Monday, November 30, 2009

Institute for Dismantling Racism: "Racism diminishes human existence"

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Recently, I attended a weekend-long Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR) Training, conducted by the groups Crossroads and IDR. It began with introductions and a retelling of American history from the perspective of People of Color. From the beginning of the European invasion through the genocide of American Indians and slavery to the fight for Civil Rights, listening to a fact-filled narrative of American history from this perspective was incredibly powerful in thwarting many shadowy American myths still hiding in the corners of my mind. Perhaps one of the most jolting pieces of information was that the first slave ship to the New World was called “Jesus”. I could not help but remember one high school teacher of mine defending the idea of Manifest Destiny, which is a glorified way of saying that one believes God ordained European settlers to conquer the New World and that the death of millions of American Indians was just tragic collateral damage. This idea is still very much alive in the psyche of many Americans.

The next day we discussed the importance of a unified definition of racism, which is the misuse of power plus prejudice, so that we may more successfully confront racism and become anti-racists ourselves. We addressed low-income neighborhoods and the consequences of external government, corporate, and non-profit decisions: poor roads, less grocery stores, more government placed liquor stores, substandard education, less access to medical care, and social services whose leadership lives and makes decisions outside that community. We discussed white privilege, which is what a white person gets just for being white (read: white affirmative action). For instance, white persons do not have to worry about racial profiling, unfair treatment in the justice system, discriminatory hiring practices, etc. People of Color have to worry about all of these things and receive statistically higher interest rates on loans when compared to whites with the same credit history, along with higher infant mortality rates and higher stress levels. These discussions made me think about the everyday things about which I am blind, simply because I was born with lighter skin. I felt fortunate that I could enter into a safe and honest dialogue with other people about institutional disparities with regard to race.

The final day we covered racism in our own institutions. One of the most obvious and troubling observations about where the attendees’ institutions fell on the continuum of racism (racist institutions on the left and multicultural anti-racist institutions on the right) was that churches were the farthest behind. This is not surprising when you think about Martin Luther King’s observation that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, or that the Southern Baptist Convention was created because preachers in the South wanted to defend slavery from a biblical standpoint. Most of our institutions were created in a pre-Civil Rights era, and we need to think creatively about how to confront racism and transform these institutions. We cannot do it alone and we cannot do it overnight. Organizations like Crossroads and IDR are here to train as many people as they can across America to give them resources to discover how racism infects their institutions. IDR encourages several people from every institution to attend and form an anti-racist group so that one person is not trying to change the organization alone. Contact Willard Bass, Executive Director of IDR, for information about tailoring a workshop for your organization or attending the full 3 day training. His email address is

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