Archive for March, 2009

A Useful Practice

March 29th, 2009 by Karyn Hanson

I refuse to allow shallow information and stereotypes to rule my thinking and actions.  I have seen prejudice and racism do too much harm to the people I love.  I participate in cultural competency activities at work, in “RECONCILE” at church, in Restorative Listening sessions in the community, and I pray and I study. One of the practices that I have developed out of all of this is an exercise I do while I walk around downtown during my work day.

Whenever I see a person, I watch what my brain comes up with about that person based on their appearance and situation and then I do a complete 180. If I see a dirty homeless person, I allow my thoughts to go where they will and then I tell myself a story that is the opposite.  I tell myself that I am looking at an attorney who may have suffered a stroke.  If I see a bleached blonde with seemingly enhanced body parts, I let my mind wander to how I feel about disempowering images of women; but then I tell myself that she is an ordained minister.  If I see a shiny-shoed, diamond-sporting, pin-striped suit on a white gentleman, I tell myself some story about his vulnerability.  I am trying to combat shallow information and stereotypes.  I remember that each person I see is a person whom God persistently pursues to reconcile to himself and that my interaction with each one of them is part of this pursuit.  I do this so that when I look them in the eye they don’t see a prejudgment of themselves in the reflection.  I hope instead that they see a look that eagerly searches their eyes for a connection with my God.

I do this so often that it has become second nature to me.  One Friday night a couple weeks ago I was walking to the parking structure where I park my car.  There were two young Black men standing outside the doorway to the stairwell.  They were dressed in gang style.  This is one stereotype that is easy for me to resist because I have five Black grandchildren who often sport the gang style that is sold to children on TV and the radio.  I looked the young brothers in the eyes and said “Hello” and walked past them.  They folded in behind me very close and followed me up the stairs.  I turned and caught a look on one of their faces.  It said, “I am about to do something violent.” Everything happened in a split second.  I heard my husband’s voice in my head.  He said, “OH H—L NO!”  I turned and pushed through them with a loud “Excuse me!” and I was out on the street again.   I walked and walked, trying to process what had happened.

What happened was that my reality trumped theirs.  If I had walked into that situation with a mind controlled by stereotypes I would have been scared. The power that they were trying to exercise would have had its way.  Like a marble rolling downhill, I would have been controlled by my fear and I would have been a victim.  Instead there was a loud crash between how I chose to think of those kids and how they chose to think of themselves.  That crash was like a switch that turned on and gave me the energy and courage to push my way back out onto the street. I was not a victim that day, but more importantly, those beautiful young brothers did not get to be gangsters that day.  They had to look elsewhere for power.

I think I will continue my practice.  It is a useful practice.

Your Will Be Done

March 20th, 2009 by Kevin Rogers

 A Reflection on Ethnic Division and Reconciliation Within the Church

Witnessing Racism

I’ve witnessed racism. I’m sure of it. I’ve had in-laws drop racist jokes in my lap and been faced with the awkward scenario of whether or not to laugh. Yet if I’m honest I have to admit that I probably don’t recognize the racism I witness on a regular basis. My pastor calls this “passive racism.” I’m sure I witness it. I’m sure I’m guilty of it. And I hate it.

Racism is division. Whenever there is a racist thought or action (whether explicit or implicit) there is an implied “us” and “them.” This assumes a distance between the two. Division. When I read God’s word, it is full of division. But this was not part of God’s plan in the Genesis story. And this is not a part of God’s plan in the redemption story. We live between two bookends of perfection, and unfortunately division is part of the church. Sunday mornings truly are still one of the most segregated hours of our week. I witness it. I’m guilty of it. And I hate it.

My Story

I was raised in the university town of Davis, California. The university drove the culture of the town, and it was therefore very ethnically diverse as it drew professors and students from around the world. I experienced a wide range of diversity in the classroom all the way through school. Many years Caucasians made up less than half of my classes. Living in the midst of ethnic diversity was normative for me.

One of my first best friends in elementary school was Reza. He is from Iran. My best friend in middle school was Albert. He is from Korea. My best friend in high school was James. He is Chinese, and now lives in Taiwan. Thanks to facebook, I am still connected with Albert and James.

I began my college education in Humboldt County at College of the Redwoods. I played basketball from junior high school through community college. Many of my best friends were African American. I still have a deep connection to hip hop culture that was planted in me during these years. I finished up my undergraduate education in San Diego at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. My first roommate was Armando, a huge Mexican guy with a mean, imposing presence and a heart of gold. I learned much of Hispanic culture from him, and from the overall culture of Southern California.

After college, I got married and moved to the Bay Area. More specifically we moved to the west valley of the South Bay, which has a huge Asian population. I coached high school basketball for two years at a high school where over 50% of the students were Chinese. I was a youth pastor at the time, and our church hired a Chinese pastor with the intention of integrating our cultures. We viewed it as two congregations within the same church. There were English services, Chinese services, and joint. It was not perfect, but it was a good experience and I witnessed an authentic attempt to bridge an ethnic divide.

Meanwhile, back home in Davis, my parents’ church had closed its doors after a long run. My parents and a couple other Caucasian families chose to plug into the Chinese church in town. My dad had developed a good relationship with the pastor there, and they were struggling because they had a huge heart for evangelism and had only Chinese people coming. This caused problems. For example, their Chinese college students had a very difficult time inviting friends of other ethnicities to events or services. My dad eventually became an elder there, and helped lead various ministries. It was a beautiful picture to me. Rather than choosing affinity, my parents chose openness to how God wanted to use them.

All of that brings me to my move to Portland. This move was the biggest culture shock of my life. I remember reeling for several months, along with my wife, about how “white” Portland seemed. Was this the case? Or was it just more segregated than anywhere we had ever lived? Either way, we were uncomfortable. My wife had just finished directing a preschool in the Bay Area with at least a dozen ethnicities represented. She accepted a job in Portland and the entire class was Caucasian. I remember many talks with her as she grieved the loss of different ethnicities, and the education that multiple cultures brought to the classroom. I have to reflect long and hard and ask if I’ve been blinded to the ethnic division in Portland over the past 8 years. I’m not shocked by it anymore. I don’t find myself even noticing it much. I don’t find myself being proactive about this issue in my culture, or in my church. This has begun to mess with me.

Moving Forward

God’s desire for the church is that there would be no division. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he prayed “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus is praying for the Kingdom of God to break in. Why would he pray this unless it was possible? Why would he pray this unless it was the expectation? Part of God’s revelation to John is that every nation, tribe, and language would praise God together (Revelation 7:9). This is the final bookend. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus prays will be ushered in on earth. Why would we not pursue this?

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, I confess that I have not pursued your Kingdom in its fullness in many arenas of life. Specifically, I confess that the issue of division within the church has gone largely unnoticed by me for too long. Please forgive me. I choose to repent, and make this a priority in my life. I surrender to you my time and my influence. Take all of who I am, and use them for your glory.

Heavenly Father, I don’t have the answers for such a systemic, overwhelming problem. But I believe you do. And I believe that you choose to use your people as a part of your mysterious Kingdom in-breaking. Thank you for bringing people to Imago Dei Community who care about this issue. Help me to learn from them. Thank you for burning upon their hearts to create a ministry, “Reconcile,” to address this problem. Help me to be a support to them. And thank you for your continual transformational work among all your people at Imago Dei. Help us all to desire that your kingdom come, and your will be done. Help that desire lead to decisive action so that there would be no racism among us, and therefore no division marring your bride. We need you. I need you.

Kevin Rogers

Pastor of Community

Imago Dei Community, Portland, Oregon

Is Racism Over Now That a Black Man is President of the United States?

March 3rd, 2009 by Daniel Fan

January 20th 2009 provoked many questions for the people of this country. But to me, there were not any questions more frustrating than this one: “Is racism over now that we have a black man as President?” The fact that we are asking ourselves this question means we have not seriously considered the nature of racism and its long-standing influence on the history of this country and its occupants. Furthermore, the answer to this question may not be easily grasped by anyone who has never been the subject of systematic racism. For those who have not experienced direct or indirect empowered prejudice based on skin color and physical features, it would be both convenient and easy to believe that a black man being President fixes it all. Such a belief would be naïve, and if you’re a Christ follower, possibly even sinful. Barack Obama was elected neither Dictator nor Messiah, and certainly his election can’t mean the end of racism as we know it, as many have hoped. It is important that we appreciate the achievement of electing an African American to the office of the Presidency, but it is equally important to keep such an achievement in proper relational and historical perspective.Let’s first acknowledge that racism can be and often is interpersonal. It may be conscious or subconscious but racism acts out in relations between two or more people. Unfortunately, Barack Obama’s relationship to most people is political, not personal, and there we find the crux of our problem. Yes, a majority of Americans may have voted for him as President. But what about as a friend? Would they also have voted for him to be a brother-in-law? Step-dad? Son-in-law? A majority vote for Obama isn’t necessarily a vote for closer relations with the minorities of America. Penciling a personally unknown man into (albeit an important) office, far away and buffered with checks and balances, is very different from inviting him into your home or maybe even into your family? The choice to put away racism is a choice that people make, or don’t make, via interactions with their neighbors, not with their ballot sheets or a President 1200 miles away. Such a vote for better relations with “those people” is a vote that has to be cast, not once every four years, but every day until “those people” become “my people.” I would hope that someone couldn’t vote for Obama one day and the next day think some racial epithet or look in fear on a minority, but I’m just not that optimistic.Let us also acknowledge that racism is systemic. Barack Obama’s Presidency has so far done very little to address directly the myriad problems that plague minority America. The perceived value of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might have appreciated due to the popularity of its current residents, but find me one other zip code where a black family moved into a previously all-white tract on or after January 20th, 2009, and real estate values went up. First black man moves into the White House? People of all colors pack the front lawn as far as the eye can see. First black man moves into some other all-white affluent neighborhood? White people might start passing out the Red Bull (“because Red Bull gives you wings”). Roger that Houston, we are a “go” for White Flight. I can’t think of any agency or company that has changed their hiring practices as a result of the Presidential election. I can’t think of any INS procedure that has gotten easier since Obama took office. I can’t think of any police department that has changed its policies on racial profiling now that a black guy is riding in the big armored limo instead of driving it. Sit down and create a list. Column A: things that have changed for minorities because an African American has become President. Column B: things that have not changed for minorities since an African American has become President. I think you’ll find column B runs off the bottom of your page, while Column A is significantly shorter. Racism has been evolving and metastasizing in this nation before we ever had a constitution, a government, or for that matter, a President. To expect that this loathsome and gargantuan barnacle could be suddenly evicted from our ship-of-state overnight simply by changing a light in the pilot house is unrealistic.Speaking of the pilot-house, let us examine the office of the Presidency in isolation. Again the premise is that Barack Obama’s occupation of the White House suddenly removes racism from the country, or in this case, the office of President. Immediately, many believed that there was equality for all, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream had finally become a reality. Those minds fail to consider this one thing: The math is off. Waaaaaay, waaaaay off. You see: such a premise is based on the equation 43 = 1. Barack Obama is of course the 44th President of the United States, but also the nation’s first minority President. Yeah, you knew that. But what most people haven’t considered in contrast is this: since George Washington first took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, the Presidency has been passed from the hands of one white man to the next in a chain uninterrupted for 220 years. For all of that time a white person has exercised the powers of the Presidency, primarily to the benefit of…well until 1965, white people. Minorities didn’t get equal voting rights until 1965, so how could any President before that time claim to represent the will of those who had made no meaningful contribution to his election? Even if Barack Obama serves out all four years of his term and gets re-elected, he will be hard pressed to make up for so many decades of white-for-whites decision making—decisions which continue to pay benefits for whites today. Some examples might be useful here: Andrew Jackson’s explicit and willful failure to perform his Constitutional duties in upholding the edict of the Supreme Court and due to his inaction, the subsequent unlawful eviction of the Cherokee Indians from their treaty-guaranteed native lands; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 signed by Chester A. Arthur; the forced internment of Japanese Americans by Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066; the list goes on. Each of these events required at least presidential consent if not direct action. Each resulted in negative consequences for minorities that can still be felt. Certainly not all decisions made by white Presidents served only white people, but a preponderance of evidence remains, leading us to correct our math: 43 ≠ 1.

Furthermore, the very expectations for Obama’s Presidency differ from that laid on any President before him. No one knows this better than Barack Obama. In reference to his inauguration address Obama quoted one of his children (and then responds to that quote himself): “And then Malia says, ‘First African American president—it better be good.’ So I just want you to know the pressures I’m under here from my children.” Such differing expectations did not end with Obama’s first speech as President, nor are those judging him limited only to his children. Can anyone find me a record of anyone attending George Washington’s inauguration and saying “I sure hope George does a good job ‘cuz if he doesn’t no white person will have a chance at the Presidency for at least the next 20 years!” Both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush left office with disastrous approval ratings. Despite this no one has yet stood up and shouted “Dangnabbit! That’s the last white guy I’ll ever vote for.” So if JC or GWB aren’t held as representative of all white people who have or will potentially hold the office of President of the United States, why is Obama expected to be an indicator of the future for any and all African Americans who might sit in the Oval Office? Sadly the truth is that depending on how Barack Obama completes his Presidency, it could be harder for the next African American, or any minority in that case, to become President. The fact that expectations, and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations, are different for a black President than a white President demonstrates the very inequality that King preached against when he emphasized the content of character over the color of skin.

Finally, let us acknowledge that racism is complex. Equating the ascendancy of an African American to the office of President with the solution to the overarching racial divide in America is to perceive wrongly and naively racism as purely a conflict of black vs. white. I think we’ve established that getting a black man or woman into the Oval Office isn’t the magic bullet to kill racism against African Americans. So if an African American President doesn’t solve the problem of racism against African Americans, how can it solve the problem of racism against minorities who aren’t even black? People who are prejudiced against blacks are not more likely to drop their prejudices against black people just because one of those black people is President. The same people are even less likely to drop prejudiced beliefs against non-black minority groups. In exclusive terms of the Presidency itself, for African Americans it’s “1 down, 43 to go;” but for other minorities the score is even more daunting than that.Some may ask: “So are you saying it doesn’t matter one bit that we have an African American as President?” Not at all. The ascendancy of an African American to the Presidency is an event to be celebrated. However, banishing racism from the national conscience will not take place via the Presidency, nor legislation from Congress, nor any political act or occupation of office whatsoever. Personally, I’m not willing to wait till there’s been 43 white Presidents, 43 black Presidents, 43 Latino Presidents, etc. To lay the burden on Barack Obama for ending racism is not only unfair to him and morally irresponsible for the rest of us; it is also an abdication of the calling we who call ourselves Christians have to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves. I believe racism has to be fought not by the person we elect, but by the people we choose to be. Only when we individually and collectively make an intentional, daily decision to treat others with equality and reject mechanisms which systematically subjugate peoples based on the color of their skin will we have achieved something akin to Dr. King’s dream of the Promised Land.