Sunday, August 28, 2016

Playing the Dangerous "White Card"

It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.  Luke 6:41-42, The Message.

This is my first official blog post from and about Detroit.  Kind of.  It's not gonna be pretty.  My family is settling into a new life: first: out of California; second, in Michigan (and right now part of that is humidity and mosquitos); and third, in Detroit.  I want to start by declaring this: Detroit is rivaling New Orleans in warm hospitality, and with the bayou soul coursing through my blood, that's really saying something!  Now we haven't fully settled into Detroit, as we are doing our best to patiently listen to the advice of native Detroiters, patiently listen to what it will take and what it will mean for a family of European descent to move in the area bordered by 8 Mile Road, Outer Drive, Telegraph and I'm not yet sure what the Southern border is....

So what this means, now, is that we are staying in my childhood home at 13 mile and Southfield, and thankful for the blessing that is family in such a time as this.  I do recognize this as a privilege and I am grateful.  We are visiting church after church.  And the hospitality is flowing...a deep sense of table setting hospitality from all sectors of this city.  

Honing into the topic of this blog: this also means I'm spending time bouncing between suburb and city.  And yesterday, I was working out at a gym in the suburbs, several miles North.  What follows is so troubling, it's hard to write.

Two young men, both of European descent, were working out.  One was wearing shorts with writing that suggests he goes to a high performing Catholic high school nearby.  From some of their conversation, it was clear he's on their football and/or lacrosse team, while the other young man is probably on their hockey team.  I was doing my hybridized P90X Saturday routine, which placed me right near them on the free weights for my entire workout.  Rather than try to write this in full story form, as it followed like an in-between-reps kind of conversation, I'm just going to type out their quotes, as best as I can remember them. I did take some notes on my phone, and I was also walking nearer and further between my own reps, so I didn't catch everything.

"Dude, I got a ticket last night, leaving the game.  Rolled through a stop sign.  Well, it was actually rolling through a stop sign, and I was out past 10pm curfew, and...."

"What would your mom say if she knew you weren't sober?"

"Oh, she'd never let me drive again.  Keys taken, done deal."

"Dude, I like my back, but I want to get it jacked.  There's this girl I met last night...."

"I can always get out of a ticket, what have you said to get out of 'em?"  

"No, I didn't get out last night, but just got it for the stop sign.  Thank God."

"I'm always respectful to the cops.  I actually know some.  Yeah, you know, my old hockey coach is a detective now, so I always drop his name.  Always.  Sometimes it works.  Seems like it always softens the blow."

"Did you hear about (female name)?  I used to think she was one of the hags, but she's actually pretty cool.  Until she had to get her stomach pumped."

"For what?"

"Alcohol poisoning or some dumb shit like that.  Now she's all heavy about it, like won't go to parties and makes everyone feel really bad about it.  Sucks.  But she was totally there last night."

"Where do you go?"

"I used to go to (couldn't hear it), but it's such a long drive, it's almost not worth it."

"I can get 2 ounces in Redford, and I can turn around and sell that pretty quickly, so that's the best route."

"You know, I can't believe why some people are rude to cops."

"Can you get tried as an adult at 16, or is it just 17?"

"So when's your next game?"

"Oh dude, we have all these out of state games, in Ohio, in Chicago, it's gonna get crazy....."

It went on for over an hour.  Now, I'm actually not surprised, because I grew up hearing this kind of talk in the suburbs all the time.  What I am shocked at was how cavalier and loud they were being.  It was as though they knew, in their bones, that nothing at all would happen to them.  No consequences whatsoever, so they didn't even mind that I could hear almost every word they said.  That is definitely a problem of white privilege.  This is playing the White Card.

I am a person who intentionally steps into potential conflicts, if I feel called.  I struggled here, I wanted to call them out, but once I heard they were actually minors, I decided not to.  They don't know me, we've never met.  I did, however, report their discussion to the club manager.  She took it very seriously.  I will follow up with her.

Because here's the thing: I know this to be, tragically, commonplace.  I know this is, what many pink-skinned Americans like to refer to as "boys will be boys."  I'm fed up with it.  I'm tired of being told by society that police officers arrest people who are "more likely to commit crimes."  These two young men, 16 and 17 years old, were bragging about drunk driving, bragging about their connections in the police department to avoid convictions; might have been suggesting situations in which girls are pressured into drinking heavily for a greater likelihood that they might consent to sexual activity; and discussing their personal business practices of dealing drugs.  But just one glance at them, they were, in Hollywood casting terms, "nice high school boys" who are probably going to be celebrated as star athletes.  Because, I gotta hand it to the older guy: his back was pretty jacked.

They committed crimes last night.  They are devising ways to commit crimes in the future, and have a plan for how to get out of punishment if they are caught.  They are dangerous.  And they should be stopped.

Will they?  That's up to us.  Should we heavily profile the young brown-skinned men who are more likely to be convicted of crimes?  Or should we consider, what I think most of us know to be true whether we want to admit it or not, that "(white) boys will be boys" has glossed over years of sins and crimes, many very dangerous, and all of them unjust.  I myself am guilty of part of this, I blogged on it just last week.  I've pulled my White Card to get out of traffic tickets, too.

People commit crimes out of desperation.  Teenagers, and I don't care what race they are, are desperate for attention and status.  Why are these two young men so caught up in drugs and parties?  They want cool credit, street cred, they want to be dope.  They want sex.  Or something close to that.  They will do whatever it takes to get it, and even if they know the consequences, they're gonna do it anyway.

And then again, do the consequences even apply to them fully?  Or will they be able to play their White Card, which, I'm aware, is more powerful in places with higher socio-economic status.  Whites from lower income areas do not get off so easily, I know full well, I've listened to their stories on Skid Row and in Detroit area prisons.  But who may have to die at these young men's drunk hands?  What girl might wind up pregnant or poisoned with alcohol because she was trying to impress the likes of them?  I know some of those girls.  I attended a few funerals in my 16 year old days.

Or: could we take the speck out of our own eyes, the sneer out of our own look, in regards to who we consider as dangerous?  Could we allow our brown-skinned youth a similar form of grace and second chances?  Could we profile all teenagers, in general, as being more likely to do dumb-ass shit for attention, while still surrounding all of them with equal portions of love and redirection?  Could they all do time together, reasonably, and not see only some of them go on to become successful business owners while others are kissing their young adulthood, and often the majority of their lives, goodbye, for doing exactly the same thing as their richer, whiter, peers?

It's time to put it on the table: it's the White Card that's the most dangerous of all.  I'm doing my best to not use it, and I need accountability there too.  We all do.

Peace by peace,
 +Matthew John Schmitt
Help support our non-profit The Table Setters in its start-up phases by clicking here!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Matters" in Protection and Service

If you will, allow me to interject this stream of consciousness into the polarized heat between #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter:

It matters who springs to mind when an officer thinks about the word "protect."  Let's call them person Z.  It matters what person Z looks like in that image, what side of town they come from.

It matters who appears in the thought process when an officer imagines who they are protecting person Z from.  Let's call them person X.  It matters what person X looks like in that mindset, where they come from.

It matters who you imagine Z and X to be.  

I know that crime exists in all people groups as a condition of the negative sides of humanity, as a product of desperation, greed, and the need for power and control.  I know that all fall short of God's best intention for the human community.  But I know some other things too.

I know dozens of young men and women who committed all kinds of crimes from 1991-1995 in the suburbs of Detroit.  I tasted, saw, smelled, heard those crimes.  Most involved drug usage, drug dealing, and underage drinking when parents were away on summer weekend trips to cottages.  Most occurred in backyards and basements.  Some even had encounters with police.  It matters that I only ever saw one arrest.  Were these Z people or X people?

It matters that Facebook shows me most of those young drug dealers doing just fine, some with businesses and families of their own right now.  I don't wish them ill will, not at all, but it matters to know that they took the money and ran into the sunset.  Z or X?

I know a person or two who sexualized me when I was younger than 10.  Molest might be too strong a word, maybe not, but I was never protected from them.  I didn't know how to ask for help.  This was an X to X or a Z to Z.  This wasn't the boogeyman in the scary blue car that Channel 7 news warned us against.  These were people I already knew.

I know several middle and upper class young women who've been either arrested by police or caught by friends and family as shoplifters, some with extensively successful histories.  I even know that I've received birthday presents that I later learned were shoplifted goods.  Not a single one of those young ladies ever saw a courtroom, much less jail time.  I know that matters.  X or Z?

It matters who springs to mind, X or Z, when officers think about who they are "serving."

I know that I've talked myself out of two traffic tickets without tears.  I know the officers allowed me to reason with them, to explain the situations fully: "it wasn't my phone, sir, it was my wallet."  & "this is a family member's car, and no, I had no idea the tags were expired."  Full confession: one of those explanations was not even fully true.  I know many suburban friends who have rehearsed routines for when they get pulled over that have actually worked.  Explosive diarrhea.  Faking Korean broken-English.  Even a dying mother ruse (which, was true, but still manipulative.)  When I drove away, I felt "served," and one time, a little guiltier than when I started.  This matters.

It matters that when we had to call the police in 2011 because of a loved one's mental illness, it matters that they showed up quickly and were so very skilled at de-escalation.  I thank God for those three officers, on a regular basis.  They dramatically changed our lives for the better, and started a new and hopeful path for all of our lives.  I felt very served in 48025.

I know an elderly church lady with pink skin who confessed to worrying that Marvin might steal her purse when we were, side by side, talking about changing the narratives of Xs and Zs as The Table Setters.  It matters that she had the bravery to realize that and even confess it out loud (and her skin turned a brighter shade of pink), but I also know that if she didn't, and still worried about Marvin's potential capacity to be a thief, I know that things would not have gone well for Marvin if she chose to call the police, especially if it was after our sessions when the sun was setting that spring evening.

I know that I was not even given a slap on the wrist at the courthouse for the speeding ticket I wasn't able to talk myself out of on Dwyer Road in New Orleans East.  I was driving almost 20 mph over the limit on my way to the teacher inservice before the first day of school at Fannie C. Williams Middle School.  20 over.  In the courtroom, I was asked, "why were you on Dwyer Boulevard?"  I told the truth, that I was a new teacher.  The official laughed and said, "go home, young man.  You're cleared, we need more people like you in our community."  Really?  All he knew of me was that I was a young white man from Michigan, and, from what he knew, was caught recklessly driving near a school, the school that I would come to truly love hundreds of young black and Vietnamese men and women (and never sped again).  It matters that his conclusion was that I was deemed a hero at the end of the proceedings.  Who indeed was he serving?  The X's or the Z's?

It matters that I've seen and heard of so much white on white crime in my days, some of it violent, and nothing has been recorded.  The "headbangers" of Beverly Park were a particularly fearsome group 30 years ago.  To my knowledge, just seen as teenagers being teenagers.  X or Z?

It matters that a large percentage, too large in my opinion, of the men and women I taught in New Orleans East grew up without fathers.  It matters that most of that was because they were incarcerated.  It matters that they were, most of them, incarcerated for the very same crimes I witnessed in suburban basements.  Z or X?

Crime rates do matter.  But it really matters how those rates are measured.  Are we talking about arrests?  Are we talking about convictions?  Do we factor in moments where I got away with breaking the law a time or two?  Or the shoplifters who were able to give great gifts at no cost to them?  Or the man who asked me to play with his penis?  Or the kid who couldn't find work in the economic depression of New Orleans East post or pre-Katrina?  X or Z?  Z on Z, X on X?  Who is protected?  Who is served?  Who you call to mind really matters when you contemplate these questions.

And: it matters who decides what communities are more dangerous than others.  Who gets to decide that, and what statistics do they base those decisions on?  It matters that so much, I would guess too much, negativity is thrown at officers, when most of the causation would be better attributed to higher offices, to the mindsets of people with more power or money than we will ever have.

Marvin and I have launched the Table Setters to tap into mindsets, archaic and problematic narratives, and ultimately, with prayer and time, to change hearts.  Click here to learn more and I urge you to set up a time for us to come visit your community, your church, your youth groups, your businesses.  It is time to re-imagine who X, Y, and Z are, and for that matter, who is A, B, G, Q, and K.  

God created diversity and God intends justice for all of his children.  It matters that we live into God's plan and God's design, and not hide behind our own fears while trusting incomplete stories.  

peace by peace by peace
 +Matthew John Schmitt

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Table Setters: For Such a Time as This

Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this. - Esther 4:14, The Message

Whiteousness has allowed many of us with pink skin to live in blissful bubble, so some are scratching their heads and asking what is going on in this country?  Marvin has been sensing this trouble all his life, that the work of the Civil Rights movement was not an end, but only a tip-of-the-iceberg beginning, and we need to actively pass torches as Jesus-followers.  Politicians are getting away with hate-speech in unprecedented ways, all the while claiming Christianity supports them.  It is a scary time, but it hasn't just begun the last 365 days.  It's just never been dealt with in a holistic way, and my friends with more melanin in their skin will never talk about "good ole' days."  Or as Will Smith recently said, "racism isn't getting worse, it's just getting filmed."  

Racism and classism are major problems of our country, and I would argue the most detrimental.  At heart, these "isms" are the idolization of the idea that some people's lives matter more than others.  It's simple, when you think about it.  My job security matters more than hers.  My livelihood is something I've worked hard for, and those people are just moochers.  I am a CEO, you're a custodian.  "Those people" are more prone to commit crimes, so it's fine for the police to treat them like criminals from the get-go.  Just work harder, just work harder you lazy welfare mother.....Policies and law changes do make important differences, but we believe that there also MUST be a change of the heart.  And the best way, backed by the Bible, with deep connected roots throughout Torah, Qur'an, and I've been told, other sacred texts, is to set a table, share a meal, and tell honest stories.  So Marvin Wadlow Jr. and I launched the Table Setters last spring.

We have been blessed in a thousand and one ways by the First Presbyterian Church of Marion, IL, most especially Dan & Susie Selock and Wade Halva, and Darcie, the woman who chooses to stay married to me, has stepped in to help with framing and curriculum. We are working to establish ourselves as a 501(c)3 non-profit so that we can start accepting donations.  We have seen amazing things happen at table discussions around race, class, prejudice, justice, and cultural competency.  We have seen tears and anger, laughter and joy.  And we have no delusions that setting one table, or one diversity training session, is enough.  Like the Civil Rights movement, it should only be the start of a new relationship, a new frame of reference, a new glimpse of God's Beloved Community.  In short, this work will take the rest of our lives, and the rest of human history.  But we are always called to continually live into God's call for justice and peace.

A typical Table Setters gathering involves Marvin and I sharing each other's testimonies, and though he is a bit older than me and often drives me crazy, I do love and trust this man with caring for my children, as he often has.  Darcie and I have cared for his sons over the past 14 years as well.  We talk about current issues and encourage multiple opinions to be voiced.  We lift up a call as citizens to see all people as created equal, and when appropriate, as Christians to see tribal, racial, denominational, and religious divisions to be overcome.  We bring in music and poetry and screenplays that make sense.  We bring in pastors and community organizers when that makes sense.  We can be hired to speak at youth groups, churches, denominational conferences, businesses, schools, and civic institutions.  We are eager to visit you, so please pass this on to decision makers in your contexts.  

When we gather around the table, we ask a range of questions like the ones below (compiled as my family and I moved across the country from Los Angeles to Detroit last month).  These amazingly color-brave and hospitable individuals have encouraged me and given me great spiritual confirmation that we are on the right track.

The Table Setters, July 2016
(participants self-selected which questions they wanted me to ask, or they wrote a new one!)

1. What are some of the ways we can define or determine who our neighbors are? How should service, volunteering and public service, work into this?

2. What are some of the cultural, racial, ethnic, and generational differences in your community?

3. How do we love each other through these, or make space for our differences?

4. Who are modern day Samaritans, or “those people” on the “other side of the tracks?”

5. What questions would you ask someone outside of your race if you weren’t afraid of asking the question “wrong,” weren’t worried that the question itself might offend?

6. What might the difference between “Color-Blind” and “Color-Brave” be?

7. Do you think the over-criminalization of black and brown people hurts everyone in the US? If so, how?

8. Have you ever been hurt by someone from another race?  Have you ever been blessed by someone from another race, especially in a way that surprised you?

9. Is active anti-racism a vital part of following Jesus if you consider yourself a Christian?
(the original question read "being an anti-racist," but Emma (below) helped me to see the error of the thinking)

10. Is there anything you feel is often misunderstood about the culture group you stem from?  Is there one thing you wish you didn't always need to explain to people?  Is there one thing you wish people just understood?

11. Is there anything you’d like to share about modern race relations?

peace by peace by peace by peace by peace...........

Saturday, August 6, 2016

On the Road: Thank You from Detroit, and #RestIsResistance

River fountains splash joy, 
cooling God’s city,
this sacred haunt 
of the Most High.
God lives here, 
the streets are safe,
God at your service 
from crack of dawn.
Godless nations rant and rave,
kings and kingdoms threaten,
but Earth does anything he says. -
Psalm 46:5-6 (MSG)

Exactly this time last year, Darcie and I deeply felt the stirring to move to Detroit. We prayed and talked to close friends, asking God for some direction. Did not expect that getting in two minor car accidents would be helpful: but thanks to State Farm sending some pain and suffering checks, we could not only imagine moving, but doing a slow and meaningful road trip. When we calculated the total mileage for the trip, it equaled, almost to the dollar, the amount State Farm had sent, so we've tracked a dollar per mile pretty closely these past 32 days. It truly is a privilege we will not forget and we could not have done it staying in hotels or eating out every day. So first we thank God, and second we thank State Farm as our friends who suffered Katrina and Rita remind me that having a good insurance story is truly a blessing.

And: we are so very grateful for Sarah & Billy Mark, Yvette and Josh Rock, Kristin Tiffany, Marvin Wadlow, Delonte Gholston, Brooke Abbott and Valerie Abron, Arika Navy, Timmi Hicks, Andrew Paiva, Emily & Rich Jacobs, Tish Gonzales and Lenay Dunn, the Navajo woman who made room at the inn (and forgive me because you said your name at 3am and I've forgotten it), Nancy, Aleah, and Kara Degeneres, Chris and Rachel Hecker, Antonio Lucero, Emma Moore, Michael Watkins, Helen Chao, Melissa Rift, Glenn & Rita Balzer, Marie Voth (sorry I left the almond milk! No, really, sorry because I needed it!), Brian & Kara Thevenot, Jeanmarie Theine, Alex and Kathy Lee, Davon Hayes, Danielle Boyd, Dwayne Richards, Glenn Williams, Dan and Susie Selock, Kim Alvarez and Allan Basik, Amee Foss and Zach, Justin and Lizzy Bohorfoush, Emily Klein Morris, Charlotte and Anton Flores and Alterna, Justin Chambers, Chad Pittman, Pete Paulsen, Michelle and Will McCreery, Jeffrey and Janet Max, Heather Glady, Barbara Boxer, Jasmine and Rodney, Lene Tsegaye, Paula Yobp, Daniel and Mari Yobp, Alice Lee, Moses, Olavé Sebastien, Chester Stoney, Chris & Maria Taylor and Tara Webber and John & Mary Schmitt for deep hospitality and brave vulnerability.  I am still processing everything I'm learning from all that you gave, shared, and challenged us with.  But I'm pretty sure we just got a strong glimpse of the Beloved Community.  You can see all the videos of the #DismantlingWhiteousness ON THE ROAD project by CLICKING HERE.  

This truly was unforgettable and we literally could not have done it without you. We got to sit at tables across this amazing and challenging country all month long.  We got to hear your stories of love, balance, joy, and pain in the midst of our own heightened and sometimes explosive emotions within the car; the events of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cleveland, Philly, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, Bangladesh, Munich and Rio. Not to mention the name that is dominating the 24-hour news cycle, just like the bearer of that name likes....

Be sure to check out the amazing work of the Live Coal Collective.
And we got to arrive in Michigan last night at the Sidewalk Detroit festival, where several old friends, and now some new, were performing.  See below for some awesome videos of the evening's performances which serve as the final interviews in this season of "On the Road with #DismantlingWhiteousness."

Please pray for us now as we rest for a minute or two before building a new life here in Detroit by listening to how God is already working through our local neighbors.

Please also pray for Marvin and I as we launch our non-profit The Table Setters bi-coastally! For such a time as this......

Please pray for Darcie and I. The long road trip was good and hard, brought to the surface some things we need to address and work on if we are to make it in this work and this life together. We have a plan, and we need your prayers to encourage us to follow through.

And finally, inspired by my new friend and mentor, Delonte and his #RestIsResistance month, I will be going into a bit of a rest mode from social media. I will still publish blog posts here and any remaining videos from the #DismantlingWhiteousness On the Road project that trickle in, and I will need to be involved in The Table Setters online presence in our launch mode. But personally, I'm stepping back a bit for the rest of August. Thank you for following and all the prayers, jokes, suggestions, and questions along this way. We felt the love, we really did.

Pray for us as we continue to teach our girls that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  

Peace by peace by peace,
M and D and C and R

The 12 and Under Spoken Word Stage.

CutTime Simfonica brings classical music to the streets, and they even included me in their sidewalk classical performances!

And finally, Mahogany Jones ended her show, and the event, with a cypher including everyone from the audience.  Talk about a Table Setting....


On the Road: Mari Yobp of Pittsburgh, PA #DismantlingWhiteousness

My sister-in-law reminds me of an important lesson: feelings of superiority are not a uniquely American problem.  Japan struggles with this as well.  We sat down for an extended interview to hear what it's been like adjusting to life in the US, and she ends with this very important message:

"Accepting differences does not mean you lose your personality."

peace by peace by peace,

Thursday, August 4, 2016

On the Road: Olavé Sebastien of Wilkinsburg, PA #DismantlingWhiteousness

After a lively Table Setting on racism, systemic violence and injustice and the lingering effects in North Versailles, PA, last night, Olavé and I continued a discussion one-on-one on hurts and blessings specific to being a man of color.  With puppies Samson and Delilah wanting to join in.  

And, earlier in the night, this happened.  That's my awesome mother-in-law Paula on lead vocals!

peace by peace by peace,