I had the opportunity this last month to participate in a two day anti-racism training at my seminary. I really appreciated the effort of the seminary to bring the problem of racism to the forefront of the thoughts of the whole campus, alongside those whom deal with it on a regular basis. Those who call themselves Christian should be committed to anti-racism.
I understand that not everyone had my experience (as there were two groups). I am, however, disappointed by several things with the training.
First, I think the content of the seminar is incomplete and, therefore, not entirely helpful in dealing with racism. I clearly understand what the presenters were trying to get across. As one youth in my church said, “I’m picking up what you’re putting down.” I understand their definition of racism (misuse of power + racial prejudice = racism), the infectious quality of it in U.S. systems and culture, and the need for people to fight against it. I disagree, however, with this as the sole definition of racism.
According to presenter, only those who have power are able to be racist. In America, we were taught that all of the instituions and government practices are implemented by white people for white people. Therefore, only white people have the power and can be racist. I agree, to an extent, on a national level this may be true. However, in seminary we learn that localized context is king.
My father traces his roots from Mexico through both his father and mother. So growing up as a hispanic, yet looking white, in an all hispanic neighborhood is well……difficult. I remember clearly during the Rodney King trial getting beat with sticks rolled up in newspaper by four boys, whom were darker than I, while they were yelling Rodney King. They knew who my father was, they knew that I lived in the neighborhood, they knew we were of the same economic status. Yet based solely on my whiteness was I attacked. At that moment they had the power and they were racist. I have many more childhood memories where people acted out their racism aggressively on me, and it was common place to see hispanic people where I grew up acting or being racist.
I am not sure that we need to redefine racism in solely terms of systems. The common vernacular does not define racism this way and to redefine it is unhelpful. Rather, we should talk about racism in two ways. The first is systemic racism: this is all of the stuff we talked about in the anti-racism training. It is the misuse of power + racial prejudice = systemic racism. The second is ideological racism. Today ideological racism may come from systemic means, but I think that ideology is the egg and the systemic is the chicken—and well, the egg came first. I did not appreciate the pejorative manner in which one presenter talked about the ideological racism. He boiled it down to “those bad things that individuals do to other individuals.” He always said it in such a way as to discount it, as if these individual acts were unimportant. The presenter would call these acts racial prejudice. I think this takes away from the real pain of those individuals that have suffered racist acts from another being or beings . It does more damage by relegating it to the broader system, holding no one culpable.
Second, I found it disturbing the way the presenter personified racism. It became this embodied thing that seemed to walk around institutions, governments, and churches, infecting the system–it was similar to how many Christians talk about Satan. “A roaring lion ready to devour its prey…” I’m not sure racism can act on its own without people enabling it to happen.
Lastly, if you say that we are going to reach a common understanding of racism through discussion, other people’s opinions need to matter. If you are going to be didactic teaching a group of Phd’s and master level students what you know, that is fine. But please don’t ask us questions, get our responses, then act as if our comments are meaningless. Just don’t ask.
These are just small portions of my two cent on this topic. If you are a student at my seminary and want to chime in, do it here. I am erasing comments from Facebook.
(Disclaimer: I am not a race theorist nor sociologist. These are my thoughts on my experience)