Racism in Liberal Communities

At the 2008 Call to Action conference, I was blown away by all of the community I felt. I was also blown away by the pervasive racism in progressive communities. I live in a progressive community, so I see the well-meaning racist thing all of the time. I pull it all of the time. It doesn’t make me a better white person. There’s a great article at New Demographic about whether it’s better to call someone out for being racist or admit that you’re racist yourself. While admitting that I’m racist, I am going to call out. This is old news, but it is better than nothing.

I’m tired of the idea that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend discussed in her plenary at the conference – that racism is dead now that Barack Obama is president. I’m tired of hearing that the “black man” stole from “the woman.” I’m tired of hearing that black churches have more sexism. See Townsend’s comment about “trying to talk about the female God in an African American church” and the audience laughing.

Maybe my rub with social justice work in general, because I live in social justice city, is the whole solidarity with the poor thing. Hello, just because you gave up all of your possessions or dared!! to go to Africa or the South Side of Chicago to “teach the rest of the world” about oppressions there doesn’t mean you’re in solidarity. There is a smugness with it all that I don’t like. I hear it a lot in Catholic social justice work and mainstream progressive Catholic dialog. At the conference, it was most prominent in Edwina Gately’s talk – where she dared to hear a voice from God to go to Africa (They live in huts! And they’re black! God called me to them so I can show the rest of the world that religion is too small!) Why do the rescuers always get the credit? Why do they get rewarded for their white man’s burden? I mean yes, there is serious organizing happening in the South Side of Chicago, but still. I think this whole thing, though, springs back to the community that I felt. A community of people who are and can be moved to make changes. A community that changes and evolves.

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8 thoughts on “Racism in Liberal Communities

  1. Unity is in Christ, with Christ and for Christ. If you’re trying to unify for social justice, race equality or anything else, it will fail just like any other man made social program or construct.

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:28-29

    Those who are in Christ are unified. To be unified with Him relieves one from all the frenetic “doing” and releases you to serve with joy and power. When God is in it our work is very profitable. When God is not in it our work is difficult and unprofitable. Be profitable in Him and you will find the peace and unity you’re seeking.

    Grace & Peace in Christ!

  2. Hi Theodora-
    I know this was your first conference, and I am really sorry that you missed the one the year before just for this reason. The 2007 conference was completely dedicated to anti-racism in CTA and the social justice movement by very specifically talking about the problems of White Privilege. I was so happy to hear speakers like Peggy McIntosh (who coined the phrase and kick-started the discussion on White Privilge), Eddie Moore Jr. (founder of the White-Privilge annual conferance), and Tim Wise (who wrote “White Like Me” and was at the the 2008 conference again to talk about the problem that the anti-racism movement now faces because Obama was elected–did you catch his talk?).

    Additionally, I think you are right that Edwina Gateley’s initial intention for going to Africa was to be a missionary rooted in a Western and White understanding of God and humanity, but if you have ever heard her talk about the experience, she says that within weeks of being Africa, she woke up to her racist understand of God and religion. In her book “A Warm Moist Salty God” she talks about her revelation that “God was not the patriarchal, white Englishman that she had learned about in school. To the Maasai women, God is warm, moist and salty–and often female.” Unfortunately, the talk she gave this year built on 25+ years of books and talks that she has been giving on retreats and at the CTA conference, so she was starting from a place assuming that her audience knew her back story. I would definitely recommend reading her books because you will likely come to a very different conclusion about her views and actions in the world, especially knowing that she adopted an African American son and has been dealing with the realities of a bi-racial family for about 15 years.

    As for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, yes, I agree with you completely. I enjoyed her talk for the most part, but she left me twinging a few times as well. Thanks for bringing this topic up, though! If we don’t keep talking about and bringing the reality of racism out in the open, how will we ever move forward in changing its awful reality.

  3. The Elephant in the Room regarding liberal racism is the typical liberal position that abortion must be made available in black and Latino countries and cultures where it has historically been rejected. Even in the US making abortion more available and affordable in minority communities is a common liberal position and a not-so-subtle form of racism that is rarely addressed.

  4. Teresa – I think you are misinterpreting the common pro-choice position that abortion should be equally available for all and conflating that with the fact that abortion rates tend to be higher among African-Americans. However, the fact that abortion rates are higher for African-Americans versus the rate for Caucasians is worth examining and discussing, because I believe it is a symptom of a larger problem of societal racism and other issues that must be addressed, including poverty, access to sexuality education and pregnancy prevention, access to health care, stronger social safety nets, etc.

  5. jjhatch – “equally available” has put 70% of US abortion mills in black neighborhoods,(12% of the population) and many are still looking to open even more in these neighborhoods. The left has failed to put just about anything else promised (good schools, safe neighborhoods, etc) into many of these neighborhoods, but “equally available” abortions have been a real success…I wonder why?

    I agree with you that abortion is a symptom, however I’m sure saying much more then that would lead to further disagreement.

  6. Humility, humility. Its hard for me to speak up as well because what if I’m wrong? Or what if I say it wrong? And what the heck do I know? I have much to see in my own self before looking at others. Plank, eye.

    I also agree with Becky though about Edwina Gately. I believe she was talking about where she was at that time and voicing it to be honest about her racism. It helps me to reflect on my own opinions and thoughts to confront my own racism, gives me courage to look within. I think she was modeling a way to get at the root of one’s issues.

  7. Jjhatch – Share the Gospel and the need for social justice disappears and the need to somehow rectify racism disappears. In fact these don’t even matter because suffering for Christ is joining Christ in His sufferings.

    You think you can just try to protest or strive in your own strength or stand for these different things and not place the Gospel at the forefront. The Gospel dispels the problems one person at a time. That is where true success has been, is and will be always.

    Remember what Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:17-19

    Do you belong to the world or do you wish for the world to love you or does the world hate you as it hated Jesus. You’ll know you’re in the middle of His will if the world hates you as it did Jesus Himself.

    Did Jesus ever put social justice or racism as His primary message? Never. What was the core message of Jesus Christ? If you search the Word of God for the answer you will understand what I mean.

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