There were maybe sixty people in the sanctuary of the church that hosted the ‘Dismantling Racism’ workshop today. Ten of them were people of color. Six of the ten were from Lutheran Church of Our Savior, San Francisco. I had traveled to the workshop with the pastor and members from LCOS. We talked on the way about our expectations and hopes for the day. Would the presence of African-American folks inhibit the discussion? Would there be action plans or just more talk? Would we get to the issues of white privilege and white defensiveness?
On the way home, we discussed how we thought it went. Pastor Evered Cohen from LCOS, who is African-American, was pleased with the day. He was glad to know that there are white people of good will in our synod who are wiling to honestly look at the issue of systemic racism and begin to take steps to tear it down.
I appreciated the presenters’ definition of racism and our need to be clear on what it is we’re talking about. In this definition, we’re talking about talking about institutionalized racism, not individual acts of prejudice.
Race prejudice + the misuse of power by systems and institutions = racism
The other thing I really appreciated was the TED Talk video we watched, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
What this perspective did for me is offer a way through the logjam of white defensiveness. I admit that during another video about white privilege I felt myself wanting to argue with the premise – even though I certainly agree in principle. But, as the presenters said at the beginning, as they asked us to agree to create a safe space, these are emotional issues.
Self-awareness is key.
And so are tools. As I remembered the TED talk, I recognized that I didn’t have to get stuck in my defensive posture. I hope you watch the video; it was really helpful!
So we agreed that the day was worthwhile. Now our congregations are going to explore ways that we can carry on the conversation together. Some of our youth had an idea to invite kids for other churches to come, make pizza together and have some kind of discussion about race. We’ll be working on the best way to help them make that happen.
Because the other thing that will enable us to abolish our nation’s “original sin” is relationships. In my opinion, the workshop would not have been as effective without the presence of the ten African-Americans, especially six from LCOS, an historically Black congregation. The burden of dismantling racism should fall on white shoulders. However, it is good to have Black allies who encourage us white folks as we struggle and love us when we stumble. I hope that I can learn to be just as good a white ally.
Today was a good start.