What IS wrong with this picture?

I showed my friend a picture of this billboard and asked her “What do you think about this?”

PLU-billboard

I had actually passed the billboard on my way to do an errand and it just nagged at me. On my way home, I pulled over and took the picture. I kept wondering, why is this black woman responsible for ending hate speech?

My friend struggled to put into words why she thought the message was off kilter. Another friend walked by and commented, “But look, what do you expect? This is the Lutherans.”

Hey, hey, hey. I was born into a Lutheran household. And probably would have been raised Lutheran except the (married) pastor came onto my (married) mom, and she wasn’t having it.

No. I was raised Unitarian which instilled a world view that nobody, not even the Lutherans, but  especially not the Unitarians, are off the hook in the daily grind to end racism.

And clearly, Pacific Lutheran University does not want to be off the hook. Good on them for getting out there and splashing a message on a billboard. This takes a lot of courage, because you have to know that (a) you are going to draw out the haters; (b) the chances that you are going to get the solution to racism right on a billboard hover somewhere around zero; and (c) since you can’t get it right, you are going to hear about it.

In a nutshell (which is almost as bad as a billboard) here’s what I think about it. Individual black women can stop saying hateful things to one another, but they do not (as just one example) set the salary scale. White people do. So it’s really a matter of figuring out how to get white people to stop saying hateful things to people of color—and then get white people to stop thinking hateful things about people of color—and then get white people to stop paying black women a lower wage than white men for doing the exact same job.

PLU is educating a lot of white people who are going to graduate into a whole lot of power to actually DO something if they understand what the real solutions are. It would be amazing to give every student a sophisticated, multi-year, down and dirty academic challenge to understand the roots, trunk, and branches of racism.

I set out to critique the critique—meaning the overabundance and corrosive nature of the criticism that flies through the internet when any individual or institution tries to say something to oppose racism, sexism, and homophobia.

And look what I did. I criticized.

I’m left wondering what the role of honest and kind criticism is. How do we fan the flames of understanding and creativity? How do we say “Hey, PLU, excellent effort. Keep going.”