17.6.09

Stuff White Christians Like


Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's the result of having grown up in a region of the country where even my granny would pull back the curtain with her cane and comment,"There goes those (insert N-word) again."

Poor white folks made it their business to mind what the poor black folks were doing. I never considered Granny anything but godly, but the truth was she was as racist as anyone else of her generation.

And mine.

Family myth claims my uncle was a card-carrying member of the KKK.

It's probably not a myth.

From the time I entered school until I was in my second year of high school, the only blacks I encountered either mopped the floors or spooned up tater tots.

If you knew my granny you'd be shocked. She was the kindest, sweetest, most loving woman, but she simply didn't know any different.

I didn't either.

Until I was in high school.

That was when all hell broke loose.

Joe Kirkland got into a fight in the school parking lot. Somebody cut him bad with a switchblade. I heard tell his mama had to carry him to the hospital where he got 20 stitches. Brother Frankie got sent off to military school and Mama threatened to send me off to boarding school in Virginia until I put my foot down and told her if she even tried, I'd run off to Florida. Mama didn't want any of her other children going to school with blacks but running off to Florida was considered a worse fate. Florida had drugs and the Hell's Angels.

Blacks had head lice.

Blacks ran in gangs.

Blacks would rape white girls.

It all seems so far away to me now, like watching 8mm reel of somebody else's life. But the truth is white people all over town started pulling their white kids out public school and sending them off to private "Christian" schools. Schools where white girls couldn't come into contact with black boys.

It's changed now. I was in Atlanta recently visiting a girlfriend. Her kids go to one of the region's most elite private schools. It looked like a college campus. There were kids of every make and model there.

I saw interracial couples embracing on a pier at Mobile Bay and outside the Cameo Theatre in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

That would never have happened when I was growing up. Somebody, probably a lot of somebodies, would have snatched such a couple by the roots of their head for PDA back in the day.

My friend Ralph's grandaddy was white. His Mee-maw was black. It was against the law for them to marry. So they shacked up at the end of a dirt road. Ralph said it was so his grandaddy could see if the lynch mob was coming for him.

When you grow up in that kind of world, it makes you sensitive to stuff that doesn't bother other folk. So I simply can't be objective about this. But when somebody told me to check out Stuff White Christians Like I didn't like it.

Where I come from, it's just not funny.

Not in the least.

You might understand if you'd grown up in the world I did.

33 comments:

  1. I'm going to be a total bastard for a moment.

    I'd be far more inclined to overlook the site's racial themes if it was actually funny, original and insightful.

    "Sunday Afternoon Naps"? Man, I can hardly handle the withering satire.

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  2. Karen- I'm glad you wrote your post. My father grew up in the south in the '50s and it continues to color his perception of the world- and in fact, resulted in my not speaking to him for 3 months- he forbade me to continue communicating with an African American friend who invited me to his high school prom when I was a freshman (intriguingly I just wrote about it a bit on my blog before I read this post). :/ It was a really hard situation, and I wish I'd known adult Christians who knew how to deal with that situation better when I was a teen. I still don't know where the fine line was between honoring God and honoring my parents on that one; and I often wonder what happened to that guy as a result of my dad's overt racism :/

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  3. jadeejf, it's interesting that you mention your dad grew up"in the south". Of course, in the 1860's, the line separating those most likely to be racist from those who who weren't, most pretty much the line between the North and the South.
    However, times change, and I have found a preponderance of racists all over the country, yet I still constantly hear many people from the North make an association between racism and residents of the South. It is my observation that this association is no longer a valid one.

    Please note that I am not saying you meant that you hold such a prejudice. You had to say your dad was from the south because that's where he was from. And I don't even know if you are from the north or south yourself. So I don't take issue with your post, but I bring it up because it reminds me of how, when I first encountered people from outside the South, I was bombarded with unwarranted accusations that Southerners are typically (a) dumb; and (b) racist.

    Sadly, I found out this was not the case. Not that there aren't racists in the South, but that they are, in fact, all over the place. My cousin (currently 42) moved to Minnesota in the early 90's, and heard the N-word from many residents there, much more than he ever heard it in San Angelo, in West Texas where he and I grew up.

    I have many more examples than just that one, including my time in the Army. Point is, though, that as much as I'd like to see racism come to a halt, I'd also like misconceptions about us Southerners to stop, too.

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  4. Dang! That came out a lot more whiny than I meant for it to. Oh well.

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  5. Before this post, I don't know that I'd ever read anything on the "Stuff White Christians Like" site. I thought it was hilarious.

    And believe me, I'm deeply aware of racial issues. My dad's family was the only white family in his Dallas neighborhood that didn't participate in "white flight." He has some happy stories. He has some sad stories. His childhood buddy was (and probably still is) black. My grandparent's German Shepard died from poisoned dog food.

    Problem with being a white Christian (and if you're like me, glow-in-the-dark), is that nobody likes you. We're as unhip as it gets. We are politically incorrect. No one wants to see a White Christian on TV. Seriously.

    The only thing we've got left is to make fun of ourselves. And oh, how very easy that is.

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  6. So let me get this straight, Hillary: your dad's friend might have changed colors?

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  7. I grew up in the South and the similarities between your experience and mine are eerie, yet somehow not surprising at all.

    I dunno . . . comedy sometimes -SOMETIMES - handles issues of race in a more direct and effective way than the constipated "dialogue" that often goes nowhere. I much prefer self-deprecating humor to vacuous anxiety about race.

    Jordan's right, though. The fact that the site isn't funny doesn't help. And it's not like there's a dearth of material.

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  8. Some years ago, while living and working in Georgia, I invited my youngest daughter to join me and a coworker for lunch.

    Afterwards, my native Oregon child said to me, "Mama, why didn't you tell me Rhonda was black?"

    I was taken aback by her question.

    "I dunno," I replied. "Guess it never occurred to me."

    I don't think skin color should be the means by which Christians set themselves apart.

    Even for humor's sake. Maybe not especially for humor's sake, given our propensity to dismiss racism in the Church.

    While much has changed in this nation, the Church remains one of the most segregated strongholds in America.

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  9. I remember a comedy teacher saying, "never make fun of a group of which you are not a member." the fact these guys ARE white Christians gives them some cred that they are just trying to poke fun of themselves. It's particularly not original, since there are both "stuff white people like" and "Stuff Christians Like." But I'm glad it's not like Landover Baptist, where they're just angry ex Christians or never been Christians. Again, only if your'e a member.

    Teh best Christian satire site I've found is http://www.larknews.com. It's like the Christian version of the Onion. And though you could say it's derivative of the Onion, it's still original, insider, satirical without being cruel,and well. Funny. Funny counts for a lot.

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  11. After clicking on the link I thought I was looking at a Mormon site.

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  12. I can't believe they actually have a book in addition to the website. I have to agree that I don't think it is actually funny. Actually I found one humorous entry: #13: Diversity. But maybe because of the truthful statements, like:

    As the deer pantheth for the water, the white Christian longs for diversity.

    Part of the problem is that white Christians prefer their diversity candidates to dress like them, talk like them, like the same style of worship as them, and, ideally, to have attended the same Christian college as them. In short, the average white Christian church wants to attract white Christians who are not white.

    True, funny, and sad. But that's about all I found.

    @SusanIsaacs, thanks for enlightening us with larknews.com. Now THAT is funny. Accountability groups classified as gangs in Detroit. Last time I was in Detroit, I was told to watch out for them.

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  13. Folks know that this ridiculous rip-off of a rip-off is not the latter, but the former... right? Stuff White Christians Like is not Stuff Christians Like.

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  14. "Part of the problem is that white Christians prefer their diversity candidates to dress like them, talk like them, like the same style of worship as them, and, ideally, to have attended the same Christian college as them. In short, the average white Christian church wants to attract white Christians who are not white."

    And then Tim says "True, funny, and sad." Are you serious?

    Again, I say: why is it acceptable to make prejudicial, sweeping blanket statements like this about an entire group of people, especially when it's not true?

    And by the way, I don't care if it's true about 90%, 80% or even 50% of white Christians, it's still appalling to say such a thing. If someone said that as a group, blacks like watermelons, they'd be slammed, burned in effigy, and banished to wherever Michael Richards and Jimmy the Greek were forced to take up residence. I see no reason to differentiate one type of prejudicial statement from another, or to say that one such statement (white Christians only like diversity if it results in people who dress and talk like them) is acceptable while other prejudiced statements are not.

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  15. I thought it was pretty accurate/ironic/chuckle-worthy, but not as funny as "Stuff White People Like", which I read on a regular basis. I guess it all depends on your sense of humor and what you think is funny.

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  16. James -

    Michael Jackson. You never know.

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  17. C'mon, James. You have to see the satire in that diversity quote I referenced.

    But I can see that I wasn't clear in what the truth part is. What's true is that generalizations of US churches ARE true. There is absolutely no real diversity in vast majority of US churches. Personally I think the reason for it is that there is no attempt to be diverse.

    I've been to a lot of churches in the northeast. I have only been to one church ever (not for lack of trying) that had anywhere close to a diverse congregation, and that was an inner-city Mennonite church in Cleveland when I was visiting a friend that had at least four different general ethnic groups represented (black, white, asian, latino). Where I live in eastern PA, there are black churches, white churches, latino churches, and one (that does any publicity) multi-ethnic church that happens to also be pretty pentecostal. They aren't exclusive or discriminatory, they just are what they are: collection of similar and like-minded people who come together to worship in the way they feel most comfortable.

    Heck, after I left for college, my (former) home fundamental/conservative church outside of Pittsburgh packed up and left their building in a small city because crime was increasing and built a new building in a rural area. They cited a number of reasons for the move, like not restrictive building for outreach and decline in membership. (The surrounding neighborhoods were increasingly a demographic not represented in that church.) Meanwhile a couple of predominantly black churches down the road with very similar theological backgrounds were also suffering from decline in membership. I suggested a merger so that the church would maintain its previously stated mission and commitment to the city. That didn't get very far. I haven't been back since, which is a shame since my very faithful grandfather was one of the founding families of the church.

    So yes, the diversity satire is funny because it is making an purposefully ironic and true statement that churches are not generally trying to be diverse. And in reality that is sad.

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  18. Hey everybody check out "Stuff Black Atheists Like"!


    http://www.chadgibbs.com/Site/Home.html

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  19. On using comedy to discuss racial themes, I found a "Good Times" clip that I posted on my blog today that uses comedy very skillfully to raise the "what color is Jesus" question. Pretty ballsy episode for 1974 given the cultural/political climate of the time.

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  20. Tim, I think there is a huge difference between saying that most US churches are racially segregated and saying that white Christians only like to be friends with people of color if they talk and dress like white people. The former is a fact that can be backed up with numbers, while the latter is a judgment on the heart of individuals. It is not only offensive, but actually does some harm, to some extent. Plus, statements like that are usually made by people who profess to be against making statements which throw entire groups under the bus.

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  21. James, take a minute and go read the "Diversity" post on their blog. Search Diversity, it'll come up for you. It is entirely about diversity in church, not just in friendships. After all, I did mention I was quoting from their post, so please take account of the context before taking up an offense. Then we can continue the conversation on level footing.

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  22. Tim, I did read it. I'm not offended at the statement so much as perplexed by the double standard.

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  23. The double standard that there is an accusation that churches don't want diversity while individual Christians do want diversity? I expect that I'm misstating this.

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  24. No, the double-standard that it's not OK to make blanket statements about most groups (i.e. the watermelon reference), but it's OK to say what white Christians are thinking.

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  25. Aaron earns the four-star comment of the week.

    The parody website didn't offend me. But I appreciated Karen's post. I grew up in a home with two biracial adoptive sisters. And I had a grandpa who was drunk until the age of 65. He was about as bigotted as they came. I from up North, but her post doesn't feel alien to me.

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  26. Fascinating discussion!

    Thanks for checking out our blog - I've enjoyed reading all the comments. I can understand that not everyone will think our blog is funny, we're just normal white Christians, not professional comedians. However, I would argue that humor is a very useful way to discuss issues of race. I realize we live in a very PC world - but I don't think there's anything wrong with laughing at the idiosyncrasies of the culture that you are a part of, nor do I think it is racist.

    Most of the posts are just about things specific to white Christian culture, but the only two posts that deal with racial relations in any way are "Diversity" and "White Jesus." Both use satire to criticize things I find distasteful about white Christian culture in its approach to minorities. For example:

    White Christians effortlessly counter claims of an olive-skinned Jesus with historical evidence of their own: Arthur Maxwell's The Bible Story and the Hanna-Barbera video series "The Greatest Adventure Stories From the Bible" clearly show that not only was Jesus white, but so was every other person mentioned in the Bible.

    Here's part of the definition of satire from Wikipedia that may be helpful for this discussion:
    "....[The satirist] often professes to approve (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist actually wishes to attack."

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  27. The culture thing is an interesting discussion itself, but regarding the whiteness of Jesus, it reminds me of how I always thought it strange that all biblical characters, at least in movies, had British accents.

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  28. I'm grateful for the perspectives. After reading the site, I lean with Karen on it.
    We are putting stuff out there to an innumerable demographic, and it does come down to personality tastes.

    But I don't know-- at what price do we pursue satire or comedy? What do we gain from it? What might be destructive?

    My vote is against the site. Not worth it.

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  29. Stuff white Christians like (myself included): Overanalyzing stuff that's meant to be fun and harmless.

    I looked at the site and, while it wasn't all side-splittingly funny, it matched with my long-term experience in the church and it DID make me laugh. Many churches are segregated and it's unfortunate, but it's true and it's happened by choice. Christians' core beliefs may be the same, but there is certainly a culture that is unique to white Christians in America. I enjoy the "stuff white people like" blogs because it helps me see myself from an outsider's perspective. Just because I see and do things one way doesn't mean that's the only way it can be. It's OK to laugh at yourself once in a while.

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  30. One good point re: SWCL is that it pokes fun from an insider's perspective. Susan is right in that Landover Baptist sucks at this, and it is therefore not great Christian satire.

    But the key to satire is that it must have teeth. It should be painful. While some of SWCL's posts (e.g. "Diversity") do touch on sensitive subjects, as a whole I wish there were more times I sat and thought, "Ouch."

    That's one of the brilliant things about "Stuff White People Like". It's mocking a demographic that had previously not been mocked. Christian culture is easy to mock. It typically has no taste and no shame. It's impossible to satirize a demographic with no shame. You can't point out a group's absurdities if they just laugh along and thank you for saying so. Or ignore you altogether.

    It's not the fault of the writers...there's just not enough there. The subject has already been run into the ground.

    That said (and my comment at the top), I mean no disrespect to Abraham Calvin and the folks who back him up. I just can't get on board. My problem is not with any inherent racism, but because if this satire isn't changing the subject matter, it's not working.

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  31. Caridad:
    One thing I have noticed over the years is that when Person A doesn't have a problem with something Person B has a problem with, they often say that Person B is "overanalyzing."
    In truth, some people have different priorities. Because a couple of statements in the site perpetuate things that hit certain nerves, it is my considered, not overanalyzed, conclusion, that the things said in that one section are not harmless. Feel free to disagree, but please don't diminish my viewpoint on this.

    thanks

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  32. What exactly is a "Normal White Christian?" Is that like a Vanilla Moon Pie? Sticky tastelessness?

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  33. karen, you're brilliant . . . vanilla moon pies!

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