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April 2016 Archive for Steps towards racial justice

RSS By: MNYS Anti-Racism Task Force

Our Anti-Racism Task Force members will be taking turns in writing posts that shed light on issues surrounding racial justice work in our church and society. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors.

Privilege in the land of Sojourner Truth’s slavery

Apr 29, 2016

by Rev. James Rowe


Early Saturday mornings, before most people are awake, I run along streets that at times seem to be haunted by ghosts, especially the ghosts of my ancestors and of the great African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth. Ms. Truth was born into slavery not too far from Kingston, NY where I serve Redeemer Lutheran Church. As I run through Port Ewen, just south of Kingston, I pass a 5-foot-6 bronze statue of Sojourner Truth, immortalized as the young Isabella Baumfree, the name she held as a slave. She is carrying two heavy jugs, one of liquor and one of molasses, back from the Rondout Creek area where she would have purchased them for her owner who ran the local Jug Tavern. The statue is beautiful, but it is not pretty. Her clothing is a rag of a dress, her feet bare, her back showing the scars of beatings, and in the predawn light I can almost see the determination in her eyes set toward freedom.


Bust_of_Sojourner_TruthAs my long run turns back north toward home, I snake my way through the streets of Kingston and its historical buildings. I pause at the Ulster County Courthouse in Uptown Kingston, where in 1828 she successfully sued and won her son Peter’s freedom after he was illegally sold to an owner in Alabama. There is a small plaque commemorating this historic event with the adult face of Ms. Truth on it. As I run in the predawn light, visit parishioners, walk the streets of Kingston, drink tea in coffee shops, and even participate in a public procession during an ecumenical Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, I am oddly aware of something that I was not aware of before I moved out east in 2007.


It was not until I moved out east after graduating from Wartburg Theological Seminary (Dubuque, IA) that I realized how important the history of the communities I have served are to me. While serving St. Mark Lutheran Church in Norwich, CT from 2007-2010 my father and sister back home in Minnesota started genealogy work and learned that our ancestors had lived in the communities that I have served (Norwich, CT and Kingston, NY). In Norwich, I lived down the street from the burial site of Uncas Sachem of the Mohegan people. A few miles away were the grave sites of the first white settlers of Norwich, one of whom was an ancestor of mine and a key person in the purchase of the land from Uncas. When I moved to Kingston, NY my father and I drove down the street where the Ulster County Courthouse and Old Dutch Church sit on opposite sides, and he told me that some of my ancestors had been married in that church. My ancestors walked to church on the same street that Ms. Truth walked as a slave and later would walk to win her son’s freedom.


The longer I have lived out east the more I have realized that my life both past and present has been informed by the events that have shaped the communities in which I live and serve. In other words, I am indebted to these communities and its peoples for my very life. Whether I acknowledge it or not, my life and my ministry is intimately intertwined with the long history of these places and their people. And as my predawn runs and ministry take me along these historic and ancestral streets alive with ghosts, I cannot help but wonder occasionally how my life would have turned out if my ancestors had been Mohegan instead of white settlers or slaves instead of free.


I say occasionally because as a white, male, cisgender person I have the privilege to be able to not think about such things because who I am as considered the norm for our society. And not thinking or speaking about these things is the preferred societal, "normal" thing to do. When I talk about my white privilege in my predominately white privileged world, I get pushback from others. As I try to make sense of who I am, I have noticed that my whiteness and privilege have hidden from me my own culture, my own ancestry, my own familial history, both good and bad, and my desire to make sense of it all is not what white people are supposed to do. (We won’t get into my family’s questionable connection to Frank James, the older brother of Jesse James, Confederate soldier, guerrilla, outlaw, bank robber, and member of the infamous James-Younger Gang. My first name is James, of course.)


As a member of the Anti-Racism Task Force, I am learning that I need to make sense of my culture, ancestry, familial history, and privilege. I am learning that I need to weather the pushback and discomfort it causes in myself and others so that I may play a part in creating the "Beloved Community" that Dr. King spoke so passionately about. I do this not because I am perfect, but precisely because I am an imperfect person and pastor whose imperfections have been covered over by my whiteness. And as I listen to the stories that my colleagues, friends, and parishioners of color share with me about their experiences as under privileged people in this country, I realize that if I do nothing, if I keep running down those streets without addressing the haunting ghosts both past and present, then I am giving in to the indifference that is one privilege of my whiteness.


Dr._Martin_Luther_King_-_1957As I have worked with the Anti-Racism Task Force I have realized that there is great wisdom in the words of Martin Luther’s "Lectures on Galatians" that helped me understand my calling as a pastor and as a child of God when I was discerning a call to pastoral ministry in 2003. Brother Martin writes, "if there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is, to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself. Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and is the debt I own them… My wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed. Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to the sinners." And, I would add, my privilege belongs to the under privileged. I have seen in the eyes of the people on the task force the same determination I see in the eyes of the young Ms. Truth in the predawn light: We are better than our current condition, we will work to make this church and our communities better for all, and one day we will all be free of this harmful privilege.



Unmasking Racism/Desenmascarando al Racismo

Apr 18, 2016

Immigration Reform in the U.S.

By Roberto Lara


Recent anti-immigrant rhetoric from certain U.S. Presidential candidates has unearthed the profound racism still engrained in much of American society. This can easily be seen in the polarization of views when speaking about a healthy and inclusive immigration reform in this country. According to the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy), racism is an ideology or doctrine that often leads to the discrimination or persecution of a group of people, based on their race. Still, these discriminatory actions, categorized as racism within American society, can go far beyond the color of skin but can also be based on culture, language and even spoken accent.


Calpulli Mexican Dance Company dancing during the bilingual service of Saint Peter's Church and Sion Iglesia Luterana
Calpulli Mexican dance Company bailando durante el servicio bilingüe de Saint Peter's Church y Sion Iglesia Luterana


Over 150 million people around the world are temporarily or indefinitely living outside of their home country. According to U.S. census data, there are nearly 40 million foreign-born residents, which represents close to 13% of the total population. Despite this staggering number, racism towards immigrants and their cultural origins is often time fully masked by the use of terms widely believed to be justifiable, and even unrelated to racism.


This is most evident in the plain and simple term, "American." America is a continent made up of 35 countries, in which the residents of these countries are all American. However, some residents of the U.S. have taken over this demonym of the continent in daily rhetoric to the exclusion of the inhabitants of the remaining 34 counties that make up America. Just think, how can you "make America great again" by building a wall across part of America to protect if from what? Other Americans? How would our discourse on immigration be transformed if instead of using the word "American" to mean us and not them, we used it to unify an entire continent of people?


According to many legal experts, "undocumented" is now the preferred term for immigrants formerly known as "illegal". However, even when we are careful with our terms and phrases that allow for a more peaceful and inclusive conversation around immigration reform, it is surprising how public dialogue with regard to immigrants and their incorporation into US society can reveal the same feelings of hate and disdain that were prevalent during the period of segregation in the United States. Then, instead of walls and borders to keep Americans separate, we had lunch counters, bathrooms & water fountains to keep us separate but somehow "equal".


Furthermore, laws or police actions that seek to determine who undocumented immigrants are based on physical appearance (or the appearance of belonging to a particular ethnic group), to the prohibition of certain ethnic studies in some high schools and colleges by state law, together are a demonstration of how immigration has become a way of deciding who belongs, and who does not deserve to belong, in the fabric of US society. This has created an environment in which racism toward groups of immigrants is tolerated, and possibly even indirectly supported by, our own systems of government, definitely separate and definitely not equal.


Presently, in preparation for the impending presidential elections, the topic of immigration reform has completely polarized the population and become a central element in political campaigns. Until an immigration reform exists that takes into consideration the needs of immigrants pass the perceived threat to other US racial groups, we will never reach a balance in society that will allow for greater opportunities for all minority groups. On the contrary, we will only support the current social and economic structures that overshadow not only immigrants, but all underrepresented groups in this country.


At the end of the day, it is our responsibility – not only as a religious community, but as residents of this country – to understand that the foundation of this nation is rooted in and was built around mass migrations of various groups of people throughout it's short history. We cannot create an environment of progressive and unity if we do not carefully consider "new" waves of immigrants, and to do so, it is vital to remain aware of even the smallest daily acts that have led to the epidemic of racism still pervasive in our American "United Statian" society.




Reforma Migratoria en los EE.UU.

Por Roberto Lara


Recientes comentarios anti-migratorios manifestados por ciertos candidatos a la presidencia de los EE.UU., han dejado al descubierto el profundo racismo aún encarnado en la sociedad de este país, el cual es fácilmente visible cuando se polarizan las opiniones al iniciar cualquier conversación referente a una sana e inclusiva reforma migratoria. De acuerdo a la RAE (Real Academia de la Lengua Española), el racismo es una ideología o doctrina que suele motivar la discriminación o la persecución de un grupo, basado en su raza. Sin embargo, las acciones discriminatorias llamadas racismo dentro de la sociedad estadounidense van mucho más allá del color de la piel –trascienden a aspectos de cultura, lengua y hasta acentos.


Hay más de 150 millones de personas en el mundo que están viviendo permanente o temporalmente fuera de sus países de origen. De acuerdo al Censo de los EE.UU., este país cuenta con cerca de 40 millones de residentes nacidos fuera de su territorio, lo que representa casi el 13% de su población total. A pesar de esto, el racismo hacia los inmigrantes y sus orígenes culturales está plenamente enmascarado con el uso de términos "suaves" que sueles creerse no solamente justificados, sino ajenos al racismo.


Esto puede observarse con la simple y sencilla palabra "americano". América es un continente constituido por 35 países*, los residentes de todos estos países son americanos; sin embargo, los habitantes de los EE.UU. se han apoderado del gentilicio del continente, excluyendo así en cualquier conversación cotidiana, a todos los pobladores de los 34 países restantes. Analizando algunas de las frases que más escuchamos en estos días como "let's make America great again" (hagamos a América grandiosa de nuevo) nos podemos dar cuenta fácilmente que esto no podría suceder construyendo una barrera en la frontera, ¿para qué serviría dicha acción? La justifican en nombre de la protección, pero, ¿protección contra quién?, ¿protección contra inmigrantes?, ¿contra los americanos del sur del continente?


De acuerdo a algunos especialistas de la materia legal, "indocumentado" es ahora la forma apropiada de llamar a los inmigrantes anteriormente conocidos como "ilegales". Aún al tratar de usar los términos apropiados para crear un ambiente más pacífico durante las conversaciones sobre migración, es sorprendente el cómo dichas pláticas públicas pueden desatar los mismos sentimientos de odio o repulsión que desataba el racismo en la época de la segregación. En dicha época, en lugar de separar gente por medio de una barda en la frontera, se les separaba mediante el uso de baños y bebederos, separados pero "igualitarios".


Acciones que van desde leyes o acciones policiacas que buscan determinar inmigrantes indocumentados basándose en la forma en como ellos lucen físicamente (o si aparentan ser parte de una comunidad en particular); hasta la prohibición de ciertos estudios étnicos en algunas escuelas preparatorias y centros universitarios por legislaciones estatales; son en conjunto una manifestación que demuestra como el tema de la inmigración se ha convertido en una forma de decidir quien pertenece y quien no merece pertenecer a la sociedad estadounidense. Esto ha creado un ambiente en el cual, el racismo hacia grupos de inmigrantes ha sido tolerado y, posiblemente, apoyado indirectamente por los sistemas propios del gobierno.


Memorial fúnebre a base de ataúdes en la frontera de la ciudad de Tijuana, México; en conmemoración por los inmigrantes caídos en su intento por cruzar a los EE.UU.

Memorial coffins on the US-Mexico barrier for those killed crossing the border fence in Tijuana, México


En los tiempos actuales, al prepararnos para las próximas elecciones presidenciales, el tema de la reforma migratoria ha polarizado completamente a la población, y ha sido un elemento central para campañas políticas enteras. Mientras no exista una reforma migratoria que tome en cuenta las necesidades de los inmigrantes más allá que los deseos de otros grupos raciales "estadounidenses", no lograremos balancear a la sociedad actual para así crear más oportunidades para las minorías; por el contrario, daremos más fuerza a la estructura social y económica actual que domina no solo a los inmigrantes, sino a todas las minorías del país.


Al final del día, es nuestra responsabilidad –no solo como religiosos sino como personas residentes de los EE.UU.– el entender que el origen de esta nación se dio gracias a varias migraciones masivas; no podremos crear un ambiente de progreso y unión si no tomamos en cuenta a las "nuevas" generaciones de inmigrantes, y para ello es importante hacernos consientes de las pequeñas acciones cotidianas que son resultado del racismo aún existente en nuestra sociedad estadounidense.





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