Racial Reconciliation

Becoming a Beloved Community"The 78th General Convention of our Church did a remarkable thing: the General Convention invited us as a church to take up this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus Movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation … across the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God. This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing. It’s about God.”  ~ Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry 

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I met Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, the Associate Director of Faith Formation and Education at Trinity Wall Street, at a workshop I presented at Forma. In a recent post, she writes on this workshop with a focus on moving forward in reconciliation with God's help.

Here's an excerpt:

"Trinity Wall Street has recently declared an intention to be intentional about holding conversations about race — and so I was eager to connect with The Episcopal Church’s new Missioner for Racial Reconciliation, Heidi Kim, at the Forma conference. Heidi gives it to you straight: “Those of us who engage in this work will make mistakes… all the time.”  It’s inevitable, she says, because the work engenders heat and fire. Expect that “there will be passion, shame, and pain — and that we will need to work through it all.” Why? The fact is that racism has had an impact on all of us."

Find her full post here: http://episcoforma.org/2015/02/17/heat-fire-the-help-of-god-in-racial-re...

 

I met Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, the Associate Director of Faith Formation and Education at Trinity Wall Street, at a workshop I presented at Forma. In a recent post, she writes on this workshop with a focus on moving forward in reconciliation with...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional dancers at the Filipino Convocation, August 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit with Executive Council member Anita George, August 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Ledo and Mike Angell giving a workshop on young adult ministries at Nuevo Amanacer, August 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bishop Morris Thompson and members of the Diocese of Louisiana’s Commission for Racial Reconciliation, September 2014.

            Traditional dancers at the Filipino Convocation, August 2014.             Visit with Executive Council member Anita George, August 2014.           Daniel Ledo and Mike Angell giving a workshop on young adult ministries at Nuevo...

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

                Philippians 2: 1-4

My uncle, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church, selected this reading for my wedding over 20 years ago. Each time I read it, I see something new, and am grateful to my samchon for selecting such an appropriate text for the beginning of a lifelong journey with my spouse. There is so much wisdom here—about the importance of being of the same mind and having the same love, and about how right relationship needs to be more important than self-interest. Many people of faith would understand the context that Philippians 2 sets for a marital relationship, but it also sets an appropriate context for talking about race and racism, in the United States and beyond.

For me, the heart of the reconciliation lies in the idea that “being in community” always needs to be more important than “being right.” Most people I know would agree with this in principle, and say “yes, when I find myself in conflict with another, I try hard to understand her/his perspective and experience.” But when that conflict involves our understanding of race and racism, that tendency towards empathy and patience often flies out the window. Instead of trying to listen to and understand one another, we dismiss one another as ignorant, reactionary, naïve, or worst of all, racist. All of these words come from the mouths of loving, faithful, and compassionate people, whose passions become inflamed and whose patience disappears when conversations turn to race.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can start by making the distinction between the intent and impact of our words. Many multicultural trainers use this concept, and many people have written on this topic, for the business world and in more political contexts.  

When I worked in an educational setting, I once had a disciplinary case where a young White man had used the N-word in casual conversations with his White peers. A Black teammate took him aside and said that word was inappropriate in any setting, and especially in the team context. The White student defended himself by describing the word’s prevalence in popular culture, and kept insisting that the Black student “…took it wrong. I didn’t mean anything by it.” In other words, he did not intend negative harm, so no harm should have been felt. He could not see that he had done anything wrong, and the conversation was very frustrating for all of us. I finally asked the young man, “What would be the right way for a Black student to take your use of that word?” In other words, what impact should he have experienced? At that point, the young man who had been so defensive and a little self-righteous got very quiet, and then said, “You’re right. I’m really sorry. I never should have used that word.”   

When we talk about race and racism, it seems as though our intentions are all that matter to us. The very question of whether racism persists in American society is one of the fault lines along which our ability to be civil to one another breaks down. As I have traveled around the country learning from Episcopalians in many different social and cultural contexts about their understandings of race and racism, I have found that there are some inflammatory comments that consistently limit dialogue and understanding. In my next post, I will talk about three types of comments that I have observed that grow out of good intentions, but hinder open dialogue and lead to mistrust or suspicion.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from...

In my first post, I spoke of the need to prioritize being in community over being right, and described our need to distinguish between intent and impact. As promised, here are three types of comments I hear fairly frequently, and that many people point to as impediments to the work of reconciliation. I am sure there are many more, but these three are very common. I anticipate that some of you will read these, and say “…but when I said that, I meant (fill in the blank).”  To that I respond, look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others, as you read the challenges and impact of statements that you may have made.

#1 – I don’t see color/I am colorblind. There’s only one race, the human race. We are all created equal.

Intent:

I believe that the people who profess this idea believe that racial differences do not and should not matter. They choose to treat all people equally without regard to race, ethnicity, or skin color. They believe in a world in which the “content of one’s character” is the most important deciding factor in how they will form relationships with others. Their intentions are good, and this is their way of saying that they are not racist.

Challenge:

The most obvious challenge to the colorblind paradigm is that it is inaccurate. If the colorblind person were to meet me, s/he could accurately predict that my family’s origins were in East Asia, and certainly not from Sweden or Norway. We do in fact see racial differences, and acknowledging those differences does not necessarily imply that those differences should lead to inequality. In fact, scientific research has demonstrated that even very young children can distinguish between people of different races. More importantly, those differences may have significant influence on how we experience the world around us.

Impact:

One impact of the colorblind paradigm is that it is often heard as “race doesn’t exist, so racism doesn’t exist.” If I don’t see color, then I cannot discriminate on the basis of color. No one else can either. Therefore, your experience of discrimination is your problem. This can also be heard as “you are making it up.”

In my own experience, people have yelled racial epithets at me, threatened my physical safety, and told me that they wish I had died in the Hiroshima bombing (although I am not Japanese). When I, as a person of color, share with you that my experience of the world leads me to believe that we are not colorblind, I am not calling you a racist. I am asking you to understand that your good intentions to know me as an individual and not reduce me to my race are not enough. My experience of racism is not necessarily about you, but our relationship with one anotherhas to be about us.

#2 – Racism is about power. Whites hold all the power in our society, therefore only Whites can be racist. All Whites benefit from White privilege, and need to repent.

Intent:

I believe that the people who argue that only Whites can be racist want to understand racism as something that goes deeper than bias or prejudice, and want to teach others about the insidious nature of institutional or structural racism. The concept of White privilege, or “unearned advantage” associated with Whiteness is also meant to highlight that even if a White person is not explicitly or intentional racist, s/he will benefit from a racist system. People who make these claims about Whites, many of whom are White themselves, have the good intention of trying to understand racism in a more complex way; they are trying to examine the elements of the iceberg that are hidden beneath the surface of the water.  You can read Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 piece to get an introduction to the concept, and read othercritiques (warning – profanity) of the concept.

Challenge:

These statements oversimplify the complexity of White identity and experience. I have taught poor, White, first-generation college students who have to work multiple jobs to pay their fees and stay in school, who do not feel that they benefit from unearned advantages as compared to their upper-middle class or affluent non-White classmates and professors. Similarly, racism can exist in many different societies and social contexts, where power may be held by non-Whites. As children, my parents lived under the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, witnessed the destruction of Korean historical and cultural artifacts, and could only speak, read, and write Japanese in school. For many Koreans of my parents’ generation, the major racial antipathy of their lives was with the Japanese. And yet, when they immigrated to the United States, they found solidarity with Japanese Americans in the context of anti-Asian racism here.   

Impact:

The notion that only Whites can be racist and that all Whites benefit from White privilege is often heard as “you are White, therefore you are a racist.” It reduces the complexity of identity to a single factor, and seems to suggest that Whiteness itself is a barrier to reconciliation. It can also be heard as “I know everything there is to know about racism, and you are ignorant. What you say/think/believe doesn’t matter.”

My family is multi-racial, and I have lived most of my life in predominantly White communities, including communities with high levels of White poverty.  I have seen White friends who were hungry to learn more about equity and inclusion withdraw from important and meaningful dialogue about race because they felt silenced and ridiculed when they had questions about White privilege. Our good intentions to teach others about the complexity of racism and unearned advantage are not enough to ensure that learning will actually occur. Building community needs to take precedence over being right.

#3 – Just ignore him/her. S/he is just a knee-jerk liberal/conservative and doesn’t have all the facts. Statistics show that (I am right) and s/he is misguided/ignorant/naïve/intolerant/brainwashed or worse, racist/playing the race card.  

Intent:

Hmm, hard to show what the good intentions are here. Usually the “just ignore him/her” comment is meant as a way of showing solidarity, and that the speaker does not agree with the hurtful comments from the other person. These comments intend to demonstrate the “rightness” or certainty of one perspective in contrast to the “wrongness” of the other perspective.  

Challenge:

Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to something better than this. How will we ever love our neighbors as ourselves, and respect the dignity of every human being if our first reaction is to ignore one another and call each other names? Again I believe that being in community always needs to be more important than being right.  These statements privilege being right and undermine community and reconciliation.

Impact:

In our flawed human desire to be right about contentious issues like racism, we end the conversation before it ever begins. On the one hand, colorblind folks seem to deny the experience of racism that people of color experience in the United States on a daily basis, simply because they have not seen it.  On the other hand, anti-racism activists seem to imply that there is only ONE way to understand race and racism, and if you are not on board, you are a racist. While we might claim that we want to learn from one another’s experience, in fact, we mostly want to be on what we believe is the “right side” of this issue.

In my experience, there is no such thing as an easy or comfortable experience when exploring how race and racism impact our communities. We ask awkward questions, we make mistakes, and we react with anger, accusation, or defensiveness instead of love. We seem to be much less willing to forgive one another in conversations about race than we would be about any other topic. I have seen Christians telling atheists that faith is belief in that which can remain unseen, who then say that racism doesn’t exist because they have not seen it. I have seen anti-racism advocates preach about radical inclusion and welcome, who then dismiss anyone who does not immediately understand a concept like White privilege. I have seen faithful, compassionate, loving Christians who talk about building the kingdom of God, but who behave as though the kingdom should only include people who think exactly like them.

So I return to Philippians.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

                Philippians 2: 1-4

Will you take the journey toward reconciliation, listen deeply to others, and choose to love before you judge? Will you be courageous enough to be vulnerable, and prioritize community over being right?

I will, with God’s help.

 

Important Links

A Way Forward: Reflections, Resources & Stories Concerning Ferguson, Racial Justice & Reconciliation

http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/episcopal/AWayForward

Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/social-justice-and-advocacy-engagement

Episcopal Public Policy Network

http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/home

Lesson Plans That Work

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/lessons/

In my first post, I spoke of the need to prioritize being in community over being right, and described our need to distinguish between intent and impact. As promised, here are three types of comments I hear fairly frequently, and that many people...