Practical Practices for Dismantling Racism

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One of the better known authors on genocide, Ervin Staub, lays out helpful practices for people interested in dismantling racism. His research identifies indicators of looming harm, trauma response in the event of violence and how to mitigate against harmful racialized practices that lead to violence. Of particular interest to me is his book The Roots of Goodness and Resistance to Evil.  

In this newsletter I invite you to wrestle with racism as an evil that prevents you from a call to love your neighbor. It is a call to holiness. It is to stand against and apart from the world. It is a call to resist and fight against an evil message that seeks to maintain the walls of hostility. 

The complexity of racism and its many narratives make it a difficult topic to discuss. But that does not keep Godly people from it. In close and unchallenged places when people give expression to their assumptions, without a counter narrative, they create a powerful anti-Black narrative. The labeling and racial slurs, demeaning jokes and ignorant comments normalize a cynical attitude toward Black people. Majorities of white Christians, including 53% of white evangelical Protestants agree that 52% socioeconomic disparities between black and white Americans are due to lack of effort by black Americans[1].

Some of us may not be aware of the evil that has obstructed our identity. However, the defensiveness and blame shifting reveals deep seated beliefs that have roots embedded so far in history that they have been forgotten or dismissed in ignorance. Consequently, rather than listen and seek to understand racism from a Black person’s perspective we have a "Yes, but. . ." response. The "but" implicates a total or partial dismissal of connection and dialogue. It reinforces the evil that "Black people are not equal to us." It distorts reality. In a fallen identity we engage as unwilling participants in sustaining the belief and damaging the identity of others. 

A smaller portion of people feel threatened by anti-racism efforts and fight against it. They articulate beliefs to arm political will against all people who stand against racism. For them, the idea of anti-racism is offensive and or threatening. This group dismisses, ignores, or side tracks having focused conversation on racism by engaging in other moral issues. Examples of diversion to other moral issues include, “all lives matter”, or “what about abortion”, or “homosexual agenda” or it is a “Marxist movement.”

Anti-racism is disruptive. It will threaten assumptions. It will invade our sacred space. Those that maintain faith traditions and dismiss a great evil of a segregated church miss the essence of discipleship. These are Godly people who are diligent and astute in doctrinal and theological matters. They are of Christ. However, the threat of the conversation pushes them toward debate rather than dialogue. The threat that somehow the conversation shifts the focus away from Christ does in fact do that without an acknowledgement of an evil that has taken place under the pretext of Christianity. 

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul argues that our fight is not against flesh and blood. However, people insist on fighting each other. Why is that? It might be because a visible opponent is easier to fight. In the murder of Floyd, the challenge will be bringing to justice the rogue actors along with the assumptions that inform the training of all police officers. The evil is in the message that creates a false threat with black people and a false security with white people. The danger in ignoring it is to continue the practice of warning black youth about the dangers of police or worst the threat of death at their hands. 

Good Christian people often deny victims the reality of racism. California's three strikes law made it easier to hand down harsh sentences for minor offenses. Racism sentences victims at strike 2, conditioning a punitive response regardless of the circumstance. The slow and consistent messaging justifies the crack of the whip, the stiffest punishments, and maximum sentences. The same messaging allows for substandard education.  

Good Christian people influenced by deep seated assumptions justify segregation because of beliefs in perceived differences of integrity, work ethic, and sexual threat to white women. I would guess that these kinds of beliefs in anyone would indicate some level of psychosis. Yet we have an American society in which - to some degree - these beliefs inform views toward Black people.

The court of public opinion might have lightened up but it’s verdict against Black people still lurks around like a roaring lion. “About half (49%) of Americans agree that generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. An equal number (49%) disagree with this idea”.[2] The view toward Black neighbors divides our countries and divides the Church.   

The deadliest race[3] riot in the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, gave way to angry white mobs looting and killing until they burned Black Wall Street down. The mob moved effortlessly with the silent support of Oklahoma and the nation at large. Over the years, powerful speakers like Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, WEB Dubois, and James Baldwin demonstrated and spoke out against the irrationality of racism. But they had little influence on engaging Christians to cast racism out of the church. The action by perpetrators and inaction by bystanders speaks to the dangers of unchallenged assumptions about white/black identity. 

Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther and Robert Kennedy helped pass laws against racism along with President Johnson, but the evil beliefs remain like hidden idols. The evil has united Christians with the world in pubic lynching’s. Emmett Till, a 14-year old African-American boy, was brutally murdered by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam in Money, Mississippi August 1955. Carolyn, Roy’s wife, accused Emmett of harassing her when he bought bubble gum in their store. Till’s murderers were acquitted…[4]. They were not acquitted because they were innocent, but because the jurors and judge had already put two strikes on Emmett.

This same system today may convict the officers who killed George Floyd, but without the voice of Christians, it will not condemn racism in the system.  Christians in this heightened sense of awareness have an opportunity to stand against racism, an evil that mars human identity. Silence is not an option.  The lie that normalizes and justifies contempt toward black people is evil. It is an attack on God’s image bearers.

Can socialized racism be reversed? Can believers who acknowledge racism as a social reality undo it? The apostle Paul said it best, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Ervin Staub sees socializing through teaching and doing good as the answer. Immediate surroundings and broader circumstance provide opportunities for “active bystandership[5].” Socializing people to care about other human beings with helpful actions, fostering values, and creating institutions that promote well-being is the good that overcomes evil.   

Racism against Black people and Native American resulted in genocide of both. The voices of patriotism today do not sound that different from the voices that pushed through to form this great nation. They do not sound that different to Black and Native people who still hear the cries of their ancestors killed by America at any price. The fear of an America at any price becomes more real than perceived when church pastors remain silent as attitudes by congregants and community members ignore Black leaders decry the oppression of societal norms. 

Our fight is not against flesh and blood. Our hope is in God. He created humanity in His image and He sees us as very good. Our enemy caused man to sin and continues the hostility between neighbors and God. Faith in Christ teaches that Jesus on the cross defeated our enemy and will continue defeating him until we are joined with Him. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit that we might be free and be about Kingdom Shalom. 

Consider how you might use God’s narrative to frame a biblical response to racism. Here are some suggestions.

  1. God created mankind with love for God and neighbor. 
    1. Celebrate being created in the image of God. 
    2. Teach in word and deed care, respect and dignity toward everyone because we are all created in the image of God.
  2. The fall created mistrust and hostility toward God and neighbor. Cain killed Abel.
    1. Total depravity resulted in hostility and violence. 
    2.  Total depravity exchanged a Kingdom Vision for an Empire vision of armed force, enterprise and religion taught through the Doctrine of Discovery[6] and believed through Manifest Destiny[7]. 
    3. Total depravity led good Christian people escaping oppressive governors to exchange the image bearer identity of Native people for an evil identity destined for extermination. 
    4. Total depravity led good Christian people to exchange the identity of Africans for farm animals that did not require a just wage, sold or slaughtered at will. 
  3. Christ is the ultimate sacrifice that puts to death the hostility yesterday, today and forever. 
    1. Tell the story of the evil and make it as well known as the Cain and Abel. The sin of racism is a horrendous evil that only God can reconcile.
    2. Create visuals to help people memorialize the tragedy and recognize the evil that Christ, and only Christ on the cross, puts to death that it might bind the conciseness and never happen again. https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/
  4. God resurrected Christ and joined the Holy Spirit with us. 
    1. Through the resurrection of Christ and union with the Holy Spirit comes the power of a beloved gaze
    2. Christians have power to deconstruct and stand against racism
    3. Christians have a vision and initiative for equity and addressing in equity in the church
    4. Christians have vision and seek equity in all systems (i.e. legal, economic, education, health, and housing)
    5. Help to increase awareness and value for remembering the depravity that subverts the Christian witness that only Christ crucified frees us all from the wall of hostility
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Thank you very much, Rudy, for this enlightening and challenging reminder. Continue to write, live and work with boldness, humility, candour, passion and Wisdom to disrupt, interrupt, erase racism. I continue to learn what to do and NOT to do as a privileged, retired white man, with much cross-cultural work and life experience that still sometimes does not inform me with God's Love and Grace. Blessings and prayers, Jim Dekker

Jim thank you for your kind words and keep the prayers coming.  Blessings to you in the retired chapter of your ministry.