Some of us have felt the effects of systemic racism our whole lives; others are newly learning about it and how to work as allies. What is systemic racism? Why is it so prevalent in the United States? What has this done to generations of people of color?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describes it as as foundational to the “fabric of American society… woven with deeply racist policies, practices, and attitudes that harm Black and Indigenous people of color. These policies have led to an unequal system where white people have both implicit and explicit advantages because of the color of their skin…” It is so deeply ingrained in our society that if we don’t look carefully, and critically, it can go unnoticed by many, mostly white, people. Over 300 years of systemically unchecked racism has resulted in disparities in healthcare, education, generational wealth, incarceration rates, job opportunities and housing. From the devastation of the Rondo neighborhood to the tragedy of Tulsa race massacre, systemic racism has and continues to impact every community across the United States.
“America has economically and politically thrived thanks to this system,” writes Stephanie Spellers, in an article for Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices. The entire article “America, Why Can’t You Stop Killing Us?” which delves deeply and prayerfully into the history of systemic racism in America, can be read here.
Why are we as Christians called to end systemic racism?
God’s promise to Abraham was to bless all nations (Genesis 22:17-19). When God sees the anguish of people enduring centuries of systemic racism, God cares deeply about the oppressed and wants people to care deeply too.
The Episcopal Church is committed to anti-racism. In its anti-racism training, the Church states that “Many have now awakened to the reality of racism and the many ways in which it hurts everyone. The Gospel of Christ is grounded in love. Love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. In the Episcopal Church we profess a covenant that calls us to love one another and respect the dignity of every human being.”
What is the work that we at St. John’s can do towards ending systemic racism?
Learn Our History: Before we can change, we must know how we got here. Put in the work to learn about the history of systemic racism in America, in Minnesota, and in Saint Paul. How has St. John’s responded to racism in our own backyard, as I-94 destroyed much of the Rondo neighborhood? How have our own families supported or worked to end racism? Work on your own through reading or documentaries, and at St. John’s through reading groups, adult education, or one of our justice-focused ministries. We are in this together.
Be Committed: Those of us at St. John’s who are white have experienced America and its systems differently than those of us at St. John’s who are people of color—that’s just how America’s systems were set up to operate. Racism was developed by white people, for white people, and white people must stand against it. It is not the responsibility of people of color to solve racism. It takes commitment, doing your own work, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Continual Process of Growing and Learning: Remember that we are all learning and growing together as we listen to each other. In her book Witnessing Whitness, Shelly Tochluk (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), an academic and author, proposes that white anti-racist persons consider themselves as “doing effective ally work” (a continual process of growing and learning) versus saying they “are an ally” (implying a finished process). If we misstep, it’s an opportunity to pause, learn, and grow.
Don’t Confuse Charity for Justice: Saint Augustine said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Charity provides a stop-gap solution to a justice problem. We can ask ourselves and our partners how we can best add action toward justice to our charitable ministries.
Participate in Anti-Racist Programs at St. John’s: Fr. Craig Lemming has developed robust anti-racism programming for 2021-22 at St. John’s. Look for more details as we head into the fall!
Liturgy: Holy Eucharist celebrated on the first Friday of every month to celebrate saints who dedicated their lives to racial justice.
Spiritual Life: Thursday Book Group will be studying and discussing Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents in the Fall of 2021; the Young Adult Group will be serving at First Nations Kitchen after their monthly brunch on Thursday Sundays; and, with St. John’s LGBTQ+ Spiritual Life Group and Circle of the Beloved’s help, we plan on hosting a screening and discussion of the new documentary film My Name Is Pauli Murray with ECMN when the film becomes available.
Faith Formation: studying and discussing Stephanie Speller’s The Church Cracked Open during Epiphanytide as our annual parish book study in January and February 2022.
Pastoral Care: St. John’s Circle of Care will be studying and discussing Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook’s Injustice and the Care of Souls in February and March 2022.
Easy? No. Critical? Yes. If you have questions or aren’t sure where to begin, touch base with parish members Jamie Bents, Jenny Koops, Johannah Frisby, or Michael May.