Can We Talk? Exploring a conversation about race

Published July 26, 2013 by

Discussion to begin Wed. September 11, 6:30 p.m.

In the days since the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the internet has been filled with renewed discussion about race in our society. The trial tiptoed around issues of race, and whatever your opinion of the role race played in Trayvon Martin’s death, the reaction reveals how difficult it remains to talk honestly and helpfully about race. I think it is time to try again, and I believe our church is an important venue for such conversations in Juneau.

In his remarks on July 19, President Obama encouraged us to talk. He said, “I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching…in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.” 

The issues are not just black and white and relegated to Florida and other southern states. Last spring, an Asian-themed party was held in Juneau that was insensitive at best. In its aftermath, Lance Twitchell, Christy NaMee Eriksen, and Ishmael Hope have called for our community to talk about the racial tensions that lie below the surface. In a May article in the Juneau Empire, they suggested that “Topics might include how people of color are treated in the community, the ways racism appears today (socially and institutionally), and how many people avoid the topic out of fear of embarrassment, labeling, change and admission of power and privilege.”

The Church has often been part of the problem; it has conflated European culture and Christian faith. Through the “doctrine of discovery” it has justified the decimation of Native cultures and imposed white ways as Christian ways. But as a community rooted in the diversity of the Pentecost vision, the Church can also find its way back to its inclusive beginnings. It can become a place for healing conversation and action. At Pentecost, people from throughout the world were gathered in one place and all heard the good news in their native languages. The racial and cultural diversity of Northern Light makes our congregation an ideal host for sharing good news and promoting community conversations about race. Freda Westman’s statement found on the next page of the newsletter provides powerful analysis of what is at stake for all of us; it is a valuable starting point for our discussion. In addition, there are a host of books we could read together. A recent one is Presbyterian minister Bruce Reyes-Chow’s “But I Don’t See You as Asian:” Curating Conversations About Race.” Let’s meet Wednesday, September 11, 6:30 in the Fellowship Hall and explore where to go from here.

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