“Raising White Kids” – Non-Racist vs. Anti-Racist

From even before his birth, Darick and I have talked about intentionally making an effort to being committed to helping Gus understand and value diversity. We are attempting to live that out through making sure we have books where the main characters are of different genders and races, of different life experiences. We are attempting to live that out through our decisions about where he goes to daycare and who he has the opportunity to interact with. We want him to grow up knowing the value of all people, and I think we are off to a decent start.

However, one thing that is starting to hit home for me is that a commitment to Gus experiencing and valuing diversity is only a first step. Teaching him to value diversity or to be non-racist is not the same thing as teaching him how to be anti-racist. Jennifer Harvey writes,

Nonracism is not the same thing as antiracism. It is important to combat stereotypes and biases. But in any context where racism and racial injustice already run rampant, nonracism isn’t enough to create equity or justice. In such a context, antiracism is required. A commitment to antiracism goes well beyond nonracism. It means actively countering and challenging racism.”

imagesI want my child to grow up seeing the value of all people, but even more, I want him to grow up to be a champion for all people. That means that we have the hard job of naming injustice where we see it, and teaching him to see it and name it as well, and all in age-appropriate ways, (no small task there!) ;-). It means that we, as his parents, have to have eyes to see the ways in which we participate in racist systems, and that we, ourselves, have to work to dismantle them. And that means giving up our own power and privilege (which is soooo much easier in theory than in reality). It isn’t enough to teach him not to be prejudiced – we have to teach him to work against the systems that institutionalize prejudice.

So what does that mean for where we are right now? I’m not entirely sure. I know that we will continue to expose him to a diversity of people. We will not teach him “not to notice” race as he begins to see and articulate differences. As Harvey writes, “The only way we show that we actually respect our shared humanity is by taking people’s specific, diverse experiences of their humanity very seriously.”

In other words, we don’t treat everyone as interchangeable objects, but rather we respect each specific individual and their lived experiences. To see race does not automatically mean using that difference to divide or set people up against one another. To see race (even though it is a human construction) is to see, rather than deny, the realities that black and brown people experience on a daily basis. To see race is not to perpetuate the inequalities, but to recognize the disparities and to name the injustices that are committed against those who are also created in God’s image. Harvey continues,

“We’ve got to do the same with our kids. If we want children who value everyone, and who deeply and authentically understand we’re all a part of a shared humanity, if we want them to actually live in ways that help to realize equity, the only route is to consciously and explicitly teach them about difference!”

All of this makes me really uncomfortable. I would much rather just expose my kid to a variety of people and teach him to be color-blind. In an ideal world where there is no injustice or racism, maybe that would be fine. But that is not the world we live in – in our current time, we are experiencing a resurgence of explicit racism. I am scared all the time about saying something wrong (and I’m even afraid that I’ve done that in this post!). But not saying anything and simply hoping for the best is not an option. If I want my child to be anti-racist and not just non-racist, then that means having bumbling and uncomfortable conversations and teaching uncomfortable things. But none of this is about my comfort. It is about God’s justice.

These are initial thoughts and challenges I am wrestling with as I read this book. I’m sure I’ll be wrestling more in future posts with ideas I’ve only mentioned or alluded to here (re: color-blindness, dealing with my own white guilt, fear of saying something wrong, etc). Please, wrestle with me.

– Cindy+

Stumbling towards the Kingdom

I need to start with a confession: I have really been struggling with my faith in humanity lately. I have been struggling to trust authorities. I have been struggling not to lash out and blindly rage against the machine. I have been struggling against making categorical judgments for or against different groups of people. I have been struggling with an increasing sense of unrest about what exists in my own heart and about what is going on around our communities and nation.

I wholly appreciate those of you who are willing to share in conversation with me, and ESPECIALLY those who do not necessarily agree with my interpretations of what is going on in our country. Those of you in the church who have engaged in conversations with me around race and injustice have kept me grounded and constantly remind me of my absolute need for relationships with people who may hold a rather different world view than me. I’m really glad that we can be friends and worship together and that you trust me to be one of your pastors.

What I write below is a reflection of my own personal struggle to find Christ in the middle of the violence, the anger, and the fear that is gripping our country. The struggle will continue long after the writing of this.

As I look around our country and the world today, and I see continued systemic injustice around race, a prevalent victim-blaming rape culture, exploitation of hard-working people at the hands of corporate greed, violence occurring in the name of God, warfare, and all the other pains and violences that exist, my unrest grows and I can’t suppress it. I shouldn’t suppress it. But my unrest turns to anger, and my anger turns to despair, and all too quickly, I feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the brokenness of things. And I know that in all of this, I, in no way, can truly comprehend what it is like for the majority of people who suffer at the hands of the powerful.

As I think about all of these things and I struggle not to let despair make itself at home, I am trying to grasp at what Christmas really means.

In preparing for Christmas, I’ve started trying to teach a song by Chris Rice called “Welcome to our World” to the kids in Children’s Church. A couple of the verses keep sticking in my mind: “Tears are falling, hearts are breaking. How we need to hear from God. You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting…. Bring your peace into our violence…. Breathe our air and walk our sod.”

Oh, how we need to hear from God today. How we need to hear from God in our country. How we need to hear from God in our legislatures, in our law enforcement agencies, in our wealthy suburbs, in our neighborhood streets, in our public housing, in our military, in our schools, in our hearts. How we need to have Christ’s peace invade our violence, our hatred, our blame, and our fear! How we need Christ to breathe our air and walk with us, especially when a another child of God cries out, “I cant’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!”

Right now, we are in the season of Advent; a season of waiting. We wait to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. So often it is filled with waiting to celebrate with food and time off from school or work, and presents, lots of presents! But as I stumble through Advent this year, I am waiting for something different: for the kingdom of God, which is justice and peace.

Sometimes it seems like the kingdom is an impossible dream, a myth, a fantasy world. We are so far away. When I read the prophets of the Old Testament and I see proclamations of Israel’s and Judah’s repeated offenses, I often think, “how can they be so foolish to repeat the same sins over and over again?” But when I look again, I see that we are no different today. When God condemns Israel and Judah, much of the time it is over the oppression of the marginalized. Today, as things go, we are quite accomplished at systemically oppressing the vulnerable, even if we, as individuals believe that we don’t harbor any prejudiced views towards another person or people group. In my personal Scripture reading these last several weeks, I have been spending my time reading Amos, who speaks for God, condemning the abuses of the powerful. Hear these words from chapter 2:

“Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals– they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way….'” Amos 2:6-7a

In our state, in our country, and in our world, we see the abuses of the vulnerable that occur at the hands of the powerful. It happens in places like Ferguson and Staten Island. It happens on campuses like UVA. It happens in the coal fields of West Virginia. It happens in the slums of Mexico City. It happens around the world and in our own backyard.

As we approach Christmas, we need a word of hope, that things will not always be as they are now. We need a word that communicates the power to transform and be transformed. We need the Word, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to reach down into our reeking trash heap of violence and fear and turn it into something fertile and life-giving. And the Lord knows that we need Jesus because I surely have no idea how to do that.

This is what Christmas is about. It is about celebrating that God, in Christ, brings his peace into our violence, and breathes our air and walks our sod. It is about a brown-skinned baby born to unmarried parents on a dirty floor in practically the middle of nowhere, as far as the ancient world was concerned. It’s about a God who decided to walk in the world just as it is, as messed up and as broken as it is with people who, probably more often than not, could really not care any less about God or God’s kingdom. Christmas is about recognizing that we have God with us, and that God will never ever leave us or leave us alone. It is about God taking on the hurts and the oppression of the vulnerable.

The Old Testament lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday is from Isaiah:

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.” Isaiah 61:1-3

Jesus quotes this very passage when he is asked by John the Baptist’s disciples if he is, in fact, the Messiah. Jesus proclaimed his mission. He proclaimed why he came to walk with us. He lived as one of us, and then, at the hands of the law, he was unfairly tried, beaten, and hung on a cross, where he ultimately died because he couldn’t breathe. This is the meaning of Christmas. As we wait to celebrate the birth of Christ, may Christ be born in our hearts, and may his reason for breathing become our reason for breathing. Until we make our whole life about making Jesus’ mission our own, we will continue to hear the voices of the marginalized cry out, “I can’t breathe!”