Tag Archives: talking about race

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.


Blaming Race

Image result for it's all your fault imageI don’t like the social coloring of your skin.  I don’t like the way that it makes me feel.  Why are you not like me?

I don’t like your hair.  I don’t know what I would do with it.  I can’t put my finger on it.  Can I touch it?

I don’t like your eyes; the way that you are looking, the way that you look scares me.  What do you see with those things?

I don’t like your nose, too big, too small, too broad, too thin.  I could breathe easier if it didn’t look like that.  Would you pinch your nose?

I don’t like your mouth; the shape is problematic.  Your voice is troubling.  I don’t like it when you talk.  Can you keep it down?

If I am honest, I just don’t like you because you don’t look like me.  When I look at you, I feel that you are a work in progress or that some one messed up big time and that I am the finished product.  I could blame it on your features but your body has nothing to do with it.

I don’t like you because you are not me.  I just blame race for my god-like aspirations.  I really want you to be made in my image.

Not So Black and White

Image result for not so black and white imageWhile I may be able to talk about race and write about its effects from week to week without a panic attack, I know that this is a difficult conversation for much of America.  There are so many sides to this story that it is exhausting to think about all that we need to say.  But for me, the real fear and felt loss is what we may never know about ourselves and each other.
While the words don’t come out so easily in front of strangers and might be well- rehearsed with family and understood among friends, I wonder what kind of conversation we are having with ourselves.  What does it mean to be a racialized person?  What am I saying when I identify myself as a social color?
Race.  The word is as misunderstood as we are in terms of this social category.  It is good for some and bad for others.  It comes with privileges for some and has been nothing but a problem for others.  How do we make sense of it all?
It’s not so easy when we take the colors away and start to look at each other without the stereotypes.  I invite you to listen in on yourself, to eaves drop without fear of judgment or the pressure of a response.  I promise that my next post will not be follow- up questions.  I’ll leave them to you.
Listen to what you are saying to yourself and about others when it comes to the social construct of race.  Listen to what you are willing to say about others and believe about yourself for the sake of race.  Listen long and hard.  Listen without interrupting or explaining.  Listen without assumption of what needs to be said or done.  Listen without expectation or prepared arguments.
Just listen.  Hear yourself out for once.  And don’t allow race to do any of the talking.
The words.  Who we are.  What we have made others out to be.  It’s not so black and white.

Let’s Talk About It Again (and again)

Screen-Shot-2015-08-21-at-10.28.15-PMI recently listened to an interview on racial reconciliation.  When the African American man was asked about the way to reconciliation by his European American interviewer and self- described “white ally,” he started the conversation with American slavery.  I was immediately struck by the fact that he felt the need to start there, that reconciliation had a backlog of nearly four hundred years.  It is no wonder then that we often feel overwhelmed, helpless and even tempted to give up, to stop talking, to throw in our hopes and quit.

The distance between us can only be shortened by the number of conversations that we have with each other.  We don’t need walk a mile in each other’s shoes; instead, we need to sit down and talk awhile.  Now, the subject matter will not always be easy; the words and experiences that we will discuss may not produce immediate connections.  But, the bond will form through our vulnerability, in the exchange of words and the holding of these memories.

We will need to talk about race not just in the comfort of workshops or even over dinner but over the course of our relationships, cross- cultural and otherwise.  It is important not only to discover what we have done to each other in word and in deed we mean but why this word or that person carries that kind of meaning. We need to talk it out, to hear ourselves out, without uncomfortable interruption or angry interjection. We need to listen to what we are saying about other people and to our selves.

And we will need to say it now and every day after now.  We will need to say what we mean when we utilize the words of race in our relationships, when we describe ourselves and our neighbors in its burdened colors.  What do we really mean?  What are we really saying?  Why does race have such a hold on who we are and how we relate to each other?

If you haven’t noticed, I am interviewing you now.  Not to worry, I am your ally.  So, let’s talk about it for as long as we have left as I have no interest in handing down to the next generation a backlog of conversations that we never got around to.


Share Your Story

imagesMaya Angelou said rightly, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”  And stories are about race are both difficult to carry and to tell.  So, I am excited at the opportunity that the New York Times has presented to its readers.  It is apart of their Op- Docs series Conversations on Race and I hope that it gets more of us talking and telling our story.

We don’t have to carry the burden alone.  We can share it with others by sharing our story.  Click here to give us yours.