Anti-Racism article archives

Seeking to be an Anti-Racist: Living the Love of Jesus

This is 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 csl12wickwire@gmail.com or Cathy Rieley-Goddard at cathriego@gmail.com.

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5-4-2022

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.

5-4-2022

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.

4-27-2022

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.

4-20-2022

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?

4-13-2022

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.

4-6-2022 Christians and CRT Part 4

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

3-30-2022

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

3-23-2022 Christians and CRT - part 3

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?

3-16-2022 Christians and CRT - part 2

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.

3-9-2022 Christians and CRT - part 1

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.

3-2-2022

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.


2-23-2022 Racism in the North?!?!

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

2-16-2022

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.

2-9-2022

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.”

2-2-2022

Why Anti-racism?

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

1-26-2022

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?

1-19-2022

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?

1-12-2022

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.

1-5-2022

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!

12-03-2021

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.

11-17-2021

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.

11-10-2021

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.

11-03-2021

"White" privilege?

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.

10-27-2021

What 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.

10-20-2021

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.

10-13-2021

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.

9-29-2021

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?

9-22-2021

Dialogue Difficulties

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.

9-15-2021

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.

9-8-2021

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.”

9-22-2021

Dialogue Difficulties

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.

8-18-2021

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.

8-11-2021

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?

8-4-2021

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?

7-1-2021

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.”