Racial Reconciliation or Racial Righteousness?

“Reconciliation means to bring back together again in love and friendship” said Peter Sjobloom, facilitator of the abbreviated Invitation to Racial Righteousness I participated in recently.  This is Webster’s definition of reconciliation.  Sjobloom then asked, “Is that really what we want?  What are we going back to for relations between races?”  Another definition is “to reach a compromise about differences.”  That is not adequate either.  It is because of these inadequacies of the word ‘reconciliation’ that the Covenant us using the phrase “racial righteousness,” which can be defined as a state where “the righteousness of the Kingdom of God is practiced and reverses the standards of the regular social order.”

Wow, this is giving me a lot to think about.  August 4-11 Cindy and I were in Chicago for the Missionary Connection Event, 8 days of meetings with missionaries on home assignment, world mission staff and some denominational leaders.  During the week we discussed practical things concerning church visits, received an introduction into communicating with the different age groups in our culture, heard testimonies of how God is at work in the countries we serve in around the world, discussed numerous issues in world mission today both within the Covenant and in world mission in general, worshipped at Oakdale Covenant and participated in the abbreviated Invitation to Racial Righteousness (I2RR).  This entry is to share some of what I learned and some reflections following the I2RR.

We started the I2RR by watching the YouTube video of the guys trying to steal the bike locked to a post in a park, “What would you do? Bike Theft (white guy, black guy, white girl)”  We watched it without sound and actually stopped before the clip with the girl.  This is a disturbing video.  It points out that we all make assumptions about what we see.  The difference in reactions of the white kid trying to break the chain on the bike and the black kid trying to do the same are stark.  Clearly the passersby in this video made assumptions based on skin color.  One person presumed he had the power and authority and responsibility to stop the black youth.

Watching this video and reflecting on what we saw set the stage for the rest of the day, for the Invitation to Racial Righteousness.  The Covenant is defining the I2RR as “to make space to create an environment of grace, truth and trust so that we may share and hear stories that build authentic communities of faith.”  Ephesians 2:11-22 states that “we were once excluded and without hope”, but now are “fellow citizens of God’s creation and the hostility between races has been put to death.”

We then reflected on definitions:

–          Prejudice = an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand without knowledge, thought or reason.   Random House

–          Racism = the collective misuse of power that results in diminished life opportunities for some racial groups.  DIVIDED BY FAITH

–          Race Prejudice + Power (or lack of) == RACISM

From these definitions we go back to the difference between reconciliation and racial righteousness.

In our small groups of 6-7 around tables we were asked to answer these questions:  Who are my people?  Where are my people from?  What I like about being (African-American, Korean, Italian, Swedish, Heinz 57, Hispanic,…) is.  Each of our 4 tables included one African-American in a Covenant church in the area.  I don’t think any of them had participated in an I2RR this before so we were all experiencing it for the first time.

These questions made feel uncomfortable.  Yes, I know I am 100% of Swedish heritage and I know where my ancestors come from in Sweden, I’ve visited there.  But what do I like about being Swedish-American or white?  I have to confess that I don’t want to acknowledge that I am a person of privilege.  As others commented, I come from a narrative of “I earned it all myself” when in reality I, me Peter, did not.

The most uncomfortable exercise was the Race Race.  We all went to a large area and stood in a line shoulder to shoulder with our arms linked to each other.  We were instructed that this was a race and the first to the box out in front would win the prize.  But first we had a list of instructions to follow.  Those instructions were items such as: take a step forward if your parents graduated from college, take a step forward if you had more than x books for elementary and older kids in your home, take a step backwards if a family member has been incarcerated, take a step backwards if you have divorce in your family, take a step forward if you have finished college, take a step backwards if you have every applied for food stamps or similar programs, take a step backwards if you have ever been followed in a store.  And on and on.  There were over two couple pages of such questions each asking us to take a step forwards or backwards.  As we stepped forwards or backwards we tried to stay connected to each other, but soon the distance was too great and we left a friend behind or say them go ahead.  That was uncomfortable.  Soon I cared little about winning the price when he would start the actual race.  Yes, I was towards the front along with a number of older white men.  Interesting.  Cindy was several steps behind me.  We didn’t start out next to each other so I don’t know what questions caused her to step backwards or not go forwards.  Before the race for the prize started the leader has those in the front turn around to see where everyone was.  That was very uncomfortable.  Stunning how far behind some of the people were.  The African-Americans were all behind the starting line while I was many steps ahead of it.

As we reflected on this one wants to comment “oh, but the game is stacked.  You set us up.  Yes, but life is that way too.”  One of the I2RR facilitators, an African-American woman, was the farthest back.  She had a lot to overcome to be a college graduate with the responsibilities she has today.  Again I think of the phrase we flippantly use “I earned it all myself.”  Not really.

We closed the evening by watching and discussing THE HELP.  I found that I was more aggravated by the first part of the movie than I was  the first time I watched.  I wanted to turn away and not watch it, but I realized that I needed to.  I need to listen to, watch, learn about this part of our history however ugly it is.  I need to feel the pain and anger.

So where to from here?  That is the challenge.  One of the points of calling the day an ‘Invitation’ is that it is just that, an invitation to start on a journey towards more righteous living and more righteous relations between races.  What next for me?  I’m not exactly sure.  At a minimum I have to continue to converse with friends of my own and other races.  With friends of other races I need to ask questions, listen to their stories, speak up for more righteous relations when possible, read to become informed.  I need my friends of other races to help me begin to see what I have not been seeing and when I see those things to help me think through what part I can play.  I need to allow myself to feel the injustices.

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2 Responses to “Racial Reconciliation or Racial Righteousness?”

  1. Beth Stoker says:

    That day was a difficult but powerful experience for me as well. I was thankful to have Rachel & Ryan to debrief it with at home!!!

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