In this article you will find five important reflections that will help us understand awareness in the context of anti-racism. Each section was written by members of the Bishop’s Anti-Racism Task Force.
It is our goal to help you define awareness as it relates to racism and to help you bring awareness to others.
#1 Let’s start by defining awareness
By Erwin Lopez
“Far too often we falsely convince ourselves that because we have a certain educational background, hold a certain professional title or have our own share of challenges in life, that we are immune to holding harmful beliefs about others.”
Awareness is a critical first step in the work of anti-racism. A simple question to help us consider this important first step is, “How can you know something is real if you are not aware of its existence?”
Anti-Racism awareness is about bringing to light racism in policies, systems, and even in our own lives.
Awareness is about humility. When we take time to listen, learn, and open our hearts to a different perspective, we humble ourselves by honoring other people’s stories.
The goal of awareness is to help us develop a more informed opinion by listening to a different perspective.
Awareness is about educating yourself.
Because we believe educating yourself is important in the work of anti-racism, we encourage you to first take the time to study the history of race.
#2 Become aware by knowing the history of racism
By Paulette Monroe
One might say racism is defined as prejudice (an unjustified or incorrect attitude toward an individual based solely on an individual’s views toward a certain race or gender), discrimination (the unjust or prejudicial categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex), and antagonism (active hostility or opposition).
Racism is partly the result of fear and ignorance, but it also has its origin in the system of slavery. In the Old South, slave owners used racist ideas, such as the lies of racial inferiority, to justify their cruel and shameless exploitation of a socioeconomic system upon which the southern plantation aristocracy was based.
The concept of racism as an ideology originated from European scientists in the 17th century during the Atlantic slave trade. They invented it to differentiate themselves from those with darker skin colors and different features, creating a racial hierarchy that continues to this day.
|Five generations of slaves on Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina. Photo from the Library of Congress.|
On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves who resided in the rebellious states. However, it took two and a half years to fully implement it. On June 19, 1865, two months after the surrender of Lee’s Army at Appomattox, the last group of slaves in the rebellious states were notified of their freedom. All slaves were finally freed on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the 13th amendment.
Racism, however, did not end with slavery. When federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877, the southern states immediately started the Jim Crow system of segregation. The Ku Klux Klan had already been established and white intimidation had become a deadly reality long before the federal troops withdrew.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech in 1965 calling for the end of racism in the United States. Forty-three years later, the U.S. elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama. It was a huge success in the lives of African Americans.
Racism in the United States has existed since the colonial era, and it involves laws, practices, and actions which discriminate against various groups or adversely impact them in other ways, based on their race or ethnicity.
Lonnie G. Bunch, the secretary and director of The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. said, “The recent killing in Minnesota of George Floyd has forced the country to confront reality despite gains made in the past 50 years, we are still a nation riven by inequality and racial division.”
Whereas, most white Americans enjoy legally or socially-sanctioned privileges and rights, these same privileges and rights can be denied to members of other races and minority groups in the United States and that’s racism.
#3 The Power of Symbols
By Andy Whitaker Smith
There is more than one way to tell a story.
The most common way we may think is writing, but stories are much more powerful than words on a page. If our faith teaches us anything, it is that stories have the power to transcend time and culture, as we continue to find power and hope in stories thousands of years old and originating from the other side of the planet. Before these stories were ever captured on paper, they were shared through voices and images. The windows in many of our churches honor a tradition of telling stories through the power of art and image—because even if we cannot read the story, there is always another way to experience the story.
Symbols are crucial to our humanity. A single picture can contain more richness, inspiration, and hope than any collection of words. We see a symbol and it can instantly bring up an entire library of memories and emotions, everything that symbol connects to our personal and communal experiences.
These can be feelings of hope...or feelings of despair. They can be memories of love or memories of hate. A symbol may make us proud of our heritage or remind us of how we’ve been oppressed; how we have stood up to evils such as racism or how we have stood by and allowed them to live.
Wherever we are in life, whatever direction we are going, symbols continue to speak to us and at us. And let us not forget, we are a symbol, as well. When people see us and what we do…..are they seeing God?
#4 White Privilege: It’s Real.
By Beth Demme
The Book of Discipline says it plainly: “In many cultures white persons are granted unearned privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color” (¶ 162). White privilege is real, but it can be difficult for white people (like me!) to recognize it. The Book of Discipline points us to the reality that racial discrimination does not present itself only in the ways of apartheid and segregation, but in ways that are far more subtle and equally nefarious.
Because I believe there is only one human race, I am always uncomfortable defining people—including myself—based on skin color. This is white privilege at work in me. The freedom to move through the world as if the color of my skin does not define me culturally, or project any truth about me, is part of white privilege.
As United Methodists, “we oppose the creation of a racial hierarchy in any culture” (¶ 162). This includes naming and speaking out against white privilege and the ways it denies the image of God in others.
#5: It is Personal
By Pastor David L. Charlton
Jesus took it personally when He observed injustice, oppression, and lack of compassion. At the temple, He observed the moneychangers and animal venders using a religious system to exploit the poor. His anger boiled over as He overturned the tables and drove out the animals. (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18 & John 2:13-22).
On another occasion, Jesus brought a man with a shriveled hand in front of the synagogue. He asked the religious leaders if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. When they did not answer Jesus looked at them in anger and healed the man. (Mark 3:1-6)
Jesus was not easily angered. He only became angry when He witnessed the mistreatment of people. He also never hurt anyone out of anger. Instead of violence or revenge, anger motivated Jesus to pursue justice, end oppression and promote healing.
Just as Jesus took it personally when He witnessed injustice, we should take it personally when we witness racism. Many of us feel a righteous anger that motivates us to take non-violent, loving action to eradicate racism. It is good to have such feelings.
|Pictured Left to Right: Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd|
Shock overwhelmed me when I learned about a black man named Ahmaud Arbery. He was jogging down the road when two white men with guns stopped him. They assumed he was up to no good. Ahmaud would probably still be alive if he were white.
Like so many, I felt outrage when I saw a police officer grind his knee into the neck of a black U.S. citizen for over 8 minutes. We do not know if George Floyd was guilty of paying with a counterfeit bill. The investigation ended upon his brutal death.
In the same way Jesus was angry when He witnessed oppression, we should be angry when we experience or witness racism. The question is: How will I channel this anger?
Before answering this question, we must ensure that our anger towards racism does not turn into hate. Remember, God is love (1 John 3:8 & 16). Besides, hate does not work.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. King did not come up with this on his own. Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and the Apostle Paul reminds us that goodness is the only way to defeat evil. (Romans 12:17-21).
The following are some practical ways to channel our anger towards racism:
Continue to love and respect law enforcement. There is systemic racism within our institutions, to include our police forces. Comprehensive police reforms are necessary. Most police officers, however, want to perform their duties in a just manner even though they work in a hostile environment. Racism is the enemy, not the individual police officers. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Encourage dialogue between people of different races and different viewpoints. Racism cannot be defeated without cross-racial empathy. This comes primarily through listening and attempting to understand another person’s perspective. For example, during the riots we should ask, “Why are there so many angry people?” To answer this question, we converse with many people from a variety of backgrounds.
Attend a peaceful protest. As Christians, we are expected to love our enemies and not seek revenge. For us to do this, the government must seek justice on our behalf. When governments fail to do this, we should ask why and seek change. It is right for us to demand, in a forceful yet non-violent and loving way, comprehensive changes so that our black brothers and sisters can feel secure enough to seek assistance from law enforcement whenever they need help.
Speak up when you observe or hear something that is racist. This takes courage. Especially when you are among friends and you hear them say something that is clearly racist. When you speak up, remain respectful. Just say something like, “I disagree with what you just said and here’s why….” The conversation may be fruitful or extremely unpleasant. But, if you say nothing, the people will continue in their racist talk and beliefs.
Vote for the candidates that will seek justice and promote love and respect for all people. By doing that, you will be voting in accordance with Kingdom of God values.
Racism affects us all and weakens our nation. It is time we all take it personally.