By Stan Friedman
MADISON, WI (December 20, 2013) — In a lengthy op-ed piece published by the Capital Times, Covenant pastor Alex Gee laments that racism is as widespread and insidious in his city as elsewhere despite Madison’s long-held reputation of being “progressive.”
“I admit I am frustrated that our city seems so enamored with its historic and national reputation as a liberal bastion that we either ignore our current social challenges, along with racial and economic disparities, or we blame our issues on individuals and families moving to Madison without fully accepting rightful culpability for certain homegrown problems,” he wrote.
Gee is pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church and founder/CEO of the nonprofit Nehemiah Center of Urban Leadership.
Though his comments are directed at the city of Madison, where he has been a resident for 45 years, Gee calls the issue an “epidemic” in communities around the country and in the church. Preaching at the Covenant’s Annual Meeting in Detroit earlier this year, Gee told delegates that Christians must live out their call to pursue justice by addressing racism.
In the article with the headline “Justified Anger,” Gee recounts speaking to a local Rotary group about how Wisconsin leads the nation in the mass incarceration of African Americans ages 20 through 24. After his talk, a white woman approached him, saying his presentation was wonderful. Then she added, “If you don’t mind, I must tell you that I am so glad that you are not some angry black man!”
He responded, “I am an angry black man. Why would you think I wasn’t angry over what is happening in and to my community? Is it because I put on my best face and ‘safe’ black voice for you today?”
In writing the column Gee explains, “I hesitate a bit out of concern my close white friends may misread my anger as being directed at all white people. My anger is with systems, ignorance, insensitivity, prejudiced views, and not with individuals.”
He continues, “I am equally concerned that I don’t alienate my trusted African-American friends by sounding as though I am asking whites for social handouts without challenging African-Americans to work harder and take responsibility for their own lives. I believe in personal responsibility that readies individuals to truly soar in life as walls of institutional racism are eliminated.”
That racism takes subtle forms that many whites have not experienced. Gee describes how police stopped to question him about why he had driven into a church parking lot at night—even though it was the church Gee pastors. They didn’t ask the white associate pastor who also was in the parking lot why he was there. He also tells of being stopped because his behavior allegedly resembled that of a drug dealer.
Gee adds that he has been successful because of the city as well, writing, “I succeeded because as a kid I was given wonderful tools from God, family, and a concerned and empowering Madison community to navigate the rough waters of systemic racism.” City residents welcomed and assisted his divorced, single mother when she moved to the city so she could attend the university.
It was a better nature that the city can draw from, Gee writes, as he cautions, “We can only address our issues to the extent we admit we have them. We should strive for more than just the reputation of liberalism; we should strive for the fruit of liberalism.”
The article has drawn 100 comments so far. Some thoughtfully address the issues Gee raises while others evidence his point.