Archive for June, 2008

The Great Divide

June 26th, 2008 by Kelsi Johns

Recently, 11 of us New Wine interns and students at both the college and seminary at Multnomah made a week long trip down to Jackson, Mississippi to work with the John M. Perkins Foundation and learn from those who have both lived through the Civil Rights movement and who are now key players in community development and reconciliation. The core of racism runs deep, and it wasn’t until I was in Jackson, hearing these people’s stories of discrimination and oppression that I began to understand what they not only wrestle with on a daily basis but also the challenges we all face today in addressing this race and class oppression.

After reading Dr. Perkins’ book Let Justice Roll Down, meeting with him personally in Jackson, and hearing his daughter among others speak about her experiences with racism, I was overwhelmed. It’s amazing how much more powerful a story it is when one hears it firsthand–when one hears their voices fluctuate and their muscles tighten and their body language transform. It was heavy hearing it, and it certainly was heavy for them to share. I felt a mix of guilt for feeling so detached and disconnected from these real issues, helplessness for really not even knowing where to start, and conviction–oppression and poverty in many ways demand redemptive action from us all.

One night it hit me in a personal way. About the 3rd night in Jackson, we had just finished watching Mississippi Burning, the true story about the disappearance of civil rights workers in the ’60s. My heart was heavy and I was overwhelmed as I laid down on my bottom bunk and stared up at the old wooden beams, feeling completely spent. These people here with the faces, the stories, the pains, the memories, the reality, are still affected by and still facing much of the same evil I had just witnessed in that movie. You may be thinking, “They need to get over it.” But how can they get over it, when it is still happening to them?

I should call my parents, I thought. Fill them in, share with them what I’m learning and the heaviness of this deep issue–the segregation and bigotry that is still a challenge to overcome in 2008. So I called. They eagerly put me on speaker phone, and started buzzing me with questions. But their interest seemed to quickly wane. I was so weary from the processing, from the stories of individuals who experienced the Civil Rights movement, and from my own experience with us coming from Portland trying to “help,” that I didn’t even know how to articulate what I wanted to say. “Racism is deep. Black people are still being oppressed. The education here is lacking. Jobs are scant. Opportunities are rare. It is no mystery why the poor areas are also the black areas. This isn’t right. And it’s amazing what the Perkins Foundation has committed to do.” I wanted to say something to that affect. But instead I sounded like a drone, and I felt so disconnected. I could tell they didn’t really want to hear it. At least not right at that moment.

“So, what do you mean by racism?” I am asked. “Are you calling it racism just because there are a lot of black people–and no whites–in the poor community?” Innocent questions–but still frustrating–after I have been speaking with individuals for whom racism is more a part of their lives than anything. This is the painful reality: to the majority of us white folk, we don’t even “get” racism. What does it look like now? Does it even have a face anymore?

Going to Mississippi, racism and the related issues became real to me. Yes, there was desegregation back in the 60’s. But today, Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation. It’s also about 80% black. There is need for change there. It’s not a quick fix. There is literally a black and white divide across the railroad tracks in Jackson. They are still deeply separated. What struck me most is that reconciliation and development for blacks takes intention and resources. Without the conviction that yes, there is something to be done, nothing will happen. As Bob Lupton, an Atlanta community developer, says in an article by Michael Barkey on Dr. John M. Perkins, “It’s not hard to create a ghetto. Just remove the capable neighbors. To produce a substandard school system, withdraw the students of achieving parents. To create a culture of chronically dependent people, merely extract the upwardly mobile role models from the community. That’s what happened to thousands of communities across the United States.” And this is exactly what I witnessed in Jackson. But the invigorating reality is that change is possible; it just takes awareness and solidarity among various groups. This need is not confined to Jackson; the need can be found even in Portland, OR, the whitest major city in America. Whether it knows it or not, Portland is begging for reconciliation and opportunity for all individuals, not simply for the privileged and white. As followers of a liberating Christ, I believe it is our call to respond to these challenges. I welcome your thoughts.

Redeeming Race

June 11th, 2008 by flipster

Last fall I met Mariko in a church membership class. She took a genuine interest in getting to know me, and pretty soon we were talking about my ethnic background, which is a topic that white people that I meet or work with (or even those who are already my friends) don’t usually bring up with me. She then invited me to a “focus group” to discuss racial issues in the church. It had never occurred to me that racial issues are related to my spiritual life, but when Mariko and her husband Paul showed a keen interest in my race-related journey/story, I felt that this was very important and that God had something to do with it.

When I was asked the question, “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the greatest, to what degree does race affect your daily life?” Honestly, I really didn’t know how to answer that question. But it sure made me think a lot. True, when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror every morning, I see a female with black hair and brown skin, but I don’t regard myself as any different from my friends or co-workers who have lighter or even darker colored hair or skin. But there have been times in my life when I seriously wished I were white, had blond hair and blue eyes, or that I didn’t have this ethnic “baggage” to carry.

I am quite fortunate to not have had blatant experiences of racism. Maybe it was due to the fact that I lived for a while in very diverse California. But there have been plenty of times where I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. I couldn’t really determine whether it was because I looked different or because of my personality, but the way people treated me made me feel that there was something (more…)

Welcome to the Marathon!

June 11th, 2008 by MerkerMatic

Last fall, Paul and Mariko Metzger began a serious discussion about race at Imago Dei Community in which we were asked: Are you a passive racist? The event drew more than 100 people and there was a strong desire in the room to learn more about what passive, invisible forms of racism might exist in our attitudes and practices at Imago Dei. In January, 12 Christ-followers were invited to meet with the Metzgers to continue this journey. I feel very lucky to have been a part of “the twelve.” We prayed, studied the bible, and shared personal stories of how race and racism has shaped our lives. Half of the group was white and half were minorities.

Dr Metzger loves to say “this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.” As Americans, we love to solve problems ASAP. But realistically, prejudice is as old as race itself, and it’s epidemic, yet it’s invisible to the perpetrators (I don’t know many people who claim they’re a racist, do you?). Let’s not declare the “mission accomplished.” Both systemic change and discipleship take time. People from the dominant culture need to take the time to listen, examine their attitudes and habits, listen to the Word, and retrain themselves; their brothers and sisters of color need to participate in this journey with them.

We have been so “stoked” about this journey that we decided to invite others to join. Because it’s a marathon, we’re pacing ourselves and preparing for the long haul. This spring we expanded this discussion into class offered through Imago Dei’s School of Theology. You can view the class syllabus below. If you would like to write your own story, we would welcome that as well. Send it as a comment, up to 1500 words, and I can post it for others to see.


Thoughts from your Yellow Sista…

June 5th, 2008 by Yellow Sista

My story begins with my parents. In 1925 my father, a member of the merchant middle class, emigrated from China at the age of 14 to join his uncle in the Northwest.

During WWII he served in the US Army as a mess Sergeant. I can draw the conclusion that it was a meaningful time in his life just by the numerous photographs in his military garb with his proud stance and glint in his eyes. Many Chinese Americans willingly joined the military to prove they were true Americans. A few years after the end of the war, my father voyages back China to marry my mother. She came from a rural family who made a meager living growing mainly sweet potatoes and collecting and selling firewood. Ten days after marrying my mother, my father returned to America to continue working. The only connection they had were occasional letters and rare visits. Due to economics and The Chinese Exclusion Act, working Chinese men were kept from bringing their families over to the US which created a bachelor society.

Fast forward to 1950, my father returned to China and moved my mother and grandmother to Hong Kong before the Communists rose to complete power. As soon as they settled into a flat he purchased, he left for America again. My mother began living her new life in the bustling big city of Kowloon, eking out a living doing all kinds of manual labor and eventually found her niche as seamstress for a garment factory. Her daily orders can consist, for example, of a dozen tailor quality trousers–and this all done on a machine powered with a manual foot pedal! For 1.50 a day (more…)

Diverse Living Shapes My Racial Beliefs

June 5th, 2008 by Jeremiah

My name is Jeremiah. I am a racist. I harbor hatred for white people, especially Americans, and Germans. They sometimes want to be called Caucasians. Some think they are predestined to be rich and better than all other races. They have had power for hundreds of years in the world for reasons I don’t comprehend. They oppressed many cultures and made other human beings their slaves. They blamed Africans for selling their own. Blamed Natives (mislabeled as Indians) for not inventing firearms and not building Manhattan. Their greatest leaders were often some of the worst offenders, in the church and in the world. I don’t believe white people have any more rights than anyone else in the world.

It is most likely at this point I should share that I am white, or Caucasian. It is also a good time to apologize for the use of the term “white people”. It is a stereotype that I am trying to overcome and yet it a label the world uses to describe me and those of which I am speaking.

I am a standard American, with bloodlines resembling a European soup. But unlike many Americans I have traveled (more…)