Rebecca Weber is a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship and a backpacker. This piece is adapted from a piece she shared with that congregation.
In early May, I, along with West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship Pastor, Lorie Hershey, and two other church members, attended a two-and-a-half day training on “Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism.” It’s a challenge to summarize two-and-a-half days of material, so I want to tell you about one important piece.
Throughout the training, we created together and continually referred to the wall of history. The wall of history was a timeline from 1492-2017 showing what was happening in the United States in the history of racism and the history of the resistance to racism. At the outset of our training, the wall was blank. Together we filled in what we knew of the history, with a little help from the Internet. (Okay, a lot of help from the Internet.) It was humbling to realize how little of this history I knew and how steeped in racism our country is. It began to open up for me how racism isn’t just about a binary of black and white people, but it has impacted people of color groups differently with policies like the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Chinese exclusion laws, the Dred Scott decision, Japanese internment camps and the deportation of immigrants, just to name a few. It also made it terribly obvious that what is happening in current events – things like talk of a wall along the southern border, Standing Rock, police brutality against black and brown people, the war on terror, the Muslim ban–is not surprising at all. Instead these issues are simply a continuation of a long history of racism.
There are many other things I could recount about the training, but I want to share some experiences and thoughts I’ve had since then. I was recently with a group of women of color telling stories about their personal experiences with the police (which were awful) and speaking about the intersectionality of racism and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. It felt like sacred space that I was allowed to enter, a space to witness their truth telling. There was one part of the conversation that particularly stood out to me. They talked about how some of the light skinned members of their community try to pass as white. The reflection from one of the women talking noted that this “was about survival.” This observation really hit me. Because we live in a white dominant society, people of color are denying their own identity, they are turning their backs on their own rich culture, in order to survive.
I realized more deeply than before how I am complicit in this system of white domination. We who are white are all complicit in this system of white domination, the system that sows seeds of fear and dehumanizes people of color in order to maintain the superiority of whites. We have failed our sisters and brothers of color.
The theme of the Mennonite convention in Orlando this summer was, “Love is a verb.” I heard a call to be willing to be with and to understand another, leading toward our ability to be for another. It was a call to be radically committed to the other’s well-being. What would it look like if we were radically committed to restoring what has been broken by our systems of racism and white domination?
If we are to be radically committed to the other’s well-being, we must be open to taking a long hard look at how racism is impacting us here in the United States, in Philadelphia and at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. If we are called to be with and understand another, leading toward our ability to be for another, we must be willing to ask the hard questions of how racism is manifesting itself in our minds, our church, our communities and our systems. And we must also be willing to begin to act, and to continue acting, in ways that restore our relationships and dismantle the systems of racism.
I am looking forward to continuing this conversation in the weeks and months to come. I hope and pray that we, as individuals and as a congregation, can be open to where the Spirit is calling us to reconciliation and restoration of what has been broken by the sin of racism in our midst. I expect at times it will be humbling and uncomfortable, but I hope that will not deter us.
As we sang earlier, “The dawn draws near and the world is about to turn.”
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