Shape Shifters

As a missionary, I spent 14 summers on Navajo Reservations. These were some of the richest and most memorable experiences of my life. I was fortunate enough to learn of a world that was vastly absent from the history books of our educational landscape.  I built lasting relationships with folks; I now include them among my extended family. They even named one of their children after me.

In so doing, I also learned about some of the traditional beliefs and folklore of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Among them was the legend of a secret society of medicine men known as, “Skinwalkers” or “Shape Shifters,” who were reported to have the ability to transform themselves into various animals, at will.

Colonized American society has its own form of shape-shifting, known as, racism/white supremacy. It has the ability to shape shift at will and take on various forms, while maintaining its base objective of protecting and promoting the continuation of white privilege. 

The Southern Strategy voiced by Lee Atwater in 1988 reflects the open and honest tactics of how the system works;    

          “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”— that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.”

There have been various tactics over the years which have simply adjusted to the times in order to keep the spirit of racism/white supremacy in play. The evolution of this belief system has had over 400 years to solidify as a virtually impenetrable institutionalized demonic stronghold.

“The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy…,” reads the first portion of John 10:10. Is there any doubt that these 3 components exist all throughout America’s history of racism/white supremacy? Has not an entire nation been stolen and accompanied by the genocide of the vast majority of its original inhabitants?

Have not our Black Wall Streets like Rosewood and Tulsa been destroyed; followed by heartless tone-deaf questions of “Why can’t you people succeed with so much opportunity?” Yes, racism/white supremacy definitely fits the bill.

Slavery was officially abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment but was immediately replaced by Black Codes and the prison industrial complex.

The 1868 14th Amendment, “defines all people born in the U.S. as citizens; requires due process of law, and requires equal protection to all people.” Yet we have a growing list of African Americans and other POC who have yet to realize this promise of justice for all, as we chant “Black Lives Matter.”    

Blacks were given the right to vote under the 15th Amendment in 1870. However, the grandfather clause; having Black folks guess the number of jellybeans in a jar; terrorists threats; followed by lynchings, meant that the fulfillment of that promise was not revisited in law until President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965.

And even today, we see several states aggressively and creatively finding ways to keep POC from the polls; not to mention, how felony charges are used as another “official” method to suppress voting while those who have completed their sentences are still expected to pay taxes.   

Brown vs. the Board of Education was passed in 1954, but statistics show that, our schools are still largely segregated today, based upon economic status and geographical location.

The household wealth and wage gap between Blacks and whites is another reality check with whites currently averaging a net worth of $187,300 compared to the $14,100 of their Black counterparts. In addition, white high school graduates average $115,000 as opposed to Black college graduates having a median household worth of $51,000.  

Homeownership only widened with whites at, 72%, while only 42% of Blacks were homeowners in 2019. 81% of major metropolitan areas in the U.S. were more segregated in 2019 than in 1990.  

While redlining technically became illegal with the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), it hasn’t had much effect on the bottom line. According to the real estate app Redfin, Blacks have lost out on $212,000 in personal wealth over the last 40 years.

Point being, racism/white supremacy has always found a way to shape shift in order to sustain itself.

So when we talk about progress, we must qualify what we mean exactly. Are we talking about the obvious changes such as being able to sit where you want on a city bus, or technically; attend a school of your choice, or live where you want, or receive an education on par with your white counterparts? The stats certainly bear a need for deep diving and further investigation because, based upon the end of the day reports, not a whole lot has moved the needle as far as we might like to believe and we must remain vigilant of shape shifters.


By Tobias Houpe

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