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Brown Faces, White Spaces

Confronting Systemic Racism to Bring Healing and Restoration

Foreword by Eugene Cho
Afterword by Dr. Anita Phillips
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The New York Times bestselling author of Be the Bridge calls people of faith to be a part of lasting change and help heal the racial disparity in our country—together.

“A journey that encourages us to love our neighbors in real time as we understand the history that has shaped us.”—Terence Lester, PhD, founder of Love Beyond Walls

We might think of systemic racism as an unfortunate part of American history, something that happened back in the day. But the systems were never truly dismantled in our country, leaving artifacts of injustice that continue to affect every aspect of life for Black and Brown Americans.
 
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the problem, unsure how we can make a difference. Yet God calls the church to stand firmly committed to racial reconciliation—and for each one of us to make choices that lead to healing.
 
In Brown Faces, White Spaces, Latasha Morrison—a speaker, bridge builder, and champion for unity—explores nine aspects of American life where systemic racism still flourishes, including education, healthcare, the justice system, entertainment, and the church. Through story, historical context, and present realities, Morrison looks at what it means to recognize and confess the truth about inequities in the system (preparation), commit ourselves to changing the system (dedication), and move into true freedom as a society (liberation). 
 
Drawing on rich sociological insights, as well as experiences of family and friends and from her own life, Morrison asks: How does knowing our country’s history make a difference in how we live today? How does Jesus’s divine act of reconciliation on the cross lead to human liberation from oppression? How might we create systems for all to flourish?
 
This honest, hope-filled book shows us how we can reform historically white spaces and create systems that work for the good of all. Join the bridge-building movement that is listening, learning, and working together for equity in every aspect of our lives.

Includes questions for personal reflection and group discussion.
Chapter 1

Our Journey Toward True Emancipation


In 1973, I entered this world at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was born fully American, and as a citizen, I’d have the right to free education, to free speech, to property ownership when I reached the age of eighteen, to vote (also when I turned eighteen), and to hold public office one day. But as obvious as all of that might sound (Aren’t all Americans born with those inalienable rights?), I was the first person in my immediate Morrison family tree to be born under the full protections of the United States Constitution.

Those who know me might be shocked by this statement because I’m not that old. I look even younger than my driver’s license says I am—­forty-­nine years as of the writing of this book. But as we’ll see throughout these pages, African Americans born just a generation before me didn’t grow up with the same set of rights and protections. And the effects of racism still linger today.

Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I see you nodding.

Some Americans may think of systemic racism as an unfortunate part of history, something that happened “back in the day.” It was a fixture in the time of black-­and-­white television. But many Black and Brown Americans know through firsthand experience that systemic racism still exists today, because the systems were never truly dismantled in our country. How do we know? Because we’ve heard and lived the stories. We’ve had our perspectives shaped by both history and experience.

The stories of the past, and our experiences in the present, shape who we are and how we move in this world. They continue to shape my expectations, my fears, and my hopes for a better future for my nieces and nephews. I’ll share numerous stories and experiences in this book, but let me start with the story of my parents.

My dad was born in North Carolina in a time when state-­sanctioned racial apartheid was baked into the state’s Jim Crow laws, laws that maintained strict public separation between whites and non-­whites. As a young boy in 1952, he was shut out of the better schools in and around his hometown of Fayetteville and sent to Black-­only schools in Black-­only redlined districts drawn by white legislators. The United States Supreme Court had long since declared in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation laws were enforceable, so long as the facilities provided to ethnic minorities were “separate but equal.” Yet the schools my dad attended were anything but equal. The facilities were run-­down and understaffed, and the teachers—­most of whom were Black—­were underpaid. Students were not given current textbooks or other educational materials. These realities would not change for many schools in the American South, even after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended school segregation. (See chapter 2 for more information on this.)

My mom was not a stranger to discrimination and systemic racism either, though her experience was very different from my dad’s. She was a military kid, and her dad—­my grandfather, whom I discuss in chapters 2 and 6—­moved from one base to another. This gave her an international educational experience in military schools, which were mostly desegregated.

When she was in high school, her class was the first to integrate at Seventy-­First High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1968. Though integration wasn’t easy, my mom navigated it, helped in part by the education she’d received in her earlier years.

Though my mom had better educational experiences than my dad, her family still felt the brunt of systemic racism. Many men of color fought bravely for their country in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and yet a disproportionate number of them died for their country, often with little recognition. Though the military was desegrated in 1948 by President Harry S. Truman, equal pay for Black and Brown military members was little more than a pipe dream well into the 1980s and 1990s. Non-­white service members were often given less desirable posts, which meant lower wages. Men of color didn’t advance through the military ranks as quickly (or as far) as their white counterparts either. So, my mom and her family endured a military environment that treated men like my grandfather as if they were second-­class service members, both in pay and in their assignments.

The stories of my immediate family’s experience of racism were not the only thing that shaped me. Years ago, my aunt Len shared a story about my great-­uncle Willie Junior (my mother’s uncle), who passed away before I had the chance to know him. As a young man, he migrated to New York City sometime in the 1950s to escape the racial terror of Jim Crow laws. He’d had enough of pretending to be docile even when being called “boy”—­or worse—­by white people, so he was one of thousands who made the move in hopes of finding a better way of life and job opportunities beyond sharecropping or serving as a house servant. However, much to his dismay, he was greeted in northern states with what some called “James Crow” laws—­laws that, while not as draconian as the Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, still disadvantaged non-­white people. So, imagine the rage he must have felt when he realized the conditions in the North were not that much better. Imagine his anger when he realized white systems are the same, no matter where you go.

After living in the North for some time, my great-­uncle, whom we affectionally called Uncle Brother, returned home to visit my great-­grandfather Willie Nicholson, an illiterate Southern Black man who worked as a country sharecropper, port laborer, and railroad hand in an effort to create a better way for his children. My great-­grandfather endured insults, being called every name in the book. I’m sure he took a beating or two along the way. He was trained not to look into the eyes of a white man, not to walk on the same side of the sidewalk, and to call every white person “mister” or “missus,” regardless of their age, though my great-­grandfather was a landowner. He had inherited twenty acres of farmland from his mom, who had received a portion of the land where her mother, Sally McQueen, was enslaved.

Over the years, my great-­uncle had watched as his father (my great-­grandfather) fought to retain ownership of his land. He saw white people pull out forged deeds for the property, hoping to steal it from his father. My great-­uncle discovered that his father had to hire a lawyer so he wouldn’t lose the land. The system was stacked against Black men, and my great-­uncle knew it. So, while visiting his father, my great-­uncle heard him call a white gas station attendant “sir,” and he lost it. When they climbed back in the car, he exploded, telling my great-­grandfather to stop being so polite to all the white men who’d mistreated him for so many years.

As the family story goes, my great-­uncle tore into his father. “They ain’t no sirs or misters!” he yelled. It’s said that my great-­grandfather didn’t yell back but simply replied that a Black man living in the South has to make some concessions to get along and survive. That was that.

My great-­grandfather learned to put on a polite face and call the white men of his community “sir” as his small concession for survival. By doing so, he’d gotten into less trouble than many of his other Black friends, and he’d enjoyed a little more prosperity too.

Times have changed—­or at least they’ve been rebranded. Schools celebrate Black History Month. (Though as of the writing of this book, some public schools restrict the teaching of Black history, claiming that it’s “woke” or Marxist.) Companies have diversity and inclusion committees. But even so, as you’ll see throughout this book, there are still many spaces where people of color are silenced, underrepresented, and underserved. You’ll meet a Black military member who was told he was too intimidating, that he should tone it down. You’ll meet a professional athlete who was blackballed by the National Football League for standing against racism. You’ll read about people of color who were arrested for sitting in a restaurant. You’ll see the way systems of racism are woven into the modern fabric of American life. As a result, even in a modern America where slavery and Jim Crow have been abolished, many BIPOC continue to do just what my great-grandfather did—­they go along to get along.
LATASHA MORRISON is a bridge-builder, reconciler, and a compelling voice in the fight for racial justice. Ebony magazine recognized her as one of their 2017 Power 100 for her work as a community crusader. Tasha has spoken across the country at events that include: IF:Gathering, Justice Conference, Youth Specialties, Catalyst, Orange Conference, MOPS International, and many others. A native of North Carolina, Tasha earned degrees in human development and business leadership. In 2016 she founded Be the Bridge to inspire and equip ambassadors of racial reconciliation. In addition to equipping more than 1,000 sub-groups across five countries, Be the Bridge hosts a closed, moderated online community of bridge-builders on Facebook with more than 20,000 members. View titles by Latasha Morrison

About

The New York Times bestselling author of Be the Bridge calls people of faith to be a part of lasting change and help heal the racial disparity in our country—together.

“A journey that encourages us to love our neighbors in real time as we understand the history that has shaped us.”—Terence Lester, PhD, founder of Love Beyond Walls

We might think of systemic racism as an unfortunate part of American history, something that happened back in the day. But the systems were never truly dismantled in our country, leaving artifacts of injustice that continue to affect every aspect of life for Black and Brown Americans.
 
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the problem, unsure how we can make a difference. Yet God calls the church to stand firmly committed to racial reconciliation—and for each one of us to make choices that lead to healing.
 
In Brown Faces, White Spaces, Latasha Morrison—a speaker, bridge builder, and champion for unity—explores nine aspects of American life where systemic racism still flourishes, including education, healthcare, the justice system, entertainment, and the church. Through story, historical context, and present realities, Morrison looks at what it means to recognize and confess the truth about inequities in the system (preparation), commit ourselves to changing the system (dedication), and move into true freedom as a society (liberation). 
 
Drawing on rich sociological insights, as well as experiences of family and friends and from her own life, Morrison asks: How does knowing our country’s history make a difference in how we live today? How does Jesus’s divine act of reconciliation on the cross lead to human liberation from oppression? How might we create systems for all to flourish?
 
This honest, hope-filled book shows us how we can reform historically white spaces and create systems that work for the good of all. Join the bridge-building movement that is listening, learning, and working together for equity in every aspect of our lives.

Includes questions for personal reflection and group discussion.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Our Journey Toward True Emancipation


In 1973, I entered this world at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was born fully American, and as a citizen, I’d have the right to free education, to free speech, to property ownership when I reached the age of eighteen, to vote (also when I turned eighteen), and to hold public office one day. But as obvious as all of that might sound (Aren’t all Americans born with those inalienable rights?), I was the first person in my immediate Morrison family tree to be born under the full protections of the United States Constitution.

Those who know me might be shocked by this statement because I’m not that old. I look even younger than my driver’s license says I am—­forty-­nine years as of the writing of this book. But as we’ll see throughout these pages, African Americans born just a generation before me didn’t grow up with the same set of rights and protections. And the effects of racism still linger today.

Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I see you nodding.

Some Americans may think of systemic racism as an unfortunate part of history, something that happened “back in the day.” It was a fixture in the time of black-­and-­white television. But many Black and Brown Americans know through firsthand experience that systemic racism still exists today, because the systems were never truly dismantled in our country. How do we know? Because we’ve heard and lived the stories. We’ve had our perspectives shaped by both history and experience.

The stories of the past, and our experiences in the present, shape who we are and how we move in this world. They continue to shape my expectations, my fears, and my hopes for a better future for my nieces and nephews. I’ll share numerous stories and experiences in this book, but let me start with the story of my parents.

My dad was born in North Carolina in a time when state-­sanctioned racial apartheid was baked into the state’s Jim Crow laws, laws that maintained strict public separation between whites and non-­whites. As a young boy in 1952, he was shut out of the better schools in and around his hometown of Fayetteville and sent to Black-­only schools in Black-­only redlined districts drawn by white legislators. The United States Supreme Court had long since declared in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation laws were enforceable, so long as the facilities provided to ethnic minorities were “separate but equal.” Yet the schools my dad attended were anything but equal. The facilities were run-­down and understaffed, and the teachers—­most of whom were Black—­were underpaid. Students were not given current textbooks or other educational materials. These realities would not change for many schools in the American South, even after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended school segregation. (See chapter 2 for more information on this.)

My mom was not a stranger to discrimination and systemic racism either, though her experience was very different from my dad’s. She was a military kid, and her dad—­my grandfather, whom I discuss in chapters 2 and 6—­moved from one base to another. This gave her an international educational experience in military schools, which were mostly desegregated.

When she was in high school, her class was the first to integrate at Seventy-­First High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1968. Though integration wasn’t easy, my mom navigated it, helped in part by the education she’d received in her earlier years.

Though my mom had better educational experiences than my dad, her family still felt the brunt of systemic racism. Many men of color fought bravely for their country in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and yet a disproportionate number of them died for their country, often with little recognition. Though the military was desegrated in 1948 by President Harry S. Truman, equal pay for Black and Brown military members was little more than a pipe dream well into the 1980s and 1990s. Non-­white service members were often given less desirable posts, which meant lower wages. Men of color didn’t advance through the military ranks as quickly (or as far) as their white counterparts either. So, my mom and her family endured a military environment that treated men like my grandfather as if they were second-­class service members, both in pay and in their assignments.

The stories of my immediate family’s experience of racism were not the only thing that shaped me. Years ago, my aunt Len shared a story about my great-­uncle Willie Junior (my mother’s uncle), who passed away before I had the chance to know him. As a young man, he migrated to New York City sometime in the 1950s to escape the racial terror of Jim Crow laws. He’d had enough of pretending to be docile even when being called “boy”—­or worse—­by white people, so he was one of thousands who made the move in hopes of finding a better way of life and job opportunities beyond sharecropping or serving as a house servant. However, much to his dismay, he was greeted in northern states with what some called “James Crow” laws—­laws that, while not as draconian as the Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, still disadvantaged non-­white people. So, imagine the rage he must have felt when he realized the conditions in the North were not that much better. Imagine his anger when he realized white systems are the same, no matter where you go.

After living in the North for some time, my great-­uncle, whom we affectionally called Uncle Brother, returned home to visit my great-­grandfather Willie Nicholson, an illiterate Southern Black man who worked as a country sharecropper, port laborer, and railroad hand in an effort to create a better way for his children. My great-­grandfather endured insults, being called every name in the book. I’m sure he took a beating or two along the way. He was trained not to look into the eyes of a white man, not to walk on the same side of the sidewalk, and to call every white person “mister” or “missus,” regardless of their age, though my great-­grandfather was a landowner. He had inherited twenty acres of farmland from his mom, who had received a portion of the land where her mother, Sally McQueen, was enslaved.

Over the years, my great-­uncle had watched as his father (my great-­grandfather) fought to retain ownership of his land. He saw white people pull out forged deeds for the property, hoping to steal it from his father. My great-­uncle discovered that his father had to hire a lawyer so he wouldn’t lose the land. The system was stacked against Black men, and my great-­uncle knew it. So, while visiting his father, my great-­uncle heard him call a white gas station attendant “sir,” and he lost it. When they climbed back in the car, he exploded, telling my great-­grandfather to stop being so polite to all the white men who’d mistreated him for so many years.

As the family story goes, my great-­uncle tore into his father. “They ain’t no sirs or misters!” he yelled. It’s said that my great-­grandfather didn’t yell back but simply replied that a Black man living in the South has to make some concessions to get along and survive. That was that.

My great-­grandfather learned to put on a polite face and call the white men of his community “sir” as his small concession for survival. By doing so, he’d gotten into less trouble than many of his other Black friends, and he’d enjoyed a little more prosperity too.

Times have changed—­or at least they’ve been rebranded. Schools celebrate Black History Month. (Though as of the writing of this book, some public schools restrict the teaching of Black history, claiming that it’s “woke” or Marxist.) Companies have diversity and inclusion committees. But even so, as you’ll see throughout this book, there are still many spaces where people of color are silenced, underrepresented, and underserved. You’ll meet a Black military member who was told he was too intimidating, that he should tone it down. You’ll meet a professional athlete who was blackballed by the National Football League for standing against racism. You’ll read about people of color who were arrested for sitting in a restaurant. You’ll see the way systems of racism are woven into the modern fabric of American life. As a result, even in a modern America where slavery and Jim Crow have been abolished, many BIPOC continue to do just what my great-grandfather did—­they go along to get along.

Author

LATASHA MORRISON is a bridge-builder, reconciler, and a compelling voice in the fight for racial justice. Ebony magazine recognized her as one of their 2017 Power 100 for her work as a community crusader. Tasha has spoken across the country at events that include: IF:Gathering, Justice Conference, Youth Specialties, Catalyst, Orange Conference, MOPS International, and many others. A native of North Carolina, Tasha earned degrees in human development and business leadership. In 2016 she founded Be the Bridge to inspire and equip ambassadors of racial reconciliation. In addition to equipping more than 1,000 sub-groups across five countries, Be the Bridge hosts a closed, moderated online community of bridge-builders on Facebook with more than 20,000 members. View titles by Latasha Morrison