi

As someone who is half European and half Syrian, I can assure you that white and Middle Eastern are two very distinct races, holding different levels of esteem within American society, and should thus be listed as two separate options on all demographic surveys.

Chloe A. Shawah

It’s another erasure of both Middle Eastern and North African people.

Persis Karim

Bleaching the Bible

There is something dangerous about the systematic whitening of the Middle East and North Africa through the 2020 census. Not only does it rob MENA Americans of their culture and heritage, but it also perpetuates this misrepresentation of biblical figures as “white” and/or European.

If you open Genesis 2:14 with one hand and scan the globe with the other, it’s easy to see that the Euphrates River flows through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. It’s also easy to surmise that the river Gihon “which goes around the whole land of Cush” (Gen. 2:13) is now known as the Nile River, which flows through Sudan and Egypt. This proves that Adam and Eve’s home was most likely close to the intersection of North Africa and Southwest Asia.

As we keep reading, we see that Moses and Paul resembled Egyptians, not Scandinavians (Ex. 2:15-19; Acts 21:37-38). They, like Moustafa Bayoumi, were people of color. Since they are the premier literary and theological contributors of the Old and New Testaments (respectively), the accuracy of their cultural and racial identity is imperative.

In a world where psuedo-scientists and philosophers have determined that whiteness is a superior racial classification, it was only a matter of time before artists and historians began bleaching these biblical figures. This is why in most art depicting the first couple their complexion is pale as though they lived near the Thames or Volga Rivers. It is why the premier contributors of Scripture, Moses and Paul, are portrayed as European philosophers. The agenda of colonialism required these authority figures to be portrayed as White.

But what about Jesus? As Dr. William Barber II would say, he was “a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew.” Jesus’ family actually lived as refugees in Egypt without arousing unwanted attention. This fact alone makes it clear that historically Jesus was a person of color.

The Case of the Great White Washing

Which means that the greatest act of cultural appropriation in history is the white washing of the Biblical world. Before black-faced comedy and red-skinned mascots, racist theologians vandalized the Bible invalidating every person of color within it by attributing them with a white face. For 500 years, European artists have whitewashed the biblical cast with paintbrushes. And today, politicians continue trying to bleach them with questionnaires like the one that appear in the 2020 census.

To preach the superiority of the European race and the Bible, colonizers gentrified North Africa and Southwest Asia. With the goal of subduing black and brown minds, white supremacists can’t promote a Bible full of melanin rich characters as it contradicts their scientific and philosophical beliefs.

These kind of intentional acts of bleaching have led many to dismiss Christianity and agree with Malcolm X:

The whole church structure in this country is white nationalism, you go inside a white church – that’s what they’re preaching, white nationalism. They got Jesus white, Mary white, God white, everybody white – that’s white nationalism…Don’t join any church where white nationalism is preached. Why, you can go to a Negro church and be exposed to white nationalism. ‘Cause…when you walk in a Negro church and see a white Jesus and a white Mary and some white angels, that Negro church is preaching white nationalism.

Abandon or Awaken?

Does this mean we should abandon the Bible? Who gives up a treasure so valuable that thieves smuggle and disguise it for centuries? Let’s not remove the Bible from our lives; let’s remaster its scenes. We might not be able to repaint the Sistene Chapel, but we can reread the Bible with corrective lenses. Just as filmmakers remaster Black and White movies to add vibrant colors in places where there was only grey, our imaginations can restore the bleached passages of Scripture. When we do this, we’ll see a Jesus who, as Nathan Brown puts it in his book For the Least of These:

was a refugee, escaping across a border under cover of darkness, then seeking to build a new life in a foreign country…Jesus knew what it was like to live on the margins of society, under the constant threat of violence…[he] lived with the vulnerabilities of poverty…As a teacher who did not fit in with the dominant religious culture, he knew what it was to be persecuted. As a victim of the violent and powerful, Jesus experienced the worst of human injustice, torture, and brutality; he was left a horrifically disfigured body barely recognizable to his human family.

Jesus subjected himself to these injustices in order to break down the “middle wall” separating people from God and each other. This makes it possible for us all to be fellow citizens in the household of God (Eph. 2:11-19).


Race Talk

Prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping—whether overt or implicit—are alive and unfortunately well. Sue’s research and observations are included in his most recent publication Race Talk And The Conspiracy of Silence (Wiley, 2015, 2016) in which he challenges us to push through racial dialogue, especially in today’s climate of overt expressions of bias. Do this, he says, even though it can be upsetting.

How races come together

We know from social-psychological research the principles that lead to reduction of prejudice and discrimination. One of them is that we have to have intimate contact with people that we hope to understand. We have to have mutually shared goals. We have to have the ability of what I call equal status relationships between individuals in order to be able to begin to feel again that we’re one another.

What we are experiencing in the United States is a worldwide phenomenon that we’re witnessing in Europe as well. ‘I don’t care about other groups,’ that we have to ‘protect borders,’ and these borders are not just physical but psychological. We need to get people to realize that we are connected to one another and that the ultimate outcome of this splitting and segregation is that our society as a nation will deteriorate.

To Those Who Say, Give It Time, A Chance, And That It Will Be OK.

What we are witnessing now is scary. We aren’t moving in a positive direction.

The people who are quick to normalize it are those people who have power and privilege. They do not understand the social, cultural and psychological significance that people of color and other marginalized groups in our nation experience as [they] are saying that things will be OK.

Well, things aren’t OK with us now and there are whole groups that are suffering. We see this going on with indigenous people at Standing Rock, where Native American people are feeling that their spiritual and sacred lives are at risk. Their physical lives are at risk.

The Black brothers and sisters indicate—you know, with the Black Lives Matter movement—that our society is saying that Black lives don’t matter. It may not say it specifically, but it is operating under the impression that some lives are worth more than others, and it is White lives that are worth more.

You frequently hear this invalidation that goes on when people say “Black lives matter.” You hear our political leaders say, “Well, all lives matter.” What they don’t realize is that they are dismissing, diluting and negating the primary message that is coming out from Black brothers and sisters that the way that our society operates, and how people operate is that our lives are worth less than White brothers and sisters in this nation.

Even when we try to point out to them that Black men are being killed—I mean this deadlocked jury—one juror—[in the trial of North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slagle for killing Walter Scott] indicates that no matter what people of color do the judgment and the decision hurts them.

It’s a false assumption and false attempt to calm people by saying that things will be OK, because the truth is, things aren’t OK. They haven’t been OK for centuries.

Work To Unveil Implicit Bias

That’s why I did all this work on micro-aggressions because well-intentioned White brothers and sisters don’t realize that that are complicit in engaging in actions and behaviors that harm people of color through micro-aggressions. And, as long as it is invisible to them, they can go on with their lives in innocence and naivete’ as though they had nothing to do with it.

How The Struggle Births Strength

As people of color we have always struggled. Racism is a reality in our lives. It’s a constant, omnipresent. What we need to realize is to look at the history of our brothers and sisters of color in terms of how they have struggled and overcome and realize that we have assets, that we are not in the struggle by ourselves. Each and every one of us has to find the motivating factor.

I went through a period in my life when I felt hopeless, like what am I doing if it won’t change? My salvation was that fact that on an individual level I do affect some people. But the thing that makes me continue the struggle, despite my belief that racism will never end, is that I want to do the right thing.

Having ‘The Talk’ With Someone Of Another Race

All racial discussions are clumsy and awkward, and push powerful emotional buttons in people. When you’re having a good racial discussion with people, people are experiencing anger, anxiety, sadness, defensiveness and so forth. So, all of those indicate that you’re moving in the right direction. But you have to get beyond the feelings. Because the feelings, unless you understand them, block actual touching of minds.

Let me give an example of White students who originally did not understand and feel defensive because they feel blamed by students of color when they engage in a racial dialogue. It takes a long time for them to come to the realization that they are privileged; that they are putting up defenses. They don’t really want to see what racism is because ultimately they have to acknowledge to themselves that they have racial biases and behaved in ways that hurt and harmed others.

That is a major obstacle to overcome and it takes long discussions where you continue to provide challenges but support for others to come to the realization. But once they get to that level of realization they are likely to be overwhelmed with feelings of guilt.

What you try to do is tell them, ‘I acknowledge your guilt is legitimate, but guilt doesn’t help the situation.’ ‘But you can deal with that guilt if you become a valuable ally with us in terms of dealing with the disparities that are present in our everyday lives.’

I usually get to that point if I’m allowed to work with the class over an extended period of time. To think that you can have a dialogue for five minutes and achieve the goal is a falsehood. This is a long term soul-searching that many of my White brothers and sisters need to go through.


Author, Columbia University Professor and Researcher Derald Wing Sue

CARMELA MONK-CRAWFORD, editor of Message Magazine, interviewed Derald Wing Sue for this article.

All-Around Champ, Muhammed Ali

How the once polarizing boxing champion became a transcendent icon of harmony.

Bill Cosby was one of the most popular comedians in the nation, but declined the invitation because it was his policy to reject all speaking invitations since he got so many. Mel Brooks, a hot commodity as the writer, director and star of the 1974 hit movie “Blazing Saddles” declined because he was too busy working on a script.

So Harvard University’s senior class of 1975 asked Muhammad Ali to be the guest speaker for the annual Class Day that precedes graduation.

“More people have spoken to me about getting Ali than anyone else,” event chair Harden H. Weidemann told The Harvard Crimson about a month before Ali’s appearance.

The Crimson reported that 1,100 people showed up to hear Ali that day. And Ali’s message to them was about the necessity to embrace love and selflessness.

“Look at the way Jesus Christ treated all those who came to him,” Ali said to those assembled in the Burden Auditorium. “When the great sinners who were condemned and expelled from society, when they were brought to the Master, he raised them up with his compassion. Jesus was on the side of the guilty and accused ones.”

Harvard’s seniors probably weren’t expecting that kind of message. Many probably wanted to hear the boisterous, braggadocio Ali, the outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and convert to the Nation of Islam.

They likely expected the controversial, counter-cultural Ali. But the man who spoke to Harvard’s seniors that day was the ecumenical Ali. He had begun to become the man who would be celebrated by Christians, Muslims, Jews, blacks, whites, Asians, Arabs – people of every stripe and type – as a transcendent cultural icon, unmatched until the day he died.

The Ali who showed up at Harvard in 1975 appreciated the Jesus who sided with the accused because he himself knew something about the painful impact of accusations. In 1967, the young heavyweight champ refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army, citing his new conversion to the Nation of Islam as the reason.

Famous Last Stand

The Nation of the 1960s saw the world in stark black-and-white racial tones. White people were “devils” because of slavery, Jim Crow and the race-based colonialism that pock-marked the African and Asian continents. They were separatists and fiercely independent, disavowing a need for White America, running their own businesses from their base on the Southside of Chicago.

After joining the Nation, Ali announced that he was no longer to be called Cassius Clay – his legal name – because it was a “slave” name. Instead, he accepted the name given to him by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, the Nation’s leader in those days.

Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and refused to go to war.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong,” he said famously.


In June of 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion. He was stripped of his heavyweight title belt and banned from boxing for three years.

Now labeled an unpatriotic draft dodger and a religious radical, Ali lost some of the shine that came from being an Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champ. Mainstream America rejected him. But young Americans across racial and religious lines embraced him as their icon, which led to the Harvard invitation eight years later.

Famous Friendship

“He was so much more than a fighter as time went on,” said comedian Billy Crystal during his eulogy of Ali last week. “With Bobby Kennedy gone, Martin Luther King gone, Malcolm X gone, who was there to relate to when Vietnam exploded in our face?”

Crystal was a young man himself in the late 1960s, part of a generation who feared being called to fight in a war they didn’t support.

“It was Ali who stood up for us by standing up for himself,” Crystal said.

Crystal and Ali were close friends, though undoubtedly a surprising match. A black Muslim from the South and a white Jew from New York weren’t likely to connect the way they did in the 1970s.

But they both were blessed with the gift of gab and tons of charisma. And Crystal had the added benefit of being an uncanny mimic and impersonator of Ali, which he did to the champ’s delight the first time they met in 1974 at a televised dinner honoring Ali.

But the Ali-Crystal connection ran deeper than that. Ali’s commitment to civil and human rights resonated with Crystal’s own family history, the comedian revealed during his eulogy. His father was known as the “Branch Rickey of jazz” due to his efforts to provide opportunities for black artists. His uncle, Milt Gabler, produced Billie Holiday’s haunting anti-lynching anthem “Strange Fruit.”

So Crystal was primed for the special friendship he and Ali developed. And he admired the man who called him “Little Brother”, a man he described as “a silent messenger of peace who told us that life is better when you build bridges between people and not walls.”

Ali and Crystal also loved to share a good laugh. He recalled the time that they sat together at the funeral of broadcaster Howard Cossell. Ali, whose verbal sparring matches with Cossell were legendary, leaned over to Crystal.

“Little Brother, do you think he’s wearing his hairpiece?” Ali asked, clearly a reference to Cossell’s corpse in the casket.

“I don’t think so,” Crystal replied.

“Then how will God recognize him?” Ali coyly asked.

Crystal’s reply was equally as coy: God will recognize Cossell the moment he opens his mouth. And then they snickered like kids, Crystal said.

Even Donald Trump?

One year after they met, Ali spoke at Harvard. Later In October, the champ beat Joe Frazier in the fight he billed “The Thrilla in Manila.”

By this time the once-reviled Ali was a beloved global figure. He had left the Nation of Islam, following Warith Dean Muhammad – a son of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad – into the practice of orthodox Islam.

Perhaps he remembered that his former friend Malcolm X had also left the Nation, transforming himself into El Hajj Malik El Shabazz after he made the hajj to Mecca and saw the global rainbow that Islam was – black, white, brown and yellow, an astonishing array of races, ethnicities and nationalities.

Shabazz left the Nation a pariah and was assassinated in 1965, some believe by a man with ties to the Nation. Ali’s departure didn’t seem to generate the same animus. It helped, perhaps, that the Nation was in the throes of major change itself when Ali left.

But the Nation mourned Ali’s death along with the rest of the world, something it did not do when Shabazz was murdered.

captioned ali“The flesh of Muhammad Ali must return to the earth but what he has done for the Cause of Islam, for the Cause of Freedom, Justice and Equality will never die” said Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan in a published statement. “These are the words that strike me, a life well lived and a job well done. He has finished his course.”

Even Donald Trump, notorious for advocating that Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S., tweeted an Ali tribute.

“Muhammad Ali is dead at 74!” Trump shared with his millions of Twitter followers. “A truly great champion and a wonderful guy. He will be missed by all!”

Trump is now at least as polarizing as Ali once was. Maybe he should take a lesson from a man who could garner the respect of presidents, kings, celebrities, millions of fans around the world, transcending race, religion and culture – and a liberal Jewish comedian, a controversial leader of a black Muslim sect, and a presidential candidate believed by many to be an unequivocal bigot.

Trump could learn a lot from the ecumenical Ali.




The Resource You Need In This Race

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Thursday, March 17, 2016

by the word tile

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

Faith is the wonderful resource, a small measure of which God gives to every person ever born. It is what we do with that small measure that makes all the difference in the world. If we squander it by directing it toward worldly things only, it will become a catalyst for disappointment, dissipation, and mere earthly rewards. However, if we utilize this small measure to lay hold of the dynamite portion that comes to all who invest their little in absolute trust in God, something miraculous happens. This tiny measure, having been invested in the spiritual bank of heaven, becomes the valuable vehicle through which the unfettered power of God is released into our lives. This new and improved faith becomes a key to unlocking the treasures of God to convert helpless sinners into victorious saints.

It is this faith that Jesus is Pioneer and Perfecter of. Besides His authority as Creator of the heavens and the earth, Jesus earned the title to perfect faith within us, because He demonstrated absolute faith in His Father while living in human flesh. In the garb of humanity, Jesus proved that a human being could remain faithful to God as long as we continue to submit our wills to Him.

It is Jesus who gave us our faith. It is Jesus who demonstrated absolute faithfulness in the flesh. It is Jesus who suffered being tempted, mocked, and crucified so He could impart His victory to us. It is Jesus who, through the ever-presence of the Holy Spirit, steadily increases our faith if we continue to trust in Him.

Could Hillary Clinton’s Economic Revitalization Plan Help People Of Color And Working Poor?

Whether it’s about politics or a personal passion, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made an unprecedented commitment to Africa-Americans and all who are concerned about the impact of racism in this country. During a recent speech she made in Harlem, Clinton said that the mission of her presidency will be to end racial inequality.

The former First Lady has presented what she calls her “economic revitalization plan,” which includes plans to spend $20 billion on youth jobs, $5 billion on reentry programs for people coming out of prison, and $25 billion on entrepreneurship in communities that have been underserved historically. Clinton has made it clear that the intended beneficiaries of these plans are poor and working poor African-Americans and other people of color.
“For many white Americans, it’s tempting to believe that bigotry is largely behind us,” she said. “But more than half a century after Rohillary Clintonsa Parks sat, and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. Now anyone – anyone – asking for your vote, has a responsibility to grapple with this reality.”

The political reality is that Clinton consciously did something that President Obama has been criticized for being loathe to do: putting racism in America front and center and going into attack mode. Even relatively compassionate critics such as author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson have suggested that Obama “often practiced the politics of racial sublimation,” using “racially neutral projects” such as Obamacare to address the concerns of black people covertly while marketing them as good for the working poor and middle class of all races. Dyson called this an uneasy “alliance of amnesia and avoidance” that ignored seething racial tensions.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Dyson’s characterization of the president, it’s clear that candidate Clinton has chosen a different, more aggressive path. Assuming she wins the Democratic nomination and in the general election, Clinton’s plan will face scrutiny and opposition by experts and Republicans.
“It (Clinton’s revitalization plan) doesn’t really sound like anything new,” said Jerry Mitchell, chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. “It sounds rather like some of the programs that have been laid out in various Democratic administrations in the past.

“It sounds good. I’m wondering where the money (will be) coming from to do some of these things.”
Taxes is the answer to Mitchell’s reflection. The Tax Foundation, which CNN has described as “conservative-leaning,” estimates that Clinton will raise tax revenue by $498 billion over the next 10 years to pay for her plan. The foundation believes only $191 billion actually would be collected due to a “reduction in the size of the U.S. economy,” which it attributes to her proposed tax increases on higher income earners. And this, the foundation maintains, “would lead to lower after-tax incomes for taxpayers at all income levels, but especially for taxpayers at the top.”

Mitchell also warns that Congress, especially if it remains Republican-led, may impede or even block completely Clinton’s plans.

“At least you’ve got something to look at,” Mitchell said before issuing another warning.
“The only caveat I have is I would hate for somebody to dangle a carrot in front of me and then I bite it, and it’s not really a carrot.”

Clinton’s black agenda was presented after a close call in Iowa and a straight-up loss in New Hampshire to her primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. So, some believe that she is pandering to African-American voters.

The polls have long shown Clinton’s strength in the black community. And if they can be trusted, she dominates Sanders there in the nine upcoming primary states that have significant black populations – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. It also helps that she has been endorsed by establishment black politicians such as Congressmen John Lewis and Jim Clyburn.

Sanders, however, seems to be outmaneuvering Clinton by garnering the support of young activists and intellectuals such as Michelle Alexander, best-selling author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander wrote a scathing critique of Clinton recently for The Nation and has endorsed Sanders. He’s also gotten endorsements from best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dr. Cornel West, Congressman Keith Ellison, former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous and Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, the African-American man who was choked to death by New York police officers.

So while Clinton may have seemed to have had the black vote locked up – during the 2008 primaries many black Democrats supported her before then-senator Obama began to surge – it’s still too early to count out Sanders. African-American Democratic voters have some decisions to make.

Perhaps Clinton herself gave the best advice during her Harlem speech.

“Hold me accountable,” she said. “Hold every candidate accountable. What we say matters, but what we do matters more.”