May 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.
 

The work of the Anti-Racism Task Force

May 30, 2016

Anti-Racism_LogoThe Anti-Racism Task Force has identified a mission that drives their work: We seek to unify our synod in the wholeness of Christ by dismantling the walls of racism. We are all called to this mission together. Please join us for our introductory anti-racism workshops in the months to come. There will be a concrete first step and very clear opportunity to make a difference as we fight together against racism.

 

As those of you who were at the 2015 Synod Assembly in Tarrytown will undoubtedly recall, this body overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for our synod to affirm its commitment to confronting racism and to begin to address issues of racial oppression on all levels: societal, institutional, interpersonal, and internal. As part of this resolution, an Anti-Racism Task Force was formed in late 2015 and began work earnestly in early 2016. Over the past months, the Anti-Racism Task Force—a sub group of the Sent Committee—has been working steadily not only to organize introductory anti-racism workshops for leaders at all levels in this synod, but also to begin to lay the foundation for the ongoing, active work of dismantling racism that we are called to in the days and years to come. Because racism is a deeply entrenched problem at all levels of our society, from the personal to the institutional, it does not have easy fixes. Instead we are called to commit together to the holy, lifelong work of continual reflection, conversation, and bold action that will help us begin to dispel this sin that is in our midst and inside of each one of us. Our work of dismantling racism does not end in December 2016, but instead we hope this year will serve as a launching pad for all that will follow–trainings, speakers, events, and advocacy that will be an essential part of this synod’s life and ministry together in the years to come.

We are all called to this mission together. We cannot engage this challenging, life-giving work without each other because we are connected to one another as the body of Christ.

 

The Anti-Racism Task Force has identified a mission that drives their work: We seek to unify our synod in the wholeness of Christ by dismantling the walls of racism. We are all called to this mission together. We cannot engage this challenging, life-giving work without each other because we are connected to one another as the body of Christ. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. When a member of the body thrives, we all thrive. The only way to dismantle racism as the body of Christ is for all of us to be in this together. That’s the only way to do it.

 

As the ELCA church body ministering to the largest city in the United States and its surrounding area, we are uniquely poised to address the many different forms of racism for two reasons: the history of New York City and our region is full of racist actions on interpersonal and institutional levels; and we are one of the most diverse synods in the ELCA. In addition, in the past few years, our communities have been the location for recent protest movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, which have pointed out to us that our country and even the territory of our synod does not offer equality to all. Some lives do matter more than others.

 

Likewise, the history of the communities in which our congregations are located also reflect that white lives matter more than brown or black lives. From 1892 to 1954 over 12 million immigrants passed through the halls of Ellis Island, many of their names were Anglicized to make them more "American." Over a quarter of the population of New York City was made of African American slaves before the Revolutionary War and even Central Park was built upon land seized from an African-American neighborhood. And in an effort to keep out the poor and people of color, the bridges over the parkways of Long Island were built too low so that buses could not pass under them.

 

The territory of our synod reflects the vast reach of the different aspects of racism. But perhaps the most insidious part of racism is white privilege because it can be easily ignored or dismissed by white people. Of course not all white people are privileged in the sense of being wealthy, but white privilege is something specific and different than the size of your bank account. White privilege is the idea that just by virtue of being a white person, you are part of the dominant group, which tends to be respected, assumed the best of, and given the benefit of the doubt. That just is not the case for people of other races, no matter how wealthy, smart or hard working they might be. White privilege is a type of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender, or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it is something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away—or unless it had never applied to you in the first place. Job applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called in for an interview. Black defendants are at least 30 percent more likely to be imprisoned than white defendants for the same crime. And, on average, clergy of color in the ELCA wait longer to be called to serve a congregation as pastor than do white clergy.

 

Racism, we should understand, can also go far beyond skin color and race but can also be based on culture, language, spoken accent, and perceived migratory status. We can see this played out in recent anti-immigrant rhetoric spoken by politicians and also in the event when actor Sean Penn asked, "Who gave this guy a green card?" referring to Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (who, by the way, is white of European descent and still also Mexican), when he won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015. Many came to Penn’s defense, saying it was just a joke between friends, but others did not take kindly to the actor’s playful treatment of a serious issue that has affected millions of families in the United States.

 

This form of prejudice does not provide the truth about a person or a group of people because it is based on a perceived illusion. It is our responsibility—not only as a religious community, the body of Christ, but also as residents of New York City and this region—to undo racism and shed light on its false assumptions. Iñárritu said, in reference to the term illegal immigrant, "there is no human being who, as a result of desiring to build a better life, should be named or declared illegal." We cannot create an environment of 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 society and our church.

 

Often times, we are quick to forget that the Scriptures we call holy contain stories that speak to the complex issues of racism.

Speaking to a not-so-small act, Iñárritu has also commented that a plan to build a Mexico–United States barrier would "betray the foundation of this country. The power of this [the U.S.] relies on diversity." It is our responsibility to understand that the best foundation of this nation and the city of New York is a foundation deeply rooted in the mass migrations of groups of people throughout its history. And for those who came before to look down on those tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to be free who now arrive on our shores is wholly un-American and un-Christian, or more specifically, un-New Yorker and un-Lutheran. Often times, we are quick to forget that the Scriptures we call holy contain stories that speak to the complex issues of racism.

 

I hope this small taste of the work that task force has been engaging in has whetted your appetite to dig deeper and learn more about racism, privilege, internalized oppression and what you can do to make a difference. Please join us for our introductory anti-racism workshops in the months to come. There will be a concrete first step and very clear opportunity to make a difference as we fight together against racism. Please join us in June at Ascension in Deer Park, in September at Advent in Manhattan, and in November at Grace in Yorktown Heights for introductory anti-racism workshops that will serve to teach us, get us all on the same page, and fire us up for the work ahead. You are invited to be a part of the transformation. Turn the overwhelming commitment to dismantle racism that we made a year ago into action.

 
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The three upcoming Anti-Racism Introductory Trainings are open to all leaders our church: all elected and volunteer positions; synodical boards, committees, teams; rostered leaders, synodically-rostered leaders, candidates in the call process, congregation call committees, and staff. Each event in free, but requires pre-registration online.
 

White privilege? I thought we were talking about racism

May 16, 2016

By David Parsons

 

I’ve decided to participate in the work of the Metropolitan New York Synod Anti-Racism Task Force because I understand systemic, institutionalized racism as the essential issue for all who seek to not only pray, but live out, Jesus’ teaching on prayer: "… Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth…"

 

The reading and education and self-reflection that I’ve done over the last few years has led me to understand that I am racist. I don’t like to think of myself that way. I like to think of myself as welcoming to all people, embracing diversity, committed to equity, an ally to those who are the targets and victims of racism. That feels good.

 

World_Conference_against_Racism_

What has become clear to me is that I am the product of a system of privilege that has rendered me functionally unconscious of that privilege, leaving me unable to see how it oppresses my brothers and sisters of color, and how it oppresses me.

 

Here are some concepts and tools that helped me to begin to understand my location, and impressed upon me the need to work for change, personally and institutionally.

 

A mentor who’s worked for many years on racism told me, "given my background as a white, middle-class, college-educated person; I learned that it is best for me to assume that my motives in any given situation are informed by a matrix of racism and white privilege. That seems to give me the best chance of acting in a loving, open manner." That approach has been working for me, working on me, slowly and steadily.

 

At this point, it might be reasonable to say, "White privilege? I thought we were talking about racism." Privilege, specifically white privilege, seems to me an essential aspect of racism. Peggy McIntosh wrote a seminal work, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." She describes me when she states, "I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group." You can find a copy of the "knapsack" here.

 

Jane Elliott, an antiracism educator and activist, posed the following scenario to a largely white audience in a video (as an exercise, if you are a person who identifies as white, you might want to read this sitting down): "If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in society, please stand… Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening, [and] you know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it, or to allow it to happen for others." I remained seated. I’m not willing to accept that any longer, in myself, or in my church. If you’d like to see the video, you can find it here.

 

Street_ArtWhat I’ve come to understand about racism, from my privileged, white location, is that it is a lose/lose proposition. Racism not only harms those who are its targets, its victims. As the Rev. Joseph Barndt, a Lutheran pastor, antiracism trainer and organizer, and the former director of Crossroads Ministry in Chicago, writes in his essential book, "Becoming an Anti--Racist Church: Journeying Toward Wholeness" (Fortress Press), "racism’s most devastating power is that it takes all of us prisoner. It controls and threatens to destroy us all." (emphasis added) Rev. Barndt urges churches who wish to confront racism first to look within: "… The mission to build a multicultural church does not begin with outreach, but rather it begins with "in reach" into the center of our sanctuaries. We cannot escape the painful realization that our own people and our churches are imprisoned by racism and are not free."

 

If you read this far, I’m grateful for your time and attention. I covet your prayers for the work of the Anti-Racism Task Force, and for the Metropolitan New York Synod. We have work to do. It is God’s work, holy work. May the Spirit surround us as we journey together.