Posts Tagged With: racism

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 8

“Do I remain a bystander and stay silent? Or do I become an ally and ask the hard questions about how this might affect the range of people in our community or organization? Do I dare ask explicitly if it will further advantage white people while simultaneously disadvantaging people of color? Do I dare suggest that because we are a group of all or mostly white people, we cannot possibly be thinking and acting on behalf of those who are not living the white experience?”  Waking Up White, p. 220

wuwcoverfinal-200x300In the section “Outer Work,” Debby Irving lays out some ways for white people to alter our external behavior in order to live as allies to people of color. She draws a comparison to bullying; we may try to dissuade bullies or empower their victims, but no real change is going to come as long as bystanders simply stand by and let it happen. Many of us may be comfortable in the role of bystander, able to convince ourselves that we are doing nothing actively racist, but also not doing anything to intervene in the systemic racism we observe. Irving gives the lie to the notion that there is such a thing as neutral, quoting Coretta Scott King, “even a lack of will power to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.” (p. 220) She reminds the reader that we need to be aware of our place in things, to use our influence in white-dominated systems, while understanding that in this work, “the white role is a supporting one, not a leading one.” (p. 221)

That supporting role isn’t just playing second chair in an orchestra; it’s offering support through willingness to admit mistakes and move toward people instead of passively waiting for them to come to us. Irving offers an example from her own life. There was the embarrassing day when she called her daughter’s teammate by the name of the one other black student on the team while talking to the student’s mother. Knowing the historic pain of mistaken identity, and aware of her “own-race bias,” she called the other mom and apologized. Yes, she could just as easily have confused two white girls with ponytails, as her husband suggested, but it mattered to name it and be accountable. She also shares a story told by Vernā Myers about white lawyers avoiding an Asian colleague because they were not sure how to pronounce his name; they didn’t want to be impolite! (That sounds pretty lame to me, yet not a surprising excuse.) Myers points out that for people of color, learning white culture is something they just have to do. Click this link for a TED Talk with more from Myers.

And then there’s tolerance. Many years ago, a lesbian friend told me, “I would rather be hated than tolerated.” As a queer, married pastor living in a conservative area, I get this. Irving urges us toward a paradigm shift, “from assimilation (my way or the highway) or differentiation (let’s celebrate our differences) to integration – the more mature understanding that differences are powerful tools that can be used to strengthen the whole.” (p. 229) Some people would rather not know what a queer pastor could bring to the church’s ministry, or a black teacher to the lives of all children, or an Asian lawyer to the collective wisdom of a law firm, or a female politician to – well. Irving asks a particularly poignant question in light of recent political events in the U.S:

“The idea of cultivating and drawing on multiple competencies seems to me the very essence of humanity: discovering and using all our tools to maximize the potential of the group and its individuals. What if instead of ‘winner take all’ in a world of haves and have nots, a society of thriving people expanded the pie for everyone?” (p. 230)

In the chapter, “Listening,” Irving comes full circle when she learns that the leafy, green, and very white suburb in which she was raised has an effective Multicultural Network. She attends a town-wide forum and recognizes the good work being done through grass roots efforts quite the opposite of the top-down system familiar from her childhood. They did it by listening to each other, which draws through another thread from earlier in the book, that of discomfort with silence.

Talking seemed hard, too. How would Irving transition from the nice woman she had been taught she must be to an outspoken activist? A class on challenging racism helped her find a voice.

“Far from my old understanding — that conversations serve as a stage on which to prove one’s self-worth through witty banter, biographical data, or the recall of facts — authentic dialogues about race (or another complex idea, for that matter) make mutual learning, not winning or losing, the goal.” (p. 239)

  1. Can you look back and remember a time you were a bystander to racism? Can you imagine a way to change the script from that experience?
  2. Not too long ago in a group of several dozen clergy, I heard a white colleague call a black colleague by the wrong name. The two had distinct physical differences (height, features, hairstyle, clothing, voices). I heard a soft rumble that echoed by own murmur: “That’s ____.” But no one called out, stood up, spoke loudly, except the person called by the wrong name. What would you have done?
  3. Irving confesses her past limited understanding of the value of diversity, seeing people of color as “a bridge to their race.” Have you seen a system changed by embracing a fully integrated understanding?
  4. In this section, Irving offers five categories of “Outer Work.” We can stop being bystanders and become allies. We can join in solidarity with accountability. We can move past tolerance to active engagement with people who are different from us. We can listen. And we can get used to talking – in normal tones – about race. Which feels hardest to you? Which, if any, feels like a place you could start?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, and email Martha at revgalblogpals@gmail.com to ask for a link to the Zoom meeting.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 5

Where were all the black moms and children? Three blocks from my house sat Rindge Towers, three enormous subsidized apartment buildings full of families of color. Why weren’t we going to the same playground? Were they, like the First Night boy, uncomfortable around crowds of white people? Were my friends off-putting to them? Was I? How could I be scary to anyone? – Debby Irving, Waking Up White (p. 122)

Debby Irving and I are about the same age, and while I grew up in the South, I raised my children in Portland, Maine. This week’s section of the book deals with her parenting and teaching years, her conflicting desires to see her children experience a more diverse community than she knew growing up while she still had not confronted the systemic racism that advantaged her and them. These chapters are painful to read, in part because Irving unspools her own awakening at an excruciatingly slow pace and in part because they remind me of my own parenting experiences.

lucy-2006

When my youngest finished 5th grade in 2006, the school had some racial diversity, as seen in student self-portraits, but the kids who won citizenship medals at the 5th grade assembly were all white.

All three of my children attended the same elementary school in Portland, noteworthy at the time my oldest started kindergarten in 1991 for having the most socio-economic diversity among elementary schools in that small city. There were two classes in each grade, and it became apparent quickly that the kids who came on a bus from a more urban neighborhood were in one class along with the apartment-dwellers from closer by, while the kids of professional parents who lived in single-family homes in a charming neighborhood of dead-end streets would end up in the other.

I volunteered in the classroom regularly, and one day a teacher confided to me, “The mothers who live in the nice neighborhood across the street have a kaffeeklatsch every year and decide which teachers to request in each grade. I don’t know why I am never on their list.”

Portland was so white at the time that the issue was not one of race, but of class. (Racial diversity would increase due to immigration in the coming decades.) I didn’t need to hear it twice to figure out that the moms who lived in what I came to call “the Country Club” were taking advantage of a secret pact with the principal. If they got what they wanted, they supplied needed volunteer power.

I wonder how I would have felt if I hadn’t been aware of my “difference,” living in a rented two-family house on the other side of “the tracks?” Would requesting have seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do? I remember feeling I had nothing in common with the “Country Club” moms, but I also felt different from the moms on the playground who had not been to college.

 

 

Though I had made a shift from wanting to help and fix people of color to wanting to develop my own ‘diversity’ skills, I didn’t get how problematic my approach still was. far from the important work of understanding systemic racism and its impact on my life outcomes and perspective, my new aim was to understand some magical set of cross-racial manners. (p. 126)

In the elementary school her children attended, Irving began to interrogate the outcomes for children of color, particularly boys. The way she tells her stories allows a reader whose experience is similar, or who perhaps hasn’t reached similar moments of recognition, get to understanding at a moderate pace, but is admittedly frustrating to me. For instance, I cringed at her initial reaction to concerns about the Halloween parade (p. 139). How could you live in a diverse community like Cambridge, with immigrants who are not Christian, and never consider that newcomers’ religious practices might differ from those of white, quasi-Christian American ones?

Chapter 26, “Surviving Versus Thriving,” describes the work of Jane Elliott, who began teaching students about discrimination in response to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to point out that Irving and I are both in the age bracket Elliott began with, before moving on to conduct similar work with adults. (Read more about her work here.) The temporary reaction she elicited from subjects of her exercises are of course only a tiny fraction of the kind of psychic and physiological response to the stress of discrimination experienced by People of Color on a daily basis. The story of Jared in chapter 27 illustrates how the system of discrimination prepares children to think of themselves as naturally successful or doomed.

White friends, Irving concludes this section by identifying herself as the elephant in the room when it comes to conversations about race. Her background, education, and social expectations made difficult conversations seem impossibly embarrassing. How do we find a way to be vulnerable without being fragile, to be humble about our ignorance without asking our friends of color to do our work for us?

  1. As a person raised to believe there was etiquette for every situation, though mine with a Virginia flavor, I cringed with recognition many times throughout this section. Irving asks us to explore the rules we have for social interaction and examine how they might hamper authentic conversation and relationship. Can you name some basic social rules that go back to your childhood?
  2. If, like me, you cringed, what was the passage that made you want to write, “No!” or “Ouch!” or “Aargh!” in the margins?
  3. What expectations did you have for your life as a second-grader?
  4. Can you name a time when you recognized you had an unearned/undeserved advantage?

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group! If you are interested in a video chat discussion of the book, mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 18, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Details will be available in the New Year.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, week 4

“People were good. My family was good. I was good, right?”img_6170

Here we have the crux of the problem that white people have with racism. We have been taught that racism is bad…but we are not bad people, and the people we know are not bad people, so therefore we cannot be racist.

In chapter 17 of Waking Up White, Irving begins to delve into the identity and perception problem that is ultimately at the core of the ways we perpetuate racism–usually unknowingly.

“America’s use of racial categories seemed fraught with unfairness, cruelty, and dishonesty. Yet my parents’, grandparents’, and entire extended family’s life philosophy, as I understood it, had revolved around fairness, compassion, and honor. This was my legacy, the one I took the most pride in passing on to my children. Discovering I’d been complicit in perpetuating a system that was so very terribly bad flew in the face of all I’d understood about myself.”

This is why dismantling white supremacy is so difficult: because we get defensive when we are told that’s who we are. We want to believe the story about ourselves that doesn’t involve race at all…and we don’t see how that is a privilege reserved for the powerful majority. We have many generations of narrative that tells us we can’t possibly be the problem…when in fact it is the narrative itself that is the problem, and we are unwitting participants in it. And, as Irving points out, “If you can’t see a problem for what it is, how can you step in and be a part of its solution, no matter how good a person you are?”

Once she began to see the narrative with clearer eyes, Irving tried to imagine her life if one parent had been non-white. She quickly realized that the life she had known as a child and young adult would have been impossible, and her current social and economic status would be much different due to historical factors well beyond her control. And then finally, at the end of chapter 18, she begins to realize what “color blind” really means–it means willfully ignoring a major part of someone’s life, experience, family, and history. I confess I wish she had gone further down this road, because I think her two sentences still neglects a serious problem with being “color blind”–that even as it professes to be a philosophy that “just sees the person” it in fact dehumanizes by insisting that a defining characteristic of someone’s embodied presence in the world is irrelevant or even non-existent. Claiming not to see color means we do not see the person.

As part of the evidence for this truth, I submit chapter 20, in which Irving describes how she spent a fair portion of her career “helping the inner city youth.” Her white savior syndrome was strong–so strong that she wouldn’t even go into “those” neighborhoods where the kids came from, but didn’t recognize that they might also feel uncomfortable in her neighborhood. She spoke with other organizations about what they thought “those” kids lives were like, but “never once did I sit down with a group of these kids, their families, or their teachers”….as I read, I felt like I was reading a history of colonial missionary work rather than an account of someone my parents’ age. She was describing the very thing that many of us have been working to undo–the idea that we can decide what other people need and do it for them. And then she describes her likely reaction had someone told her she was part of that pattern:

“The idea that my world might feel uncomfortable or even dangerous to someone else would have been inconceivable to me. Had someone tried to point out to me that I was part of a national pattern of white people deciding what people of color needed, and white people holding the purse strings, I’m guessing I would have silently smiled while thinking How Ungrateful.” (from chapter 20)

Bumping up again on “I’m a good person,” it seems.

A key component of the anti-racism journey is to learn to separate our understanding of ourselves from the reality of the larger systems we benefit from and perpetuate. Defensiveness will get us nowhere–and worse, it actively harms our neighbors. This is 100% our work as white people–no one else can do our internal work for us, but when we don’t do it, it’s everyone else who suffers.

All that is necessary for the triumph is evil is for the good to do nothing. ~Edmund Burke

 

Questions for Reflection & Discussion–please join in the comments below or in our Facebook group! (note: there is a reflection question at the end of each chapter, as well, and we’d love to hear your answers to those, too.)

  1. When was the most recent time that your reflexive thought in the midst of a situation was “but I’m a good person”? What was happening? How did the situation play out as you offered that response? How might you catch yourself next time before getting defensive?
  2. Have you ever been uncomfortable or afraid to go to a particular neighborhood? How do you think residents of that neighborhood would feel in yours? Why do we have these gut reactions to each others’ “home turf” (as it were)?
  3. Have you ever claimed to be color-blind? How does that philosophy (which, admittedly, many of us were taught over the past several decades) affect your relationships with people of color? with other white people? with yourself? Can you imagine someone saying they don’t see or take into account something so visible and defining about you? How does that feel? (i.e., “I don’t see gender.” or “I don’t see disability.”…)
  4. Irving describes (in chapters 19 & 20) two colleagues who were black–the first, Herb (whom she met when she was young, just starting out), she says “made it impossible to ever again buy into the idea that black people are lazy, less intelligent, dangerous, or any other sweeping malignment.” The other, Nan, she hired because her skin color would allow her to be more effective at working with partner organizations…and because it would get her (Irving) off the hook for actually going to black neighborhoods. (We won’t even go into her calling them by only their first names when in the previous section she learned about the importance of using titles and last names as a sign of respect…) When you look back on your various experiences, do you see any of this kind of cognitive dissonance in your own life? How might you be more intentional about living consistent with the values you profess when it comes to race?
    1. related: for those who read Trouble I’ve Seen, how does this set of experiences compare to Dr. Hart’s description of being the black man who changed nothing about his friends’ perceptions of other black students? What might account for that disparity?

 

“Seeing myself in a system with people as opposed to a sympathetic observer on the sidelines changed my relationship to the problem. I understood then that it was possible to be both a good person and complicit in a corrupt system.”  (from chapter 17)


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

RevGal Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, Week 2

This week covers “Midlife Wake-Up Calls”, chapters 6-11 (approx. 40 pages).

How do you feel about pain?

Let’s assume that, in general, you don’t like pain.

Which bothers you more- the idea of you being in pain or the idea of someone else being wuwcoverfinal-200x300in pain?

Do you have additional questions, perhaps is the person is pain close in relationship to you  or close in proximity? Does it make a difference to you to be able to choose that someone else is in pain, but far away from you? In fact, if you want, you can make it so that you rarely have to see or interact with the person who is experiencing the pain.

Now what if the choice is that you might be a little uncomfortable or that a person you don’t know, and with whom you can be prevented from interacting, will experience pain? What do you choose?

In the section “Midlife Wake-Up Calls”, Debby Irving realizes that many generations of white people chose, deliberately, the pain of others over their own discomfort. The idea of learning and accepting that melanin does not actually amount to any kind of real, scientific, measurable biological difference between human beings was anathema. Physical, fiscal, and fickle American realities were entirely structured around the idea that white was right and might.

In order to keep a racial and class system that is based on a “pigment of the imagination” (p. 66), white men and women had to accede to the inequities of the distribution of the GI Bill, the benefits of the Social Security system, business and financial means and connections, and the glorification of “Manifest Destiny”. Irving found herself wrestling with and grieving over the truths that had unknowingly paved and smoothed the path of her life, while tripping up so many others. She is nearly half a decade old when she first hears of red-lining and blockbusting, real estate practices that essentially ghettoized black Americans and purposely created financial hardship and ruin.

With her eyes opened, Irving begins to grapple with the idea of “headwinds and tailwinds”. Privileges are tailwinds. They lift one up and accelerate one’s progress, beyond or without one’s acceptance, request, or recognition. Prejudices are headwinds. They impede progress and hamper effort. They may be hard to measure and the distress they create is behind the people who are trying to move- making them harder to see, but easier to feel.

The biggest problem with America’s idea of racial categories is that they’re not just categories: they’ve been used to imply a hierarchy born of nature. (62)

The headwind of racial biases has caused untold damage to American culture, neighborhoods, economies, and our national psyche. Our inability to grasp, ponder, and rectify this painful reality is due to the fact that we continue to say that we would rather someone far from us experience a little pain, rather than sit with our own internal discomfort. Reckoning with the vast racist inequities of American history (and the way we talk about it) is necessarily uncomfortable. Being drained of a poison hurts. Swallowing the antidote- that as white Americans, we are born with a tailwind that we do not want to relinquish (and that some among us believe we deserve)- is a bitter pill.

The rise in white nationalism that we are currently experiencing is entirely based on a social and societal construct that being white- at any class level- was better than being black. Facing people of color (and women) who reasonably want and expect to be treated as equals and afforded equal opportunities means that the mental hierarchy of many men (and some women) has to be undone. Very few people sign up for psychic pain. Thus, they fight and resist this truth. They lash out at those who insist upon it and fight for it.

Dismantling white nationalism requires all white people to do the work that Irving starts in this chapter. Looking at the truth of American history, having real and honest conversations about inequality, imperialism, barriers, gentlemen’s agreements, and a lot more. These conversations must happen with children, partners and spouses, friends, family members, co-workers, fellow congregation members, community leaders, and across all platforms. It will hurt, but it cannot wait. White people have outsourced this pain long enough.

There are questions at the end of each chapter that you are encouraged to use for your own reflection and in the comments. In addition, here are some other thoughts:

1. Irving was very surprised to learn about the extreme inequity in distribution of the GI Bill to black soldiers after World War II. When she told her husband about what she had learned, he doubted her facts until he researched the issue for himself. Did you know this information before reading about it in this book? If so, how and when did you learn about it? How do you think most Americans could come to learn and understand this aspect of our history?

2. In ch. 6, Irving details her history of trying to “help” children and adults from backgrounds different from her own. Later she realizes that “helping” actually meant “making more like her”. In other words, the work in which she was engaged was, intentionally or not, attempting to make minorities act more “white”. How does the framework of social engagement and assistance through charitable and educational entities contribute to racism in America?

3. Irving repeats the information that blew her mind: there is more diversity within different ethnic groups than across them. What does that mean to you? How would you communicate that across the Thanksgiving table?

4. White nationalism has never been absent from America, but its adherents are certainly feeling a certain amount of liberty in public expression these days. It is important to realize that this is a movement of emotion and power, not facts. Some people never let facts get in the way of a good argument or their desire for power. How can we use the language of headwinds and tailwinds to disrupt this narrative and where?

5. What is an uncomfortable realization you had about yourself or your own history during the reading of this section?

This week in the United States, we mark a holiday that should actually be fraught with wrestling with our history of whiteness, decimation of native populations, denigration of non-white societies as valuable or complex, and manifest destiny. Ironically, our failure to  fully contend with this things over the past 200 years means that we are still reaping and suffering from them today. Historical acid reflux… mmm, pass the sweet potatoes.

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGalBlogPals, RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White, week 1

Waking Up White is the second book in our RevGals anti-racism project. I encourage you to also read the posts and discussion about the first book, Trouble I’ve Seen, though of course it is not a pre-requisite for this book. In fact, Waking Up White is intentionally written for those of us white people who need to go back to the beginning and consider how we got here in the first place.

The discussion of this book will happen in sections, so this week we have the introduction and section one, “Childhood In White” which includes the first five (brief) chapters.

“I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, American Indian, and Latino, were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race–just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured.”  (from the introduction)

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Little Teri

Several months ago, I heard a white person (of my age–late GenX) tell me they didn’t have a race or culture. I think my mouth may have physically dropped open. I confess it had never occurred to me that I didn’t have a race or culture. Perhaps this is because I come from a family that had only been in the USA for less than a hundred years when I was born, and because so much of my family was German…I grew up being told that I needed to be very careful how I thought of myself and others because I looked just like the ideal Aryan girl–dark blonde hair, fair skin, green-blue eyes. I can’t even remember the first time my parents and grandparents began to tell me that my coloring was never ever to be thought of as superior, no matter how many people might treat me better than others because of it.

I think this facet of my childhood life, which I am beginning to see was an oddity, is its own form of privilege. I am constantly surprised and frustrated that other white people don’t see what has been self-evident to me since before I could read. And then I have trouble holding a rational conversation when people say things like “white isn’t a race” or “I’m just normal.” But I am trying, and Irving’s book is helpful.

As she reflects on her childhood, Irving tells stories of the type we all need to learn the courage to tell: stories that cast both her family and herself in an unflattering light, but form the backdrop for a biased worldview. She talks of her mother’s explanation of “what happened to the Indians” and how horribly incomplete and biased it was, and also her own passive acceptance of everything she was told as she grew up in her wealthy white suburban life. She writes about her family background, her social circle, and economic location as realities that formed her understanding of “normal” and her beliefs in the quintessential American Dream. She says, of family stories told at dinners and holidays and summers at the cabin:

“Tales of Mayflower settlers and other early American ancestors suggested to me that America provided a kind of neutral template on which anyone could design the life they chose. Not only did those stories affirm my place in American history; they translated into a sense of confidence and ability that took hold from an early age.”  (chapter 2)

She goes on to discuss how “negative” emotions were not allowed–especially anger. And she notes the “tragedy that over time my natural curiosity, open mind, and loving heart dulled, keeping me from confronting wrongs I never knew existed.” (chapter 1)

This is exactly where many white people find ourselves–unconscious of the depth of wrongness in the system, and our complicity in it even though we did not construct it; unconscious of our own race and culture (and sometimes our class) and how that affects our worldview and our expectations of ourselves and others; unconscious of the ways our own minds and hearts have been dulled, and so unable to open and sharpen them again until we do this hard work that Irving begins in the book: looking honestly at our own stories, and the stories of our family, digging into both memories and real history, and placing ourselves in the arc of the American reality so that we can better participate in bending it toward justice.

 

 

Questions for reflection and conversation  (note: there is a question for reflection at the end of each chapter, and you are most definitely invited to answer those in the comments too!)

  1. As you think back on memories of your childhood, where are people of a different race, culture, or class than yours? (For Irving, they are in a mural and in books, for instance–that counts!)
  2. What stories does/did your family tell about who you are (as an individual and as a family)? What morals or lessons did you take away from those stories, and how (if at all) do they make room for people whose experience of life is very different?
  3. In chapter 3, Irving notes that some may think her story is more about class than race, but then she tells two stories including one about a white man who shoplifted his way to college tuition, and one about a black historian celebrating being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and being mistaken for a servant in the dinner club. When you hear stories like that, what do you feel? (not just what do you think!) Have you personally experienced or witnessed moments when expectations were clearly formed based mainly on skin color?
  4. In chapter 4, Irving says “In the same way I was trained to make myself visible and seek opportunity, many children of color are trained to stay under the radar and avoid suspicion.” This is a massive gap in the way people see and navigate the world, and a major player in the white culture’s sense of how “they” just need to work harder to be like “us.” Have you experienced this gap, or fallen into the trap of encouraging people of color to just fit in better to white culture? How have you seen this play out in your own relationships, work environment, and friendships?
  5. The self-understanding created by Irving’s family stories, relentless optimism, and repressed emotions leaves no room for people whose experiences of the world are markedly different, who have reason for outrage, or who don’t reap the rewards her family has seen. Are there parts of your own identity that crowd out the possibility of other, equally valid, experiences and reactions?

“White has long stood for normal and better, while black and brown have been considered different and inferior. Social value isn’t just a matter of feeling as if one belongs or doesn’t; it affects one’s access to housing, education, and jobs, the building blocks necessary to access the great American promise of class mobility.” (chapter 3)

This is why we do this work: because not only is there no reason for white to be normal and better, but also the insidious racism of majority culture is actively harmful to our sisters and brothers, and they deserve our best effort in dismantling the structures that have bound us all for so long.

Please join the conversation in the comments below, and/or in our Facebook group!


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGals Anti-Racism Project: Waking Up White

wuwcoverfinal-200x300The next book for our anti-racism book discussion will be Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving (Elephant Room Press, 2014).

We’ll start our conversations next Wednesday, November 16, with the first section, “Childhood in White,” which comprises the first five chapters of the book. The discussions will be led by Martha Spong, Julia Seymour, and Teri Peterson.

This is the book also recommended by the two RevGals who are also Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, so we hope many of our members will be interested in discussing the book.

We’re going to offer some opportunities for online video chat about the book. If you would like to participate, leave a comment.

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RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Conclusion

Trouble I've SeenWe’ve come to the final chapter and epilogue of Drew G.I. Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Herald Press, 2016).

In the last chapter – “Where Do We Go From Here?” – Dr. Hart suggests seven anti-racist practices for the church:

  • Share life together – “The practice of sharing life together has everything to do with no longer allowing the racial hierarchy to pattern our social lives, manage our geographic movements, shape identities of superiority and inferiority, or interpret one another through white supremacist and antiblack gazes. We are free to follow Jesus into forbidden spaces we were socialized to avoid, spaces in which we previously believed we didn’t belong.”
  • Practice solidarity in the struggle – “…explore what is already happening in your region rather than trying to start something new. It is too easy to try to be saviors when in reality we are just allowing our egos to operate. We need to come alongside good people already doing good work.”
  • See the world from below – “People need to put their bodies in places where they are going to slowly learn to see things that they would never see otherwise. The secret that followers of Jesus find along the journey is that the view from below, rather than above, offers a better position from which to see what God is up to.
  • Subvert racial hierarchy in the church – “…the community’s life must yield itself to the concerns of those historically excluded. It means that things like job descriptions, church food and meal choices, book selections, curriculum structures, money allocation, meeting times, and the composition of decision-making groups like the church board must be radically reconfigured.”
  • Soak in Scripture and the Spirit for renewed social imagination – “God is not neutral in the midst of human suffering and oppression…And the evidence of lives yielded to the Spirit and soaked in Scripture will always be lives that are Jesus-shaped.
  • Seek first the kingdom of God – “The church will joyfully sell all the ugliness of racialized hierarchy, sexist patriarchy, and selfish classism when we find the true treasure in the field.”
  • Engage in self-examination – “Each of us must engage in some soul-searching and self-examination. No one in America is untouched by the currents of rival bias and white supremacy.”

Readers, what think you? Would this book be of help in a discussion of racism in your church? Would it change views? Could you work on or toward these seven practices? I welcome your responses in the comments here or in our Facebook group.

The next book for our anti-racism book discussion will be Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving (Elephant Room Press, 2014). We’ll start our conversations on Wednesday, November 16, with posts here and in our Facebook group. This is the book also recommended by two RevGals, Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson, in their roles as Co-Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (USA), so we hope many of our members will be interested in discussing the book. We’re also going to offer some opportunities for online video chat; please comment here if you might like to participate, or email me (revgalblogpals@gmail.com). 


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Week 8

immigration-chart

200 Years of Immigration – click here for the interactive chart

“The more that white people killed and displaced Native Americans, the more they sought to shackle and bring over black bodies. The presence of the original hosts of the land constituted a threat to white identity and the sense of America as a ‘white country.'” Drew G.I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (p. 145)

In Chapter 8, “Renouncing Every Hierarchy,” Dr. Drew Hart calls on the reader to examine and challenge not only racial hierarchy but all the “human-constructed hierarchies that exist in our communities. This is so that, as God’s people, we can live more and more into the new humanity of Christ.” (p. 146) He continues to make the case that we are called as Christians to live Jesus-shaped lives incompatible with white supremacy, but in this chapter he expands his view to include hierarchical bias against racial groups beyond black Americans, as well as the effects of sexism and classism in American culture. In each case he warns that as Christians we must “resist all types of lording over others.” (p. 146)

Hart begins with the treatment of Native Americans, and the persistent ongoing betrayals by white Americans in the form of treaties and covenants broken. He describes his own dawning understanding of the relationship between the black experience and the Native American experience. Then, drawing on the work of Katelin Hansen, David Park, and Jonathan Tan, Hart explores the bias Asian Americans face, in society and in the church. Why, even after generations, are Asian Americans treated as “other?” He particularly mentions the evangelical church, but we will want to look at our mainline denominations as well. In relation to current immigration standards and conversations about Hispanic people who want to come to the United States, Hart urges us to ask “Jesus-shaped questions: Does the law please God? Does the law reflect the inbreaking kingdom of Christ?” (p. 149)

Where sexism is concerned, Hart tells the story of a college professor who opened his eyes to the way Jesus saw women through an exploration of Luke’s anointing woman.

“I saw Jesus centralizing this woman while scolding a religious man who had clear social standing…From that point forward, I began to see that Jesus was doing something radical in his society, challenging patriarchal expectations and limitation of women in a manner I had not known or been taught.” (p. 152)

renisha-mcbride

#SayHerName

Hart notes that even within minority communities, women are oppressed, and that the double identification of black woman is a deeper disadvantage. He explores the story of Renisha McBride, shot and killed by a white man when she asked for help after a car accident in 2013, but he also notes that the deaths of black women do not get the same attention or level of protest as those of black men. He names the courage of black women in our history who organized, supported, and participated in the civil rights movement.

As he moves into a discussion of gendered and class privilege, Hart loses me for the first time in the book. In 2016, a book interrogating oppression that goes beyond anti-black racism to include people of other heritages, and then to lift up gender and class discrimination, but does not give equal weight to homophobia is missing not only an important factor in life today, but also a crucial area of misused power and prejudice on the part of the church. Hart writes, after naming how white men may not see that their experience is unique,

“Similarly, individuals can be women or part of the LGBTQ community and experience discrimination in some areas of their lives but participate in and benefit from dominant culture, forgetting other social realities beyond their own.” (p. 157)

While this is true – as a queer person, I am readily able to name my own privilege (white, well-educated, raised upper-middle class, frankly passing for straight most of the time unless I name my queerness) – I take issue with the generalized dismissal, because the book otherwise forgets the sisters and brothers in Christ who are less advantaged, including poor LGBTQ+ youth, queer women of color who face particular bias in the church, and trans people of all ages and races, to name a few.

226a7950518819cbf1433d4c86571acfThe rest of the chapter goes on to make a familiar case, that white supremacy also depends on white male supremacy. Hart urges the reader to keep Jesus at the center of our lives and “embrace God’s beloved community as equals in Christ.” (p. 165)

Some of this week’s discussion questions are taken from Herald Press’s excellent discussion guide.

  1. Native Americans were forcibly removed from the same land that African people were forcibly brought to. How might this effect the interplay between these groups today?
  2. Hart writes, “More often than not, dominant-culture Christians describe undocumented immigrants as ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘anchor babies,’ rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ.” (p. 150) Does this reflect your experience in the church? If not, does it cause you to question your own experience as being non-dominant? How can Christians outside the mainstream affect the language being identified as “Christian?”
  3. Are you familiar with the hashtag, #SayHerName? Where have you seen it? What stories do you associate with it?
  4. What work have you done to understand the experience of oppressed people?
  5. How do you see “The Myth of the Superior White Male Figure” at work in your church or community? How can you work to undo it?

Find our post about Chapter 1 here,  our post about Chapter 2 hereour post about Chapter 3 hereour post about Chapter 4 hereour post about Chapter 5 hereour post about Chapter 6 here, and our post about Chapter 7 here. Join the conversation here or in our Facebook group.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RevGals Anti-Racism Project: “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Week 7

56b60bf91cba47ed7e5f1f23fb43155c-500x500x1Money, power, respect” is a fundamentally American doctrine. The LOX, in this song, merely put a black aspirational twist on an old and familiar tune. The song holds a mirror to dominant society’s internal motivations and exposes the real lure these dominant cultural values have on those within subcultures of American life. All of American society is enticed by the American trinity of money, power, and respect. – Drew G.I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (p. 132)

In Chapter 7, “The Lure of Status and Respect,” Dr. Drew G.I. Hart takes the reader with him on a trip to Kenya via London, where he notes the residual effect of a dominant culture seen in tea-drinking and in assumptions about what is “right” and “proper.” Why would they imitate the colonizing British culture, when there was such a clear contrast between the poverty left behind and the wealth exported to London?

Of course it is true in the United States as well. In the following quotes I am reversing two sentences on page 135.

American wealth, power, and respect were built through domination and violence, realities that many conveniently forget or avoid considering.

As a reader, I find the above statement sad but true, and yet I am able to keep it at a personal distance. That is not true of the preceding sentence.

…in America, power, land, and wealth were gained directly by stealing the land of the indigenous people and stealing the bodies and labor of Africans for several centuries.

The strength of Hart’s writing throughout lies in his patient making of the argument from all angles, to move readers toward revelation whether their primary approach to the text is intellectual, intuitive, or emotional. In this chapter, Hart calls us on to examine our own cultural biases, and he finally touches a sore spot for this reader, grammar.

Those with power should not make linguistic and cultural differences into moral judgments, diminishing the creativity of people who have survived their oppression. Saying “ain’t” instead of “is not,” for example, has nothing to do with morality and ethics; supposedly “proper” speech is simply a manifestation of the power of the dominant group that universalizes its norms. (p. 136)

The doctrine and politics of respectability is not the sole property of white Americans. Hart reminds us that black leaders also criticize hip-hop, tattoos, and fashions that fall outside the dominant norms. He lifts up Kanye West’s song, “All Falls Down,” as a critique of dominant culture: “they made us hate ourself and love they wealth.” Hart calls on the church to examine itself with the same kind of transparency and gives us the example of Paul as a model, pointing particularly to Romans 12:1-2. Paul lived in a time when following the norms of the dominant Roman culture was assumed to be the way to safety and success. Yet he writes “Do not be conformed to this world.”

Nonconformity is the message: nonconformity in our bodies, nonconformity in our minds, and nonconformity in our ways of being in the world… Noncomformity means living in solidarity with the lowly: caring for the poor, loving enemies, renouncing retaliation, and overcoming evil forces by participating in God’s goodness. (p. 140-1)

Church, are we ready for this?

Some of this week’s discussion questions are taken from Herald Press’s excellent discussion guide.

  1. What is “respectability”? How does it play out in the church? How does the notion of respectability adversely affect the work of racial equity?
  2. Think about your church. Is there a dominant understanding embodied in the way you dress and talk, or decorate the church? What do these choices say about your belief in God or your commitment to following Christ? Are they an important expression of your theology?
  3. What media do you consume that might give you a perspective from that of dominant white culture? Do you read books, listen to music, follow blogs or Twitter feeds by people of color?
  4. What does Romans 12:1-2 mean for us in today’s racialized world? How should we respond?

Find our post about Chapter 1 here,  our post about Chapter 2 hereour post about Chapter 3 hereour post about Chapter 4 hereour post about Chapter 5 here, and our post about Chapter 6 here. Join the conversation here or in our Facebook group.


About the RevGals Anti-Racism Project: As a majority white organization incorporated in the United States, the leaders of RevGalBlogPals feel called to confront systemic racism in the U.S. As a global ministry, we feel called to oppose minority oppression and racial injustice in all nations. We hope this book discussion will be a step toward awareness and away from unconscious centering of whiteness.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: RevGals Anti-Racism Project | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Saturday Prayer: #thisis2016

The world gets inside my head sometimes. More than I would like. And I am angry.

God, where are you? And how is it we have strayed so far from your radical word?

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

When women are grabbed and their bodies assaulted because the world have told men that they are property.

When women who enjoy sex are compared to said men because they actually don’t know the difference between consent and not.

When I worry about my beautiful 8 year old hearing comments like “I’ll be dating her in 10 years”.

When I worry about my African-American boyfriend leaving the house and driving a few hours for work simply because “one bad cop” might pull him over.

When my Asian-American friends are yelled at on a consistent basis “go back to China” even though they may or may not be Chinese and some of their families immigrated to the US before my “white” family did.

God #thisis2016 help us. Please, Lord, we need you.

I pray in your name with tears, heartache and righteousness anger. Amen.

 


The Reverend Shannon Meacham is the mother of two exhausting children Maggie and Gus, and she currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


 

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