August 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.
 

God Calls Us to Change

Aug 22, 2016

By Pr. David Parsons

Pr. David Parsons, a member of the Metropolitan New York Synod Anti-Racism Task Force, is pastor of St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel, Brooklyn.

 

 

I’ve been tasked with writing a reflection on the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith.

 

Two of the men, Mr. Sterling, of Baton Rouge, and Mr. Castile, of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, were killed by police officers. Both men were African-American. Their deaths were captured on video. The names of Alton and Philando thus join a terrible litany… Michael, Eric, Tamir, Sandra, and on, and on… of African-American citizens who have died at the hands of police in the last two years.

 

The other men who died recently were police officers in Dallas. Seven of their fellow officers were also wounded. They were all on duty, protecting citizens who were peacefully protesting the deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota. All of the Dallas shooting victims were white. A lone Army veteran, Micah Johnson, an African-American, has been identified as the shooter in Dallas. He died when a bomb delivered by a remote-controlled robot exploded near his hiding place.

 

A New York Times article on July 13 reported on a poll conducted after the shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas. 69% of Americans believe that race relations are generally bad, and getting worse, the highest level since the 1992 riots following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles. The article went on to say, "More than two-fifths of black people say the police in their communities make them feel more anxious than safe. By wide margins, whites and Hispanics say the police make them feel safer."

 

The_Black_Madonna_of_PragueIt is a fearsome thing to be asked to speak a word of hope, to craft a faithful response, in such a time as this. The situation is unbearably complex, and my location as a white male of considerable privilege properly renders anything that I have to say as worthy of suspicion.

 

As I’ve been thinking and praying over these last days, it seems to me that, for people seeking to follow the way of Jesus, to focus our attention on police, their policies and practices, and the nature of their interactions with those they serve, especially communities of color, is to see only the tip of the iceberg.

 

Speaking from a position of privilege, it seems to me that we get the police we want, and then we give them an impossible task.

 

Here is how President Obama put it in his remarks at the memorial service for the slain police officers in Dallas on July 12:

 

We also know what Chief Brown [Chief of the Dallas Police Department] has said is true, that so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. And then we tell the police, "You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor."

 

We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.

 

President Obama says, "We ask the police to do too much…" We ask them, in essence, to make up for centuries of subjugation, suppression, and oppression suffered by our brothers and sisters of African descent. We ask them to do it without inconveniencing us. For the vast majority of people of color, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" must seem to be alien fantasies, rather than the unalienable rights that our founders believed were endowed to all human beings by their Creator.

 

"We ask too little of ourselves…" As a society, as a nation, we are willing to consign a significant minority of our fellow citizens to communities where shelter and food and educational opportunities are substandard, if not virtually absent. Then we send in police as our representatives, symbols of the system that has failed those communities, expecting them to be responded to with tolerance and respect… and, as President Obama says, we are somehow shocked when that is not the case.

 

What are we to do? How are we to change the fearsome dynamic of race relationships in this nation so that we honor God’s ancient call formishpat and tzedakah, mercy and righteousness, for all God’s people?

 

President Obama suggested, as a beginning, that we turn to the prophet Ezekiel: "I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26) He went on to say, "That's what we must pray for, each of us: A new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens." 

 

What can we do with this new heart? As an overwhelmingly white denomination, we can commit to educating ourselves about race in America, and about what our fellow citizens of color need from us.

 

Here are two, excellent resources to start with:

These were not always easy reading for me. My reaction is that the truth hurts. In the first resource especially, some of the language is crude, even profane. I can imagine that this may upset some who choose to investigate these resources.

 

People are dying. Strong language is called for. I am choosing to take my cue from an item in "12 things white people can do now…" (#10) don’t be afraid to be unpopular

 

If you choose to be an ally, a comrade, with people who are demanding an end to racial oppression, demanding access to the rights and freedoms promised to them in our founding documents, you will upset some people.

 

But then, remember, you go to church. You know how upset people get about which color wine to serve at communion, or what time Sunday school should be, or what people ought properly to bring to coffee hour, or (fill in your own "trauma" here (_____). You know, the important stuff.

 

Change is uncomfortable. It will hurt to change our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. I submit that we have to do it. God calls us to do it. The flesh of our brothers and sisters is being destroyed.

My Son’s Future

Aug 08, 2016

by Joel Bumol

Joel Bumol has been a member of Oceanside Lutheran Church for over seven years. He is a family doctor working in the Bronx and is a member of the Anti-Racism Task Force.

 
 

I worry about the future. As the sun sets on another week of violence in the United States of America, I put my son to bed and worry about the future. My son Jude is black. In 15 years when he is an adult, he will have to face realities about being a black man in America that I, as a white man, never had to experience.

 

The cynical parts of my personality are not optimistic for change after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this past week almost 2 years after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri. The tragic death of these two men was followed by yet another tragedy in Dallas, where five police officers upholding the law to allow for peaceful dialogue and protest were killed. This story is not new. My son was not a month old when 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.

 

Image_1_-_Prince_Jones
Prince Jones, who Coates had known through Howard University, was similarly killed at the hands of law enforcement.

The story of black men being disproportionate victims of police violence is also not new. Last summer, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' open letter to his son, Between the World and Me. Fifteen years earlier, Prince Jones, who Coates had known through Howard University, was similarly killed at the hands of law enforcement like Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and far too many others. Like any parent, I was already fearful for the future for my son. The thought of his future being at greater risk because of his skin color, and the assumptions others might make about him because of how he looks, are the thoughts that can lead to anger, division, blame and more fear. Jesus is weeping.

 

I often think back to a time in my honors English class in high school where we were wrapping up a discussion about race in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I remember giving a short speech about how I saw people as people, that I thought we should all be "colorblind" and that race should no longer be a source of division. I think back to this moment and often cringe. The fact of the matter is our society is not post-racial. Racism and inherent biases and prejudices are alive and rampant. And before my son was born, as I white person I had the privilege of forgetting or ignoring that this was a problem in our day to day world.

 

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
-Desmond Tutu

One of the things I have learned about being a Christian is that it is not easy. We are called to love others without conditions, to fight for justice where there is suffering, and to speak truth even when we do not want to hear it. We have a God and savior who truly invited everyone to His table, who shattered all divisions and erased all lines. How quickly after His death do we forget these lessons and fall back into what is convenient and easy. To my fellow sisters and brothers who are white, how easy it is to continue our day to day lives and forget the horrors that racism exacts on our sisters and brothers of color every day.

 

I am blessed to have been working as a family doctor in the Bronx for the past five years. One of the projects I am involved with are well child group visits, where infants receive their well child care in a group setting rather than traditional individual office visits. Recently I had the privilege of observing three young infants interact in a group--one African-American, one Hispanic, and one Middle Eastern. There was nothing but joy in their eyes as they played with each other. Any future prejudice they learn will be entirely our fault--not just from the vocal racist, but from the silent majority who did not work against racism and for equality.

 

So after finishing Coates' book, I felt I needed to do something. Giving money, participating in worship, and volunteering time are all important, but I know from Jesus' life and teaching that challenging the status quo and speaking truth are necessary to living the Gospel. Here is truth: Racism is real and alive and present today. It is not popular to say this. Our sisters and brothers of color, because of ingrained individual and structural stereotypes, live in fear from the police who would seek to protect all of us. Jesus would be and is on the front-lines calling for an end to racism and any system that creates divisions among us. Having tough conversations about subjects like race, and how we move forward on these issues guided by Jesus' teachings, are at the heart of Christianity. If it feels hard or challenging or uncomfortable, then it means we are probably moving in the right direction.

  

So today my Lutheran sisters and brothers, in the wake of these recent tragedies let us live out the Gospel. Let us work to have tough conversations about racism and prejudice without fear of judgment, persecution or resentment. Let us find resurrection out of death, and work towards a future where my patients can continue the same joy and laughter at age 60 as they do at age 6 months. This road is not easy, but neither is being a Christian. Despite all the sorrow around us, I am ultimately hopeful for our children in the years to come. I have faith that we can continue to bend the arc of history towards justice. We will not get there by being silent, being too afraid or being unwilling to have conversations about race. And as a parent of a young black man, I implore that we start today. My son’s life may depend on it.