Anti-Racism article archives
Seeking to be an Anti-Racist: Living the Love of Jesus
The AntiRacism Task Group believes it is called by Jesus to recognize, acknowledge and root out racism, be it interpersonal, structural or systemic, in our communities, churches, state and country. We admit our own complicity in racism and commit to this work as an essential expression of our faith. Our focus is to work with the people of the Presbytery to challenge and support each other in this Antiracism work. Our intent is to do this through encouraging education, discussion, partnership and action.
The articles below are a weekly feature in the Presbytery of WNY's weekly newsletter written by the Presbytery of Western New York’s Anti-Racism Task Group. This task group is made up of local Presbyterians who are seeking to grow in understanding of the issue of racism in our communities and churches. We seek to learn about the issues, listen to voices that need to be heard, and explore ways that we and others might respond to, and actively engage in the work of anti-racism. For more information contact Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to be taken to our anti-racism resource page
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Who are we?
Certainly, an essential truth for every Christian is to be found in 1 John 4.8: God is love. It is to be the context for every action we take. God’s love for us enables us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It empowers us to work for good in our world because God created it and God is love. And it encourages us to honest self-examination so that we can grow, every day, into being the disciple that God, out of love, created us to be.
But this love is not sentimental or sweet love. This is the love that led Jesus to die on the cross. This radical love challenges us to recognize how our sin is not just a mark on our own lives, but also harms our neighbor, and therefore God’s whole creation. Too often Christians treat sin as a personal fault that needs to be tweaked slightly so we can feel better about ourselves instead of recognizing how our sins can literally be destructive to others. In fact, our honest self-examination and admission of all our faults and errors is an act of love, love of God and our neighbor.
It is important, given the current political climate, that white U.S. Christians keep these principals in mind when looking at both their personal history and the history of their country. If honest self-examination is important for an individual so that they recognize how their sin hurts their neighbor, it is also important that they do the same in any community, even their country, to which they belong.
In his documentary, “Who We Are” Jeffrey Robinson says, “People are not just good or bad, saint or sinners. Countries are the same. The USA has done great things and it is racist.” Such a statement can make some people angry. They may believe it is unpatriotic to criticize one’s nation, or resist anything that threatens their belief in the special status of America. But Christians know that such honesty is essential to an authentic life of faith. It is important not just in an examination of our personal life, but also as we examine and critique our church and our nation, and our roles therein. Jesus himself said, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” People of faith should never turn from the truth. It is one of the six Great Ends of the Church of the PCUSA, after all. And a search for the truth about our country will inform our next few columns.
Celebrating the Seneca Nation, its culture and its traditions
There are two wonderful Seneca cultural centers in Western New York. Outside Rochester, in Victor New York, is the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site. In Salamanca, there is the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. These centers are well worth a visit.
At the Ganondagan Historic Site there is a frank and powerful exhibit about the coming of the colonizers and the consequences to the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee people. Another exhibit explains the different groups and traditions of the five members of the original Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Seneca, Oneida, Onondagan, Cayuga, Mohawk).
The Hiawatha wampum belt representing the five member tribes of the confederacy. The center symbol is the Tree of Peace and represents the Onondagans. The square to the far left represents the Senecas – Keepers of the Western Door.
In addition to the interior exhibits, there are nature walks and a replica Longhouse.
Special exhibits at Ganondagan:
WAMPUM Exhibit: March 25th through September 16th
This exhibit features objects from the Musee du quai Branly of France and the Rochester Museum and Science Center. The exhibition is the culmination of 300 years of European contact. The WAMPUM invited here, in many ways, are functioning again as objects that can restore peace and friendship. These belts were originally given to France as part of the negotiations between French traders and colonizers and the Haudenosaunee people back in the 1600’s.
The Matters are in the Wampum: Saturday, May 20th | 1 - 3 PM
Presented by Rohsennase Dalton LaBarge, M.D. (Akwesasne Mohawk, Bear Clan)
"We are told that long ago Onekò:rha' (Wampum) were gifted to our people at a time of overwhelming social upheavals. What these Oronkwáhsa (strands of wampum) transmitted was a path forward out of loss; a blueprint for how we might find collective peace in a challenging world. "
This interactive session will explore wampum as a living practice; an intersection of material craft, storytelling, and a continuous revisiting of possible pathways to heal as individuals and communities.
Special exhibits at the Seneca Art & Cultural Center:
At the Seneca Art & Cultural Center in Salamanca New York, there are exhibits that present the cultural beliefs of the Seneca people; traditionally crafted items, both ornamental and practical; a Seneca log cabin; the tragic facts of the Kinzua dam construction and more.
Carson Waterman – A retrospective: May 27 through April 2024
The exhibit of “Distinguished Onöndowa’ga:’ (Seneca) artist and national treasure of the Seneca Nation”, Carson Waterman will be a celebration of Waterman’s life, work, and profound impact on the representation of Onöndowa’ga:’ identity and visual culture over the past several decades.
Dedication of the Longhouse replica: May 27 1:00 p.m.
Ribbon cutting and dedication of the Longhouse at the Salamanca center.
5/14 Remembrance Weekend 2023
Beyond Hate: A Panel Discussion
Friday May 12, 2023
Presenters include Dr. Ibram Kendi and The Most Rev. Michael Curry
The panel is moderated by Dr. Melissa Haris-Perry, Host of NPR’s Takeaway Podcast
For details and registration information see the flyer below or click here
Also this weekend:
Wampum and Haudenosaunee Art
May 13, 2023, 1 p.m.
Ganondagan Seneca Art and Culture Center
7000 County Road 41
Victor New York
“Art helps people to see not just a particular piece of art but to see the world about you with fresh eyes. The best of art opens our eyes to see beauty eve in things we scarcely noticed previously.” G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Heron Clan)
The visual arts are a powerful way for a culture to present its history, its values and its challenges. Thus, to learn about a culture, one’s own or another’s, it is very helpful to study its art. This Saturday, the Ganondagan Seneca Art and Culture Center is hosting an exhibit of the art of G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Heron Clan). In addition to the exhibit, there will be a discussion of the relationship of Haudenosaunee art and Wampum (Wampum is described as a living practice; an intersection of material, craft, and storytelling.)
In the presentation, Jemison will discuss how wampum continues to inspire Haudenosaunee art. A gallery tour of contemporary Haudenosaunee pieces is also included. Jemison’s art has had worldwide impact providing social commentary and portraying his relationship with the natural world. His art embodies “orenda”: the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force.
What Kind of Christianity?
In 2022, William Yoo wrote a book that should be read by every Presbyterian who is interested in antiracism work (actually, make that every Presbyterian). It is “What Kind of Christianity: a History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church.” In the church today, we typically speak about the antiracism changes that are needed in our society. But, how often do we discuss the church’s own role in the history of American racism including its violence, oppression, and injustices? This is what Yoo has done in this challenging book.
He opens his book with a description of the events in the General Assembly of 1836. He explained that in 1818, the General Assembly declared that the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human race by another was totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ. But there were no consequences to the membership if they ignored this position statement. Now in 1836, Chillicothe Presbytery demanded that all Presbyterians take an active stance against slavery which they called a “heinous sin and scandal.”
The response of the Assembly was not what it should have been. One commissioner report said that the church should not interfere with Black enslavement because it was complex subject with a “great diversity of opinion and intensity of feeling” within the denomination. They said that any action would surely distract and divide their members. To these commissioners, the peace and unity of the church was of more importance than the suffering of millions of enslaved African Americans.
Many other Presbyterians also voiced their concerns about the Chillicothe proposal. They claimed it was a political matter outside the spiritual jurisdiction of their church. Again, the very real, physical suffering of millions was not to be addressed by Presbyterians because it was not a spiritual issue. Apparently, Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 about caring for those most in need were not relevant.
But, they did find things to discuss at this assembly. The commissioners spent eight days discussing an issue of doctrine. Apparently, there was concern that Rev. Albert Barnes’ recent sermons had not properly expressed the denomination’s teaching on original sin. Again, whether a minister was following church doctrine was more important than the suffering caused by enslavement.
Does any of this sound familiar? Don’t we still use these reasons for not discussing racism: it is divisive, it is too political, and/or there are other issues we need to discuss first. But these reasons are no more valid today than they were then. If Presbyterians are to be true to the gospel, antiracism work cannot be put off. And this involves some honest self-examination. Yoo’s book is an excellent, if painful, place to start.
So, I want to do something about racism, but…
Sometimes, when faced with the challenges of antiracism work, white people find themselves wanting to back down. They realize that there are costs to this work. Some family, friends, and others may not want to confront the truth of racism in our society. Also, this work means one must do some honest self-examination which is not always easy. As with all things, just because something is right, it doesn’t mean it is easy. But, we all know that being a Christian takes sacrifice, commitment and honesty. So, how could anyone expect anything less when they are doing God’s work.
Then, even when one is ready, there can be uncertainty about where to begin. If you are struggling to know where to start, or know someone who is, there are simple steps to start with. If one keeps at these steps, the way forward will be easier to discern.
Learn Black History. Don’t just look at the Public Service Announcements during Black History Month and Native American Month. Look for full length programs on television, PBS is particularly helpful. Read books. Learn about local history of African Americans, Indigenous people and others. Past editions of this column provide a number of local historical sites.
Support businesses run by People of Color. Use Google to find such local businesses.
Read books by People of Color. Listen to new voices to understand the reality of racism from a different perspective. Zawadi books on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo is Black owned and they would be glad to offer you suggestions for where to start. There are also numerous suggestions on the Resource List.
Spend time looking around you. Perhaps you can see racism in ways you have not noticed them before. How are People of Color portrayed on television or in the news? Do you see more positive or negative portrayals?
Sign up for the Presbytery Newsletter to follow the Antiracism column. This will help you stay on top of educational events, important speakers and area activities that will help you on your journey.
Finally, commit to this journey. Keep learning, listening, and looking. And, when you find opportunities for action – take them.
Find people in your church or community to talk with about these issues. The support of others on this journey is so valuable.
And ask for God’s support along the way.
A Painful Anniversary - May 14, 2023
This is an anniversary that no one wants to remember: the one-year anniversary of the Tops shooting on May 14, 2022. The Tops shooting was tragic and an all too powerful reminder of the reality, and evil, of racism in America. As this anniversary approaches, it is important that it not be ignored. The racism that led to this event continues to destroy lives.
The shooter knew that he could more easily murder people of color by driving to Buffalo for his attack, since it is one of the most segregated cities in America. This segregation is the result of racist policies and leadership decisions over many decades. So, what better way to honor those who died that day than to learn the details about what created that reality. Click the button below for a series of articles that explain the history of segregation in Buffalo as well as a series of questions for personal or group study. As one learns how Buffalo became so segregated, one can also learn how to help fight the injustices that the segregation created.
Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation
Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation
A Lunch & Learn Book Discussion
Every Thursday in May and June
Noon - 1:00 p.m. via Zoom
Rev. Tara L. Eastman (Jamestown Presbyterian Church) and invited guests, will facilitate a discussion of the book with goals of Awareness, Education and Engagement for pursuing Racial Reconciliation. Attendees are requested to commit to attend as many Thursdays as possible. A Zoom link will be emailed to you upon registration. All attendees are requested to read the chapter, How We Begin, prior to the first meeting on May 4. There will be an in person wrap up and worship at Hamburg Presbyterian Church on June 29 (more details to come) If you would like more information, you may contact Rev. Eastman at email@example.com
From the back cover of Be the Bridge:
“In an era where we seem to be increasingly divided along racial lines, many are hesitant to step into the gap, fearful of saying or doing the wrong things. At times the silence, particularly within the church, seems deafening.
Latasha Morrison’s book Be the Bridge offers a chance for honest conversation among a group of Christians willing to give voice to unspoken hurts, hidden fears, and mounting tensions. Morrison’s purpose is the equip the church to have a distinctive and transformative response to racism and racial division.
With conviction and grace, Morrison examines the historical complexities of racism using Biblical principles to lay a framework for restoration. Along with prayers, discussion questions, and other resources, Be the Bridge presents a compelling vision of what it means for every follower of Jesus to become a Bridge builder-committed to pursuing justice and racial unity in light of the gospel.”
Jesus and Antiracism – A hidden issue
For a Christian, it should be obvious that Jesus would never support racism of any kind. After all, he said that we should love God (who created us all in God’s image) and love our neighbor. Clearly, racism is against the most fundamental messages of Jesus. And yet, even the most dedicated anti-racist can unintentionally carry racist attitudes embodied not in their understanding of Jesus’ teaching, but in their understanding of Jesus himself.
In our churches, most images of Jesus show him as a white male. Why is this worth mentioning? Because this shapes our understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus came to dwell with us as a brown-skinned Jew of the 1st century in Palestine. He chose to come as a poor man in an oppressed culture. As it says in Philippians 2, he did not choose to exploit the power of God, but instead he came as a servant. Jesus did not choose to come as a powerful white Roman of the dominant culture of the day. When we picture Jesus as a white male, we are denying the very essence of who Jesus chose to be and we can lose the truth of Jesus’ message.
Another issue is that when we picture Jesus as white, consciously or unconsciously, we may apply this same characteristic to God. If we see God as white, that leads to another set of assumptions, which, again, may not be conscious. When we carry an image of a white God in our mind, it is too easy to then link whiteness with superiority, even supremacy. And then any who are not white, are considered inferior.
But, we follow a God who chose to be incarnate as a brown skinned man, not a white man. Making a point of this may seem like an overreach or a trivial point. But when we consider that the Klu Klux Klan burns crosses on lawns, we can see that the confusion of whiteness and the Christian faith is important to recognize. And what of the churches who supported lynchings of African Americans in the first part of the 20th century or the Native American Boarding Schools created by Christian churches who believed that the Indigenous non-white culture needed to be destroyed. If we associate God with one race, it is all too easy to see that race as superior, as elect, as closer to the divine and others less so.
Take a moment to consider what God is saying in Jesus’ incarnation as a poor, brown person. Is your understanding of God challenged by this image of Jesus? Are there any ways in which you are more comfortable with the image of a white Jesus? Coming to terms with these feelings is an important part of the antiracism journey.
A New Exhibit at Ganondagan
Last year Ganondagan announced that a new exhibit was coming to the Seneca Art & Culture Center, and it is almost here!
On March 25th they will open the WAMPUM/OTGOÄ exhibition featuring important Indigenous wampum objects from the Musée du quai Branly, wampum belts from the Rochester Museum and Science Center and contemporary Wampum works by featured Haudenosaunee artists.
The objects from France come from a time prior to the formation of the United States and represent a complicated legacy of diplomacy between Indigenous nations and the colonial French.
This unprecedented collaboration between Ganondagan, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac and the McCord Museum postures Ganondagan as an international resource for authentic cultural interpretation and educational inquiry. The exhibition is the culmination of 300 years of European contact and four years of dedicated relationship-building between the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac (Paris, France) and Ganondagan.
Over the next six months Ganondagan will be hosting exciting programming such as Indigenous led interpretation of the Wampum Exhibition, monthly Haudenosaunee artist/culture bearer presentations and workshops, culminating in a "Wampum Matters Symposium" in September. This exciting exhibit will only be open until September 16th, so make your plans to get to Ganondagan and see it before it closes.
The image above includes a portion of the Illinois Confederacy Wampum Belt, Kaskaskia tribe, before 1725. It is one of eighteen objects that are on loan from the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, Paris.
What is Wampum?
According to the Ganodagan State Historic Site, “wampum are beads made from various white and purple mollusk shells which were, and are still, used in belts…for ornamental or ceremonial use. Contrary to misconceptions, wampum was not ‘Indian money.’” It only became currency after the arrival of Europeans. The designs and the colors of the beads used had meaning so that they could aid the memory about the history, traditions, and laws that the belts are associated with.
One such belt is the Two Row Wampum Belt of the Two Row Wampum Treaty. This treaty is the 1613 agreement made between the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee (also known by some non-Natives as the Iroquois) and the representatives of the Dutch government in what is now New York State. The Haudenosaunee consider this treaty to be the basis of all their subsequent treaties with European and American governments, including the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty (a key treaty in Western New York).
The belt consists of two rows of purple wampum beads set on a background of white wampum beads. The purple beads signify the course of two vessels - a Haudenosaunee canoe and a non-Native ship that are traveling down the river of life together, side-by-side but never touching with each people in their own boat with their own laws, religion, customs, and sovereignty. Though the customs followed are different, each people are equal. The three white stripes symbolize friendship, peace, and respect between the two nations.
Haudenosaunee tradition records the following as the Haudenosaunee reply to the initial Dutch treaty proposal:
You say that you are our Father and I am your son. We say, We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. This wampum belt confirms our words. These two rows will symbolize two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel. The agreement has been kept by the Iroquois to this date.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the European colonizers.
For more information about Wampum go to: https://ganondagan.org/Learning/Wampum
Two Row Wampum – Gaswéñdah – Onondaga Nation
Good communication depends on people clearly expressing themselves. And to do that, they need to carefully choose their words, and be certain of their meaning. For example, as more and more people are recognizing the reality of racism in our society, and as a result conversations about racism are increasing, there are many new terms being used to better explain the realities of this important issue. Below are some terms that may be helpful. Keep in mind that in some cases, not only may the term be new to you, but the concept behind it.
Allyship: The commitment to learn about the discrimination and negative bias faced by a particular group of people and to work, according to their guidance and leadership, for justice for this group of people. Performative allyship is when someone makes a show of their support of another group without having a real commitment to the work, and without a willingness to sacrifice for the work.
Anti-racist: Ibram Kendi defines this term in his book, “How to be an Antiracist.” He says that saying that one is not a racist is not enough. One must be an anti-racist. An antiracist adopts a “set of beliefs and actions that oppose racism and promote the inclusion and equality” of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
BIPOC: This is an acronym for Black, indigenous, People of Color. The term is intended to be inclusive of all those who regularly experience racism. Some object to the acronym, saying that it objectifies groups that are already not treated respectfully. But it can be a way of being certain one is inclusive.
Emotional labor: This is the mental, and invisible, work that BIPOC people engage in every day as they cope with, and move through, a society that again, and again, makes it clear that they do not belong, are not valued as white people are, and are constantly being judged.
Emotional tax: This is the mental and invisible work that BIPOC people engage in every day just to feel included, valued, respected and safe in a predominantly white world.
Unconscious Bias: This is when one’s behavior toward a BIPOC person is influenced by negative stereotypes that one is not conscious of. It occurs “automatically and unintentionally, and nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.” This is also called Implicit Bias. A dramatic example is the well publicized episode where a woman (Karen) called 911 claiming that she felt threatened by the presence of a male black jogger who was doing nothing to warrant her fearful reaction. Click here to take a bias test and determine whether you have unconscious bias.
Doctrine of Discovery Part 3
The Doctrine of Discovery significantly shaped the formation of the Americas and not just in how it allowed for the seizure of land (see last week’s newsletter). For example, England, Spain and Portugal believed that the Doctrine gave them permission to take Africans into slavery. The original statement of Pope Nicolas V (15th century) said that Christian nations had the right to “search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans” and place them in “perpetual slavery.” White people in the Americas began to auction the enslaved as early as 1619.
The irony is that during the early years of the kidnapping of Africans into enslavement, there were as many, or more, Christians in Africa as there were in the North America, particularly in Ethiopia where the church was 1200 years old. In fact, recent scholarship indicates that theological works of Ethiopian Christian scholars influenced scholars of the Reformation in Europe in the 1500’s.
But, the nations that benefited by claiming the land of other peoples, and profited from enslaving others, were not concerned with the souls of those affected. When the enslaved Africans in the colonies did become Christians, they were still not liberated. Their enslavers, and the church leaders, came up with new reasons to continue in the injustice of enslavement. They even forced them to come to church, to stay in the balcony, and listen to sermons that enforced the false message that enslavement was part of God’s plan. But the gospel was more powerful than the enslavers, and the enslaved formed their own secret churches.
Clearly, the white owners were determined to maintain control of the enslaved, no matter what it took. The original excuse, based on the Doctrine’s permission for non-Christians to be enslaved, was no longer valid. Even so, the attitude of the Doctrine remained: there are those who are inferior, and therefore can be treated as less human. We can see it in the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 where each enslaved man was to be counted as 3/5 of a person. This attitude became deeply embedded in the psyche of many Americans, and was part of our law until it was rescinded in the 14th Amendment almost 100 years later. But many would argue that this attitude remains alive. The fact that this doctrine is rooted in the Christian faith makes it particularly important that white Christians examine any attitude that may linger of superiority over those of other faiths or experiences. The gift of faith is to be humbling, not a source of pride.
Doctrine of Discovery Part 2
The Doctrine of Discovery shaped early America in several ways. First, it endorsed the idea of the enslavement of people, simply because they were deemed “pagan” or non-Christian. Second, it established the belief that any Christian European country that arrived on land controlled by non-Christians, could claim to have “discovered” it and thereby gain sovereignty and property rights to the land.
In time, this belief by the colonists in their sovereignty, or control, became a principle of law in the United States. In 1823, it was invoked in the case of Johnson v. M'Intosh. When private land speculators attempted to purchase Piankashaw and Illinois Indian land, they could not get legal recognition of the purchase. Finally, they sought judicial recognition in the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Courts decided against the land speculators. Justice Marshall said that the companies could not have title to the land because the Illinois and Piankashaws had no title to convey because when the English “discovered” the land, the title passed to them. The tribes only possessed an occupancy right which they could sell only to the same sovereign or its successor, which was now the United States. Justice Marshall therefore set forth as U.S. law the Doctrine of Discovery, meaning the courts of the land claimed that Native Americans had lost their rights to complete sovereignty and retained only a right of occupancy in their lands.
This meant, of course that, according to U.S. law, the Indigenous peoples of this country had lost control, or sovereignty, over the land simply because European countries had arrived here. In this particular legal case, they did not lose control of the land because the U.S. army had won a battle over the land, or because a treaty had been signed. This land was claimed as sovereign land of the U.S. simply because Europeans had landed in the Americas and believed they had a superior claim on the land because they were Christian. That is the Doctrine of Discovery. And its power did not end in 1823. In 2005, the Doctrine was referred to by name in the U.S. Supreme Court case of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Nation of Indians.
This Doctrine is rooted in a distorted understanding of the role of the Church and the nature of the Kindom of God. The General Assembly report of 2018 challenges these views and calls on members of the PCUSA to support Native Americans in their ongoing efforts for sovereignty and fundamental human rights. For more information, see the 2018 report entitled: The Doctrine of Discovery.
Doctrine of Discovery
The Doctrine of Discovery has its roots in the Middle Ages (500 to 1450 CE). It developed out of the Roman Catholic Church doctrine used to support the Crusades to the Holy Land from 1026 to 1271. To justify the Crusades, the pope established the idea that it was his responsibility to create a universal Christian world, controlled by the Church. That meant that attacking the non-Christians, or pagans, was justified. While many have heard about the Crusades, few probably think about their relationship to the European attitude toward the “discovery” of North America and the Doctrine of Discovery that guided it. And why talk about this in this column anyway? Because, the racism that is still causing so much pain today, has deep roots in Europe’s history.
In the 1400’s, as Spain and Portugal began their discovery and conquest of the world beyond Europe, the Roman Catholic Church adopted several new doctrines. These doctrines claimed to protect the rights of “pagans” (anyone not Christian) but only if they did not stray too far from European norms for behavior. This meant that Spain and Portugal had the right to legally seize lands and rights of non-Christians who didn’t behave as Europeans did.
Then, in 1452, in a document titled Dum Diversas, Pope Nicholas V gave permission to King Alfonso V of Portugal “to capture, vanquish, and subdue, all Saracens, Pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery” and take away all their possessions and property. When Columbus “claimed” the lands he encountered in his journey, Isabella and Ferdinand asked the Pope to affirm that they now owned these lands. In time, the English Protestant church employed the same doctrine to justify its claim over the lands they wanted to take.
This is the context, and these are the attitudes, that informed those who “discovered” America. Because no Europeans had seen these lands before, whichever European nation landed on another land, felt justified in taking possession of it. As for the residents, because they were not Christian, they need not be treated as full human beings. This is the Doctrine of Discovery.
Today, some would say that this was just how people thought at that time. What is past is past. But what was, in some ways still is. Next week, we will explore how the Doctrine of Discovery, this idea that anything a European discovered became theirs, continues to hold power in our nation today.
And some of us may need to explore how it may still hold sway in us as well.
Black History Month
In 1926, Dr. Carter Woodson initiated the first “Negro History Week.” In 1976, President Gerald Ford established February as Black History Month. At the beginning, Black History Month was marked by Public Service Announcements that described George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, and possibly Harriet Tubman. Almost 100 years after its founding, however, Black History Month has grown in the breadth and depth of the opportunities to learn. But, the most important lesson to be learned is that Black history is American history.
There are numerous programs available this month. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is offering a wide variety of programs on everything from astronauts to cooking to poetry. Just google the museum name and search under Upcoming Events. The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum has created daily programs, also on a variety of topics. The Hall of Fame is located in a former Presbyterian church which was the site of the first meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. Just go to the website and click on “Watch Black History Matters.” You will be taken to a page of links to You-tube. New and old programs are available on this page and there is a topic for everyone’s interests. A new video, of about 30 minutes, will be listed every day. You can learn about Tuskegee Airmen, The Legacy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Convict Lease System and so much more.
There are also programs closer to Buffalo. Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor offers two types of programs. Their Black History through Art Series is being held Fridays at the Nash Lofts at 163 Broadway Ave from 5 to 8 p.m. The first in the series is a photo exhibit by Stephen Gabris of the Equal Justice Lynching Memorial. Their Black History Month Talks are being held at 1324 Jefferson Ave from 6 to 7 in person or via livestream. To learn more about these programs, go to their website and click on Black History Month on the menu at the top of the page. You can register here to see the talks livestream. The talks cover letters from local African Americans WWII soldiers, radio and the Civil rights Movement focusing on the local Black radio station, and the legacy of the Buffalo Colored Musicians Club and museum.
There are so many opportunities to learn more about American history. But one might ask: would Dr. Woodson be pleased that his program has succeeded so well, or appalled that it is still needed?
Implicit bias: No one wants it but we all have it
We know racism is wrong. We believe we don’t treat anyone differently because of their race or ethnic group. But such objectivity is harder than we may realize. Bias is a preference for, or prejudice against, a person or a group of people. Most of us probably believe we are aware of our biases. And we may be aware of some of them, but undoubtedly there are others of which we are unaware, and those are implicit biases. Implicit biases are held at the unconscious level, meaning of course that we are not aware of them. But they can still affect our decision making and actions.
A famous example of implicit bias comes out of some of the reporting that occurred shortly after Hurricane Katrina. One shows a photograph of a young black man, wading through the flood waters, coming out of a grocery store carrying a case of soda and a bag of food. The caption for the photograph says the young man is “looting the grocery store.” Another photograph appears around the same time. It shows a white couple leaving a store, also wading through deep water with a caption saying “after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store.” One young man and a couple doing the same thing, carrying needed supplies from a local store. But the implicit bias leads reporters to see the situations very differently. It is likely that both believed they had reported objectively.
Do you feel nervous in an elevator if someone of another race steps in? We know the story of Karen who might well claim that she is unprejudiced but allowed her bias to turn her into a national figure and the poster child of behavioral racism.
Van Jones has done an excellent video explaining implicit bias. He makes it clear that we all have it, even those of us with the best of intentions who are convinced that we are free of prejudice. He says the issue isn’t that we have it, since everyone does. The issue is, will we do something about it once we know what it is. This video is available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-GPBq-gGjY.
When you are ready to examine your implicit bias, you are encouraged to take an implicit bias test at: (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html).
Michigan Street Baptist Church
On January 16th, there was a special celebration at the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor in downtown Buffalo. The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition has been working for decades to ensure the restoration of the Michigan Street Baptist Church, a landmark building, constructed by the African American community in 1845. Finally, at a press conference on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the Coalition revealed the newly stabilized church now ready for interior work to complete the restoration. The church will be the center of a larger complex including a visitor’s center telling the story of this church as an Underground Railroad stop and a key location in the civil rights movement of the early 20th century. Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. all visited and spoke at this church. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preserving the church also helps preserve the stories of its members, such as Mary Talbet. Ms. Talbet was born in Oberlin, OH in 1866. After graduating from Oberlin College, she served as a school principal in Little Rock, Arkansas, the highest position held by any African American woman in the entire state. In 1891, she moved with her husband to Buffalo. She soon joined the Michigan Street Baptist Church and threw herself into activism. She was involved in anti-lynching efforts, anti-racism and women’s suffrage. Over the next 35 years, she would become the “best-known colored woman in the United States.
In 1899, she was helped start a Phillis Wheatley Club in Buffalo. These organizations, formed by Black women, championed community improvements including feeding the hungry, donating books by Black authors to school libraries, and established kindergartens for black children. They also raised money for a monthly pension for Harriet Tubman.
In 1905, the Talberts welcomed the founders of the Niagara Movement, a civil rights organization that was opposed to racial segregation and disenfranchisement. It was unusual in its uncompromising demand for equal rights. It was in her home that the founders of the movement, W.E.B.Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter drew up their plans and principles for the meeting held in Fort Erie, Ontario (they could not find a place that welcomed their group in Buffalo). This group was the forerunner of the NAACP and had long term repercussions in the Civil Rights movement.
There are many more stories associated with the Michigan Street African American Cultural Corridor. Just Google the name and you can learn more about these important stories that have too often been ignored.
MLK Day of Caring Blanket Drive
Many residents went without heat during the recent blizzard. Warm blankets would have helped many stay warm, particularly seniors. You can help protect people against a cold winter and any future storms. Please consider donating to the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor organization MLK Day of Caring Blanket Drive (see the flyer below).
NEW Blankets can be dropped off at the Heritage Corridor office at 111 Genesee Street from now through Jan. 16 (Monday through Friday from 9 to 5). You can also drop them off at WUFO Radio at 143 Broadway during their office hours.
For more information call 716-322-1002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Darkness and Light Part 2
So, what do we do with these terms? As Steve Thorngate says, “Light/dark language is elemental. Can we embrace its richness while also seeking to avoid the harm it can do?” He suggests we can. After all, there are other contrasts that we use commonly in our culture that carry no specific value for either element. Have you ever said that two items are like apples and oranges, meaning they are not at all alike. Yet, there is no preferred value or advantage given to either one. Contrasting images don’t have to carry the message of superiority of one over the other.
Thorngate has suggestions for how one can address the challenge of using these terms in constructive ways.
Consider the ways the word “light” is used in positive ways. When light is used to mean illumination, vision, transparency, openness – the word’s use is “rooted in its physical function and utility” and can be a powerful, useful image. But when it is used to connote complexion, innocence, and even cleanness – Thorngate says its use is ”value-laden.” This means that using light in this sense can lead the listener to make the connection that darkness therefore designates the other, the guilty, the unclean.
Be careful about negative usage of the word darkness. When one uses the word, think about what meaning it carries, what it says beyond the immediate usage. Words matter, and, to love neighbor means being concerned about how one’s words affect others.
Ask whether the language of light and darkness is the only choice one has. Is it just an easy image to choose or is it truly the best choice. Thorngate says, “Make each usage count.”
The most basic principle is “don’t use black/white language to mean bad/good.” It creates too easy an opening for a racist interpretation.
Find positive things to say about darkness. Thorngate points out: “Fertile soil is dark, a dark sky without light pollution promotes healthy rest.” Darkness can be comforting, a place to get away from distraction, a retreat where one can center one’s self on what matters. Scripture starts with the creation of heaven and earth, and darkness exits before the light. In Exodus 20, God exists in a place of darkness. The Psalmist praises the protection provided by God’s shadow. Explore other positive images.
In the end, seek liturgical language that expands one’s understanding of God and the world, instead of limiting it.
Thorngate admits his guidelines are a work in progress because dealing with this issue is a difficult challenge. But it is a challenge worth taking on
Darkness and Light
In this season of Advent, the images of darkness and light seem ever present. One of the most familiar passages read in Advent is Isaiah 9.2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” It presents a powerful image that is particularly significant as we approach the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
But why is this being discussed in a column about Antiracism? It may not be readily apparent, but it is a relevant topic. In his recent article entitled, Should we avoid liturgical language of light and dark?, Steve Thorngate has written: “There is a long history in the church of using words like light, white, bright, and fair to connote goodness in a straightforward way and words like dark, black, shade, and dim to connote the opposite [of goodness …] and language -- especially ritual (worship) language, repeated again and again -- has great power among those who speak or hear it.” And, of course, this use of these words is not found just in the church. In the past, on television and in the movies, the simple choice of a white or black hat was all that was needed to show who was good and who was not. People may not always be aware that they have absorbed an association of light, or white, with goodness and dark, or black, with things that are bad, but it is too often there. And it may affect one’s judgments and attitudes in ways one doesn’t even notice. But it needs to be noticed, because it has consequences.
Consider a church filled with a diverse group of people, and they hear a worship leader speaking of how darkness needs to be chased out by the goodness of light. Would everyone find this a positive image?
So, what is the solution? Do we remove all references to darkness and light from our language in worship, and elsewhere? Is there no role for the positive power of the images of both lightness and darkness? Thorngate has suggestions of ways to use both these images effectively, and these ideas will be shared next week. Meanwhile, in the coming week, you are invited to pay attention to the uses of light and dark as words and images in church, in every day encounters, on television, and in what you read and consider what meanings these words carry for you.
The Haudenosaunee people of Western New York
Did you know that…
“Under federal Indian law, there are special statutes that apply just to the Indian nations of New York State…because the nations of New York do not have their reservations held in trust by the government…They have true sovereignty…The Indian nations geographically located within New York State are standing on the same dirt they stood on before the arrival of the Europeans. Many of the other tribes in the eastern part of this country were removed from their original lands and displaced west of the Mississippi…This is not what happened in New York.” (Cindy Amrhein. A History of Native American Land Rights in Upstate New York)
In treaties made with the Iroquois (the Haudenosaunee), the Iroquois are called a confederacy of nations. The French and the British treated them as they would foreign powers. One map of New York, from 1788, shows the “Country of the Senecas,” “Country of the Cayugas,” “Country of the Onondaga,” “Country of the Oneida,” and “Country of the Mohawks.” These are the original 5 nations of the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee. The confederation was so respected that the United States adopted aspects of the Iroquois form of government. In fact, in 1988 the U.S. Senate paid tribute with a resolution that said, “The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”
The five Haudenosaunee nations worked together as a group. The Confederacy’s Great Law of Peace described the relationships as having just one spoon to eat a bowl of beaver stew. All five nations must share the spoon. The Haudenosaunee did not believe in individual gain or competing with others. They believed in sharing what they had. In their view, the Creator provided enough for everyone.
Haudenosaunee believe humans are part of nature, but are also custodians of the living world about them. Haudenosaunee elders teach that since plants support us, we in turn acquire responsibilities toward plant life, such as giving thanks to the Creator and living in balance with the natural world.
The Haudenosaunee have a traditional Thanksgiving Address that is a central prayer and invocation. It reflects their practice of giving thanks for life and the world around them. They open and close every social and religious meeting with this address. It is also said as a daily sunrise prayer. The address is an ancient message of peace and appreciation for Nature and embracing people everywhere as family. Human diversity, like the various wonders of Nature, are seen as a gift to be thankful for.
The Keepers of the Western Door
One of the many assets of Western New York is the rich heritage of the Haudenosaunee people who have lived in this area for over 4,000 years. The Seneca nation is the westernmost nation of the six Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations (Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Seneca) and the Seneca people are known as the Keepers of the Western Door because of this. Of course, most white settlers did not recognize the value of the Native cultures already present in North America when they immigrated here. In fact, there were concerted efforts to not just ignore these cultures, but to destroy them and eradicate the people who embodied them.
To learn more about this, on Saturday, November 12th, from 4 to 6 p.m., the Friends Peace Team is offering “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples.” This program is facilitated by Jerilyn DeCoteau (Turtle Mountain Chippewa). It is an online (zoom), experiential workshop which introduces participants to an overview of the treatment of Native people since the coming of Europeans to this continent. It is a powerful program and well worth the time. Register here.
In commemoration of Native American Heritage Month, The Anderson-Lee Library in Silver Creek is offering a series on the Haudenosaunee culture.
Nov. 15, Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.: Norm Jimerson will speak on “Native Culture: Agriculture, Dance, Family and Sports.”
Nov. 17, Thursday, 6:00 p.m.: “Thomas Indian School Survivor” (The Thomas Indian School was originally established by Presbyterians)
Nov. 22, Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.: Marcy Kane and Bernadette Scott will speak about “Haudenosaunee Women.”
Finally, if you want to participate in the history of our area, consider joining in a commemoration of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794. This commemoration is happening on Friday November 11th, at 2:00 p.m. on the front lawn of the Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua, New York. This is the 228th anniversary of this historic federal treaty. The annual commemoration serves to “polish the chain of peace and friendship” between the Hodinöhsö:ni’ (Six Nations Confederacy) and the young United States. The treaty signified peace between the two and recognized the sovereignty of the other as distinct nations to govern and set their own laws.
The Treaty event begins at noon at the Ganondagan’s Seneca Art & Culture Center with a meal and speaker but for this part of the program, guests must register by November 9th. Register Now
The commemoration at the courthouse is free and no registration is required.
If you are unable to participate in any of these events, consider a visit to the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, the Ganondagan Seneca Art & Culture Center in Victor NY or read the National Museum of Native American’s introduction to the Haudenosaunee https://americanindian.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/HaudenosauneeGuide.pdf
Is Appropriation Appropriate? Part 3
It is important to remember that appropriation is when a culture adopts something from another culture or group, without acknowledging its source or recognizing its original meaning. This does not mean that one culture cannot learn from another. The problem occurs when a dominant culture, for example the White Western European culture, treats another cultural expression as existing for their purposes, to be used by them as they see fit without acknowledging its roots or respecting its original meaning. The dominant group does this because they can.
As Christians, we should ensure that no one culture is treated as superior, or on the other hand, dismissed or manipulated. We are to respect all God’s people and we recognize that God may speak to us through any culture.
Of course, this is all very abstract. What does this have to do with the white Western European members of the American church? For example, most of our worship services are rooted in Western European tradition, as are the ways we run and organize our churches. Where is the appropriation?
One example is the inclusion of African American spirituals in our hymnals and song books. These songs carry no copyright and the writers have never received compensation. They were created by people who witnessed an incredible strength despite their indescribable suffering, at the hands of a dominant, Western European culture. The power of these songs is profoundly moving.
But, for white members of our churches it can be very challenging to understand the full meaning behind the words. As a result, how often do White Christians sing these songs with a full awareness of their message? Can they be sufficiently mindful of their origins and purpose: to engage with God in faith in the midst of the brutality of enslavers who called themselves Christian?
Susan DeSelms, a minister of music in a Brookline church, explains, “The enslaved people who created this music were never rewarded for their art. There is now a growing discomfort among the predominantly white congregation around how to use these songs of the enslaved in a way that honors, respects and redeems the past.”
So, what should a church do? Stop singing the songs? Perhaps study the history of these songs and their meaning so that they are sung with humility and sensitivity. Also, a church could discuss how to recognize and honor the creators. Some churches are now choosing to voluntarily pay royalties every time the church sings one. The funds collected are then distributed to a Black run youth music program, or similar program, for that organization to use as they see fit.
When appropriation happens, sometimes it is not a life or death issue. But for Christians, sensitivity to our neighbor is an essential component of our faith. And if our neighbor is not respected or honored, are we not denying that truth?
Is Appropriation Appropriate? Part 2
So, why does this discussion matter for those in the church? Isn’t the church supposed to be above cultural differences? Certainly, the Christian faith is to be understood as not confined or owned by any one culture. No one culture is to be seen as a superior expression of the faith.
In the New Testament, when the Apostle Peter struggles to understand whether all followers of Jesus needed to adopt all aspects of the Jewish tradition, God sent him a vision (Acts 10) that made it clear that the faith was not to be confined to any one tradition or culture. So, it should be the same for us.
As Christians, then, we acknowledge that all people, no matter their culture, carry the image of God. And thus, as each creature of God is to be honored since they carry God’s image, so each culture should be respected for the ways it can honor God as well. And respecting a culture, and a people, means honoring their experiences and contributions as we acknowledge them.
And how does this relate to appropriation?
Wearing someone else’s traditional garb may seem to be no problem, as was discussed last week. But is it trivial to the one who owns the garb? What if an American who is visiting another country saw someone in that country using the American flag as a sofa cover, or even an item of clothing? It might be upsetting. Would it bother us that we did not have the power to see the flag treated properly?
In the same way, white people may feel that they have the right to appropriate healing circles, but how would White Christians feel to see people of another religious tradition using our communion ware for their own ceremonies or celebrations in ways that a Christian might find offensive. Would this be comfortable? Would we feel that our traditions weren’t being respected?
As Christians, we are to love God and our neighbor. Caring relationships are an ultimate expression of our faith. In marriage therapy, one of the basic principles of a healthy relationship is the ability, and the willingness, to consider and value the feelings and point of view of the other person. It doesn’t seem a stretch to suggest that this should apply to any caring relationship. So, as Christians, shouldn’t we consider how the other may experiences these appropriations?
Perhaps a first step is to pay more attention to the things that White citizens of the United States have appropriated. In the next week, look for examples. What have you gained from these examples? Are they being treated with respect?
Is Appropriation Appropriate?
There is much debate today about cultural appropriation. More and more objections are being voiced when the dominant, or white, culture adopts something from another culture or group, without acknowledging its source or recognizing its original meaning. That is appropriation. To those in the dominant culture, some of these objections seem trivial, as when they are voiced over the wearing of a style of dress or borrowing of a hairstyle. But sometimes the issues are more profound.
For example, some activists have brought up the appropriation of Native Healing Circles to be used in pop psychology. The authentic and profound purpose of the circle, as well as the rich ceremonies that are part of the experience, are set aside and this deeply meaningful experience can be turned into a “feel good” moment in a self-awareness seminar that trivializes it. Little is done to honestly acknowledge or honor its roots or the culture from which it comes. And its authentic transformative power is lost.
But even when it is as simple as a white student wearing an item of clothing from another non-dominant culture, there may be reasons to show sensitivity. To understand why, it can help to consider not the specific act of wearing someone else’s garb, but the attitude the action may represent. To the one whose culture is being borrowed, it may feel that what they value most is being trivialized by another for advantage or entertainment.
Let’s say a white female of Western European descent wears the garb of another culture, perhaps Asian, as a costume, for entertainment. No harm is meant. But, how is that seen by someone whose mother, and grandmother, have worn that same garb because it represents all that was most beloved about their centuries old culture? Consider also that people of other cultures, when they arrived in this country, were often discouraged from wearing their native garb because conformity to Western traditions was the expectation. So, if her family couldn’t honor their own culture without repercussions, might it not be a cause of frustration, or hurt, when someone else borrows from that same culture simply for their own entertainment at, let’s say, a Halloween party.
Does it still feel like an overreaction? This is not an easy exercise for those who belong to the dominant culture. The habit of being the one in control of what is, and is not, appropriate is a hard habit to break. If one is accustomed to being the one who decides, not just what is accepted, but how it is adapted to our own interests and advantage, it is challenging to let go of this.
But why is this a matter for this column or even more importantly, followers of Jesus Christ? This will be discussed next week.
5 MORE Things Everyone Should Know About Race
Slavery predates race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics.
Race and freedom evolved together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that “all men are created equal.” But our early economy was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.
Race justified social inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became “common sense” in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian Immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within the American government, laws, and society.
Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institution have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.
Colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending differences don’t exist is not the same as creating equality. Racism is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others.
From: RACE – The Power of an Illusion, a documentary series from California Newsreel
5 Things Everyone Should Know About Race
Race is a modern idea. Ancient societies, like the Greeks, did not divide people according to physical distinctions, but according to religion, status, class, even language. The English language didn’t even have the word “race” until it turns up in a poem by William Dunbar referring toa line of kings.
Race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even one gene distinguishes all members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.
Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.
Skin color is really only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you anything else about them.
Most variation is within, not between, “races”. Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.
From: RACE – The Power of an Illusion, a documentary series from California Newsreel
Talking the Talk is Important
In their report to the General Assembly, The Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation stated that as they interviewed people of the Presbyterian Church USA, they found that White members often either did not recognize racist behavior, or if they did recognize it, did not chose to address it. The Committee explained that these White members gave themselves permission to feel “intimidated, incapable, or frustrated” and therefore to opt out or even derail conversations about racism. There were also examples of people actively working to avoid such conversations or engage in “analysis paralysis” where they debated the issue with such thoroughness that they got stuck in the debate and could not move forward into action.
To help Presbyterians recognize this behavior, they made a list of ways that people sometimes opt out of doing the work of AntiRacism, or even discussing it. First, they listed Distancing. This is when someone finds ways to avoid discussion (or action) by dismissing its immediate importance or trying to spiritualize it. Such comments could include: “Yeah, but that was in the past,” “It’s not that big of an issue,” “Let’s pray about it.”
Second, they talked about Self-Excusing. With self-excusing, a person finds some reason that the work of AntiRacism is not necessary for them. For example: “I’ve already studied this and don’t need another workshop,” “I am not a like those racists,” “My area is all White, so there is no racism here.” This statement is all too common, but has been painfully revealed to be no excuse at all. The man who committed the murders at Tops came from a community that was only .6% Black but managed to not just be racist but a racist terrorist. Next week we will explore other ways of avoiding these challenging discussions.
Third, they lifted up the way people use Hopelessness to avoid discussion. Here people give up conversation about racism claiming that there is no point: “We already tried,” “I’m White so I can’t do anything/will only make it worse,” “I can’t support that idea because it isn’t perfect.” Fourth, the Committee lifted up Derailment: “That is too ‘political’/’socialist’/’communist’/ ‘anti-American,’” or “that language is too scary/keeps changing,” or “I’m too uncomfortable.”
If you are white, perhaps you think that these examples of avoiding deeper discussions of racism are exaggerated. These are quotes of people interviewed. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “I have never said such things,” or “I haven’t said them often so why is this so important?” The key point is that this is not an abstract discussion. This is not a debate about what color to paint a room at the church, or even which hymnal to buy. These discussions affect lives. It may be difficult to be reminded of this, but it is essential that it is understood. It is only because of White privilege that White people can avoid these conversations without consequence to us. White privilege keeps us safe from the consequences of racism. But for People of Color, it is a matter of life and death. This is a talk that must be talked, so that the walk, the work of AntiRacism may begin.
The History and Culture of the Seneca
The history and culture of the Seneca people, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois confederacy, should be of importance to any resident of Western New York who wants to understand the full story of our area. On Saturday, September 24th, Ganondagan, the Seneca Art & Culture Center located at Boughton Hill in Victor NY, is hosting a celebration of Haudenosaune culture, history and tradition. This is their annual Living History Event and an excellent way for visitors to immerse themselves in all the various aspects of the living culture of the Haudenosaunee people. From 10:00 a.m. - 4 p.m., there will be 18th century reenactors, Iroquois social dancing, storytelling, making cornhusk dolls and indigenous food from Iroquois Eatery. Admission is donation based. In addition to this special event, one can tour the ongoing exhibit at the Seneca Art and Culture Center as well as a reconstructed Longhouse.
To authentically celebrate Seneca culture, one should also know their history and the challenges they have faced including the Native American Boarding Schools. A bipartisan group of Congressional leaders calling on Congress to bring the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act (S.2907/HR5444) to the floor for discussion and passage. The purpose of this Act is for the U.S. to acknowledge the truth about what happened to hundreds of thousands of Native Children through these boarding schools. This Act will lead to a full inquiry into the damaging impact of the Indian Boarding Schools by documenting the evidence of the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma in American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities. It would also examine how assimilative policies attempted to destroy native language and cultures. The Presbyterian Church established 21 of these schools, over 5% of the total. This is a challenge to white members of our churches to learn this history and support an honest reckoning. It is not only Canada that needs to enter into self-examination at this time because there are still schools open in the U.S. and the harm continues, too often unacknowledged.
For those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the experience of all Native People since the arrival of European immigrants, a powerful on-line seminar is available. Google Toward Right Relations with Native People, or Friends Peace Teams, the Quaker group that sponsors the program. Look for the seminar “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change.” It is scheduled regularly and is participatory. The next seminar being offered is on November 12th. There are also other programs available.
Folktale of Racism
One of the challenges of dealing with racism in our society is that people assume that racism is caused by negative attitudes towards people of other races. The “logic” goes that racism started because some White people hated People of Color, then racist ideas were formulated and then, based on that, racial discrimination occurred. The acceptance of this sequence, from ignorance/hate to racist ideas to discrimination, leads people to assume that the only necessary solution to racism is to stop the hate. Obviously, hate is destructive and must be stopped. But if racism is to be defeated, that will not be enough. Dr. Ibram Kendi, in Stamped from the Beginning, explains it well:
I was taught the popular folktale of racism: that ignorant and hateful people had produced racist ideas, and that these racist people had instituted racist policies. But when I learned the motives behind the production of many of American’s most influentially racist ideas it became quite obviously that this folktale, though sensible, was not based on a firm footing of historical evidence. Ignorance/hate leads to racist ideas leads to discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship – racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate: this is the causal relationship driving American’s history of race relations.
It can be hard to give up the folktale of racism. It seems so obvious that hate is the key problem. Also, it means that if we don’t actively hate People of Color ourselves, we aren’t part of the problem. There is nothing for us to do but help those other people to adopt a new attitude.
But if we recognize that racism arises out of the desire to take advantage of another person or group, we will better understand how to fight it. Dr. Kendi is saying that racism is the result of people seeing some advantage in discriminating against People of Color. They then create the racist ideas to excuse their intent to take advantage. And then these racist ideas lead to hate. For example, we want free labor, so we claim a group is inferior so we can use them as slaves. We want to expand our territories so we claim the current owners are inferior so we can justify taking their land by any means.
This understanding of the roots of racism is vital if we are to fight racism. When we see what is truly behind racism, people wanting to benefit by taking advantage of others, we can truly address the root causes, and begin the work of AntiRacism.
East Side Garden Walk – Beauty and Pride
Once again Gardens of Buffalo Niagara has presented the East Side Garden Walk. The organizers of the event explain that the walk offers opportunities for residents to share not just their gardens, but also their stories of perseverance and to take control of the narrative of their community.
Participants toured all over the East Side, viewing lovely gardens, being welcomed by gracious hosts and discovering remnants of the beautiful Olmsted Park system (1895) such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
In the early 19th century, the Erie Canal made Buffalo one of the richest cities on the frontier. Landscape architect Frederick Olmsted was hired to create a dramatic system of parks and parkways including the Humboldt Parkway which became known as one of the most beautiful parkways in the U.S. But the beauty of the city was not intended for all residents. Redlining (https://www.wkbw.com/news/national/two-americas/redlining-how-racial-discrimination-hobbled-black-homeownership-in-buffalo) forced most Black families to live east of Main Street where white-controlled banks refuse to lend money. Then, government agencies run by white residents destroyed the Humboldt Parkway, the jewel of Buffalo’s park system, to build a highway in a pit, the 33. They ruined the parkway and the neighborhood.
The residents on the East Side were stuck in place. With limited financing available, the housing could not be maintained. Even today Black residents that are fully employed and have paid off their home, can have trouble getting a home improvement loan.
So, residents of the East Side are working to reclaim the beauty that was so carelessly destroyed. For the Black and Latino residents, “gardening is an act of defiance,” says Christopher Maag of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
In these circumstances, “gardening becomes a way to assert one’s humanity in dehumanizing conditions” says Kenneth Helphand in his book “Defiant Gardens.” These gardens are statements of beauty and pride in circumstances that do not encourage creativity and wonder. But these gardens do.
In addition to the Garden Walk, a Children’ Garden Festival was held. At this event, backpacks filled with school supplies were passed out to area children. In the aftermath of the 5/14 terrorism at the local Tops Market, this was a sign of caring and hope for the children in the neighborhood. Over 200 backpacks were distributed. Several of the churches in the Presbytery donated to this program.
This walk, and the festival, are an annual event and you are encouraged to attend next year (July 22-23, 2023) to celebrate the resiliency and strength of the residents of the East Side and the beauty that has been created there.
East Side Garden Walk
If you are around Buffalo this weekend, make sure to check out the East Side Garden Walk Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. As the brochure for the event explains “The East Side of Buffalo is a resilient community of perseverance and beauty. In the spirit of hope and healing, East Side Garden Walk and its good neighbors extend a warm invitation to tour the natural living world surrounding us all.” Go to www.EastSideGardenWalk.com for a map and site descriptions. This is a wonderful way to show your support of the residents of the East Side and enjoy the beauty of God’s Creation.
For the next 4 weeks this column will be on hiatus. If you are new to the column you are encouraged to look into the archive of previous articles. Also, look out for the Resource list which will be coming to the Presbytery website shortly.
Enjoy your summer!
Celebrating Seneca/Hodinöhsö:ni’ Culture
There are two opportunities in the coming days to learn more about the rich Seneca culture in our area. The Buffalo History Museum is presenting an exhibit called "Hodinöhsö:ni’ Resurgence: Marie Watt, Calling Back, Calling Forward.” This exhibit will be at the museum from July 13 until October 30th. It displays the work of renowned Seneca artist Marie Watt who is exploring the possibilities of Indigenous “resurgence,” the action of reestablishing indigenous power and presence. The center of the exhibit is a selection of Watt’s diverse beadworks, textile works and sculpture as well as important objects from Seneca history. The purpose of the exhibit is to challenge visitors to consider the contributions of indigenous communities and how to facilitate indigenous empowerment. While you are at the museum, you can also visit their permanent display of Seneca history and culture.
For those in the southern region of our Presbytery, there is another special event: the Marvin “Joe” Curry Veterans Powwow at Veteran’s Park in Salamanca. This Powwow is one of the largest in the northeast. On July 16-17, the Seneca nation invites area residents to “join us and immerse yourself in the artistry, elegance and strength that honors our ancestors.” This signature event celebrates native American culture through dance, drumming and vendors offering examples of Seneca craftsmanship. The Powwow has been held for over 30 years and honors Marvin “Joe” Curry, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indian’s Snipe Clan, who had a distinguished career in the military, including service in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The Powwow vendors open at 10 a.m. and the Grand entrance begins at 12. The Grand Entrance is considered the highlight of the event. All are invited to opportunity to learn and celebrate Seneca culture. For more information go to senecapowwow.org.
How does your garden grow?
The city of Buffalo has been through a very difficult time over the last few weeks. The celebrations on Juneteenth were a welcome change, though the tragedy of 5/14 was still being felt. Another event intended to witness the hope and resiliency of the East Side is the East Side Garden Walk. On July 23rd and 24th, from 10 to 3, gardens all over the East side are open to visits. The goal of Gardens Buffalo Niagara is to “create more vibrant and beautiful communities by sharing our gardens.” The organizers explain that in the spirit of hope and healing, the East Side Garden Walk is offering a warm invitation to all of us to tour the natural living world surrounding us by participating in the garden tour. A map, and more information, is available at https://www.gardensbuffaloniagara.com/esgw It is worth a visit just to see Martin Luther King Park, which is part of the original Olmstead Park system of Buffalo. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of summer as well as show support for this resilient community.
Another way to show support of this community, specifically its children, is to support the Children’s Garden Festival which is being held Saturday, July 23 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. At the festival the organizers will be distributing backpacks to the children of the East Side. Such a gift can be a visible sign of support and care to children who have been deeply traumatized. There are three ways to support the project.
First – You can fill an entire backpack (the list is on the website given above) and drop it off at 79 Box Avenue, Buffalo, before, during or after the Walk, but if possible before 7/18. You can also drop it off at the headquarters in MLK park or People’s Park from 10-3 p.m. on 23rd.
Second – Instead, just focus on collecting a single item with a group. Can you collect 50 marble notebooks for example (or more!) Again, drop off your donation before 7/18 at 79 Box Avenue if possible since they need to assemble the backpacks in this case.
Third - If you are not in the area, or not able to participate in acquiring the items, consider making a tax deductible donation on line at EastSideGardenWalk.com. Donations made all month will go to the backpacks.
Have you been unsure how to make a difference in response to the horrific events of 5/24? This is your chance.
225th GA (2022) and Antiracism
There are 4 major actions being reviewed by the Race and Gender Justice Committee at the current GA. These actions focus on history, confession, and repair. Reading the reports and overtures are an education in themselves, since as usual the material for GA is well-researched and carefully presented. You can read the content of these actions on PC-biz (https://www.pc-biz.org/) by searching under their titles.
You will undoubtedly be hearing more about these items in the coming months when they are referred to the Presbyteries. The following three are the key items that will be most relevant for our Presbytery in our Anti-Racism work
RGJ – 10 Resolution on Race, Reparation Justice, and the USA. This resolution encourages the PCUSA to explore its history of race-based injustice and to look at how it might seek to repair and heal the damage done by unfair policies and actions. As part of that work, it is encouraging presbyteries to account for their own histories of race-based injustice, particularly when making choices about the disposition of properties. For this presbytery, it would be called to look at the legacy of the Thomas Indian School and unjust land treaties with the Haudenosaunee.
RGJ – 08 Offering an apology to African Americans for the sin of slavery and its legacy. This is an overture that the committee is considering. It will be sent to the Assembly for vote. This overture explores the injustices in the history of the church and ways that its current members can explore acts of healing and repair rooted in actions of repentance. This apology does not just refer to the history of enslavement, but the continued systemic injustices that have occurred since the end of slavery.
The Report of the Special Committee on Racism, Truth, and Reconciliation has also been considered by this committee and has been sent to the floor of the Assembly for discussion and approval. The report is framed to lift up the truth that Antiracism work is an act of worship.
Please keep the commissioners to General Assembly in your prayers as they consider these important items. It is a crucial time in the PCUSA as we acknowledge that the work of Anti-Racism is truly the work of the Church.
Where are we?
The AntiRacism Task Group has several programs planned for the near future and we wanted to share them with you so that you would know what was coming.
First, we will be completing our Resource List soon. It will include books, videos and study ideas. There will also be a list of possible presenters. The books will be annotated to explain their basic content and purpose. There are so many lists out there, we hoped that this resource would help people sort through the choices. Each book has been read by a member of the task group and is recommended by them.
Second, we will shortly begin to schedule visits to church sessions. These visits are intended to strengthen our network throughout the presbytery by providing us with information about individual church programs so that we can share ideas from church to church. We will also talk about what is planned in the future for our Presbytery and what resources are available for each church. Our intent is to help each other on this important journey.
Third, we are planning a book study group for the fall, which would be open to all members of the Presbytery.
Fourth, we are looking into starting an AntiRacism interest group that would probably meet before our regular Presbytery meetings. This would be a chance for people who are involved in AntiRacism work, interested in AntiRacism, or just have questions, to get together to share ideas and concerns.
Finally, we are exploring how to become more aware of local advocacy efforts so that we can publicize this information and increase the possibilities for involvement in this important work.
One example that was mentioned last week is:
On June 25th, at 11:00 a.m. you are invited to participate in STANDING TOGETHER AGAINST RACISM, a gathering of concerned Christians at the Tops on Jefferson Ave. in Buffalo. This will be a chance to pray together and stand united against racism. We have been invited to this event by Rev. Cox from Elim Christian Fellowship and his fellow pastors. They believe that there is a need for clergy and Christians to show up, meet, build relationships, network, pray and simply love one another so that together we can stand united against racism. They believe that racism cannot end without relationships. The event will last until noon. All are welcome and clergy are encouraged to wear their color and/or stole. Also, people should feel free to bring words of support and prayers.
If you have ideas for programs or initiatives that would be of help to the Task Group, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Standing with our Neighbors
In the next few weeks there are several important opportunities for members of our Presbytery to witness their concern for those who were deeply affected by the tragic shooting at Tops on 5/14. All are encouraged to consider how they might stand with their neighbors (near or far) in the aftermath of this tragic event.
On June 17, at 10:00 a.m., the NYS Council of Churches is sponsoring a community conversation that will look at how we can “build together a diverse coalition to develop and carry out a coordinated long-term response in the wake of the mass shooting.” There will be reflections on: interpersonal and structural racism, food deserts in East Buffalo, ways to care for traumatized people, including children, and more. The sponsors of this community conversation include the Rev Corey Gibson of the Calvary Baptist Church, The Rev. Julian Cook of Macedonia Baptist Church, The Rev Denise Walden-Glenn and The Rev Jack Sullivan of VOICE Buffalo, Sigourney Cook of the King Urban Center and others. See the article above for more details and to register.
On June 25th, at 11:00 a.m. you are invited to participate in STANDING TOGETHER AGAINST RACISM, a gathering of concerned Christians at the Tops on Jefferson Ave. in Buffalo. This will be a chance to pray together and stand united against racism. We have been invited to this event by Rev. Cox from Elim Christian Fellowship and his fellow pastors. They believe that there is a need for clergy and Christians to show up, meet, build relationships, network, pray and simply love one another so that together we can stand united against racism. They believe that racism cannot end without relationships. The event will last until noon. All are welcome and clergy are encouraged to wear their collar and/or stole. Also, people should feel free to bring words of support and prayers.
On July 24, 2022, at 4:00 p.m. the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and BPO Diversity council will present A Concert for Healing. The concert is being provided in the spirit of comfort and healing for all of those affected by the recent tragedy in the Buffalo community. It is being held at the Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion at 1100 Jefferson Ave. Buffalo. This free performance, conducted by Maestro JoAnn Falletta along with Assistant Conductor Jaman E. Dunn, will feature the full orchestra and vocalists Sirgourney Cook and Rev. Julian Armand Cook performing music that allows for moments of quiet reflection and celebrates the resiliency of the City of Good Neighbors. No tickets or reservations are required. See the article below for more details.
So What Now?
For over a century, through the Native American Boarding School program, the U.S. government, with the support of numerous mainline Christian denominations, sought to destroy Native American culture by separating Native American children from their families and forbidding them to acknowledge that culture in any way. The pain caused by this horrific policy is still felt in Native American Communities across the country.
Finally, the Department of the Interior, under the leadership of a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, Secretary Deb Haaland is launching an investigation into these boarding schools and the tragic consequences of the program. Included in that study will be the school in Irving started by Presbyterians. To learn more about the consequences of the Native American Boarding schools go to the website for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition at https://boardingschoolhealing.org
It is important to note, however, that the boarding schools were not the end of the story or the cultures. For example, despite all that was done to eradicate it, the Seneca nation of the Haudenosaunee here in Western New York has survived and is lifting up it's rich culture in a myriad of ways to the benefit of everyone.
On June 11, this Saturday, at the Onohsagwe:de' Cultural Center in Salamanca (82 West Hetzel Street), also known as the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, the Senecas are holding their 2022 Heritage Day from 10 am to 5 pm. In addition to Smoke Dance competitions there will be an artisan market (including pottery, beadwork and more) and a food market. Also, the museum is free and open to the public. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and/or celebrate the Seneca culture and honor its contributions to this area, and this nation.
Knowing our neighbor
One of the many tragic aspects of the shooting and murder that occurred at the Tops Market on Jefferson Ave in Buffalo is that the young man who came up to Buffalo knew exactly where to go to find a store that would be filled predominantly with African Americans. This is the result, of course, of racist, segregationist policies of regional leaders over many years.
But this is not the whole story of the area. The African American community has a powerful heritage in Buffalo, and they are working hard to lift up their history here, which deserves national recognition (and in fact has it.) To learn more, you are encouraged to go to the site for the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor (https://www.michiganstreetbuffalo.org/). There you can learn the history of this important area and an exciting vision for its future. Buffalo African American’s played an important role in the Niagara movement, hosted Frederick Douglas and Henry Highland Garnet (an abolitionist African-American presbyterian Pastor who was the first African American to preach before Congress) and is home to the Colored Musicians’ Club. As others try to silence those who are different from them, we, as Christians, need to be sure that all voices are lifted up and all stories are honored.
If you are from the Southern Tier, African American in Olean are also telling their story. Go to https://africanamericancenterforculturaldevelopment.org/olean/ to learn more.
Of course, we all need to do more than listen and learn, we need to act. Ways to respond concretely to the hate crime on Jefferson Ave are below.
Ways to show you care:
You can make a donation to one of these groups which all support the Black Community
Black Love Resists Rust which will provide mental health and food support https://donate-usa.keela.co/mental-health-and-food-support
African Heritage Food Cooperative which is currently providing food to people in need because of the closure of the Tops. Go to their Facebook page or https://myahfc.com/
VOICE Buffalo – They are providing short and long term help. For information about their response to the TOPS shooting, go to their Facebook page. The website is: https://www.voicebuffalo.org/
United Way has a broad reach but they are taking money for the families of the victims and the community. Consider donating to their Buffalo Together – community Response Fund or their Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund. Go to https://www.uwbec.org/
The Buffalo Community Fridge at 257 East Ferry Street will be open all week and will accept fresh and non-perishable food donations.
You can help deliver food to homes or neighborhood pop-ups by contacting https://linktr.ee/coloredgirlsbiketoo Buffalo Creek Academy will pick up groceries and deliver to the community around Tops. Call 716-217-2661
Where do we go from here?
Yesterday, May 24th, the Presbytery approved the following action plan for the Presbytery:
Presbytery wide Action Plan 2022/23
SUPPORT individuals and churches in AntiRacism work (by August)
Develop a list of resources and self-study materials for individuals and groups listed at level of experience
List Action groups that are BIPOC led
List speakers and programs that are available for local churches
ENCOURAGE AntiRacism work in the churches
Visit our churches over the next year:
Where are you now on the journey?
What we have available for you
Introduce the Matthew 25 initiative
Discuss possible partnerships with BIPOC churches
Discuss the study of the church’s history of land ownership?
How can we offer further assistance?
Minute for Mission visits over the next year to churches simply to share commitment and why
MODEL AntiRacism work at the Presbytery level
Host 3 or 4 “events” over the next year open to anyone in Presbytery.
Host/enable 3 Zoom book groups for those who cannot access such groups through their churches.
Join local BIPOC led action groups and consider a donation to the work. Advertise activities on Presbytery website, Facebook page, and newsletter.
At the next Presbytery meeting include a major confessional event within or framing the service of worship for the church’s participation in White Supremacy and racism by omission and commission. (A template could be made accessible to our member churches)
More information will follow shortly as to how we will implement this plan. It is rooted in the recently published report from the GA Special Committee on Racism, Truth and Reconciliation. This excellent report is recommended reading for all who are seeking to understand how the church is called to pursue anti-racism work within the church and beyond. You can download a copy of the report here: https://pcusa.org/resource/report-scrtr-ga225/
If you are interested in any part of the plan, please contact the AntiRacism task group at email@example.com.
So What Now?
As was explained last week, the Anti-Racism Task Group has recently received a copy of a report from the GA Special Committee on Racism, Truth and Reconciliation. This report is being circulated ahead of its consideration by the 2022 GA. It comes out of 4 years of study and interviews carried out by the Special Committee within the PCUSA. Our task group had been working out how to introduce the report to the Presbytery, and building projects rooted in its suggestions. We had a plan…
And then all hell broke loose, literally, last Saturday.
So, what do we do now, how do we respond to what has happened, how do we move forward? It is clear that this was the work of a troubled young man, but this is far more than a mental health crisis. He accepted ideas, such as the White Supremacist Replacement Theory*, that are found easily on the internet and supported in numerous mainstream venues. So, these ideas clearly need to be confronted and refuted, actively. Silence is truly deadly.
We may feel some comfort to see how the city is coming together, sharing in prayer. But we must make sure we do not ignore the realities of the suffering that is present and will not be quickly healed. Whites need to listen to the voices that are speaking about the ongoing and real suffering that has been, and still is, experienced. Prayer is important, but it is not a replacement for action.
We commit to helping the victims, waiting to get past this. But as painful as it is to face, white people need to realize that after we have moved on, Black Americans will still live with the risk of white terrorist violence. White people need to refuse to simply move on, even though as White people we have that choice.
So again, what is a response that will be authentic and last past the next few days and weeks?
For white people, it is important to understand what is happening all around us (that we too often miss) if we are to help dismantle the racism that produces such manifestos, such violence and hate, and so much more. This will take reading, discussion and a lot of listening. And then we need to act on our understanding.
With this in mind, at the next Presbytery meeting, Council and the Anti-Racism Task Group will present the Report of the Special Committee on Racism, Truth and Reconciliation and a program of response to its conclusions. We are seeking to offer concrete goals for the Presbytery and its churches that will enable us to develop and carry out an effective Anti-Racism ministry.
For example, the Report speaks of how conversations are experienced differently according to race. They suggest that opportunities need to be created for careful listening to one another. So, opportunities will be created for such listening including presentations and study groups and more. White people too often do not act in helpful ways, no matter their good intentions, because they don’t understand the reality of people who are unlike them.
The Special Committee also points out that when education is the sole goal, anti-racism ministries get stalled. We are setting measurable goals for our work. We will be reaching out to help churches explore possible ministries of anti-racism. Education is essential, but it is not the end of the journey. Rather it is the guide for the journey of anti-racism.
In their report, the Special Committee challenges the church with the image of Isaiah 58, where the people of Israel put on a show of faithfulness but do not do the real work of faithfulness and justice. In the coming weeks, Council and the Anti-racism Task Group will offer a variety of ways for you to become involved in the work of Anti-Racism. We look forward to welcoming you to this work.
*Replacement theory is a falsehood circulated that the Jewish people are attempting to replace whites with people of other races and ethnicities. See https://www.vox.com/23076952/replacement-theory-white-supremacist-violence
“Say their name!” was a common chant during the non-violent protests which followed the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. It is important that we say their name because these neighbors are more than statistics, more than victims. They had lives, real people, whose lives were stolen by hate. Their black lives matter. Please lift up in prayer the families of those who lost their lives to hate on May 14, 2022.
Roberta A. Drury ... Margus D. Morrison ... Andre Mackneil ... Aaron Salter ... Geraldine Talley ... Celestine Chaney ... Heyward Patterson ... Katherine Massey ... Pearl Young ... Ruth Whitfield ... ‘
Three people suffered injuries that have been deemed non-life threatening. Two of them are no longer in the hospital. Please lift them up in prayer as well.
Zaire Goodman … Jennifer Warrington … Christopher Braden
Statement from the the Presbytery of WNY and the Anti -Racism Task Group of the Presbytery of WNY
The Anti-Racism Task Group joins with the whole Presbytery in its condemnation of the horrific hate crime that occurred at Jefferson Avenue Tops Market on Saturday, May 14. We pray for the families of the victims, and for the whole neighborhood that has endured yet another act of racial hatred and violence. And we will keep praying for them.
But we commit to do more. As a group, we re-commit to our work of anti-racism. And we challenge the whole Presbytery to commit as a body to the work of anti-racism so that we may root it out in our communities, churches, state, and country. Events such as this remind us too well of the truth of Edmund Burke’s words (based on Psalm 94.1-3): The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing. We are not powerless in the face of tragedy. We can make a difference.
Statement from the Presbytery of Western New York on the events of Saturday, May 14:
The Presbytery of Western New York is shocked and saddened by the events that occurred at the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson on Saturday, May 14th in our City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo, New York.
We stand together with our faith community around Western New York in praying for the individuals who lost family and friends to this horrific event. We condemn hatred in all forms and, in this case, the hatred toward the black community through white supremacy.
Isaiah 1:17 says;
“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows”
We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and during this time we must stand united against racism.
May God fill us with comfort, strength and hope during this difficult time.
Language has power
In 2018, the General Assembly approved the creation of the Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation. The Committee was formed to conduct a listening campaign within the church and submit recommendations to the assembly, which they are doing in this year’s General Assembly. One of the many valuable parts of the report is its section of definitions. Obviously, it is essential that when members of a group are discussing challenging issues, there is a shared understanding of the words being used. Thus, for the reader to understand the report, it is important that they understand what the writer meant when using a specific word. Clearly, this is valuable for a Presbytery as well, as it carries out discussion about challenging issues. So, below are some of the definitions given in the report with the intent that they can create a common ground for our future discussions.
Race – a social construct based on skin color that is used to create hierarchies of oppression and benefits.
Racism – race-based prejudice + institutional power
Repair/Reparation Action – an orientation towards prioritizing the fixing of inequities caused by persistent racism through just reallocation of stolen resources
Reparations – specific acts of reparative action intended to restore intergenerational wealth taken by discrimination, often through the power of the government
White Supremacy – a system of beliefs and attitudes that subtly or explicitly place higher esteem on those racialized as White and then continues to grant advantages
White/Whiteness/People Racialized as White – accorded certain benefits, privileges, and advantages based on the color of their skin because of un-dismantled White Supremacy that seeks to create social hierarchies by race. We capitalize “White” to emphasize that Whiteness is a particular phenomenon with a specific function.
(Micro)aggressions – (micro)aggressions are words and behaviors, intentional or unintentional, that dehumanize marginalized groups of people, often excused as innocent or well-intended. We recognize that continuous subjection of pain is trivialized by calling these harms “micro”aggressions.
Beloved Community – God’s call to share life in freedom and justice together as a family, referenced as kin-dom of God.
If these definitions are new to you, consider doing some reading about these issues. “Waking Up White” by Debbie Irving, “White Fragility” by Robin DeAngelo or “How to be an Anti-racist” by Ibram Kendi are places to start.
More Myths About Racism
Carolyn B. Helsel suggests that another myth about racism comes from White Christians: “Racism is not our problem.” Many white Christians say that they are good, kind people desiring no harm for anyone. But, in a recent PC(USA) committee report on Racism, Truth and Reconciliation, the authors state: “The PCUSA cannot move forward without looking back and cannot tell its story apart from White Supremacy.” (Access the report here https://pcusa.org/resource/report-scrtr-ga225/) In the past, the report explains, our denomination provided theological justification for slavery and the Doctrine of Discovery. Our church buildings (some built with, funded by or endowed from slave labor) inhabit stolen land. Our polity, structures and liturgies privilege long-held power and institutionalize the elevation of White voices. It is hard to read such statements. But, Christians resisting the truth is nothing new. 1 John 1.8 says it well: When we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” A valuable resource to find the truth is Robert P. Jones, White Too Long.
Another myth is: “Racism will end as we have more and more interracial relationships in our churches.” Helsel explains: “While it is important for our congregations to become more diverse, it will not be enough to end racism…Even within multicultural faith communities, racism has opportunities to operate. Sociologist Korie Edwards conducted a study of a multiracial congregation to see how whites and people of color negotiated their relationships in the church community. Edwards found that whites continued to remain dominant in power positions in the church, even when their percentage of overall membership declined to the point of being a minority within the church. In other words, racism exists even in multicultural contexts, and it is important to keep talking about it even when we have made significant progress in becoming a more integrated church and society. White people need to continue to examine their own racism and how it may be at work even when they have a lot of interracial relationships.”
Perhaps the most harmful myth believed by white people is: “Racism is not something that impacts my friends of color.” But, just because a person does not hear stories of discrimination from their friends, does not mean it is not happening. There can be many reasons BIPOC do not share these experiences, including their concern that the white person will resist hearing the truth, or that sharing the account could be difficult.
These myths have caused many people tremendous pain. Let us remember Jesus’ words in John 8.32: the truth will set us free, and commit to seeking that truth in all things.
More Myths About Racism
As was explained last week, Carolyn B. Helsel wrote an article for Christian Century magazine in 2019 entitled: “Ten Myths about Racism.” Last week we considered the myths: Racism is about hateful actions and words as well as Racism has to do with intentions.
Myth: “Racism is irrational.” This myth assumes that racism does not make sense, since it is based on the false idea that one race is superior to another. The myth assumes that once white people confront this, racism will no longer exist. But, this is based on the false assumption that white against black racism was created out of the belief that the white race was superior to the black race. It is clearly documented, however, that the idea of the superiority of whites was actually created to excuse the enslavement of Africans. Those who enslaved Africans did not do it because they believed that Africans were inferior. They did it because it made them money. To say that the superiority of whites made the enslavement acceptable, which just happened to create wealth, is putting the cart before the horse. The White Europeans, and then White Americans, who created the trans-Atlantic slave trade did so for financial gain. To justify it, they created the idea of the inferiority. For example, White history did not, and does not, discuss the dynamic, sophisticated empires and kingdoms of Africa because it would contradict this narrative of inferiority.
Today, one could say that racism continues to be “rational” for the same reason. As Helsel says, “Sometimes we white people operate out of a rationality of common sense that includes what serves our best interests…If developers want to build apartment in our neighborhood that will increase the availability of low income housing, giving more people access to these great schools, it may seem…rational to want to protest such development. After all, you do not want your children’s schools overcrowded, and maybe you fear the value of your home declining. These responses may all seem rational, but at the same time they perpetuate a system of racial exclusion. The way racism perpetuates itself is often through these subtle avenues. We fail to consider how our prejudices operate to preserve our own self-interests. “ In other words, one could say that it is “rational” for white people to be racist because it benefits them. But as Christians, this is clearly not an option. Racism for Christians is not just irrational, it is sinful. To put our self-interest not just ahead of others, but to their disadvantage, is simply not Christian.
Myths About Racism
In 2019, Carolyn B. Helsel, who teaches preaching at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, wrote an article for Christian Century magazine entitled: “Ten myths about Racism.” In her opening, she explains the purpose of the article. She believes that predominantly white churches may be reluctant to talk about racism because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, or that they may feel there is no need to do so because they don’t hear members saying overtly racist things. By presenting and discussing the myths she presents in the article, she hopes to encourage dialogue and to help people better understand the complexity of the issue of racism. The article is based on her book: Preaching about Racism, published by Chalice Press. This week we will look at two of the 10 myths she discusses.
Myth: “Racism is about hateful actions and words” – Helsel points out that if racism was just about mean actions and words, then many white Christians might easily dismiss the idea that they could be racist. After all, don’t Christians speak kindly of others and avoid speaking in hateful ways? But, she points out, the problem is that white people may not be able to judge whether they are racist, whether they carry racist beliefs, or say racist things. They may not be aware of their own biases. Also, she reminds white people that racism is much more than saying racist things. It is also found in differences in pay, housing availability, mortgage lending, education, policing and incarceration which go beyond personal behavior and choices.
Myth: “Racism has to do with intentions” – As Helsel says, “If we have no intention of offending someone else and no consciousness of racial bias, then we may feel resentful for being accused of racism.” A Christian might say that if one is doing good deeds, how could one be racist? Helsel points out that white people can do great harm to others not just by their intentions but by their “inattentions.” If white people ignore how others are harmed by the systems of racism, if white people refuse to acknowledge that harm, they participate in it. It is not a matter of being crippled by guilt but accepting that there is much to learn about the realities of racism and that, as Christians, we are all called to do something about it.
Consider whether either of these myths have influenced your thinking and how you might move beyond them. Also, can you find some way to help others understand that these are unhelpful myths?
Black American History is American History
To understand the work of Anti-Racism and to be authentic in it, it is vital that one have a full and accurate understanding of the history of the United States and the experiences of all of its people. There are white people who would claim that there is nothing significantly wrong with how the history of the United States is taught in our school. They would argue that the enslavement of Black people is discussed and that once the enslaved were freed, and allowed to become citizens, their story is simply part of the general narrative that is currently taught. But the truth is that the experience of White Americans that is taught in our schools is very different from that of Black Americans. And if the truth of the Black American experience is not accurately understood, a White person cannot understand the issues being presented today by Anti-racism scholars and activists, both Black and White.
For example, some argue that enslavement of Black Africans was simply typical of the times (17-19th century). But research has proven that the theories of the racial inferiority of Africans were created to justify enslavement for economic gain. Did you know that Reconstruction failed, not because Black Americans didn’t have the skills to prosper after slavery, but because Southern White Democrats used all of their political power to stop their progress? Jim Crow laws were the result. Also, there were over 4,000 lynchings from the end of Reconstruction until the 1950’s yet it was not until the 21st century that this country could finally pass an Anti-lynching bill. Did you know that the vast majority of Black GI’s did not receive the benefits of the GI bill? Are you aware of how red-lining limited further limited the economic advancement of Black American families?
To understand American history, we need to understand the history of all Americans. This doesn’t just mean adding the experiences of Black Americans, their achievements and their incredible perseverance. This means also understanding the actions of White Americans and how that affected the experiences of other Americans. This, of course, includes Asian Americans, Native Americans or Indigenous People, Latinos and more. To understand American History, we must know the full story. Today, we will start with the African American story.
There are numerous resources to help, but the easiest is perhaps You-Tube. There are several series on You-tube. One is Crash Course Black History. You are encouraged to start with the preview to the series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S72vvfBTQws and go from there. There are also videos put together by Dr. Henry Louis Gates all of which are helpful. Take some time to begin to learn this history, because it is the history of all Americans.
Much is being written about Critical Race Theory from many perspectives and in many contexts. Using the New York State Assembly Bill A8579 as a framework for a discussion offers only some of the discussion points, but certainly some of the most relevant for Christians living in New York State. So, to close this series, it seems appropriate to lift up the other main points of the legislation. In summary, the legislation says that the following cannot be taught in schools, in other words that CRT supports these beliefs: 1-That one race is superior to another 2-That any race is inherently racist 3-That anyone should be treated adversely because of race 4-That any race should be treated without respect 5-That moral character is determined by race 6-That any race should feel discomfort or guilt 7-That the concepts of meritocracy or a hard work ethic are racist.
There is great irony here. Point 1: CRT does not say that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are superior to White people. It says that there is evidence in our nation’s institutions and legislation that Whites think that they are superior. So, CRT would actually agree that 1 should not be taught in schools: no race is superior to another. Point 2: Since the creation of the labels of White and Black (and more) comes out of a specific historical moment* to oppress non-whites (not scientific research as many assume), by definition one could say that the label White is inherently racist. But CRT does not claim that all White people have to be racist. Point 3 and 4: The supporters of CRT absolutely agree that no one should be treated adversely or without respect because of race, BIPOC or White. These points, however do beg the question whether White people actually feel that BIPOC people are treating White people adversely or without respect because they are fighting against the racism they are experiencing. Point 5: CRT does not suggest that being White means that one is immoral. Racism is immoral. Point 6: One would hope that any race that has allowed/supported/perpetrated racism for several hundred years would feel some discomfort or guilt. Certainly, White Christians should admit to the sin of this racism. Point 7: This statement is rooted in a denial of White Privilege as well as the racism that BIPOC people face. It implies that if BIPOC people just worked harder, they would not be experiencing the financial inequalities they currently face. This is in fact a denial of the very fact of racism.
*William Berkeley’s response to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1681 in Jamestown VA
Why I Joined the Presbytery Anti-Racism Task Force
In the fall of 2020, Covid had closed us down and we were starting to become aware of the differences in how we were being affected by the pandemic depending on the color of our skin. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum with the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd the previous spring.
As a white southern woman, I was starting to become aware that it wasn’t racist groups such as the Klan or Proud Boys, or Blacks themselves by making the wrong choices that were keeping Blacks on the lower socio-economic level, but rather systemic racism. When I learned of the WNY Presbytery’s newly formed Anti-Racism group, I joined to try and educate myself. I was also looking for something constructive to do with the turmoil of feelings I was having.
I struggled with how I could have been duped all my life into believing that Blacks were just not trying hard enough to change their circumstances. The more issues that came to light due to the pandemic, the more guilty-feeling and angry I became. Realizing I had a part in all of these problems, whether knowingly or not, I started thinking about experiences I had growing up first in Savannah, and then as a teen and young adult in Atlanta. I began to see them in a whole new light.
In Savannah in the late 1950s at age 5 or 6 I learned to swim at our neighborhood pool. We would take swimming lessons Monday through Friday the first week the pool was open for the summer and at the end of the week you could swim. Through my elementary school years, early 1960s, we had swim meets at this pool with other communities and we could ride our bikes to the pool all summer long. It was a big part of our lives as kids. It was right next door to our community building where during the school year I took dance classes on Saturday morning and had Girl Scouts during the week. There were community parties and dinners in the facility too.
As we started our work on the WNY Presbytery task force and through reading I began doing, I learned the meaning of “zero sum” as applied to race equity. In particular the issue of Blacks being allowed to swim in community pools meant for whites only. I began thinking again about all of the rich experiences I had had as a kid in Savannah. In the 1960s as we became desegregated many white communities apparently filled in their pools rather than share them with Black community members. I Googled the neighborhood I grew up in Savannah and sure enough, there was a large green space where the community pool had been. What an eye-opener that was!
I think it may be too easy to sweep our systemic racism back under the carpet as things begin to return to pre-pandemic times. I don’t want to become complacent or complicit in how we treat our non-white brothers and sisters going forward. We are all created equal and made in the image of God!
Patricia Estill, Clarence Presbyterian Church
The various reasons commonly given by anti-CRT activists are well catalogued in New York State Assembly Bill A8579, and may also be listed in pending rule changes in your own school boards. Last week we discussed two of these. There are more.
For example, the New York bill says that no one should be told that they “by virtue of their race or sex, bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” They are arguing slavery ended in 1863 (and any further issues were resolved in the 60’s with the Civil Rights legislation). Slavery is over and wasn’t our fault.
First, racism is simply not a thing of the past, it’s not over. It is still part of who we are as a nation.* There are simply too many voices asserting that racism is still actively at work in the systems of American Society for a person of faith to readily accept that it is a thing of the past, a matter only of history. White Christians are called by their faith to listen to their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) sisters and brothers in Christ, (and many White siblings in Christ) who say that systemic racism is alive and well. As part of the Body of Christ, white Christians need to listen to BIPOC people who say that they continue to experience racism. The truth is that it is difficult for White Americans to judge the presence of racism on their own. (That is because of White Privilege – an earlier newsletter article available in the newsletter archive.) So White Christians must read, listen, and look carefully at what is going on around them before they declare that there is no longer racism. Racism isn’t the past, it is now. And it must be talked about, including in our schools, so that it can be addressed.
Secondly, even if one claims that they are not responsible for the racism in our society, past and or present, this argument is not relevant for a Christian. First, neither the Old Testament prophets, nor Jesus, said that Christians only have to stand for justice when we were the source of the injustice. As followers of Jesus, if we see injustice, whatever the cause, we are to act. So, when Critical Race Theory supports the idea that there is systemic racism, Christians are called to take it seriously, and not deny it or dismiss it because it is an uncomfortable or unpopular idea.
* Consider the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would the writers of that legislation ever have imagined that in 2015 the protection they tried to guarantee would be removed by the Supreme Court leading to the crisis in fair access to voting we face today?
One argument used to support anti-CRT legislation is that this material is unpatriotic because it distorts our history and defames the amazing success of our nation by focusing on one aspect of our history, that of slavery and racial tension, over others.
So as a person of faith, how does one respond? Citizens of the United States understandably want to have pride in their nation. As a Christian, however, it is more complicated. Every Sunday, as Christians, we confess our failures. But we know that this does not negate the good we do. It is simply part of our journey of faith to recognize how we fall short of God’s intent for us. So, as Christians, we do not fear naming the ways our country has fallen short because we know that speaking truth is the best way to improve and grow stronger. Speaking truth in love (Eph 4.15) should be a guide for all Christians.
It is also argued that such teaching would disturb or upset children in our schools. The NY State Assembly Bill AA8579, which opposes CRT being taught in schools, says that no teacher should teach anything that would mean that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
So, those opposed to talking about racism in schools suggest that it will upset children because they might feel guilt. But what children are they talking about? Clearly, white children. What of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) children? Don’t they experience anguish and discomfort as a result of the racism they encounter in their daily lives? The legislation that protects white children means BIPOC children’s experiences are not addressed. Are their feelings not as important as the feelings of white children? If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, should we not be concerned about the discomfort and anguish of all children and find ways to help them all? And that can’t happen if racism is not discussed with them.
* In one short column, obviously, the full breadth of arguments for and against this kind of legislation cannot be presented. This is intended as an introduction only.
There has been a tremendous amount of discussion in recent months about CRT or Critical Race Theory. It has become a contentious issue, often dividing people along political lines. But the issues around CRT are of importance to all Christians. So, as difficult as it is to discuss them, discuss them we must.
Critical Race Theory was introduced in the mid-1970’s by legal scholars who were confused by the slow progress of African Americans following the achievements in Civil Rights in the 1960’s. They came to believe that racism was more deeply embedded in American culture than was previously recognized. In other words, they theorized, racism was not just prejudices being expressed by one person towards another. Racism was systemic, embedded in the law, education, health care and more. They realized that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people were experiencing institutionalized inequalities every day. This is CRT.
For years, this theory was discussed primarily in law schools in scholarly debates. But, in time, experts in other fields began to recognize the undeniable reality of systemic racism. The explosion of new research has revealed many painful stories, facts previously ignored, and a narrative about this country that is hard for some white people to hear.
So, what do we do with this information? Some deny it is true; some say it is too hard to deal with, and many prefer to just ignore the whole issue. And then there is the related debate about whether such ideas belong in our schools. And, what is a Christian to do? Do we have any role to play in this discussion? Or can we stay out of it because it is too political? Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, former moderator of the PCUSA, has written an excellent letter about the importance of discussing CRT, which is available here.
Every major mainline denomination in the United States has declared that racism is a problem in the U.S. and is systemic. They have also called it a sin. It is not a political issue for Christians, it is an issue of justice, since racism denies our shared creatureliness. So, if we must enter into this debate, how should we do this? That is for next week.
The Story of Buffalo’s Michigan Street Churches
One street, with so much history. In 1816, of the 400 Buffalo residents, 16 were African Americans, 9 of whom were enslaved (a reminder that enslavement was not confined to the southern states). But, by 1828, there were 60 Black residents and amazing things were soon accomplished. The Vine Street African Methodist Episcopal Church (on Michigan Street) was established in 1831 and Michigan Street Baptist Church in 1836 (its first building was constructed in 1844-45 in large part by members). These churches, however, were not just symbols of security for their members. They felt called to stand against the sin of enslavement.
In 1842, Michigan Street Baptist Church passed a resolution that condemned slavery saying it was “opposed to the spirit of the Gospel.” Over the years, they helped hundreds of the enslaved as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 1843, Vine Street AME church hosted the National Negro Convention where Presbyterian minister Henry Highland Garnet (a Presbyterian minister) and Frederick Douglas debated whether force was the right way to overthrow the institution of slavery, a significant moment in the Abolition Movement.
In 1901, a member of Michigan Street Baptist Church, Mary Talbert, led a protest against two exhibits at the Pan American Exhibit: Darkest Africa and Old Plantation because they included demeaning (and inaccurate) portrayals. Then, in 1905, Ms. Talbert and her husband William offered their home to W.E.B. DuBois for the first meeting of the Niagara Movement Conference, the forerunner of the NAACP. Ms. Talbert, with her church’s support, later became the chair of the national NCAACP Anti-Lynching Committee, which worked for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, which tragically failed to pass the Senate.
Ms. Talbert once said, “It should not be necessary to struggle forever against popular prejudice.” Yet, the struggle continues.
I grew up in Alabama being naive about racism. My elementary school was all white. In Middle & High School, the schools were integrated. My close friends were both white and Black individuals and it made no difference to me. I never thought that people would be treated differently just because of skin tone. It never occurred to me that racism was an issue, or for that matter that any -isms such as sexism, ableism, ageism, or even homophobia existed as major problems.
By the time I was in High School, the word racism was more apparent to me. Especially when the KKK protested at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference several times in the streets of downtown Decatur.
Years later, I would see racism & violence in a much closer way. Being with friends at a local bar, a drunk white man asked my friends why they were hanging out with black boys. Then things escalated from there. Cops were called.
I moved up North in 1992. I assumed that racism wasn’t an issue in the Liberal North. But we all know what assuming does. I was wrong! In church members' homes, racism is alive & well. Racism in the North is more a secret than in the South. But racism is prevalent no matter where you are in the world.
Fast forward to joining the Anti-Racism task group with the goal to educate myself about white privilege & how I could challenge myself not to be silent about racism. I’ve realized that we as white, privileged individuals cannot rely on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) individuals to be constantly teaching and educating us when we should be the ones stepping up, reading, reflecting, and uplifting marginalized voices such as theirs.
My prayer is that I will continue to learn and have the courage to stand with my siblings of color to fight against racism & injustice.
-Rev. Laura Norris-Buisch
Pastor of Riverside Presbyterian Church
Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of WNY
So, what can I do?
To be anti-racist is to be an authentic part of the community of God, where everyone is recognized as carrying God’s image. But, what can we do to help build this community?
First, we need to be aware of our prejudices, biases, and stereotypes. Do we make assumptions about those who are different than us? Do we expect certain behavior from someone because of how they look? We need to examine our assumptions. How stereotyped are they?
Second, learn about the effects of racism in our society. White people might like to assume that there has been so much change since the 60’s that the average white person just doesn’t need to concern themselves with racism. If that is your belief, you are encouraged to do some reading to understand the reality of racism is today’s society and the damage it is doing. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo or The Sum of Us: what racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together by Heather McGhee are places to start.
Third, we all need to examine our privilege. Yes, we may be tired of hearing about privilege, but it is real. There are articles about White Privilege in the archived Presbytery newsletters. Or google: White Privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy MacIntosh.
Fourth, take some time to learn the stories of those who have not been included in most American History classes. For example, watch the PBS program “Slavery by Another Name” to learn some of the realities of Jim Crow or ”Reconstruction.” Learn the story of the Underground Railroad in our area at the museum in Niagara Falls or visit the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center in Salamanca to learn about the Seneca people of Western New York who have two churches in our Presbytery.
Black History or Blacks in History?
So where did Black History Month come from? It started as Negro History Week and was the brainchild of Dr. Carter Woodson. During his graduate studies, he realized that many official school curriculums contained anti-black material that led, in part, to the inequities experienced by African Americans. Contributions of African Americans in the history of the United States, he said were seen as “negligible.” As a result, he committed himself to accurate and in-depth research in the field of African American life, culture and history. He established Negro History Week in 1926.
It is important to note, however, that though he called this special week Negro History Week, he was very clear that Negro History was American History. He said, “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in History.” To Woodson, Black History is American History.
His idea of Negro History Week was adopted by many mayors of major cities throughout the country who would annually designate the second week of February as Black History Week. Then in 1976, President Gerald Ford designated February as Black History Month, as has every president since.
If you haven’t looked up the special Black History Month programs at the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, check out their website. Another excellent resource is the website for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. They have their own Black History Month series as well as their regular programs. Under “Explore” there is “Stories” (look for one on Joe Lewis, for example) and “Curator Chats” on such topics as Blacks in WWI. Under “Learn” there is also a special program on “Talk about Race” for those wishing to explore their understanding of racism in America. There are so many opportunities to grow in understanding of a part of American history that is certainly not “negligible.”
Like most people, I have always known racism is wrong. As a minister, I preached against racism on occasion and talked about social justice. Then a while ago, I took a class called “Culturally Sensitive Pastoral Care” and was told to interview someone from a different cultural or racial group. I chose to interview a local black Presbyterian clergyperson. I had heard people speak well of him, but they said he always seemed to preach the same sermon: a message about racism.
When we talked, he shared openly about the challenges he faced in his childhood in the south. Then, he talked about his time in seminary. I assumed at this point that the story would get better but it didn’t. He attended a Presbyterian seminary, but he was not protected from racism. He persevered, but not without cost. He ended up in this Presbytery, but could he find a call? Was he welcomed into the work of the church as a white pastor would be? No. Again, racism limited his options and shaped his experiences.
I had always assumed that the church was called to fight racism. I didn’t expect to see racism in the church itself. We are “nice” people. I was embarrassed to realize how naïve I had been. I finally realized that the reason he kept preaching about racism was because he was still dealing with it all the time. And not just in his community, but in the church too. And if it was in the church and I hadn’t seen it, how much more was going on out in the world that I wasn’t seeing.
I told him that I would not forget what he had told me; I would not forget his experiences. I knew I had to learn more, to listen, and to begin to work actively against racism.
-Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist, Anti-Racism Task Group member
Black History Month
For too many, Black History Month is marked simply by a few specials on TV and some infomercials. The programs are informative, but often too brief to tell the full story that needs to be heard. People may learn about a few individuals, but not the stories of where they came from, and how they are not an exception but simply only a few of the many African Americans who have built this country.
We should also note that these programs seldom address the facts behind this effort, that American history as taught in schools does not traditionally lift up the contributions of African Americans who are an equal part of that history. Too often, their story is treated as a sideline, if even presented, and not part of the central story of who and what America is. The history we are taught is the history of white Western Europeans in America. But African American history is American history.
This year, through the efforts of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor,, we all have an opportunity to increase our understanding of the contributions of African Americans and to bring our study of this history closer to home. The Heritage Corridor is offering a free series of zoom lectures through the month of February that are focusing on African American history in Buffalo. Simply go to their website for more information. Also, take the time to explore the site to learn more about this effort to clarify the importance of the Black community to Buffalo. You can also sign up for notices about other coming events and tours of some of the historical buildings the Corridor is supporting. How can we become God’s beloved community if we don’t know each other’s stories and recognize each other’s value?
The Bible and Anti-Racism
It is not hard to see how the Bible informs anti-racism work. As it says in Facing Racism: A Vision of the Beloved Community (a PCUSA curriculum: https://www.pcusa.org/resource/facing-racism-vision-community/), the bible provides believers with a clear foundation for anti-racism work. God created the variety of humankind so it must be good; made us all in the image of God; and the people of faith in Acts honor diversity throughout its stories.
So, we can affirm that anti-racism work is rooted in the Bible. But can we expect to find specific guidance for this work in its stories and teachings?
One of the most challenging topics in anti-racism work is the issue of reparations. It has been talked of for years but only recently has it gained much traction. It is a challenging and emotional topic for many. A ground breaking work on this topic is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The Case for Reparations” (Atlantic, June 2014, available on-line). But for people of faith, is there any scriptural guidance on this topic? Matthew Schlimm in his article “Saving the Egyptians” (Christian Century January 12, 2022, available on-line) suggests that there is. He highlights Exodus 12.35-36 proposing that it describes the Egyptians paying reparations to the Hebrews. Schlimm also mentions the example of the story of Zaccheus paying money to those he has cheated.
Wherever one may be on the issue of reparations, clearly the Word of God should be heard on this issue and so much more in the work of anti-racism. You are encouraged to read the discussion of the Biblical roots of anti-racism work in Facing Racism and/or Schlimm’s article. Ask yourself, how does my faith inform my attitudes toward the debate on racism today? Am I guided by God’s word, or other voices?
White and Privileged – What now?
For many of us, when we think of New Year’s resolution, we consider how to improve our physical health. We ponder joining a gym or going on a diet. This year, perhaps, there is another way to change one’s life and outlook. This year, consider making a resolution to read a book that could broaden one’s understanding of the life experiences of others, or that will deepen one’s appreciation for the complex issues facing our society.
Consider one (or more) of the following books, articles or videos, or ask friends for recommendations.
White Privilege can be defined as the disproportionate influence or advantage of White people over others in American Society and culture, usually with negative effects on non-dominant groups.* As a Christian, it is easy to see that this privilege is contrary to God ‘s vision and the gospel. So, what does a white Christian do? Work to invite all people into this place of privilege? Invite others to the table of privilege? This is how many people seek to fight racism.
But, if that is the approach, white people still achieve privilege because they are too often still determining the other’s choices. If a person has a dinner party, they not only invite who will be there, they choose the table setting, what is eaten, when it is eaten and when everyone leaves the table. They retain the privilege of control. Likewise, when white churches invite others to services, they still set the Western European style of worship including music, liturgy and tone. But in Acts 10, Peter is told by God that the Jewish Christians must let go of their demand that Gentile Christians follow the old dietary laws and other restrictions that were for them alone. Peter is told to open his mind and heart to the goodness of others and their ways.
So, what does a white person with privilege do? First, acknowledge and confess the reality of one’s privilege. Consider what advantages one has gained; how much easier things are for a white person compared to the experience of those without the same privilege. To do this authentically, one must listen to the voices of others and learn their stories. Read some of the books in last week’s newsletter. Then, try to step away from privilege. Put oneself at the bottom of the table of privilege, or step away from the table and find ways to enter into dialogues that offer equity for everyone. Repeatedly listen to the voices of others and give them power in one’s life. Explore new ways of seeing and understanding the world, by looking through the eyes of another. As one steps away from the place of privilege, one will find oneself stepping into a world of greater richness, meaning and blessing: God’s Beloved Community.
*If you are not sure what White Privilege is, you are encouraged to look at the archive of our previous articles on the Presbytery page or Google Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” or watching her Ted talk on YouTube.
A New Year’s Resolution
For many of us, when we think of New Year’s resolution, we consider how to improve our physical health. We ponder joining a gym or going on a diet. This year, perhaps, there is another way to change one’s life and outlook. This year, consider making a resolution to read a book that could broaden one’s understanding of the life experiences of others, or that will deepen one’s appreciation for the complex issues facing our society.
Consider one (or more) of the following books, articles or videos, or ask friends for recommendations.
Keith Burich. The Thomas Indian School and the “Irredeemable” Children of New York. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2016. (This is about the boarding school established by Presbyterians on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Irving, New York)
Ibram Kendi. How to be an Antiracist. New York: One World, 2019.
“Asian Americans speak out against a decades-old ‘model minority’ myth” by Yanan Wang
Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.
“The real reasons the U.S. became less racist toward Asian Americans” by Jeff Guo
“Moving Beyond the Black-White Binary” by Roberto Lovato
Debby Irving. Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Cambridge MA: Elephant Room Press, 2014.
Latino Americans, Episode 1: Foreigners in Their Own Land
Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014.
Heather McGhee. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. New York: One World, 2021.
Why is this an appropriate issue for our Presbytery newsletter? Because, of course, none of us can be part of a beloved community unless all members are seeking to understand each other and the challenges they face. We cannot say we love our neighbor if we are not seeking to understand our neighbor. Consider reading: Howard Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976 to deepen your understanding of why the work of Antiracism is faith work.
Happy New Year!
A Festival with a purpose
This weekend (Dec. 3-5), visit Fredonia Presbyterian Church at 219 Central Avenue to attend their Alternative Christmas Festival. It is being held Friday from 3 to 7, Saturday from 10 to 3 and Sunday from 12 to 2. The market includes fair-trade food products such as coffee, chocolate, tea, cocoa mix, and olive oil, all from Equal Exchange. There are also gifts from SERRV, another fair-trade organization. These include nativities, jewelry, scarves, pottery, and more. When you shop fair trade, you empower the people who have provided the products. Too often large U.S. companies take advantage of workers whose race or culture has not traditionally been respected or valued. Through your purchases, you enable these farmers and artisans to support themselves as well as affirm their identity and value.
To further explore the Advent Season and what it has to say about Anti-racism, see the Holy-day Guide here.
Advent, Christmas and….Anti-racism?
The holidays will soon be upon us. For many of us, there is pleasure in the escape from the usual routine, despite the stress of the preparations and the many gatherings.
Tradition tells us that we should expect to discover peace and joy in this season as we move through our activities. And yet, when the season is done, how often do we feel truly transformed? As the secular traditions (which of course can be fun) take over our activities, it can seem harder and harder to find the deeper meaning of the season and its transforming power.
So, what to do? It would seem reasonable that if we are seeking renewal and meaning, the solution would be to pull away from our daily challenges, at least for a time, such as anti-racism work? If what we seek is truly physical refreshment, we may need to pull back. If, however, we are seeking renewal and refreshment of our spirits, then seeking deeper meaning in our celebrations will only help. It is so easy to let the season get away from us, following only the old traditions. But then, when we arrive at the end of the time, we may end up feeling just the same as at the beginning of the season, or maybe even a little depressed, drained or even frustrated.
So, what if you could find new and more profound meaning in the holidays and our celebrations? Could we go beyond a warm glow on Christmas Eve to the transformative message that is the birth of a savior for the world, the whole world?
With this is mind, a “Holy-day Guide” has been produced. Its purpose is to use Advent to help us prepare for the transformative message of the holy-days of Christmas in new ways, through different eyes. The purpose is not to burden ourselves with new obligations, but to deepen our understanding of what we do, and explore new perspectives. The intent is to deepen the joy of the season. This is not a revolutionary guide, simply a place to begin.
In this guide, there are ideas about gift-giving, ideas of places to shop, decoration, devotions and Advent Wreath readings. It can be challenging to think of changing how one celebrates the holidays. But the issues at hand are important. These suggestions do not mean denying the joys and traditions of the holidays but deepening their meaning. We hope you will find something of value. Click here to download the guide.
Seneca Winter Art Market and New Exhibition
The Haudenosaunee Cultural Center at the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, is holding a Winter Art Market on November 27 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The Market will include arts & craft vendors and food vendors. In addition to the vendors, there will be a presentation by Dr. Rodney Haring of the Beaver Clan about his Story Stick collection which will be on display. This is a wonderful opportunity to see examples of Seneca artists, to do some Christmas Shopping, as well as grow in understanding of and appreciation for the Seneca Iroquois Culture.
In addition to the market, a new exhibition on the Thomas Indian School will be opening at the museum. The exhibition will be available until mid-2022 so you can visit anytime during the next 6 months even if you cannot attend the market. The title of the exhibition is: “We Were At The School. We Were There. We Remember.” This exhibition will explore the history of the Thomas School on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, including the personal experiences of surviving students. The school was founded by Presbyterian missionaries who continued to serve on the Board of the school when New York State took it over. This is not an easy story for the Church to confront, but the strength and endurance of the Seneca people in the face of the trauma carries a powerful message. It is important that the Presbyterian Church confronts this history by listening to the truth about what happened here. Healing can only come if the truth is heard.
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.
So why do White people need to recognize this privilege? This privilege keeps Whites from understanding that white people have a specific set of norms and advantages unique to them. Because of privilege, they can go through their lives ignoring those in American society who are different as well as the challenges they face, and the gifts they have to offer. White people can live in an all-white community and say that there is no racism there. But, when Whites understand that they have privilege that has allowed this to happen, they can better understand themselves, and their relationships with others, particularly as Christians. They learn that while they may work hard, People of Color probably had to work harder to achieve the same (or less). And what White people value may not be the same things that People of color value and this is a loss for White People. It can be something as complex as the importance of community over individualism or historically honoring the creation as a gift instead of using it for human advantage, or as simple as the fact that long straight blond hair is not the only definition of beauty.
Also, it is important to recognize that when privilege is not addressed, White people diminish others. This privilege is at the heart of structural racism. White Privilege constantly gives Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) a message that they are less important, their culture is less valuable, and they need to conform to the White world to succeed. White privilege, and the power and advantages that Whites have in this society, is a constant message to BIPOC People that their issues and challenges are less important. And the ultimate expression of White Privilege is, as indicated by research: Race is the single most accurate predictor of well-being in the U.S. Do you believe that all white people are working harder and are more gifted than the People of Color in our country? Or do you see White Privilege at work?
Do you recognize your White Privilege? Please read Peggy McIntosh’s piece. And consider watching on YouTube: Understanding My Privilege by Sue Borrego (TedxPasadena Women) and, for a lighter touch, James Corden Gets a Lesson on White Privilege.
The topic this week (and for a few weeks beyond) is White Privilege. The term “White Privilege” was coined by Peggy McIntosh in 1988. She was doing research in the field of women’s rights and the ways that men had advantages over women in a variety of ways in American society. This led her to explore the concept of privilege, where one group has control or dominance over another group, and out of this work, she discerned the existence of White Privilege. White Privilege is understood to be the disproportionate influence or advantage of White people over others in American society and culture, usually with negative effect on non-dominate groups. In other words, White people have advantages that Blacks, Indigenous, and other People of Color do not.
There is resistance among many people (usually White people) to this concept. White people may resist because they don’t recognize Whiteness as a category to which they belong. They are just people. Yes, they have white skin but it ends there. As McIntosh puts it, “Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, average.” So, Whites tend to see their experiences, attitudes, and beliefs as normative for everyone in the society, no matter their color or ethnicity. Their ways of being are universal, the template, against which others traditions and cultures are compared. There is history, then there is Hispanic history or Black history or Asian-American history.
But it is important that White people recognize that their culture, their norms are simply one way of looking at the world, and acting in the world. The culture that is claimed by many White people in American is essentially rooted in Western European culture. Most people who identify as White in American have claimed, or adopted, those cultural norms whatever their specific heritage. So, to understand White Privilege, White people must understand that their “whiteness” is more than skin color. Over the next week you are encouraged to explore what being White means in your daily life.
What does this have to do with Christianity? When Christian White people in America fail to recognize that they have a specific culture and that it is just one of many, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, they are denying the richness of all God’s people and what others have to offer them and teach them. They are denying the existence of the Beloved Community and the breadth that the church is intended to embody. And that is something to think about.
The Illusion of Race
This week you are being invited to watch two videos that discuss the illusion of race. These videos try to explain where the idea of race came from, and why it is not the scientific category that many of us were led to believe. Simply go to YouTube and search for “The Myth of Race Debunked” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnfKgffCZ7U) and “The Origin of Race in the USA” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVxAlmAPHec). The first video is very short (3 minutes) and the second, which is from PBS, is just over 10 minutes (though the relevant content ends at 9 minutes). The speakers in both cases talk quickly so you may wish to listen twice to get the content! For even more information, Contact the Center for Christian Growth (Formerly the Resource Center) to borrow and watch the first part of “The Race: The power of an Illusion.” Of course, the whole film is valuable if you have the time.
If these ideas are new to you, there are other resources which can help. Contact the Anti-Racism Task Group for more suggestions.
Steps on the Road to Racial Equity
Sometimes, it can feel that everywhere you turn, there is another list of resources, classes and podcasts about racism, systemic racism, and achieving racial equity. For those who want to learn about these vital issues, it can be overwhelming to navigate all the suggestions.
To help, The United Way of Buffalo and Erie County is now offering an overview of these issues in a creative format. This program is called The 21-day Racial Equity Challenge. The program is “a powerful opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of how inequity and racism affect our lives and our community.” Several members of the Anti-Racism Task Group have completed the challenge and recommend it highly. When you sign up on the website, you will receive a daily email for 21 days with a link to a short article, podcast or video. The topics are varied, and each activity only takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
This resource is designed for people living in Western New York with over 60 local community partners having proposed, vetted, and selected the content that is used in this regional Challenge. So, this isn’t just another resource. This is our resource.
We invite you to accept the challenge for 21 days, on your own or with a partner or group. Note that once you receive the email, you decide when to open it, so if you need to skip a day, you can catch up easily. Our understanding, however, is that this challenge may not be available after the New Year, which is why we are sending it out now.
As we approach the holidays, life can get very busy. But, as Christians, obviously, our preparations are to be more than shopping and decorating. Perhaps this can be a more meaningful way to prepare yourself for the holy days ahead.
To accept the challenge, go to the WNY 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge and click on Accept the Challenge or Click Here to Sign Up and fill out the form as described and hit submit.
Good News for all People
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4.18-19
These are Jesus’ first public words in the Gospel of Luke and they speak of the good news in powerful and dynamic ways. Clearly the good news is not just a spiritual message, it is to be experienced in concrete ways. We hear clearly of Jesus’ concern for the poor, captives and the oppressed. He is quoting the prophet Isaiah and challenging his followers to understand that his ministry is to be rooted in the calls of the Old Testament prophets for justice.
When Christians are asked to choose a passage to summarize their faith, many might choose John 3.16 and its message of God’s saving grace. But while this truth is certainly central to our faith, it can be distorted. Sometimes, people don’t build their faith on the message of God’s salvation, but rather have it end there. I am saved, and that is my story. But we cannot forget Jesus’ opening words. They are a powerful reminder that our faith is not all about us individually. Our lives, our works, are to also bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and the enable the oppressed to go free. As James says it: “faith without works is…dead.” (James 2.26).
So, how do we do this work in this time and place? The clear correlation between racism and poverty is well documented. The ways that systemic racism oppresses People of Color and affects their healthcare, education and more are well known (Waking Up White). As Christians, if we are to take Jesus’ very first public words seriously, how can we not become involved in the work of Anti-racism?
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.”