Learning to Move On

Most of the students I teach are black. Incidentally, they never refer to themselves as “African-American,” so I’ll dispense with the political correctness for the time being (even if they are really more brown than black). Working with them has given me a new perspective on why the students I work with act the way they do. I’ll illustrate with two stories.

This morning during class an administrator brought one of my students a disciplinary form, asking her to sign it (indicating that the reasons for her suspension had been clearly expressed in her hearing). The student responded by crumpling up the paper and tossing it behind her before the administrator had even turned to leave the room. This is pretty typical behavior where I work. After the administrator left, the student announced to all who would listen: “My momma told me don’t never sign nothin’ the school give you!” Several of her friends voiced their agreement. “That’s the same thing my momma told me,” another girl offered. With parents harboring such deep distrust of our teachers and administrators, it’s no wonder we witness so much disrespect for our school’s policies.

A couple of years ago I was teaching a group of students who were all labeled with “behavior disorders.” One day I asked them: Which is worse, robbing a store at gunpoint, or telling the cops who did it? They unanimously asserted that the snitch was the real criminal. I told them that was pretty messed up but they just shrugged their shoulders and said “that’s just how it is.” Evidently these kids, who were constantly having run-ins with both school officials and law enforcement, were taught that siding with authority is the cardinal sin. And what’s even crazier, they apparently learned this from the adults who raised them.

One day it finally occurred to me: Multiple generations of blacks in the U.S., particularly in the South, grew up with racially unjust laws and corrupt law enforcement. When your local law enforcement is run by white supremacist segregationalists, you learn not the trust your authority figures. And you pass that distrust down to your progeny, and they pass it down to theirs. Now that equal opportunity is the rule of law, we’ve still got generations of convention to reverse, and it’s not happening quickly enough.

I’m watching black men and women try to discipline black students who were taught to distrust all authority, and it’s only reinforcing their social inequity. These kids are throwing away a free education and turning to crime so that yet another generation will grow up disadvantaged. If only their parents could acknowledge that the world has changed, or at least that they can no longer blame all their troubles on other people, things would change for them.

Maybe that’s why black churches are turning out most of the successful (law abiding) folks. They are preaching an alternative message. They are preaching personal empowerment. They are preaching prosperity through optimism and faith in God. And of course, in the best circumstances they are also investing in their communities, mentoring, and modeling responsibility to their young men and women.

I will occasionally make a crack about the prosperity gospel. I believe it misrepresents the message of pretty much every New Testament author, and it ignores the daily impact of the cross of Christ in the life of a believer. But I can see the benefit of all this optimism, too. I see great value in turning away from blame, racial defeatism, and of course violence and crime. These churches are teaching their members to MOVE ON. Look upward. Trust Him from whom your help comes. More power to them.


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3 Responses to “Learning to Move On”

  1. Carrie Bevell Partridge Says:

    Good word!

  2. Christo Swanepoel Says:

    Now try South-Africa!! Where 3 million people have oppresses 30 million for 40 years, can you imagine the aggression you need to use to accomplish that?
    Every one has seen at least ten or 20 murders by the time they are 15, and it is all people they know.
    Try to tell them that white people have a right to live in the same environment they are.
    I do not really know if Nelosn Mandela believes in God, but I do know that God has given this man some grace to to be able to influence an incredible amount of people in a very short time.
    There was a time that I wondered what will happen when Mandela dies, but more and more I can see…it was God, is was not him.

    I think that is what you see in the churches in your black comunities aswell.

    He is just so in control, it is scary like teenagers would say :-).

    Thanks brother.

  3. Bill Drayton Says:

    I appreciate the comments made in this blog. However, it seems to me that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of eradicating racism – if that were possible! During a recent visit to Charleston I experienced the hand of racism meted out to a good friend of mine in the way she was served in a shop – as though she was not there almost! Another friend of mine was given the same treatment on a flight from Houston to Charleston. And then I have cousins who still say that the blacks and whites got on much better before the War of 1861-1865 – as though being a slave was something to be grateful for!! These cousins were churchgoers who would mention the name of the Lord in their conversation!! Perhaps here is the key! For them it was not to do with relationship but religion – which also defined your status in society. On a positive note I am engaged in connecting up with descendants of slaves my family kept on their many plantations. Many of us have found that the basis for our relationship is not just to do with our historical roots but also with the fact that we belong to God’s family!! Where there is NO hierarchy amongst us! Where in Jesus Christ there is neither black nor white, slave nor free, male nor female but all are one in Him!

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