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7 Baby Steps Whites Can Take to Fight Racism

While studying gender in my PhD program, I was assigned to read Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920. At the risk of sounding like Nerd Girl, it was the best book I read all year. One of its strengths was that it introduced readers to the African-American middle class that existed between 1890 and 1960. Of special interest to me were photos of male and female seminary students studying theology—including Koine Greek—under male and female professors. Most white seminaries didn’t admit women till the 1970s, let alone hire them as professors.

I had been taught that the U.S. Women’s Movement in the 1960s was responsible for women’s “new” leadership in church contexts and our entrance into seminaries. Some of my teachers had even spoken disparagingly about how women’s presence in leadership roles was due to Christians’ “capitulating to culture.” Yet Gender and Jim Crow forced me to face the facts: The version of history I had heard, if true at all, was true of only a segment of the population.

Part of learning church history is learning Black history.

Fast forward to last summer. I had the privilege of becoming a student again, complete with roommate and curfew. While in Italy learning about medieval art and theology, I got to know and love an African-American fellow-student who is movie producer in L.A. I loved talking with her over two-hour pasta meals and continuing our discussions in the courtyard of the monastery where we were staying.

One night I asked her about her experience as a student in higher education. She told of going to an elite film school and being handed a list of the “100 Best Movies Ever Made.” But not one of the classic favorites from her own subculture—movies such as “The Wiz,” which her church performed, nor “A Raisin in the Sun”—had made the list.

When I returned home, I checked out my own course offerings to make sure they included books from a diverse range of experts. And I saw that my own syllabus needed some serious attention. So I worked to provide a more rounded list, and the course is better for it. (There’s still more work to do.)

Two years ago, when I quoted Toni Morrison during a conference I was keynoting, a woman came up afterward and thanked me. I appreciated her kind words, but it’s sobering to think that in her world it is so rare to hear someone quote a person of color that she felt compelled to thank me.

We have a big problem with ethnicity in our world.

Most white Christians I know feel troubled about it. But they have no idea what we can do. So here are some baby steps to get us started:

1.     Pray. Really—I mean it. Pray and pray. Have you even prayed about racism? Much?

2.     Repent. Ask forgiveness for sins of commission and omission. Ask God to show you where you’re turning a blind eye in contexts where you have social power you could use for greater good.

3.     Watch some movies: We quote what we know. So get ready for some terrific stories. In addition to those mentioned, watch “The Color Purple,” “Selma,” and “42”; “Just Mercy” and “Harriet.” Plus documentaries about race in America.

4.     Set the table: Invite someone of a different ethnicity to your home for dinner. Enjoy their company. Build a relationship. Teach your children that you’re not just fighting a bad thing. You are embracing a beautiful thing. Help them understand that their lives are deficient if they lack exposure to relationships with a broad range of image-bearers.

5.     Listen: When people talk about their experiences and fears, we need to shut up and empathize. Really listen. Not so we can say “Yes, but…” but so we can groan with all creation over the evil of divisions so deep we may not even see them.

6.     Read: Toni Morrison has won both a Nobel and a Pulitzer. Put her books in your Audible queue or pick them up from the library. Or grab Sue Monk Kidd’s book The Invention of Wings, a fascinating work of historical fiction about race, sex, and class. Or for less than three bucks, you can get the Kindle version of The 100 Most Influential Black Christians in History. Include diversity in your authors and/or story subjects.

7.     Include a variety of ethnicities in your examples: If you speak publicly or write, consider the ethnic mix of the people you quote and the subjects of the stories you tell. Ever told the story of Bishop Richard Allen? And while you’re at it, seek diversity in your ABF classes, on your worship teams, and on your elder boards and preaching teams.

The above is only the beginning.

The church has the opportunity to model what it looks like to go far beyond tolerance to love. Let us be known for celebrating the beauty of God’s creation in the form of diverse humanity from every tribe and nation and tongue. We can’t expect the world to lead the way. The changes must start in our own homes and in our pews—beginning with the most segregated hour of the week.

You can read more here.

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Sandra Glahn

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.

9 Comments

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    Zororai Gwen Gundu

    7 Baby Steps Whites Can Take to Fight Racism By Sandra Glahn

    Wow!!  I was truly blessed reading this, well reserached hitting the nail on the head article.

    I pray that it finds its way to the right market and that its put into practise.

    Thank you very much Sandra Glahn, its long coming but its good to know someone is actually doing something about it.

    Warm regards

     

    Zororai

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    dave939393

    Great ideas

    These are great ideas. It is very easy to ignore injustices that do not directly affect us, or that is commonplace.

    One additional suggestion I'd like to add to the excellent list above is this: parents should never tolerate or promote racist ideas in their kids. Kids don't just become hateful and racist in their thinking. It takes lots of contributions from their closest family members and closest associates, including their parents. Those jokes at the dinner table about ethnic minorities; those little jabs against other races; those off-handed remarks against blacks, immigrants, etc while watching tv with the kids, etc, all add up to create a very hateful, racist young adult who feels justified to mow down innocent people based entirely on the color of their skin. A person cannot be any more defective than that. 

    The church shooter of SC was born a very lovely baby, and, other than the racist ideas fed him by those closest to him who should have guided his thinking in his early years, he would have grown to become a loving young man who values everyone because they were created by God.

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    Sue Edwards

    Excellent blog, Sandi,

    We all have so much to learn about racism–I have a dream with you, Sandi, that the Church would become the catalyst for positive dialogue and loving attitudes and actions that create Charlestons rather than Fergusons. Well done, my friend.

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    Gail Seidel

    Outstanding

    Thank you, Sandi, for your thought provoking, practical steps we must continue taking.You  contribute greatly to what we desparately need in respectful conversations AND intentional actions.I'm printing this blog to have as reference.

    I appreciate you so much, Gail

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    Faith W

    Big steps not baby steps

    I'm at a loss as to why "whites" today are always accused of being racist and in need of change. From what I see, the largest population of racist seems to come from the black community. Sadly, they have instigators like Sharpton and Jackson who constantly stir up hatred and anger. What ever happened to being responsible for our own actions regardless of color. Yes, there are racist whites but I think they are a minority. Yes, there are racist blacks. Now, are they a majority or minority? I know reverse discrimination is very prevalent in this country. We have black magazines, black professional organizations, black churches and black schools. We would not dare have a white counterpart. We don't need either division. 
     
    Why is it one race thinks they have the right to hurt others, their businesses or their community when they "think" someone else has been treated unjustly. Do their actions not matter? Actually, their actions became worse than the original offense which was not even against them. Wrong is still wrong regardless of color. 
     
    I applaud and commend the people of Charleston, SC during their recent tragedy. They saw the horribly situation, recognized it as a tragic act of, yes, a racist person. They did not lump all whites with the actions of this one rogue individual. They joined together in true Christian compassion to get through a terrible event. And, a huge kudos to them for stopping the hate mongers who wanted to start a racial riot. My heart goes out to that community. Right now, that is one community I have hear people say they would like to be a part of. Can the same be said for communities that gave excuse and license to violate others and destroy what they worked so hard to achieve. We have to take responsibility for our own actions regardless of color. We are a united nation who is becoming more divided every day. We have enough troubles for each day and enough enemies who want to destroy us. We need to stand united. Let the past go. Take responsibility for yourself. Make the most of your life. Invest in the lives of others. Remember that God is in control even during bad times and events. He is more than able to bear each and every burden. Let it go and live. 
     
    For those who think it is so horrible here… visit a third world country and see if you still have much to complain about. As horrible as slavery was, has anyone ever considered how many people would not even exist today if slaves had not been brought here. (Noting too that blacks sold blacks). God took a horrible thing and gave life and freedom to so many who might not have ever experienced either. Why not say, "God, what happened was horrible and unjust, just like what you went through for me. However, I choose to believe you will allow good to come from it. I choose to believe you have given me life and freedom on this earth from what my ancestors went through. I also believe you have provided eternal life and freedom from sin for what you, Jesus, went through." What a difference we could make as a people if we got our thoughts in perspective. BTW, I have Native American ancestry. Distant, but still… We cannot let the past control us, only help define and refine us to make us better.
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    • Sandra Glahn

      Sandra Glahn

      You ask why “whites” today “are always accused of being racist and in need of change.”

      Most whites I know do not hate Black people. They want peace. They have Black friends. They have never owned slaves. So we’re unaware of the pain we inflict. The micro-aggressions. The benefits we get that others don’t have. Some examples:

      We think it’s loving to say “I don’t even see race. We’re all equal.” But I, a woman, would not want a male friend to think he’s being kind in saying to me, “I don’t even see you as a woman. I see us as being the same.” God made my womanhood. So why not see it, affirm it, and appreciate it?

      I attended a conference in the US last year at which the emcee asked a woman from India to pray in her native tongue. Her native tongue was English.

      A study in my city found that the median sentence for an African American man who raped a white woman was 19 years, whereas a white man who raped an African American woman received a 10-year sentence. Furthermore, African American defendants are subjected to a disproportionate number of wrongful convictions for rape. So nearly twice the penalty for being Black. Where is the “do justice” in that?

      I’ve been stopped by police officers for legit traffic violations. Twice they’ve let me go without a ticket. Some persons of color who hear this have not only never had that experience, but they know of no people in their ethnic group that have ever had that experience. Is that fair?

      When a Black man tried to protest respectfully, peacefully, he lost his livelihood. And was slandered as unAmerican. When people destroy property in protest, we hear: “They need to express their anger appropriately if they want us to listen.” And we even believe ourselves. (BTW, Jesus himself destroyed property over injustice.)

      Two of the country’s foremost researchers on race and capital punishment, conducted a careful analysis of race and the death penalty that reveals that the odds of receiving a death sentence as nearly four times (3.9) higher if the defendant was Black. Even after controlling for case differences (e.g., severity of the crime, background of the defendant). Blacks are sentenced to death far in excess of other defendants for similar crimes. We call ourselves pro-life, but we mean only babies in the womb.

      >> From what I see, the largest population of racist seems to come from the black community.

      Your vision is clearly not being exposed to a broad enough picture, then.

      >> Sadly, they have instigators like Sharpton and Jackson who constantly stir up hatred and anger.

      Another way of seeing it is that these men use their platforms to give voice to the anger. And we don’t listen. So the voices grow louder. And we still don’t listen. In fact, we claim they are the racists. If only they would be quiet, we could live in peace and comfort.

      >>We have black magazines, black professional organizations, black churches and black schools. We would not dare have a white counterpart. We don’t need either division.

      My seminary has a women’s dean, but no men’s dean. And a Black student advisor, but not a white student advisor. That’s not because we want Christians to discriminate against while men. But because majority groups don’t need the representation to be heard that minority groups do. The goal is having equal representation; those with less representation need more of a voice at the table to make it fair. So such groups offer a way of bringing equality to privilege (in this case the privilege of being well represented), not a way of discrimination against those who have more social power.

      >>Why is it one race thinks they have the right to hurt others, their businesses or their community when they “think” someone else has been treated unjustly.

      Did we listen when peacefully tried to correct injustices? Evidence suggests that the volume goes up when injustice continues to be ignored.

      >>I applaud and commend the people of Charleston, SC

      I applaud them, too. I expect a day will come when they rule over me in another kingdom because their righteousness far outshines mine. But that said, their love and character are not the right or only way of facing deep injustice. Their actions are not even the only Christian way. If we weaponize their lovely testimony to silence those crying out for justice, we dishonor their memory.

      >> Can the same be said for communities that gave excuse and license to violate others and destroy what they worked so hard to achieve.

      If you are more concerned with the loss of property than the continuing loss of lives, that is a form of racism. ?

      >> We are a united nation who is becoming more divided every day.

      If you have perceived peace, you have had an incredible privilege. Slavery built our country economically on the backs of our Black brothers and sisters. So did sharecropping. So did the Jim Crow era. I lived through the sixties. That was not a peaceful time, either. Seriously. There has never been a time when justice has poured out like waters in our nation. Our jails have always been full of Black bodies treated differently from white ones. In President Lincoln’s second inaugural address he lamented his country’s 250-year history of injustice. We’re now at 400 years and counting. We have never been united. Not during the Revolution, when we destroyed property in Boston Harbor in order to be heard, and not during the Civil War, and not now or at any time between. The evidence does not stand on the side of your narrative. It is not even biblical to think an earthly kingdom is a just one. Only when the government rests on His shoulders will such a narrative be true.

      >>For those who think it is so horrible here… visit a third world country and see if you still have much to complain about.

      First of all, who ranks us as first? The very ranking sets up as better. But better at what?

      My husband and I work in the developing world. Of course there is much I love about America. But I don’t think our individualism is better than their community sharing.

      We don’t get a more just society by saying, “At least we are better than X.” In fact, it is because we want a better America that we are not content to let others suffer while we enjoy freedoms denied to them.

      >>As horrible as slavery was, has anyone ever considered how many people would not even exist today if slaves had not been brought here.

      How chilling. Imagine reading Exodus and concluding: As horrible as slavery was at the time of Moses, has anyone ever considered how many Jews would not even be alive if Joseph had not survived the famine by taking his family to Egypt? God hated what the Egyptians did to his people. Just because our great God can make good come from evil, does that mean he considers the evil good? May it never be! Woe to us if we think the end justifies the means.

      I agree that we cannot make the past define us. But the past forms us. Moses’s past as a Hebrew raised in Pharaoh’s household is what made him the perfect person to stand up to evil on behalf of his people. May we go and do likewise.

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    LaurieJeanne Thompson

    Sandi, wonderful suggestions on dealing with diversity

    Thank you, Sandi, for reminding us to continue opening our minds and hearts to the amazing diversity that God created in this singular race called humans. We are an unusual and fascinating bunch of creatures that He chose to bring into his family. You are so right that we should become more inclusive. When referring to individuals, my father used to say, “See the lady with the blue striped sweater, what language do you suppose she is thinking in?” “Do you see the gentleman with the red jacket what do you suppose he is deciding to do?” Dad was an educator and was far more interested in the unseen part of the individual, their minds rather than the commonalities such as skin, eyes, hair, etc. We all have them and there are too many colors, sizes and shapes to not be amazed. We’ve taught our family to just see “people,” people from different places, and different cultures, who do things differently, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, usually just different. We don't like to categorize people and especially by race. It's so inaccurate. What better way to honor the Creator than to learn more about his most special creation, humans, and to learn how to appreciate the uniqueness’s. There are not two of us that are the same.

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    Melanie Newton

    Excellent Blog

     

    Thank you, Sandi, for putting into words what I am often thinking. We do quote what we know. Having grown up in the South, my parents weren't racists like so many of those around me. We were taught respect for all people. My mom joined Church Women United in our home town in the early 60s, fellowshipping arm in arm with women leaders from the black churches in the community. Sadly, she was criticized by her own white church friends for doing so. But, that didn't stop her! I am grateful for her example in my life. 

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    Rod Hagenbuch

    Racism and Practiced Christianity

    It is interesting to see the discussion on a Christian blog.  If one reads enough history, a signficant degree of the embedded racism has been in Christian communities and the seem to be one of the last to begin to recoginize that religion, all hundred or so denominations and  organizations use the bible, the Quran and Book of Morman to justify discrimination based on race, specific religions and gender.  Too often religion has been the basis and problem of racism, not the solution.

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