Responding to Racial Injustice
Posted: October 22, 2015
Weekly News for the Flock: October 25, 2015 - Download PDF
The following article originally appeared in the Life of the Flock, Fall 2015 edition.
If you are interested in learning more about issues of race and what our faith is calling us to do, please visit our narthex spotlight table on Oct. 24 & 25. You can also contact Julie.Opheim@sotv.org or Lisa.Hegerman@sotv.org.
How Do We Respond to Racial Unrest?
By Carolyn Sampson
For 25 years, Shepherd of the Valley pastors, staff and fellow members have helped guide me in times of joy and times of despair. Through worship services, Bible studies, mission trips, newsletters, Facebook and e-newsletters, my life has been enriched, my spirits lifted and my convictions encouraged and supported. When I received the weekly SOTV email on April 25, with a subject line of “How Do We Respond?” I was overjoyed. My trusted spiritual advisors would have suggestions for responding to the escalating racial unrest in Boston, Minneapolis and across our nation. Certainly this was the most important topic on everyone’s mind today, wasn’t it?
When I opened the message and read about an earthquake in Nepal, my spirit sank. Although I’m proud of the way Lutheran Social Services, the ELCA and SOTV respond to natural disasters, I realized at that moment that my beloved Lutheran Church is not so good at addressing manmade tragedies and injustices in our own community and nation, preferring not to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we might be contributing to the problem or, at the very least, what we can do to help. What biases and misperceptions do we hold and even spread? How DO we respond to racial unrest in our country?
I believe the answer lies in working hard to understand other people’s life experience. And, once we begin to truly understand, reaching out to teach others, one person at a time.
Although our nation was “desegregated” decades ago, and our schools and workplaces are somewhat integrated, our social networks, including churches, are still very homogenous. According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute last year, 75% of white Americans have only white friends and 65% of Black Americans have only Black friends.
Like most Minnesotans my age, for most of my life I knew very few people of color and only very casually as coworkers or classmates. My experience began to change when I took a Black Women’s literature course in college at age 39. Soon afterward I met a Canadian-American man raised in Iowa by his India-born parents. A few years later, I became friends with a black woman who was raised in Georgia by a single mother in a mostly white suburb. Although both have since moved away from Minnesota, they are still among my handful of closest friends. Honest conversations with them, and with other Black, Asian and Latino people I have met since, have helped me understand the perennial national standoff known as “race relations”.
“I have never burned or looted buildings,” my black friend said when we talked about the escalating racial tension recently. “I’ve never killed anyone or gone to jail. Black people have a branding problem.”
Indeed! Her comment struck me as particularly ironic, since I now own a company that specializes in helping brand small businesses and nonprofits, including churches. What ideas can I offer for “rebranding” the image many whites have of the Black community and, perhaps, vice versa?
In my class at St. Catherine University and a graduate school class I later took at The Humphrey School of Public Affairs, three African American teachers helped me see our nation’s culture in a new light. The readings, films and discussions were frank and enlightening. I later attended the annual “Overcoming Racism-Why Is It So Hard?” in St. Paul, where I learned about Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circles. Recently, SOTV staff began researching various programming options for our own congregation.
Although details are still being decided as this issue goes to press, I invite you to contact me if you are interested in finding out more about how we CAN respond as Lutherans and Christians to this disturbing, entrenched challenge in our communities, states and nation.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.