Category Archives: Talking About Race

Don’t stop talking about race

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It is easy to reset, to move on to the next outrage, to the next shiny object.  “Ooh.  What’s that?”  We want to be distracted.  We hope that we can forget.

But, we cannot continue to let this be the case.  Race is a problem and it doesn’t just go away.  Instead, it is here to stay, stuck between our teeth, hanging on to our thin skin.  We carry it with us.  A word with sharp edges that we continue to wrap carefully and reuse, race is the weapon and the wound.

Still, we talk about race as if it is all we have, like it is all that we can say about ourselves, as if we are only flesh and blood.  We talk about race as if our lives depend on it, like we cease to exist if we are not socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  And though we cannot see the end of it (that is, post- racial), race is not our beginning. We cannot see past it but there is no future with race.

A socio- political construct, we talked ourselves into this belief in race and we will need to talk ourselves out of it.  You may not know this but we are not alone in this desire.  Recently, a number of books have been published that aim to discuss our relationship with race and empower readers to talk about it.  Please consider adding these to your reading list and your bookshelves:

Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

Carolyn B. Helsel, Anxious to talk about it: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017).

Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race?, (New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018).

Derang Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015).

Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010).

Surprise is not a valid response to racism in America

Image result for surpriseRecently, I was talking to a man named Garrett, who I think identifies as a Christian.  He took issue with a recent article published by Relevant magazine that posed the question, “Should Pastors Who Don’t Speak Up About Racism Resign?”  It is an interesting question in light of the recent resignation of Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee.  He spoke out against white supremacy at the VMAs and was later forced to resign for his remarks.  The church thought that it brought too much attention to them and it was not well- received.

But, for Garrett, “Racism isn’t a widespread problem in the church or the country.”  For him, the question was totally unnecessary and was part of the problem.  The question was making racism a big deal.  Asking these kinds of questions and talking about it at all was the reason why there was divisiveness in our country.  But, when I shared with him recent incidents of racialized violence, he suggested that these were the only two, namely Charleston and Charlottesville.  And it was a small amount of people; consequently, their hate didn’t amount to much.  The Ku Klux Klan hadn’t been around that long (They organized in 1866.).  When I shared more names and dates, he moved his argument to laws that support race and racialized violence.  When that was addressed, he stopped talking.

Because when we know better, we often don’t want to do better, respond differently or change our perspective.  Because to answer the question would require the acknowledgement of the truths behind it.  And many of us are not ready to do that.  Instead, like Garrett, we question the question though that’s not a legitimate answer either.

And we know the answer.  Garrett, like so many others, doesn’t care and worse still, he doesn’t care to know.  I am sure that he would have produced more questions if allowed.  He would rather debate the question than discuss the answer.  But, if you don’t know the facts about race and racism in this country by now, you don’t want to know.

So, when we are confronted with the reality of racialized violence, don’t feign disbelief.  “How could this happen here?”  Too many people have died because of it.  Gasps are misplaced here.  Instead, the sound more befitting is lament.

For history tells us that this present reality has never been fully addressed.  Hundreds of years later, what is there to be amazed by?  Opening our mouths in shock is easier than parting our lips during conversations on why and how and when this needs to stop.  It is easier to say, “I didn’t know” versus “What can I do?”  It lets us off the hook.

“I had no idea that this was still happening.”  Pretending as if racism in America is new or at some point disappeared only to resurface in this present moment (and no other) is self- serving.  Because witnesses are called to testify.   We would rather be judge and jury.

It is also perhaps evidence of our avoidance.  We don’t want to deal with race and so we attack anyone who would bring it up.  “There is nothing to see here.”  But there is.  What we don’t want to see is ourselves complicit in our silence, implicated because we have heard this story before and we did nothing to stop it.

Sadly, this response is not new and no surprise.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Bad Relationship Between Race and the Church

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“We need a spirit- filled life that is capable of combatting the corrosive ideologies of our age.  Only when the church lives out its original calling, as a contrast community and foretaste of God’s coming reign, is there hope for the world.”

Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, Charles E. Moore

One of my deepest grievances is the witness of the Church in North America as a new, transformed and reconciled community.  While I understand that the colonialized practice of Christianity did much to disturb a proper foundation for fellowship between believers of different cultures, namely African and Europeans during American slavery, since then rebellions and wars have occurred, movements have emerged and laws passed, still conversations about the negative impact of the social construct of race on self and the authentic formation of Christian community have not been fully had on church pews, in parlors or parking lots.  And it needs to be encouraged, modeled and strengthened by those in the pulpit.

Many Christians are unwilling to denounce the social privileges of whiteness but instead divinize the social coloring of skin so as to suggest that God does not create all human beings equally.  This racialized Christianity suggests that God has a cultural preference and a prejudice against those who are not socially colored white.  It also suggests that other cultures were made to long for this image of whiteness– not God’s.  However, to locate goodness, righteousness, purity and wholeness in particular flesh contradicts the witness of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Because our calling as disciples is to become more like Christ– not socially colored white people.

The story of whiteness is not the American story or apart of God’s story.  It is an exclusive narrative that speaks to one segment of a socially constructed population, formed for capitalistic gain and world domination.  Its perspective puts this kind of people up front, in the center and everyone else on the margins.  “The earth is theirs and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24.1).  It is for the building up of one socially engineered culture– not God’s kingdom.  And its aim is supremacy; its heights reaching the heavens, whiteness aims even to color in the face of God.   How it ever received the support of Christians of various cultures, I will never understand.

Because this social contract changes the gospel altogether as the social construct of race says, “For God so loved the white people” not the world that he gave his only begotten son…” (John 3.16).  And this needs to be corrected– not with conferences but in community.  And we don’t need more apologies or resolutions if only for the acknowledgement that it was wrong.  Instead, we must acknowledge and affirm that it is wrong now, that the social construct of race has never been right for the Church.  Called to be an alternative community, churches in North America are often times more racialized and segregated than the communities around them.  The diversity of God’s creation and God’s kingdom is found outside the doors of the Church.

While there is no scriptural support for a divinely approved colored people, no basis for belief in a colored God in the Old or New Testaments, Christians continue to make God in their own image.  Despite the fact that the social construct of race continues to work against our faith and its witness in the world, we maintain its pretenses, perspective and prejudices.  But, what does the social construct of race do for our faith and its practice, the expression of God’s unconditional love and the ministry of reconciliation?  How does the social construct of race advance the cause of Christ and the call to community?  The answer is that race does nothing in this regard.

We are in a relationship with the social construct of race because it requires no change of nature or resistance to the status quo.  Our socially colored Jesus’s follow in our footsteps and proclaim our good news.  And we think that that we are having the time of our lives, that we are in love with God.  When in fact, if we are not in community, we have not experienced the fullness of Christian life at all.  Instead, race supports the fullness of self, a life lived in isolation with only our self- images to reflect on.  We are in love with a mirror.

It is my sincerest prayer that the Church in North America will see the social construct of race for what it really is, cast down the idol and end the relationship with the hope of forming a more authentic, relational and reconciled community of believers.  Amen.

“Confronting Racism in the Church” with Dr. Drew Hart

Last year, I had the privileged of serving with Dr. Hart at a community- wide event, aimed at race, community and the practice of our Christian faith in Henderson, KY.  It was my first time meeting him and he was gracious.  I had just read his book and been sharing his insights on social media.  To say the least, I was excited to meet him in person and to hear more of his thoughts on subjects dear to both of us.  He happily obliged, answering all my questions and offering support for future study endeavors.

This time, he is closer to home.  On July 22, he will be speaking at the Festival Center in Washington, D.C. at 1 p.m. and from his new book Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.  It is a conversation that the church needs to have and if we are not prepared to speak, we can at least listen in.

For more information and to register, click here.

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.