Recently, I learned that Jesse Williams received the BET Humanitarian Award and that his speech stole the show. Because of the speech, I saw “Jesse Williams for President” pictures over Facebook and one person called the speech “MLK-like historic”.
When I read the full transcript of the speech, I was rather upset about it because of the numerous falsehoods and obfuscations within the speech. The narrative underlying this speech truncates the Black experience, promotes cultural isolationism, unnecessarily instigates deep division among Blacks and Whites, and legitimizes cultural behaviors which should be condemned. However, what really bothered me about this is the entire narrative is devoid of a biblical worldview – and yet numerous Black Christians are celebrating it with the same passion as numerous unbelievers. Instead of writing a full blog in response to the speech, I thought I would interact with certain sections of the speech below.
And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
Although this is in the middle of his speech, we now know the goal of the narrative: to shut down opposition and to promote a definitive narrative. Therefore, there are functionally only two options: mobilization for the cause of the vision or guilt/shame. They get to define the terms of the debate and shout down whoever disagrees with those terms. How is this any different than college students shouting down speakers they don’t like? My response is the simply this: chapter and verse, please.
This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics:, the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.
Here, we have the core assertions in Williams’ speech – namely that there is structural racism within the American criminal justice system and that we, as Black people, are ignorant of (or thoroughly miseducated about) our own history. This perspective makes sense from his vantage point since he was an African-American Studies major at Temple University. Now, for those who are not familiar with African-American studies, here’s a sample undergraduate course list. If you peruse that list, you will notice that African-American Studies is an interdisciplinary field, but it lacks three important skills needed to thoroughly discuss this topic: economics, statistics, and theology. Unless Williams is self-educated in these other topics, I think there will be some problems. First, the lack of statistical training means that his interpretation of statistical data may be faulty (which we will see below). The lack of economics training means that he may not fully consider the outcome of human behavior and the unintended consequences associated with the promotion of his vision for the sake of policy (which we will see below). Williams basically thinks that if more mobilization occurs, then we will begin to see more strides in reforming the American criminal justice system, but he doesn’t even consider how the culture of a people group and its disposition towards police will affect the prevalence of perceived Black injustices. Most importantly, without grounding the argument in Scripture, this means that he may miss the existential causes behind human behavior. Without the Scriptures as the foundation, he is arguing based on sinful human reason.
Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.
This is a repeated claim, which can be supported or rejected by empirical data. With all statistical data, there are two basic questions that should be asked: (1) Is the statistical data reliable? (2) Is the interpretation of the data sensible? In discussing this topic, a number of conservatives have quoted the study from Peter Moskos, Assistant Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. An overview of his study can be found here.
First, it’s important to note that FBI data on police shootings by race is notoriously incomplete, which may explain why Peter Moskos decided to use figures from the website Killed by Police. Killed by Police lists every death, justified or not, including those in which the officer had been wounded or acted in self-defense. Based on that data, Moskos reported that roughly 49 percent of those killed by officers from May 2013 to April 2015 were white, while 30 percent were black. He also found that 19 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were Asian and other races. His results had several caveats, including the fact that 25 percent of the website’s data, which is drawn largely from news reports, failed to show the race of the person killed.
Adjusted to take into account the racial breakdown of the U.S. population, Moskos said black men are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. However, as Moskos notes, “If one adjusts for the racial disparity in the homicide rate or the rate at which police are feloniously killed, whites are actually more likely to be killed by police than blacks. Adjusted for the homicide rate, whites are 1.7 times more likely than blacks die at the hands of police. Adjusted for the racial disparity at which police are feloniously killed, whites are 1.3 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of police”.
Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement will likely disagree with how Moskos adjusted for the data and will more likely use the study from ProPublica to support their narrative. This study found that found that black males aged 15 to 19 were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white males in that age group and unarmed black men were seven times more likely to be killed by police this year than unarmed white men. However, these statistics have also been contested.
At this point, we need to go beyond just the presentation of statistics. What we need is an interpretation of the statistics. However, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that there are genuine statistical differences between Blacks and Whites in regards to homicides by police. Now, I have never heard anyone seriously deny that discrimination, racism, and bias have resulted in various inequalities. However, the opposite proposition is the fundamental non-sequitur of Williams’ argument (and the argument of many Black Lives Matter organizers) – namely that discrimination, structural racism, and bias can be inferred from statistical inequalities in the criminal justice system. Simply quoting statistical differences among Blacks and Whites doesn’t prove at all that Blacks are suffering structural racism from the criminal justice system. In order to prove this, you would have to remove other salient possibilities. What if the behavior of one group leads to more unnecessary confrontations? What if one people group is more likely to commit violent crimes in general and thus we receive much more police attention? What if the behavior of various ethnic groups is not homogeneous over various geographic locations? These are the types of questions that should be asked, but are usually not asked because they contradict the prevailing narrative.
Now — I’ve got more, y’all. Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday, so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich.
Now, we have moved from narrative to propaganda and demagoguery. A more accurate account of the story would be as follows:
Two officers received a call about a black male sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people in a city park. The caller reported that the gun was probably fake and that the suspect was a juvenile. This information was not relayed to the officers and when they arrived at the scene, Rice reached towards a gun in his waistband. Within two seconds of arriving on the scene, two shots were fired and Rice was shot in the torso. The prosecution presented evidence to a grand jury and they did not indict the officers. Following the verdict, a wrongful death suit and settlement was given. When did this become a drive-by? Is Tamir Rice’s behavior normal for a 12-year old? Why did Tamir Rice remove the safety feature from the toy gun?
In a more fundamental sense, we are now discussing the concept of justice. Traditionally, justice is about impartial processes rather than the results. For instance, we would say that a defendant in a criminal case would be said to have received justice if the trial were conducted as it should be, under fair rules and with the judge and jury being impartial. In other words, traditional justice is measured by the procedure, not by the results. What other procedural step of justice should have been done? The independent conclusions about the use of force were submitted to the prosecutor’s office by outside experts (one by a retired FBI agent and another by a Colorado prosecutor). Both reported that the shooting of Tamir Rice was reasonable under the circumstances. Moreover, the conclusion of the wrongful-death suit was not that the cops were bigots, but rather the City of Cleveland was accused for “failing to properly train both officers”. One could complain about the incompetence of the prosecutor in getting an indictment, but it is a non-sequitur to draw the conclusion that structural racism can be inferred from the event. In other words, if we believe that we can discern the intent of the officers and the justice system while having less evidence to work with than the grand jury, we have abandoned the concept of justice. It’s clear that in Williams’ case, justice is measured by the results, not the process.
Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
Note that Jesse doesn’t even attempt to distinguish these individuals and what happened to each one. When you are trying to build a narrative, the details of the cases are irrelevant and the individuals are used for the greater purpose of so-called “equal rights and justice”. More importantly, does Jesse really want to say that the lives of ordinary Black people are not demonstrably better today than it was in 1612? Is this really the argument? Do we really have to talk about the differences between the standard of living and the life expectancy of a 21st century African-American compared to a 17th century African-American?
What bothers me most here is the hypocrisy. Jesse Williams is a multi-millionare who was able to go to a private high school and go to a comprehensive research university. How many Black people in the 17th century have had the privileges that he has had? Is this really the argument or is he blinded by the progress that has been made over the past 300-400 years? This type of thinking is the result of attempting to adjust reality to the overarching narrative.
There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done, there’s been no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so… “free.” Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.
We now have another word which is hijacked to promote the narrative – freedom. Traditionally, in the Western World, freedom was never defined as the license to fulfill one’s appetites; ironically, that type of freedom leads to slavery. The more appropriate term would be liberty. Anchored by a Biblical worldview, it was historically acknowledged that liberty (which is the ability to choose and to consciously order and direct one’s life) was subject to misuse and excess. Thus, to understand ourselves was to understand how to use our liberty well in light of the sinfulness of man. Thus, part of the maturation of any person (or culture) involved that hard task of discerning what was permitted and what was forbidden, what constituted the highest and best use of our freedom, and what actions were immoral and wrong. This is why freedom and liberty are ill-defined concepts apart from the Scripture. Moreover, to be free was itself an art, something that was learned not by nature or instinct, but by refinement and education. This is why self-control and patience are virtues for a person and a society (cf. Proverbs 25:28). The reality is that any culture that has not learned the art of liberty will be enslaved, whether by outside forces or from within. At this point, a cultural critique should be given to those whose freedom leads them to condemnable behavior.
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold.
Now, we get to the subject of whiteness and cultural appropriation. For me, this part of his speech made me the angriest because Jesse doesn’t understand the full implications of his statement. He has a vision that is unrestrained by reality. First, define “our” culture. In this speech, Black culture is truncated here to include only the parts of Black culture that is culturally accepted within the narrative. Is Black culture represented by BET – a station known for moral debauchery, materialism, and general foolishness? Are we really arrogant enough to believe that Black culture is fully invented by only Black people?
It is to our advantage that our culture is extracted because it benefits Black people economically. If imitation is a form of flattery, then cultural appropriation is a form of cultural appreciation. The only reason this is considered offensive is because a Marxist presupposition is assumed – namely that wealth is zero sum game and it is evidence of an underlying power-privilege dynamic. I’m particularly bothered by this because we know that any culture that attempts to insulate itself ALWAYS regresses. Prosperity develops when cultures borrow from each other extensively. Trying to stop cultural appropriation is a form of isolationism and it is economic suicide for a people group.
Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is that just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.
This is a deeply offensive statement. Our creations are not demeaned or ghettoized. Tell that to African-Americans in my profession whose genius has been lauded. How are “our creations” stolen from us if we willingly exchange these things to others for wealth? Doesn’t this assume stupidity on behalf of African-Americans? Here we have the standard cultural Marxist idea of a class conflict between the majority culture and the minority culture in which “our creations” are extracted from us to them, which only aggravates the ethnic group divisions. This theory only makes sense if we believe that this a zero sum game. More importantly, these gifts cannot be stolen from us because they weren’t ours originally. For what we do have as a culture that is honorable, did we not receive it from God? And if we did receive, why do we want to boast about it as it were not a gift?
In trying to protect a culture, Williams’ actions would keep it backwards. Let’s be honest – there is a black underculture worth mocking and a whole lot of it comes from BET. Very rarely is buffoonery confronted within our community and the reality is that buffoonery is profitable within our community. To confront the subculture is to contradict the cultural relativism that is present within the narrative, but the reality is the folly in all of its forms should be denounced. The book of Proverbs is full of warnings concerning the fate of those who continue in their folly.
I want to end this blog by addressing the elephant in the room. There are numerous professing Black Christians that are on the bandwagon of the SJW movement under the banner of racial reconciliation. Much of this talk of racial reconciliation is a diversion; the real issue is whether or not Black Christians should be apologists for inner city culture. So this is not a racial reconciliation issue; this is a cultural issue. There comes a point in time in which every ethnic group has to evaluate whether or not all aspects of their own culture are worth preserving. This was true of ancient Scots before they met the British and was true of the pre-modern Japanese before they met the West. There is usually no need for an outsider to inform an ethnic group that their culture is backwards; this is something usually acknowledged from within the culture itself. In our case, we have a prevailing subculture that doesn’t need apologists; it needs to be cast aside. Only when we are honest with ourselves and allow our narrative to be adjusted to reality will we actually see true progress.