Category Archives: Race and Naming

Harvard Graduate School of Education teaches us how to talk about ‘race, controversy and trauma’

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“It shouldn’t be special when a church calls out racism and hatred.  It should be the rule, not the exception.”

{Tyler Jones}

“We preach that the root is sin, but it’s too uncomfortable for us to call the sin by its full name: white supremacy.”

{Michael Slater}

Following unflinching and stern words of rebuke against the people of Israel regarding their infidelity, the prophet Jeremiah records the voice of Lord issuing a call to repentance.  But, perhaps, we are not familiar with that part of the passage.  Instead, we skip the pain that “faithless Israel” caused and the process for restoration after repentance.  No, we want to hear the promise” “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3.15, NRSV).  Apparently, the leaders that God provides will have similar standards of care, guidance and supervision.

This job description is not produced in a business meeting or in a bubble.  But, there is controversy and conflict swirling around.  And God promises leaders who can handle it, who can love and lead in the midst of it.

I don’t know if you are aware of this but there has been a rise in anti- Semitic, anti- immigrant, anti- ‘other,’ anti- civil language both before his election and since Trump has taken office as the nation’s 45th president.  Several shootings, at least one resulting in murder, after the attacker screamed, “Go back to your country” has been reported.  Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32- year old man from India and an engineer was killed while a man who has not been identified but who is an American citizen and a Sikh was shot in Kent, Washington.  Clearly, I am being facetious because there has been no rest for those who are weary from his Twitter tantrums and tirades.  The start of this week has been no different with a criminal investigation of the Trump campaign by the FBI made public after a House Intelligence Committee hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 political election.  And if that were not enough, FBI Director Comey dismissed Trump’s unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower.  So, what shall we say then?

What do we preach about?  What do we talk about in our Sunday School classes, our small group meetings and during our fellowship dinners?  Surely, we cannot gloss over the impact of this administration, its lying, attempted travel bans and the like?  Besides, what would it suggest of our Christian faith and witness if we did?

Surely, we cannot ignore this, thinking that it will simply go away.  Talking to ourselves and reassuring our friends and family members that we are “good people” is pointless.  Our need to reassure ourselves that we are not one of them does not excuse us from the boat that we are all in.  Paul Reams said, “A church that refuses to address injustice has ceased to have moral authority and become an agent of the state.”  Real persons in our communities and in our churches are experiencing trauma.  We need to talk about it because God does not avoid difficult conversations.

For those of us who don’t know where to start or what to say, I think that the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides a path and an example that should be followed.  While theirs is a school setting, these suggestions are just as applicable in sanctuaries.  Here are just a few:

  • Acknowledge traumatic events or circumstances. Bring up news with students the day after it breaks, even if details or consequences are still uncertain.
  • Process and name emotions together. Help students identify their emotions through discussion circles or individual writing prompts. Describe your own emotions, whether they be outrage, fear, numbness, or uncertainty.
  • Ask students what they know and what they need. Some students may have a thorough grasp of what’s going on, but little idea of how it could impact them. Others may feel very affected, but lack a nuanced understanding of the details. Open up the discussion to figure out what students want to know, and let them ask questions.
  • Teach relevant information.  Where possible, integrate current events into lesson plans to explain to students what’s happened. Draw connections among the various forces facing communities of color. If you’re unclear about details, be honest with your students, and work to investigate the details together.
  • Connect students to resources. Show all students, including those who may be affected by new policies or rhetoric, that their school and teachers are there to help. Connect vulnerable students with local lawyers, social workers, and advocates who can provide them with the assistance they need.


Click here to discover ways to have difficult conversations during troubling times and for the full article.


When you don’t know what to say

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, Amy Robach attends the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York. Robach has apologized for using a term for African Americans on Monday’s broadcast of the ABC program. After the broadcast, Robach released a statement explaining she had meant to say “people of color.”She called the incident “a mistake” and “not at all a reflection of how I feel or speak in my everyday life.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File): FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, Amy Robach attends the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York. Robach has apologized for using a term for African Americans on Monday’s broadcast of the ABC program. After the broadcast, Robach released a statement explaining she had meant to say “people of color.” She called the incident “a mistake” and “not at all a reflection of how I feel or speak in my everyday life.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)Good Morning America’s (GMA) Amy Robach is not a having a good morning right now.  She said the wrong word during an on- air show.  To be sure, it was a racial slur: colored people.

I know, I know.  It’s really close to the word now being used: people of color.  But, not really.

People of color is a word chosen by the… people of color.  They own it.  They control it.  It was not a name given but a name chosen as an identifier.

Colored people is not a new name and it has a long and troubling history.  Used to segregate, demean and dehumanize, we have the signs to prove it.  It is not a name chosen by persons of African descent but a name assigned.  See the difference?

In ancient times, naming was associated with ownership.  The practice was reinstated during American slavery (though some would argue that this can also be associated with marriages wherein the woman takes on the name of her husband) when enslaved Africans were given new names, names which most of us still have today.  Our last names remind us of a history lost, an ancestral family taken away, a culture far removed from us and deep connections lost.

So, it’s not just a word.  It’s not just a name.  It matters what we say and persons have the right to choose what they will answer to.  So, when you don’t know what to say, ask.  How would you like to be referred to?

If you don’t want to ask and if there is a tinge of anger due to this suggestion, well then, there are some other questions that need to be asked of you.

I Don’t Like “People of Color”

IMG_8608I hate the descriptor “people of color.”  First, the phrase suggests that “color” is the principle identifier for human beings.  Secondly, white is a color too.  Lastly, it smacks of separation.  There are people of color and then, there are just people or people of no color, I guess.

My distaste was confirmed while reading Ending Racism in the Church, a book edited by Susan Davies and Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee.  In their introduction, they rightly provide a list of terms associated and created for the purposes of race.  The designation “people of color” is spoken of this way:

“The term ‘people of color’ as a referent for persons in ‘racial’ groups other than white has been directly and acutely challenged by Burton Tan, who declares that the term itself ‘implies a two- strata relationship; one, the ‘people’; the other, the affixed and subordinated one of the ‘of color.’  The single term… ‘people’ refers to the white speakers and all the others are only referred by an affixion or subordination.’  He draws a connection between ‘people of color’ and currently politically correct terms such as ‘persons with disabilities’ and ‘people of different cultures.'”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Kee Malesky, a writers a NPR, has also tracked the journey of this language of colored, minority and now people of color.  Naming has been and continues to be a problem for oppressed groups.  While it is necessary to take ownership of one’s identity and the expression of one’s experiences by naming, often times it does more harm than good.

While seeking to self- identify, the term people of color makes it other than.  It is an identity created in opposition and/ or in comparison to white people. Would there be the designation people of color if not for socially colored white people?  While attempting to point out the differences between the two groups, it continues to make the point that whiteness is better and it furthers the purpose of race, placing the groups in opposition as the words pit us for and against.

I hate people of color.