For centuries, race has played a decisive role in shaping society, and racism’s firm grip has yet to release its hold on our world. Drew Hart, a PhD candidate in ethics and theology, eloquently describes this reality in “We aren’t playing the racial card, we are analyzing the racial deck,” an article published on his blog Taking Jesus Seriously in December 2014:
“Racism is about one group having enough power to organize society by its categories (legally or by voluntary choices) in such a way that it advantages most of the dominant groups members at the expense of another group’s welfare … Through historical and sociological study, we can see that the U.S. is a highly racialized society that is dominated and controlled by the white majority.”
The reality of this “highly racialized society” has been brought into vivid focus by recent events like these:
- Unwarranted police violence toward minorities, such as the videotaped death of Eric Garner by chokehold in July 2014, which did not result in the indictment of the officer.
- The deaths of three Syrian students in North Carolina in 2015. While the investigation is ongoing, some claim it was a hate crime.
- Legal and civilian response to Latino immigrants in North America, including Arizona’s 1070b law. These issues caused debate amongst Mennonites about whether or not to hold the 2013 Mennonite Church USA Convention in Arizona.
Like Christians everywhere, Mennonites cannot turn their backs to issues of racial injustice. Author Steven Heinrichs explores historical conflict in North America between indigenous peoples and settlers in a book on racism and land struggle, Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. Cities like Goshen, Ind., home to Goshen College and a hearty Mennonite community–still deal with past histories of racist policies–such as Goshen’s role as a “sundown town,” in which African-Americans were not allowed to stay the night in the city due to ordinances, violent acts, or harassment.
In the aftermath of the Charleston South Carolina shootings of June 17, Oshetta Moore wrote the following on her Shalom in the City blog: “What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston”
I almost wrote this post when there were riots in Ferguson and I almost wrote this post when protestors were holding up signs that read, “I can’t breathe”. This post was very nearly published when black women stood in the street topless, a prophetic picture of both the African American woman’s vulnerability in this broken world and her strength in the face of brutality. Then I saw Dejerria Becton, a black 15 years old wrestled and held to the ground by a white police officer, so I wept and sat at my computer with these words. And now, nine brothers and sisters lost their lives to racism in Charleston last night and I cannot ignore this post anymore.
In the next few hours there will be even more coverage of the shooting of nine people at a historic African American Church in Charleston, South Carolina.Soon news outlets and bloggers will begin speculating about Dylann Roof, the accused shooter’s motive and we’ll be tempted to assign blame and make assumptions. These are the critical hours that sets the trajectory of this new conversation on racism in America. These are also the hours our helplessness rises to the surface and we’ll use our words to alleviate it.
Two weeks ago, in the hours and days following the Mckinney Pool Party, I read some of the most hateful words used to shore up defensiveness. I saw people blame the teens. Memes were made that called a vulnerable young woman- rude, disrespectful, and deserving of the treatment she received. I can’t fathom how it’s appropriate to blame her for her mistreatment in a day when there is a collective gasp of disgust when someone suggest that a drunken girl raped at a party brought that onto herself.
Our words matter. Right now, they matter, oh so much. …
To read the remainder of Oshetta post of June 18, 2015, go here. Reposted by permission of Oshetta Moore.
Mennonite Church USA named “Undoing Racism” one of its seven goals during a meeting in 2011. Together we recognize that racial divisions within our churches, in our neighborhoods, and across nations inhibit the ways we spread Christ’s love. Explore the resources provided for more stories and perspectives about racial issues and Mennonites.
MennoNerds (blogger group) hosted an online panel in 2014 featuring Drew Hart, April Yamasaki, Oshetta Moore, Tim Nafziger, and Katelin Hansen, joined by Tyler Tully in a conversation around race, mutuality, and Anabaptist community. Engage a 2 hour Google Hang Outs conversation here: