Anti-Racism article archives
Seeking to be an Anti-Racist: Living the Love of Jesus
Click the titles below to expand the article
More Myths About Racism
More Myths About Racism
Black American History is American History
Why I Joined the Presbytery Anti-Racism Task Force
The Story of Buffalo’s Michigan Street Churches
So, what can I do?
Black History or Blacks in History?
Black History Month
The Bible and Anti-Racism
White and Privileged – What now?
A New Year’s Resolution
A Festival with a purpose
Advent, Christmas and….Anti-racism?
Seneca Winter Art Market and New Exhibition
So why is it so important, particularly for White Christians, to recognize White Privilege? First, make sure you understand the expression by Googling Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” or watching her Ted Talk on YouTube.
The Illusion of Race
Steps on the Road to Racial Equity
Good News for all People
Talking about race and racism can be challenging. There are different understandings of both the issues and the solutions. Also, this is seldom a discussion of abstract concepts. People’s lives are being negatively affected on a daily basis by racism. People are, in fact, dying because of racism. So, we must have these discussions. Below are some guidelines to consider, to make the discussions as meaningful as possible.
Be 100% present showing respect, curiosity and humility.
Listen actively which means truly listen without working on your response at the same time. Listen for words and the feelings underneath. Do not interrupt the other. Be aware of whether you are trying to control the conversation (and the conclusions) or truly listening.
Be open to new perspectives, or at least the views of the other. Ask yourself why they feel as they do. Try to suspend judgment and explore what is at the root of their views. Be aware of your own assumptions. Reject either/or and explore both/and. Is there some concern or purpose in the other that you can connect with to build communication bridges.
Use “I” statements (What I have seen is…), speaking your truth to the best of your ability and understanding. Avoid “You should…” statements or “Don’t you know that…” Talk from personal experience or offer resources that you have found helpful.
Monitor your reactions (literally read your body’s reaction). If you feel tense or stressed, consider why. Are you being challenged in a way that is uncomfortable? Is it possible that God is using this moment to teach you something? Lean into the issue versus avoiding it.
Recognize that you may hurt the other, even without intending to. Be open to hearing them express their discomfort and invite them to challenge you for therein can lie growth. In the same way, if you are hurt, speak up in love.
Do not try to fix the other. Work on yourself, not them. This is not a battle to win right now, but a step on a long journey.
Accept moments of silence. It is better than misspeaking.
Remember that you are both beloved children of God. Treat each other as just that and show love to them and yourself.
Enjoying the fullness of God’s Bounty
One way to have greater appreciation for the diversity of God’s creation is to enjoy the bounty of different foods and cuisines that are available to us. And how to do this? Well, one might explore different cuisines by using recipes from different cultures and shopping in specialty stores.
But what if you don’t have the time for that, or the skills? For some of us in Western New York, it is a little challenging because we don’t have a large selection of non-U.S. American restaurants. We may have a Chinese restaurant, an Italian restaurant and/or a Mexican restaurant. But to truly explore the different cultures with which our world has been blessed, it can help to go beyond restaurants that are serving the American version of other cuisines. If these restaurants are run by people who are presenting their own cuisine, that is a start to an authentic encounter. But be aware that to succeed as a restaurant, they have probably altered their cooking to suit U.S. American tastes. As in so many things, many of these different cuisines may not be presented authentically. For decades, even as we opened ourselves to new groups of immigrants, the cooking was adapted to Anglo-Saxon standards, as if it was the only standard that mattered.
So, enjoying different cuisines is good, and supporting restaurants that are owned by people who are cooking their own cuisine is good, but seeking out restaurants which are trying to serve food that is truly authentic to their culture is even better. This way their culture is being honored for what it is, not for what it has to become to be accepted by the U.S. But how to do that? In Buffalo there are many options. One of the most interesting is The West Side Bazaar (25 Grant Street) which includes food, and products, that are authentic to the immigrants who work there. If you don’t live in Buffalo check it out the next time you are in the city. But you can also check out your own region. Seek out restaurants of different cuisines. Talk to the people running the restaurant, asking about dishes that are authentic. Show that you truly honor their traditions, not just the compromises they have had to create.
Go onto Google and look for restaurants in your area. Do some research. Make a list. And enjoy God’s bounty.
Looking with our heart
In Luke chapter 17, we are told about Jesus’ healing of ten lepers. He tells them to go to their priests and nine rush off. But one “turned back and praised God.” What makes this story meaningful? The one who turned back was a Samaritan. In those days, Samaritans were considered to be unclean betrayers of all that it meant to be a good Jew, though they were descended from one of the original tribes. Who do we as a society find the most questionable, the least trustworthy, the most suspicious? As we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, some might say the answer to this question is Muslims, even though white males are the greatest perpetrators of domestic terrorism in our country today. The answer for others may include a person of another color.
In her July 2021 edition of “The Monastic Way,” Joan Chittister tells a story about her own surprising encounter. She was traveling in the Middle East and got separated from her group in a large confusing bazaar. She was suddenly surrounded by leering men and was desperate to find the cab and driver transporting her group. She was lost and disoriented and suddenly a “toothless, ragged, dirty beggar” started running toward her and screaming at her in a language she did not know. She turned away, terrified, when a young boy ran up saying, “It is okay, he is just telling you your taxi is over there.”
This is one part of the tragedy of racism. We usually talk about racism as a sin because we are to love one another. But it is also about what we, and our communities, lose through racism. We cut ourselves off from what the other may have to tell us or teach us. God speaks to us not just through scripture but also through those around us. As Chittister says, “Scripture is teaching us not to count anybody out…Scripture is telling us that every person we meet is a potential source of life for us if there is only enough heart in us to accept it.”
Some of us remember when all women were labelled as either Miss (for an unmarried woman) or Mrs. (for a married woman). By the 1960s, however, many women decided that they didn't feel that their marital status was the most significant factor in their identity and began to reject such labels. Many adopted Ms. as their preferred form of address so that their identity would be rooted in who they were and not their relationship (or lack thereof) with a man. Now, of course, we often leave off any form of address and such labels certainly no longer define a person. But at the time it was revolutionary for women.
In the current scholarship surrounding the history of slavery in the U.S., many are choosing to change the language used to describe those involved in the system of slavery. First, the men, women, and children who were previously called slaves are being called the enslaved. At first, this may seem an insignificant change, and it certainly doesn't change the cruel and unjust nature of slavery. But, it does change how the enslaved person is perceived. When someone is called a slave (a noun), it can seem to define their very nature - they are nothing but a slave, a piece of property in an unjust system (which is of course untrue).
When someone is described as enslaved (an adjective), however, their enslavement doesn't define them, it only describes their situation (still of course unjust). For example, before the 1960s, a woman might be called Mrs. John Smith. This meant her entire identity was defined by her husband. We know nothing about her except her status as a wife. Yet, we know this wasn't all she was.
Along these lines, those who used to be called slave masters are called enslavers. They are not lifted up as slave masters or plantation owners as if there were some deserved prestige to their status. Runaway slaves are freedom seekers since runaway implies that they were fleeing unjustly.
Do these changes seem like word games? They aren't. Just like (probably more so) the women who changed how they were addressed, these are ways that people can take control of how they are defined by others. As we continue to work through the damage done by slavery and it's legacy over the last 160 years, we need to remember that words matter.
The Underground Railroad
You probably are aware that our region played a significant role in the underground railroad. But are you aware that there is a local museum dedicated to our region’s role in the railroad?
We are privileged to have a wonderful center in Niagara Falls that tells our story. The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is on 825 Depot Avenue WEST, Niagara Falls, 14305. The Heritage Center’s mission is “to reveal authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls that inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society.”
The Center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5 in the summer. There are tours available Tuesday through Friday at 12:30 which you can sign up for on the website. A variety of virtual tours are also available.
You can call the center at 716-300-8477 with any questions. The website is www.niagarafallsundergroundrailroad.org. The exhibits are very well presented and there is a very good gift shop with an interesting selection of books for further reading. It is well worth a visit.
God Loves Diversity
Diversity is not just a term invented by social scientists with an agenda. Diversity was created by God. We see it in Genesis: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind…” (Gen 1.24). Then, there is the Tower of Babel. At first, there was one people with one language. But, instead of exploring their world and caring for the creation, they only sought the power of God, believing it was theirs to claim. So, God brought diversity to them, different languages and customs, so that they would not spend their energy seeking God’s power, but rather the rich diversity of life on earth that they were created to enjoy and serve.
Jesus’ ministry also embodies God’s love of diversity. He reached out beyond the barriers of his society. He ministered to Samaritans, women, lepers and Gentiles. Then, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit brings together peoples from all over, with different languages and cultures, not to become the same, but to understand each other, and God, in their differences. Through Paul and others, Greeks, Romans, and Ethiopians are brought into the church.
Even today, the Presbyterian tradition lifts up the importance of different voices in our emphasis on working in governing bodies, committees and in our connectionalism. It is a recognition that only when diverse voices are brought together, can we discern God’s will. Of course, we have work to do in achieving real diversity, but support for it is there in our system.
But is this just a nice concept that Christians might discuss at their Bible study or coffee hour? Recently Citi Group did a study of the racial-economic divides in business, education, income and wealth and determined that ignoring these issues has cost our national GDP 16 trillion dollars over the last 20 years. God’s truths are not abstracts. They are of real importance for us with real world consequences for us all.
Have you encountered much diversity of people in your life? Is there diversity in where you live, work and whom you socialize with? Have you considered seeking ways of experiencing more diversity? What might you gain? Do you see it as God’s will for you to explore this issue?
Color-blind racism: “I don’t see color, I see people”
When people discuss racism, often there is a white person who will say that they are not racist, they do not treat people differently because of their color. Robin DiAngelo, in White Fragility, claims this is a way people hide their racism from themselves. She points out that in the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream,” he spoke of a day when he would be judged by his character, not by the color of his skin. She suggests that this created a belief amongst the white population that if they just ignore color, racism will go away.
But, when a white person claims to be color-blind, it means that they may ignore the other’s uniqueness and personal experiences. For example, if a white person claims to ignore that someone is black, they risk ignoring the suffering that has been experienced from racism as well as the resilience and strength shown in enduring it. It normalizes all life experiences and attitudes as the same as a white, Western European person’s experiences.
Also, this approach can ignore the reality of systemic racism embedded in our healthcare, housing, education and more. White people may claim that color doesn’t affect their attitudes but if they ignore it, how can they stand against the injustices that People of Color experience. Finally, anyone who claims this to be true, would do well to carefully examine their own attitudes. A person may hope that they are color blind, but it may well not be the case, because the negative racial messages can be very deep.
If you are white, have you ever described yourself as color-blind, someone who doesn’t see race? Do a self-inventory of your attitude toward People of Color. Do you truly see no differences? Do you believe that you are truly color-blind? How does this affect your attitudes toward racism in our society?
Racism in our own Backyard
The Thomas Indian School (also known as the Thomas Asylum of Orphan and Destitute Indian Children) was formed in 1855 and was located near Irving at the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Erie County, New York. It was started by two Presbyterian missionaries. They taught in the Seneca language, employed teachers who spoke Seneca and were sympathetic to the challenges the children faced. Sadly, all that changed in 1875 when the state Board of Charities took over the school. Much has been said recently about the tragic circumstances of the unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada, but such events were not confined to Canada. These schools, and the related tragedies, were present here too. Because of this, there will be a Healing-Talking Circle held at 8 a.m. this Saturday, July 31st, at the Native Pride Travel Plaza on 20 in Irving (11359 Southwestern Boulevard). You are encouraged to attend as we Western New Yorkers, and Presbyterians, examine such tragedies in our own backyard. For more information about the Thomas Indian School, google “Thomas Indian School.”