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Race and Racism

I am Racist


Dear white sisters, brothers, siblings:

I have a very difficult confession to make.

I am racist.

I wish so much that I wasn’t. I try so hard not to be. But I am.

I think this is such a difficult confession to make because we often think people who are racist are “bad” and are intentionally hateful. Yes, there are many people who say and do overtly racist things. But the truth is, most people who are racist are good and well-meaning people, who don’t want to be racist, try their hardest not to be, and don’t even realize they are.

You see, I don’t belong to extremist groups like the KKK, call people racist names, or say things that are overtly racist. I even shut down jokes and call out comments that I recognize are racist. And yet, I am still racist.

I grew up in a diverse town and went to diverse schools. I currently live and work in a diverse community, and I have friends, colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, mentors and even a family member who are persons of color. And yet, I am still racist.

I follow people of color on facebook and twitter, read books and articles about racism and white privilege, attend anti-racism workshops, preach and teach in my churches about racism and white privilege, and participate in marches and rallies that address systemic racism.

But despite all of this: I am still racist.

Why?

Because my entire life I have been socialized to be. I have been conditioned to see the world through my eyes (the eyes that belong to a white body, which is the kind of body our society has supported, deemed the “norm,” and uplifted as superior for 400+ years.)

My school textbooks have been written from a white perspective. My television shows, movies, and books have been dominated by characters who look like me. The media I follow often perpetuates harmful racialized stereotypes and biases – no matter how progressive it might be.

Despite that my family taught me that all people were created in God’s image and deserve to be treated equally, I am still racist.  When I first see a person of color, I still sometimes fail to see her as an individual and instead see her as a stereotype. When I hear people of color share their stories of being racially profiled or denied upward mobility in their workplaces, I still sometimes question if their experiences are valid. There are still times I say, think, or do things that I don’t even realize are racist and that perpetuate systemic racism. There are still times when I worry too much about ticking off my white friends or accidentally saying something that is offensive to my friends of color that I don’t speak up when I should. There are still times when I am in the virtual or physical spaces of my siblings of color and I end up wanting to center myself. And when people call me out on any of this, there are still times I feel defensive and focus more on my own discomfort than on the fact that black and brown lives matter more than my feelings.

You see, as a white person who was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy (the belief that white people are inherently superior to people who are not) and that throughout its history has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces (slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, glass ceilings, racial profiling, racialized policing – to name just a few), it is extremely difficult to shed myself fully from my own racist views, biases, thoughts, and ways I believe the world should function… No matter how hard I try.

I am stuck in this 400-year-old deeply engrained racialized system that not even the activists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s could completely free us from.

And I benefit from this system. My whiteness is a privilege in it.

For example, as a white person, people look at me as an individual, not a stereotype. I will never be denied a loan, housing, or job interview because of my skin color. A store clerk will never follow me closely to ensure I don’t steal anything, and I will never be taken advantage of by a car salesperson because of my whiteness. I have always had access to quality education and upward mobility. My white body is not seen as a threat. People will not call the cops if they see me taking a walk in their neighborhood past sundown or quickly move to the other side of the road when they see me walking on the sidewalk where they are walking. I will not be pulled over in my car for no reason or on my bike because I look “suspicious.” And if I do get pulled over, I will never have to worry that if I reach for my ID in my pocket, make a quick move, or even mouth back, I could get shot.

Among many things, racism denies the humanity in God’s beloved children and fails to see that God created all God’s children good, in God’s image, and beautifully and wonderfully just the way they are.

Racism is a painful and deadly sin.

And I am racist.

I live in a racialized society dominated by racist systems that were founded by white supremacy. And I benefit from and contribute to these systems.

Now, this may sound incredibly hopeless.

But it is not.

Because as Christians, we believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. Does this mean we are no longer sinners? Of course not. Because we are human.

But this does mean that we no longer have to be bound to sin. 

When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, whereby the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins.

And whenever we turn away from something, we also turn toward something in the opposite direction. In this case, when we turn away from our sins of racism and white privilege, we turn toward a life of being anti-racists. But we cannot just turn away from our sin, turn toward a new way of life, and then pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way. We must continuously and actively move toward this new way of life.

Since the sins of racism and white privilege are so deeply ingrained in us and in the racialized systems we participate in and are conditioned by, we must actively check our privilege and racism, confess it, repent of it, and be moved to take action. We must do this over and over and over again.

While I am still racist, I choose to not let racism and white privilege dominate who I am.

I choose to be actively anti-racist.

I choose to learn about and become more aware of my white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the harmful racialized systems of which I am a part. I choose to listen to and learn from the voices and the cries of my siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I choose to speak with my white friends, neighbors, parishioners, and family members about white privilege and interpersonal and systemic racism. I choose not to allow my discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, or the mistakes I have made (and will make) to take over me and hold me back from doing this important work.

While this new way of life is really difficult, in the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not pursue this way of life alone. We do this with the help of God and with one another.

So, fellow white siblings, will you join me in this holy anti-racism work of calling out and dismantling our white privilege, white supremacy, and the racialized systems we are conditioned by and benefit from? Will you support me and encourage me? Will you help open my eyes to the ways in which I am still blind to my own white privilege and racism?

I need you. We need each other. So let us do this holy work together.

And as we begin this work through confession, repentance, and action, let us hold onto the beautiful gift we have: that God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin and made us alive together with Christ.

In Jesus Christ, we are indeed forgiven! So now together let us act!


This blog post was originally published at https://revgalblogpals.org/2016/07/18/the-pastoral-is-political-i-am-racist/ and is reposted with permission. 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 the material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


If you are interested in further exploring race and racism, white privilege and systems of white supremacy, and how to be a good ally, contact us today to schedule our one-day workshop, Race and Racism: A Visitor’s Guide to Deconstructing Whiteness.


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Safe Place To Talk Diversity


When I first immigrated to the US from South Korea at the age of 8, I went to go live with my grandparents in Olathe, Kansas. I was the first Asian kid in my elementary school, not to mention the first Korean. Back then, kids had never heard of Korea, and they kept asking me “where are you from again? You’re not Chinese? You’re not Japanese? Then what exactly are you?”

I actually got sick of kids asking me about Korea or where I was from, so in 6th grade, I asked my teacher if I could do a report on Korea so the kids can understand my country. To be honest, I don’t even know where I got the idea nor the confidence to even ask my teacher. Thankfully, Mrs. Ater agreed and I was allowed to share about Korea, the country, and its culture, to my class for the next 2 weeks.I’m forever grateful to Mrs. Ater for giving me the opportunity to help kids understand how I’m different from them, but it doesn’t make me different as a human being. Kids were more intrigued, and they asked lots, and I mean LOTS of questions. This helped them realize the value in different culture… and while I had assimilated into the western culture in a lot of ways, they also understood that we spoke Korean and ate Korean food when we were with family.

While some kids from other classes made fun of my small eyes, the kids in my class kept wanting to ask me more questions… one kid even asked me to teach him to write in Korean.In 9th grade, I was randomly selected from my school district to attend diversity camp in Los Angeles. The purpose of this camp was to open dialogue about our perception of different ethnicities and cultures and to better understand one another. Some exercises included jotting down all the stereotypes that are out there, and addressing each one which dug into the history of each culture. I didn’t know it at the time, but this camp taught us how to connect with people that are different from us. And we all left the camp with friends from different cultural backgrounds.

Neither of my above experiences included God’s design nor perception of diversity. However, I feel that the church should create safe space for these conversations to happen. What I have learned at a young age through some of these experiences is that people are more alike than different. We all have the need to be liked. We all have the need to be understood. We all have a history that has shaped us to be who we are. And we all hurt when we’re misunderstood or judged.I have also learned that many of us are curious. We have questions. And the unknown or unanswered questions often lead to fear, and we often jump to our own conclusions or judgment of others. However, there aren’t many platforms where people, especially youths, are allowed to ask and learn about one another.

In the church, we often talk about how we need to love everyone regardless of our differences. However, we often don’t hear of churches nor youth groups that provide a safe place for these conversations to take place. So where and how do we start?

One idea is to provide discussion with a panel consisting of different ethnicities. This can be a place where students can ask honest questions (anonymous questions allowed) about race, culture, and diversity. The panel can help students better understand people that come from different backgrounds. It’s important to establish a safe environment, letting students know that their questions won’t be judged. It’s not a place where anyone needs to feel offended, and allow everyone the benefit of a doubt. Allow the panel and students to express their feelings. Lastly, be sure to allow time to debrief what they have learned, and how this has changed their initial perceptions.

Another idea is to provide an event where students of different backgrounds can connect. Shared experience usually connects people. Whether it’s serving together or playing together (if it’s a team event such as laser tag, make sure the teams are racially mixed). If your youth group isn’t diverse, invite an ethnic or multi-ethnic neighboring church youth group for a joint-event. Allow time for students to converse. You could even have “get-to-know-you-better” games. Once again, be sure to debrief with your group on what they have learned.

We often talk about loving others that are different from us in our youth groups… give opportunities for students to experience and practice being with others different from them. And allow them to live out their faith and the Word of God right now!

14” For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.”  ~Ephesians 2:14-16 (NLT)


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

 

Youth Ministry and the Problem of Shitholes


Today would have been the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 89th birthday.  On this day, as we approach the 50th year since he was assassinated, we celebrate the radical life and legacy of Dr. King – along with others who have and continue to work to dismantle systemic racism and fight for civil rights and justice.  And yet, as we celebrate how far we have come, we must acknowledge how much farther we have to go.

Just last week, on the eve before MLK weekend began, in a meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform, the President of the United States called El Salvador, Haiti, and other African countries “sh*tholes” and questioned why the U.S. needed more people from these countries rather than from places like Norway.

Let’s just be clear: it is downright racist for anyone to say and believe these things.  And it is inexcusable and incredibly dangerous for our country’s president to be the one to do so and for other national and religious leaders to remain silent or to downplay his beliefs and behaviors.

God created ALL humankind good and in God’s image. God created ALL nations good. There are no sh*thole countries.  And the United States is lucky to be made up of people from El Salvador, Haiti, and other countries in Africa, who have made this country a better place.

When we wonder if anything or anyone good can come out of that “sh*thole” continent, country, city, neighborhood, school, or whatever other place we label as inferior, let us just remember who Nathanael encountered after he said “Can anything good come out of (that sh*thole) Nazareth?” (John 1:43-51)

(I think it’s no coincidence that this just so happened to be yesterday’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading.)

Yet, Philip responded to Nathanael by extending him an invitation to open his eyes and his heart and to “come and see” for himself.  Building relationships with and learning about people and places that are different from us and from what we know help us begin to break down stereotypes and other barriers that cause misunderstanding, division, and hate.  As we see with Nathanael, once he started to build a relationship with Jesus, he began his journey toward his own transformation.

As youth ministers and youth workers, we have an opportunity to invite our youth to open their eyes and hearts and to “come and see.”

And as leaders in the church who work with youth, as Christians, and as members of the human race, we have a responsibility to call out racist stereotypes, words, actions, and beliefs for what they are and to denounce them… even and especially if they are carried out by our national leaders.  When we do so, we begin to model for our youth how they – too – can and should call out and shut down stereotypes and racist remarks and actions, no matter whom the person is that is behaving in such a manner.

This is not a partisan issue.  This is not about a political party or a particular politician.  This is about the evil and harmful sins of racism and white supremacy.  And they must be shut down.

Because to be silent about these statements and beliefs is to be complicit.  To ignore such statements and actions sends several strong messages to our youth and their families.

Our silences tells our youth and families that the racist statements and beliefs of the President are normal, are true, and thus can be continued.

Our silence tells our youth of color and their families that not only are they not valued by their country and many of their country’s leaders, but that they are also not valued by us, by the Church, or even by God.

Our silence tells all of our youth and families that some people – based on skin color and/or country of origin – are superior to others.  It says that God does not actually care about the “least of these” and that people of faith should just ignore God’s call (which we hear throughout the scriptures) to welcome and care for the immigrant and refugee, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim God’s good news of justice and peace to the world.

So how can we – as youth ministers and youth workers – break our silence?  

There are many ways, but we can start by:

  • Publicly calling out all forms of racism (individual and systemic, overt and covert) on social media, in church newsletters, in our sermons, and in our worship liturgy (prayers, calls to confession, music, etc).
  • Continuously educating ourselves on racism and immigration issues and actively working to become anti-racists. (For those of us who maintain white privilege: we must listen and learn about our own racism and how we benefit from and contribute to systemic racism.  This is a life-long journey.)
  • Leading youth group discussions about what scripture has to say about racial justice and immigration and teaching youth about immigration history in the U.S. and current issues related to immigration justice.
  • Leading youth group antiracism discussions, book studies, and workshops on how youth can identify, call out, and shut down racist comments and actions.
  • Helping youth learn about and from people and places that are different from them and from what they know.  (Teach youth about the history and current contexts of other countries, cities, and neighborhoods.  Take them on trips; share stories and videos; partner with other congregations; bring in speakers from immigration/refugee resettlement organizations, etc.)
  • Empowering youth to work for immigration and racial justice.  (Help them write and call their elected officials, asking them to publicly condemn racist statements and actions and to pass just policies.  Take them to town meetings, marches, teach-ins, and rallies that call for racial, economic, and immigration justice.)

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

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