Sharon's Blog

The weed of racism still grows

SEWblogWeedsLast spring I walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma with other Disciples – a racially mixed group crossing together.

A lot has changed since 1965.

Through the brave struggle of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others, the segregated lunch counters and drinking fountains and restrooms went away. Voting rights legislation was put into place.

A lot has been accomplished – but… have you ever had a weed grow in your yard, and you cut it off and everything looked great? For a while. But you didn’t get the roots… and – It. Grew. Back.

A little black boy, adopted by white parents, shops with his mom but a little ways away from her. A clerk follows him suspiciously until the boy calls out to his mother, “How do you like this shirt, MOM?” And the clerk relaxes as the mom’s whiteness covers the little boy – for now.

And the deepest part of the racism here is that it requires the validation by that white mom to assure other white people of what all people of color already know – 50 years after Selma and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, racism is real.

And the reality of racism goes much deeper than the misguided prejudice of this clerk or that disbelieving white person.

Racism is more than just individual race prejudice. Statistics show us that racism is system-wide – in our institutions as well as people. We see it in the mass incarceration of people of color; the justice department report on Ferguson’s police targeting African Americans in a fund-raising scheme. We see it in the lagging social indicators for people of color in income, net worth, education, jobs, in the strategies that make it harder for people of color to vote or in gerrymandering that leads to under-representation in government.

Racism is real in 2016.

In these years since 1960, we’ve also had signs of hope – an African American president elected!! The whole country rejoiced. But in spite of that election or maybe in part because of it – and the resulting backlash – we see that in 2016, the job is not done. Racism is still real.

We see it, in part, because of the ever-present availability of video recordings to put things out in the open that once were secret.

We see that racism is real, in part because a generation of young people are speaking up who didn’t live the “before and after” of the 60’s. These young people see the now and are pointing out that the weed has not only poked its head above ground, it has taken quite a growth spurt. These young people are determined to do something about it… They’re not likely to stop until they know for sure that Black Lives do Matter – as do all others.

Racism is real. It’s important also to say: racism is sin.

And not just individual sin; racism has rightly been called America’s original sin – created to justify the brutal enslavement of human beings but persisting beyond the formal end of slavery and Jim Crow.

Racism goes beyond what I do or you do. It is something we are born into in the United States reality. And for those of us who are white, it benefits us whether we know it or not, whether we intend it or not.

Our Disciples general assembly passed a resolution last summer against “environmental racism.” The poisonous by-products of our prosperous economy have to go somewhere and most often they are deposited near to people of color.

I did not personally put that environmental poison in my across-the-town neighbor’s back yard. I don’t want to be held morally accountable for something I didn’t sit at the table to plan – but that’s the point of original sin. It’s not about what white individuals do to our black or brown neighbor. It’s a pattern we’re born into where people of color are treated differently than white people. It’s a system that white people benefit from even though we did not ask for it. We just get the benefit, and it keeps our neighbor down. We drink clean water and our neighbors in Flint, Michigan drink lead.

Racism is real; racism is sin; and racism is really, really tough. If we’re going to get beyond it, none of us gets to sit on the sidelines.

It’s in everybody’s self-interest to get involved. Because – the truth is – racism hurts all. Even those who benefit. A full cost-benefit analysis shows that racism causes white people to lose, too.

When we think of all the scientific and medical contributions of black and brown people to our well-being today – we can only wonder what those who were tortured in slavery or who are currently wasting away in prison might have contributed to the greater good.

When we think of the energy that goes to holding down a whole class of people (unnecessary, unjust laws; militarized police forces; more and more prisons) – energy that could instead go to building up our common life together on this planet – the loss to us all through the sin of racism is huge.

Racism is tough to overcome, though. It will take us all, working together, each doing our own part.

Because racism is real, let’s admit it and have the conversation.

Because racism is sin, let’s those of us who benefit repent.

Because racism is tough, let’s join the struggle together.

Genesis describes that from the very beginning of creation, God created the whole human family to be one – beautifully diverse, multiply talented, but one human family.

In Isaiah, we see the world described as God dreams it: A world of “shalom” – where the wolf lies down with the lamb, where children play in safety, where God wipes away all tears.

Shalom, envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the beloved community, a community where there is liberty and justice for all, where the harmonies of liberty unite us.

Building that community is our calling, with the help of God. We’ve got a lot of work to do to root out racism. Let’s get at it – together.

Link to audio of a longer version of this piece from the Remind & Renew conference at Phillips Theological Seminary in January 2016.

10 Responses to “The weed of racism still grows”

  1. Evan Williams:

    Thank you for this! So true and so much work to do!

    • Duane Anderson:

      Thank you for this article. As disciples of christ we offer communion in both the ritual and conceptual forms. I particulary was struck by your observation that having a black president has resulted in a revival of bigotry. I have been mortified by the increase of blatant rascism by certain presidential candidates.

  2. Orlando Scott:

    Loved the article! Keep pushing for justice.

  3. Chuck:

    Racism exists on both sides. Something that isn’t discussed. It is both ways systemic yet denied by our so-called leaders. When people of any race refuse to be respectful of others and the law it is a sign of “privilege” that is unearned. There was no “gentle giant” in Ferguson. Tray von Martin was not an innocent killed by a “white hispanic”. Our POTUS hyped these incidents to perpetuate racism. And our GMP has done the same. Any “weed” that exists is a purposeful one to perpetuate the narrative to keep American’s at odds with one another.

    • Peggy Sorensen:

      Chuck, racism is about systems. And like it or not we are all, black and white, Hispanic, gay, straight, whatever, locked within a single system. Racism is not about warring camps on two sides of a line shouting at one another. I believe that we are all “racists” to the extent that racist indicates that we are shaped by living lives within a racist system. This, however, does not mean that there are separate but equal roles. The same system that creates the reality of suspicion directed towards that young black boy until his white mother appears to “cover” him, also creates a reality of acceptance for a little blond girl with a bow in her hair. Neither child asked for that. But it is what it is. Black children grow up with an expectation that they are inferior, because that is what our system teaches them. Another reality, that I have learned, as the white parent of an adopted black son and a biracial, is that my whiteness could only go so far to “cover” for the experiences of my children. I was powerless to fix the world in which my children grew up. At best, I could try to equip them to live in unfair conditions.

      God gave us one world. We have chosen to look on it as divided. That doesn’t make it so.

  4. Darren:

    Awesome article! Thanks for your courage and commitment. Don’t let the views of those that try and justify these actions, blame the victims, or instill fear, just to perpetuate Racism themselves, derail your efforts. The struggle continues.

  5. Robert Patterson:

    No doubt racism still exists. Living in East Texas we see it – but we also see mixed marriage couples, interracial friendships and growing interracial worship. Many DOC progressives make many unfounded assumptions, one of the major incorrect assumptions is that white middle class American’s truly believe our President is wrong because of race only. I promise you the huge majority is unhappy not because of his color, but because of his policies. I was proud of America for electing its’ first black President although I didnt vote for him. But he has set back racial relations in the USA by 20 years with his accusatory & extremely partisan rhetoric. My prayer is our new President can actually deliver on a more moderate inclusive agenda. I am heartsick at the state of our Union for the poor, the middle class, the unemployed, the average American regardless of race. My mantra has always been live your faith & as Christians we should be colorblind. Cognizant of issues, but faithful to the Word first.

    • Robert, get and read the statistics. Obama has done plenty of great things since he has been in office. He has created more jobs than his successor. REmember our economy was get ready to fold when Obama took over. In fact, George let him start before his term began. Racism is alive and well, and the election and presidency of Barak HAS caused Racism to resurface in a big way. Barak did not do it. It was because of his skin color and people not accepting him. His policies are GREAT. He saved the car industry. The car industry is stronger and better than ever. I am an educated Black female; and I know that racism has always been around; it has just attempted to place blame on Barak Obama. You don’t get get it Sir. This is a divided AMerica. Our forefathers established this country in that manner when they sold us on the block as chattel. 3/5’s a person and etc. Come one . . .

  6. Rev. Doris Beckerman:

    Sharon, your words are beautiful and to the point–as always. Do not be discouraged by ultra conservative Christians, especially those who totally missed the point of your topic and went off into wild far right.
    Bless you! Bless you!

  7. Barb Lancaster:

    Yes, racism will always hold power over all of us. The progress is slow and seems at times like for every step forward there are 2 steps back. When I read the replies from folks that must remain “color blind” or refuse to see that racism in the U.S. is systemic, much bigger than race prejudice, I am even more grateful for strong voices like Sharon’s. We obviously need to hear it again and again, have these conversations and seek God’s help to get past the justification, rationalization and minimalization of racism by too many. I have hope that someday the U.S. can become the home of “justice for all” we profess!