Why Anti-racism? part 2

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Lelanda Lee, member of the Executive Council Committee on Anti-racism writes in response to questions about the Episcopal Church and Anti-racism training. Shared with permission:

This is a paper that I wrote back in September 2014 to address why it’s important to do Anti-Racism Training (or teaching) and to use the term “Anti-Racism” to describe such teaching. I’m posting it now in light of a current conversation that is happening on Facebook about Anti-Racism Training.

I’m someone who has been doing Anti-Racism training for the Episcopal Church since 2006. I’ve also led Train the Trainer workshops. Along the way, I’ve developed an 8-hour basic Anti-Racism Training and 8-hour Train the Trainer workshop, which I’ve been invited to tailor and conduct in many dioceses over the years.

One of the questions that is frequently asked before and during the trainings is why we still use the term “Anti-Racism” when there are so many other terms that are “friendlier” and “more inviting” to participants. Examples include “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” “Intercultural,” “Dismantling Racism,” and “Racial Justice.”

So, why the term “Anti-Racism”?

The answer is, because racism is a sin, as the House of Bishops taught in their March, 1994, Pastoral Letter. That Pastoral Letter was a teaching that included analysis, confession, covenant, and invitation to the church to join the bishops in those actions. If you haven’t read the Pastoral Letter recently, please read it, because it is an important teaching.

A historical lesson in why naming the actual sin is important lies in the anti-rape movement, which took shape in the 1960s and early 1970s as a dynamic of the women’s movement. When feminists began to name rape as a crime of violence rather than allowing it to continue to be described as a crime of sexual passion, and when feminists began to insist on using the word “rape” rather than using alternative or euphemistic language that describes rape as “sexual assault” or the generic “violence against women,” society’s response to rape began to change. Obviously, we still have a long way to go, when you consider that rape on college campuses is not handled well by college administrators and that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits nationwide. However, naming rape as rape has freed many rape victims from the unfair shaming and scapegoating of earlier times.

“Anti-“ as a modifier to “Racism” means “to interrupt.” When we use the term “Anti-Racism,” we are saying “to interrupt Racism.” We are saying, “to interrupt the Sin of Racism,” because as the church, we are in the business of interrupting all manner of sin so that people can be restored to unity with God and each other in Christ. That’s the mission of the church. The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer says so.

What’s so wrong with those other, friendlier terms?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with terms such as “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” “Intercultural,” “Dismantling Racism,” and “Racial Justice.” They just don’t mean what “Anti-Racism” means. They don’t point us to interrupting the Sin of Racism.

Diversity training generally encompasses teaching people to recognize and acknowledge that different people are, well, different. But Diversity training generally doesn’t get into teaching how prejudice and power together create racism and how racism and White Privilege together create systems of institutionalized and structural racism that are extremely difficult to dismantle. Anti-Racism Training does.

Multicultural training generally takes Diversity training deeper, by encouraging participants to learn about cultures different than their own. Intercultural training takes Multicultural training still deeper, by having participants interact with people from cultures different than their own so that they have first-hand experience of those people from other cultures. Again, both Multicultural training and Intercultural training generally don’t teach about how racism results from not only prejudice, but also from the presence of power differentials, and how institutional and structural racism cause disproportionate disadvantages to People of Color in everything from public education to employment to voting rights to mass incarceration.

Dismantling Racism generally focuses more on institutional and structural racism than it does on the racism of individuals. It is very important to teach about institutional and structural racism, because they so disproportionately disadvantage large groups of People of Color in highly life disrupting ways. But it is also important to focus on the responsibility of the individual to analyze his or her own sin of racism, to admit and confess that sin, and to covenant to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, which includes becoming an Anti-Racist.

Racial Justice is a wonderful term, because it is aspirational and most appropriately should be used to title committees and commissions that do the work of Anti-Racism. But, the work, such as is done in trainings, is not merely aspirational. The work is also pragmatic, comprised of analysis, confession, and covenant.

If we were to choose a different, yet familiar title, for Anti-Racism training, how about “Safeguarding God’s People from Racism”? That title says that there is some action that must be taken to safeguard God’s People, in this case, from racism. However, that title also implies that the participants in the training are somehow the “good guys” who don’t have to acknowledge their own sin of racism. So, maybe we won’t go with this familiar title, after all. Because the work of anti-racism is the work of everyone in the church.

Why do Anti-Racism training?

What we, the church, do is proclamation. We proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. The Good News is that our reward is in the Lord, that by grace and by the blood of Jesus Christ dying on the hard wood of the cross, we are saved for eternity.

Now, pause for a moment, and reflect.

We proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, and that Good News includes the story of Jesus’ very painful and very human death upon the cross, which was necessary to redeem humankind from our sins.

When we do Anti-Racism training, it is proclamation. We are proclaiming that when we acknowledge and confess our sin of racism and turn away from continuing to behave in racist ways, we restore ourselves to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[John 14:6 NRSV]Jesus said, “Follow me.”[Mark 1:17 NRSV] Jesus never said, “It will be easy.” Analysis, confession, and covenant, if done faithfully with intention and honesty, are hard work. Actively participating in Anti-Racism training is hard work. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[John 13:34-35 NRSV]

Anti-Racism training is not designed to be confrontational with the trainer or other participants. What is confronted is the sin of racism in yourself and in society. Just as we expect civil dialog in church whether it’s at worship, congregational functions, or committee meetings, we also expect civil dialog in Anti-Racism training. But, remember, Anti-Racism training is hard work, and it is work that is worth doing. It is also work that requires refreshing in the same way that we refresh ourselves, our confession, and our covenant with God through worship on a regular, repeated basis.

We want people to take Anti-Racism training. We want people to value Anti-Racism training as something that will provide a component of Christian formation for them that they are not getting in other formation education. We want people to come to Anti-Racism training cheerfully and not grudgingly because there is some church canon or decree from their bishop that they have to check this box or miss out on some needed certification. We want people to come to Anti-Racism training because learning how to overcome the sin of racism will enable us to love one another as Jesus loves each one of us.

 

In March 2006, the House of Bishops issued another pastoral letter titled “The Sin of Racism: A Call to Covenant,” which recommitted the bishops, and invited the church, to covenant with the bishops on eleven actions personally, corporately, and globally. After you’ve read or re-read the first Pastoral Letter, be sure to read this one, too.

Part 1 from the meeting of the Anti-racism committee is here

Lelanda Lee is a member of St. Stephen’s in Longmont, and, following a career in banking and finance, she has spent the last several years serving the church in a variety of roles. She conducts Anti-Racism trainings and is the Anti-Racism Network Coordinator for Province VI. She is also the lay representative from Province VI to the Executive Council, and the secretary of the Diocesan Standing Committee.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

I enthusiastically applaud the ongoing work of the Executive Council Committee on Anti-racism. Standing on the shoulders of its work, I pray that future generations in our church will recognize racism when we hear it, see it, act on it and practice it; I pray that with growing awareness, we will recognize that buying into a racist beliefs is a choice, not a genetic deck of cards. I believe that the work of the Anti-racism committees in our church exemplify our greatest mission: a public health initiative to heal our souls.

The Anti-racism Committee of my diocese---New York--- has scheduled a pilgrimage for high school students this summer to Hayneville, Alabama. This pilgrimage will commemorate the martyrdom of blessed Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, exactly 50 years ago. En-route to Hayneville, they will also visit historic Civil Rights sites in Atlanta, Birmingham and Selma. Wonderful, I think; faith in action.

In this context, I would be remiss today, if I did not recognize and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X in New York City. A strident ant-racist for some during his time; a ray of hope for many.

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