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Are we serious about improving racial relationships?

Are we serious about improving racial relationships?

As a nation, and as a church, are we serious about improving racial relationships? In our social networks there are few persons of others races. That’s where we’ve been throughout our history, and where we are now. We believe race relations are worsening even as a greater percentage of Americans acknowledge more needs to be done to achieve racial equality. Our neighborhoods (and schools) are becoming more segregated, not less. Can we be serious about improving race relations and achieving racial equality and yet not have friendships with those of other races?

Several items on the topic have recently appeared. Links and snippets are provided below.


Are race relations really worse under President Obama? Washington Post Aug 5

In the months after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, 66 percent of Americans told the researchers behind the New York Times /CBS News poll that race relations in the United States were generally good. Perhaps most notably, the long-standing gap between the share of white Americans and black Americans who felt this way narrowed in a way it hadn’t since 1990. Race relations in America were good, and on this black-and-white America generally and pretty overwhelmingly agreed.

Whatever the heady admixture of ideas and emotions that produced that data, that picture of America in 2009 is now orphaned. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows just 37 percent of all Americans describe race relations as generally good. (Accordingly, other polling in recent months has shown a majority of Americans believe race relations have gotten worse under the nation’s first black president.)


Making Friends in New Places New York Times Aug 5

Humans are hard-wired for friendship in one final way: We like the company of people we resemble, a property known as homophily. We evolved as a species by preferring those with shared objectives — all the better to coordinate a hunt for a mammoth. But natural selection has equipped us with a taste for similarity at a cost: the loss of new insights and information that lead to innovation.

One of the most dispiriting things I have observed as a faculty member is that, despite herculean efforts to curate diversity in the student body through the admissions process, students often restrict themselves to social groups defined by narrow traits. In dining halls, swimmers sit with swimmers, computer scientists with computer scientists, conservatives with conservatives, Latinos with Latinos.

Race and Americans’ Social Networks PRRI Aug 28, 2014

There is little variation among white American subgroups in terms of the racial homogeneity of their social networks. White Republicans (81 percent) are no different from white Democrats (78 percent) in that they both have social networks that are entirely composed of whites. Among white independents, 73 percent say their social networks are comprised entirely of people who are white.


The most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups Pew Research July 27

How Racially Diverse are U.S. Religious Groups?


Demographics of the House of Deputies 78th General Convention HOD website Aug

More than three-quarters of the House of Deputies is white, while 9% is black, African American, or Afro Caribbean and 7% is Latino. Indigenous and Native American deputies make up 3% of the House, and Asian deputies account for 2%. According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent Religious Landscape Survey, the Episcopal Church’s members in 2014 were 90% white, 4% black, 2% Latino, and 1% Asian.

Of course most black Episcopalians are members of traditionally black congregations. Someone said that the black church is the last black institution not taken over by whites, and that seems to be true within our denomination.


This American Life explains why school segregation still exists — and is so hard to change Vox Aug 2

The most powerful section in Hannah-Jones’s report is from a meeting in Francis Howell, where parents vehemently objected to accepting poorer, black students from a failing district, even though they were required to by law. (It starts at the 24-minute mark in the audio above.)

  • “I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be, and I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be,” one mother said, to rapturous applause.
  • “I shopped for a school district,” another said. “I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed or taking a drug or getting robbed.”
  • “We don’t have to like it, and we don’t have to make it easy,” another man suggested, saying the school district should start 20 minutes or 40 minutes earlier, “making it a little less appealing” for the Normandy students to attend.

What’s your reaction? Given where it is today in terms of its own diversity and integration, and that of its members, what should The Episcopal Church’s next steps be in order to be effective in the struggle for racial equality?


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Vincent P. Harris

Just a note of clarification on the resolution in support of Dean Hall’s efforts to remove Confederate Iconography from the Washington National Cathedral. It was presented to the National UBE at its Annual Conference on July 28 and referred to its Executive Committee which was to make a decision within the week. The UBE Executive has so far been reticent as to the disposition of the resolution.

Philip B. Spivey

If this is true, Rev. Harris—shame, shame, shame. This resolution is a no brainer unless I’m missing something.

Vincent P. Harris

One of the ways in which we might address improving race relations in the Episcopal Church is the following resolution:


Submitted by the Reverend Vincent Harris and the Reverend Robert Hunter, Retired Clergy in the Diocese of Washington

Be it resolved that the 47th Annual Business Meeting and Conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians commend and support the Very Reverend Gary Hall, Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the city of Washington, D.C., in his efforts to remove all Confederate iconography from the Washington National Cathedral.

In 1923 the United States Senate authorized a proposal, on behalf of the Jefferson Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, to erect a “faithful slave mammies” memorial in Washington D.C. The value of such a monument was clear to its supporters: one proponent explained that “a noble monument” to the memory of black “mammies” and to “their loyal conduct refutes the assertion that the master was cruel to his slave.”(1) The House of Representatives did not act on the Senate’s authorization of the “faithful slave mammies” memorial and the proposal died.

Though thwarted in their efforts to erect a “faithful slave mammies” memorial in the nation’s capital the United Daughters of the Confederacy focused their efforts in 1931 on having a monument in honor of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee placed in the Washington National Cathedral. The Lee and Jackson stained glass niches were finally dedicated in 1953. These stained glass windows depict events from the lives of Jackson and Lee and prominently feature the Confederate flag. These two memorial windows also contain laudatory inscriptions describing Jackson and Lee. Jackson is described as walking “humbly before his Creator, whose word was his guide.” Lee is described as a “servant of God, leader of men, general in chief of the armies of the Confederate States whose compelling sense of duty, serene faith and unfailing courtesy mark him for all ages as a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach.” It is ironic that these two Confederate slave holding generals, who fought a war for the right to buy and sell human beings, who betrayed their country and who tried to capture Washington, D.C., are so honored in the Washington National Cathedral.

In response to the tragic events of June 17th of this year where nine members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina were slain in the midst of bible study and prayer meeting by a racist assassin who was a devotee of the battle flag of the Confederate Army and the subsequent decision of Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and the South Carolina legislature to remove the flag flying on the South Carolina State Capitol grounds, the Very Reverend Gary Hall on June 25th announced that it is time to remove the two stained glass windows honoring Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee featuring Confederate flags from the Washington National Cathedral. Dean Hall stated that “here in 2015 … the flag promotes neither healing nor reconciliation, especially for our African –American brothers and sisters.”

(1) (Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Subversive Black Mammy. Emory University, June 12, 2009)

As of the posting of this comment the Union of Black Episcopalians has not acted on this resolution.

Philip B. Spivey

I tire of conversations about conversations about conversations. Talk is the easy way to avoid some inconvenient truths. I’ll cite three realities as an African American and as an Episcopalian:

1. Black folks do not feel welcome in this country; that’s a fact. There has always been a strained (at best) truce between white folks and Black folks even in the most liberal circles. The source of this tension? For Black folks, it’s that we have long memories beginning in 1609 Jamestown. For white folks (this I can only surmise) it’s either — a) the Neo-Confederates who have never changed their stripes; white supremacy still lives. And, b) for well-meaning Liberals and some Progressives, it’s about not getting the complete picture; it’s about white guilt; it’s about preferring the affinity groups of race and class—and gender. It’s about getting too close to righteous Black anger; it’s about knowing that the crimes against African Americans—still ongoing—have not been forgiven. There are burdens of conscience for white individuals and society which they have not resolved; and these are the very same burdens that Black folks carry on a daily basis. For more insight into these issues, I recommend the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

2. Race relations have deteriorated recently as blow back from the election of a Black progressive president. I can assure you that had Clarence Thomas been elected, the Old Confederacy would be happily singing “Ole Black Joe”.

3. The essential problem is not person-to-person prejudice. Most Black folks have no desire to socialize with most white folks not because they are ‘white’, but because we don’t feel welcome and sense that white folks somehow treat us differently. Sometimes trying too hard; often times, indifferent.

When the African American and other communities of color are ravaged by spending cuts, gerrymandering, loss of investment of business and infrastructure development in these communities and—the ongoing disparities in education, health care, real criminal justice, voter suppression, inadequate housing and corporate cultures that continue deny people of color adequate opportunities. The devastation is wide and deep and the symbolic advances made by the election of a president or of a presiding bishop does not reach into the heart of our communities. The systematic abuses are where the work is.

What will make a real difference ? Collectives that are willing to carry the cross. Individuals who are willing to step outside their comfort zone and stand in somebody else’s shoes. This will require exceptional degrees of Christian Love.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Thank you so much for your witness, Phillip. You make it clear that “the systematic abuses are where the work is.” And it seems to me that we need to work together on them, because we white people often have blinders over our eyes. It is asking too much to put the burden of removing the blinders exclusively onto black people. Thus conversations, but conversations with the goal of engaging.

Yes, the cross, and Christian Love are the way. May we carry it together, with God’s help.

Philip B. Spivey

Amen, amen and amen, Cynthia.

Marshall Scott

I want to call to our attention General Convention resolution C019 Establish Response to Systemic Racial Injustice. It acknowledges that our efforts at Anti-racism Training haven’t yielded the results we hoped for. It also states,

the 78th General Convention affirms as a top priority of The Episcopal Church in the upcoming triennium the challenging and difficult work of racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement, and action;

What makes it stand out this Convention was the last paragraph:

Resolved, That the General Convention request that the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance consider a budget allocation of $1.2 million for the Triennium for the implementation of this resolution.

The resolution was passed in both Houses. The resolution holds accountable for moving forward the Presiding Officers and the Executive Council.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I’m not consistent, but if we think of Blacks or African Americans, then it seems consistent to also capitalize Whites. I haven’t made a manifesto out of it. But I am trying to think in terms of white/White as not an automatic norm. When it comes to titles, like White Privilege or White Fragility, I cap them because I’ve seen them capped. If there’s a style guide out there, please let me know. 😉

Philip B. Spivey

Cynthia: It makes sense to capitalize ‘white’ only if ‘white’ represents a language, cultural or ethnic group. None if these apply. ‘White’ is an adjective, not a noun.

The only exception to this would be: The White Aryan Nation.

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