Monday, September 21, 2020

Confession of a Dying Man

5 comments:
This piece is part of a series of new reflections being added to the existing Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

by Henk Hart

I am embarrassed, ashamed at times, and I feel quite powerless. Many people reach out to me in my end time. Family and friends. People from church or my work community. Children. Strangers sometimes. I am deeply touched by this and the touch is healing. At times I am able to show my appreciation, my gratitude. Yes, I am truly grateful. To all. But I do not always or to everyone make that visible. That’s because I have begun to struggle with mail: email, letters in the mail, cards. Part of my new reality is that responding to mail takes time and energy that I now no longer have. I try. But it doesn’t happen. So I feel ashamed. I know that most people understand. I am grateful for that. But I am still embarrassed. And sad.

For the longest time I have not experienced death and dying as a burden. They are part of living. For many people they are sad, painful, beyond bearing. For me they were not. Bit by bit I gave up parts of what it means to be alive. Food, a hobby, an activity, a bodily function. I have seen death coming and expected it for a long time. Even now that my medical team says it’s coming closer faster I feel that in many ways I am ready and it’s ok. But the last few weeks I have become aware of my unanswered mail as a part of dying for which I am not ready. And I think I know why. It breaks lines of communication, it ends part of what it means to be alive. And to be the offender is sad and shameful to me. Suddenly dying is no longer what it has been so far. 

So I confess: as I am dying, I am part of death’s ruptures in living. Not just for myself. I bring the pains of dying into the lives of others. And I confess: I do it especially to those who reach out to me. I am sorry. 

Though confessing helps living with the shame, it does not stop the dying. Life goes on, also the life of which dying is part. And that life, for me at least, is also full of blessing that surrounds the pain. Shame is not the whole story of my dying. In our electronic world I can share my story with my work community, my confessional community, and my community of family and friends. In that way my world of dying could be life giving to others. That gives me joy.


Friday, September 18, 2020

Something About Gardening? Uprooting Racism at ICS

1 comment:
by Abbi Hofstede
This post is part of the series Uprooting Racism.


While we don't need to feel guilty about the past, we can (and should) feel responsible for how the past manifests itself in the present. 


It is difficult to know where to begin. I want to say something about how uncomfortable I am with writing about this topic, but my discomfort is nothing in the grand scheme of things, especially when I think about the real beast that is systemic racism.

My first reaction to being asked to write for ICS’s blog was to say no, because I am not the one who we need to listen to right now. As a white Canadian woman of Dutch descent I would feel much more comfortable with doing my own personal work on these issues out of the public eye. The reality is, however, that I am among one of the privileged demographics here at ICS. I grew up going to a CRC church. I ate things like boerenkool and hagelslag. I am steeped in a reformed understanding of Christian education, attending Christian schools my whole life. Since I am in a position of privilege, then, it is not enough to do my own personal work while remaining silent on these issues. In this case, silence would imply assent to the status quo, and that is not okay.

I am not the voice we should be listening to, but I am also not willing to make others do the work for me. For that reason, as a white person, I want to take a moment and recognize that this blog post is intended to engage other white people, as we collectively acknowledge the work we need to do (and the fact that people of colour have not had the privilege to be as unaware of these issues as we are). The reality is that ICS doesn’t have many students of colour, and there are no Black students currently attending. While it is imperative we first and foremost pay attention to and amplify Black voices during this time, we also should not force other people to do the heavy lifting for us.

It is only in recent years that I began to see how deeply systemic racism is ingrained in my experiences of Christian educational institutions (as it is, to varying degrees, in all institutions that have historically been predominantly white). When I stop and think about this reality, I am deeply saddened—not only by my own ignorance, but more importantly by the fact that this systemic racism still persists. Thinking back, I was so unaware of what some of my peers were going through. Because of my privilege, I’ll never fully know all that they experienced, and I lament my lack of understanding to this day.

Recently, I was talking to a friend about the difficulties of navigating this topic. She suggested a really helpful metaphor for conceptualizing systemic racism in an institutional context, one that makes a lot of sense to me as I have spent my summer landscaping and gardening. If we view our institution as a garden, we can think of it as something like this:

ICS’s garden has been nurtured on Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat, Haudenousaunee, and Mississauga of the Credit First Nations land for over 50 years. Some seeds were brought over from the Netherlands and planted in this soil. These seeds have used the nutrients, as well as the water, sun, and other resources from the land in which they were planted in order to sprout and bear fruit. Many varieties of delicious fruits and vegetables have been grown. Unfortunately, many weeds have sprouted too. Some of these were brought in with the original seeds, and others have popped up over the years. Some existed in the soil when ICS first planted its garden, as the soil had been worked before by a country founded on colonialism. Many of these weeds were not pulled and were allowed to go to seed, producing new generations of weeds that threaten to choke out the other plants.


Systemic racism, in all its manifestations, is one of these pervasive weeds. To continue the gardening metaphor, I would like to propose that those of us who are “insiders” in this tradition need to bear the brunt of the work in uprooting these weeds. We cannot leave this solely to those who have been working for generations, those who face this struggle every day, without any choice in the matter. It is also our responsibility to put in the work. At the same time, we may not be able to recognize some things as weeds. Overtly racist occurrences are a rarity and there are many ways in which racism manifests itself that we may not recognize right away. As Dean pointed out in his post, for example, we might need to call into question just exactly who are the voices that we prioritize here in our classes at ICS.

For more examples of how racism manifests itself in many different ways, see the below illustration of a pyramid of white supremacy. This pyramid helps us to see how overt white supremacy builds on these “smaller,” socially acceptable forms of racism and covert white supremacy. While we may recognize the overt things as “bad,” it is sometimes much more difficult to identify the covert forms. This is where we need to listen to Black voices, and the voices of other people of colour, to help us identify those weeds to which we are blind. Then, we—and I’m speaking to white people here—need to put in the work to pull those weeds. As the pyramid illustrates, these covert logics and acts of white supremacy may be buried deep, which means that we might need to dig deep within our own thinking to uncover them.

Source: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005). Adapted by Ellen Tuzzolo (2016); Mary Julia Cooksey Cordero (2019); The Conscious Kid (2020).

Recently, I participated in an anti-racism workshop put on by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Toronto, and to prepare we were asked to read an excerpt about the characteristics of white supremacy culture from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun (ChangeWork, 2001). Reading this list shook me, if I am being honest. Although at first I didn’t want to admit it (which itself is part of the problem, as we will see), I could immediately see in myself these characteristics of white supremacy culture. Since I have grown up in a culture where whiteness is the norm, this should have been unsurprising. And yet, I was shocked. It was another reminder of how far I as an individual and we as a society have yet to go.

The pyramid can also help illustrate an interesting faultline that often springs up around conversations about race. For some, racism or “being racist” refers only to those things at the top of the pyramid—the overt forms of racism. This can lead to miscommunications in our discussions, with those who hold this view of racism vehemently objecting to admitting their own racism because they view racism as only those things at the top of the pyramid. What the pyramid shows us, however, is that racism takes many different forms. It’s sneaky. It’s embedded in everything from personal attitudes to institutions to government and civil society. This means that you can be racist without intending to be racist—without even knowing it.

Take one example from the pyramid: Eurocentric curriculum. It’s not as if ICS consciously set out to build a Eurocentric curriculum, but it still happened. We come from the Dutch Reformational tradition, so it is natural that a lot of our scholarship is rooted in this area. One of the strengths of this tradition is its deep-seated emphasis on engaging culture and public life. But maybe we need to take a hard look at what culture it is that we are engaging. Too often, the other voices we interact with philosophically are other white voices. How much could our scholarship be enriched if we really made an effort to engage with the voices of people of colour?

During my time at The King’s University, I once heard a professor describe it like this: there is a difference between guilt and responsibility. While we don’t need to feel guilty about the past, we can (and should) feel responsible for how this past manifests itself in the present. As we have seen from recent events, the reality is that racism is alive and well in our society today. ICS has a responsibility to take a hard look at our own practices as a predominantly white institution. Perhaps we need to question why, after 50 years of existence in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, our student body still doesn’t reflect this. And further, have we ever had one Senior member who was not white? These questions just barely begin to scratch the surface, and we evidently have much more digging to do.

ICS stewards a rich tradition of Christian scholarship, one that comes out of the Dutch Reformational tradition. There is nothing intrinsically racist about being committed to a tradition per se (although it is worth noting that Abraham Kuyper, among many others, had some very racist ideas).* However, in stewarding this tradition for the future we must be willing and able to critically engage with those parts of our past that are oppressive. We cannot be so committed to a tradition that we fail to recognize our weaknesses alongside our strengths. In the 90s, ICS was a leader in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. We have done this kind of thing before. And we need to do it again.

In a recent episode of The Sacred Podcast, Theologian Willie Jennings, in speaking about his new book called After Whiteness (Eerdmans, 2020), points out that when you ask Western educators: “What image comes to mind when you think of the formation of an educated person?” the almost subconscious answer is a white self-sufficient man, one who embodies what he calls “three demonic virtues: possession, control, and mastery.” In any field, according to Jennings, that person is generally considered the archetype. He illustrates that this image is killing us, leading to pain and suffering in our entire education system, as students and teachers are forced to contort themselves and their experiences to fit into this one very specific box. In place of this image, however, Jennings proposes an alternative by which to steer theological (and really all) Western education: that of Jesus and the crowd. By this he means that the educated person is one who, like Jesus, is able to gather people together—even people who normally would not want to be together. In this view, the sign of being fully formed or educated is that you are able to bring people together through what you do, regardless of your field. 

Can we imagine ICS as a place that does this? A place that brings together a diverse cohort of teachers and students who are all committed to learning from one another? Can we uproot barriers to this vision such as Eurocentrism and the prioritizing of white voices so that we can really listen to the voices and insights of people of colour? Can we critically engage our own tradition by listening to scholars who may disagree with us, challenge us, and force us to be and do better? I hope so (otherwise, what are we really doing here?).

ICS has a real opportunity here to consciously embrace this kind of education, and put in the hard work of uprooting the systemic racism in our midst.** As we continue the process of reforming our academic handbooks and policies this fall, I want to challenge us all to have a look at the list I mentioned before and identify the areas of white supremacy culture that exist in our midst. As the authors illustrate near the bottom of the linked article: 

One of the purposes of listing characteristics of white supremacy culture is to point out how organizations which unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards. As a result, many of our organizations, while saying we want to be multicultural, really only allow other people and cultures to come in if they adapt or conform to already existing cultural norms. Being able to identify and name the cultural norms and standards you want is a first step to making room for a truly multicultural organization. 

If we want to be a place that brings people together, then, we need to de-centre whiteness to ensure that other voices truly feel welcomed and that we have the ability to hear them.

It seems to me that it is more than time to put the old archetype of white mastery fully and completely to rest, just like a noxious weed needs to be thrown into the trash. This means, among other things, listening to different voices—in our classes and in the broader life of the institution. Nothing about this process will be simple or easy. It is going to involve making mistakes, let’s just acknowledge that. As a white person, I am blind to many of those weeds that are perhaps all the more insidious for just looking like “the way things are.” I am going to need direction and guidance, and I am going to have to do a whole lot more learning from people who are different from me. This blog series is a start, as we will be first lamenting our complicity in these abuses and then looking to how we can grow. In a future post, we hope to have a curated list of resources to help us learn and grow, to help us as we put in the work and begin the process, (so stay tuned!). 

The old ideals have deep roots. But I am ready to grab a shovel and start digging. I hope you will join me.

- - - - -
* For more on this (as it is a topic that deserves extensive treatment in its own right), a good place to start is this blog post written by Rev. Reginald Smith at http://dojustice.crcna.org/article/does-our-strength-lie-isolation

** It will be important to recognize too that there are some things on this list that ICS has already consciously engaged with, and as a result these areas may not need as much work. There are many things we can (and should) celebrate about the culture of ICS, for example, its participatory governance structure that invites Junior and Senior Members alike into the process of governing the institution. At the same time, the point of this blog series is to draw attention to and lament the areas where we have failed in the past, which is why I have chosen here to focus on these areas.
- - - - -


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Surprises in Racism’s Scope? Limits of ICS’s Calling?

No comments:
by Henk Hart
This post is part of the series Uprooting Racism.

Now that we are seriously beginning to face up to racism, is it helpful to realize that what we see in racism is a broader phenomenon than discrimination focused on someone’s race? 

I thank Dean for starting off this blog series with a contribution that clearly outlines what some of the key issues are. I thank him also for being as critical as necessary. Necessary for the health of ICS, necessary also for assessing the integrity we need to address the obvious problems. Finally, I thank him for focussing on black racism, which in our time presents itself as the defining face of racism. By writing as he did he introduced us to a blog series on racism as both relevant and significant. Inescapably so. The intensity with which this evil presents itself and the tenacity with which it is being addressed by its victims and their supporters gives us hope that our time can become known as the beginning of the end of universal white supremacy.

I would normally experience this challenge as a divine calling that calls for an energetic response. Unfortunately, my personal circumstances are far from normal. So I limit myself to briefly addressing two issues I think I encountered in Dean’s blog. One concerns the scope of racism. The other is how an institution like ICS may be expected to take on racism as part of its calling.

Today, racism presents its ugliness in North America specifically as black racism. But what of fellow citizens who are Chinese or Indigenous? Indeed, what of the multitude in our multiracial society who experience racism in one form or another but are not black? Will they be forgotten and will that add to the racist pain they experience? Or can “black racism” serve as a temporary indicator of all racism? Or is “black racism” an unavoidable focus for our time, lest the momentum be lost?

Now that we are seriously beginning to face up to racism, is it helpful to realize that what we see in racism is a broader phenomenon than discrimination focused on someone’s race? Are trans people less vulnerable to painful discrimination because the police cannot spot them? Is it easier to be a lesbian than being black? Is racism not a specific manifestation of a deeper problem with a greater scope, namely discrimination focused on a dimension of who a person unavoidably is beyond that person’s ability to change? Is the average white male God’s norm for being human?

I believe these issue are more important than we customarily think. So I take it to be part and parcel of the second issue I wish to raise: is ICS just the kind of institution suitable to investigate in a practically relevant way what racism really is? Could that be as important as studying black authors or appointing black faculty? Dean emphatically challenges ICS by asking about the significance of our work: "not as a byproduct of themes or ideas we study, but directly?" The question is important beyond its rhetorical effects in a blog. Just what does "directly" mean? What does it mean for an institution like ICS?

I do not foresee my continuing participation in this blog. I deeply regret this. Doing so would add to the meaning of the last months of my life. ICS has always meant to me the kind of institution characterized by blogs like Dean’s. So I am grateful that after almost 55 years, the existential engagement with the key issues of our times remains.



 

Monday, August 17, 2020

We Christians, or Our Racist Christian World

3 comments:
by Dean Dettloff
This post is part of the series Uprooting Racism.

[T]he principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles of other churches, white. The principles were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.

- James Baldwin, “Letter From a Region in My Mind



- - - - -

We tend to think of our world today as a “secular” one, whatever we might mean by that term. James Baldwin, however, one of the most incisive writers on race in the United States, calls to mind the ways in which Christianity shapes our political and racialized order. Christianity is not, Baldwin suggests, simply a private affair, something one either believes or disbelieves; it has a collective, formative power. Baldwin’s conclusions about that power are difficult to hear, but not for that reason untrue. On the contrary, Baldwin describes a Christian pattern of behavior that continues to shape our world today, and one we have to understand if we want to change it. Let me illustrate the point with a recent example.


On June 1st, protesters and clergy demonstrating as part of the ongoing wave of the Black Lives Matter movement were tear gassed out of St. John’s Church in Washington. The crowd was there peacefully and legally, and with the support of the church. Police nevertheless cleared the protesters with a chemical weapon for a photo opportunity, in which Donald Trump brandished a Bible using the church as a backdrop, holding the text without comment, wielding the Scriptures like a talisman to invoke the moral authority and continuity of the Christian world against the rabble of a movement for racial justice. The fact that other Christians on the side of racial justice were removed for this display is a testament to the ambiguities of Christianity, but their removal also highlights the material power of Christianity as a defender of racist order, in this case exerted by the highest office of the most powerful country on the planet. Trump’s exhibition of the Bible is a striking illustration of Baldwin’s formula, that the Christian world effectively cultivates a willful blindness, used to deny the loneliness and terror that surround us. 


The Christian world. This phrase appears throughout Baldwin’s work in essays, novels, and interviews, always in the context of an indictment. In another essay, Baldwin, says that the feeling of oppression among black people toward America is ignored as “the Christian world has been misled by its own rhetoric and narcoticized by its own power.” The phrase is especially biting in a conversation with Margaret Mead:


“I don’t understand at all what the white man’s religion means to him. I know what the white man’s religion has done to me. And so, I could—can—accuse the white Christian world of being nothing but a tissue of lies, nothing but an excuse for power, as being as removed as anything can possibly be from any sense of worship and, still more, from any sense of love. I cannot understand that religion.”


The precise contours of the Christian world, sometimes qualified as white, are not clearly drawn, at least not in Baldwin’s writing. But as I read the phrase, even as a white Christian, I think I have a sense of what Baldwin means. The Christian world is not only the world I encounter in homilies or church coffee hour, although it entails that. It is not the initial phases of colonial Christendom, built on indigenous genocide and racialized slavery under the sign of the cross, although it clearly descends from that. The Christian world is, rather, a social imaginary that funds the political arrangement in countries like the United States and Canada. These are countries founded by Christians and sustained still today, in some ways explicitly and in many ways subtly, by Christian practices and assumptions, all undergirded by an abiding, historically constitutive, antiblack racism. 


Among thoughtful Christians who know that the biblical God is a God of justice, it is an easy thing to rush to condemn the basest, most obviously evil expressions of Christianity, and to say we Christians are not like those Christians. We Christians, who have read the biblical prophets, who know God cares for the poor, who talk about “the marginalized,” who study the humbling trends of postmodernism or pragmatism or feminism—we Christians know better. That may be the world that some powerful Christians have built, but it is not the Christian world that we want to build, nor is it the world that we think God wants to build. Perhaps we even find ourselves saying “I cannot understand that religion.”


And yet, have we Christians—a group in which I am included—really reckoned with our own contribution to the Christian world that Baldwin accuses?


***


I am a product of Christian pedagogy. Soon I will finish a PhD in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies, and I have over a decade of post-high school education exclusively at Christian schools. To get to this stage, I have had to learn an immense variety of theories, put in hours of work to understand the minutiae of debates among idiosyncratic philosophical traditions, and spend hours more finding something to say about the people and ideas my education has required me to engage, all in curated Christian spaces, in small Christian worlds within the larger Christian world.


In all of these efforts, however, have I ever had to study—really study—a black author? Did required reading ever make me buy a book by a black person? Institutionally, have I ever been accountable for knowing, representing, and struggling with the text of a black philosopher? Has a grade or a paper or a class presentation ever hinged on demonstrating a close knowledge of a black theorist or the conversations and disagreements among black theorists? Even in those few times I recall when a black author briefly appeared on a syllabus, was I forced to learn from and dialogue with that author with the same focus and rigor demanded of me when discussing Foucault, Kristeva, Rorty, Irigaray, Habermas, or a host of other white theorists? 


If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” I can’t remember; and in my Christian education, I have had no academic pressure to remember.


***


When Baldwin names blindness as a key principle of the Christian world, we might quickly think of obstinate conservatives who live in intentional denial when it comes to the realities of racism in our society. But this reflex is an incredible mechanism for racism’s reproduction, for it diverts our attention and ensures that we are unable to see our own contributions to the production of a racist, Christian world. Instead, if one can take a sober moment in our narcotic state, Baldwin poses a question directed squarely at us: what kind of world is it that we Christians are inheriting and making?


In my own case, if I were to judge solely based on my academic curriculum, from my undergraduate years to the near-end of my Christian education, I inhabit a world almost completely without black people. A classroom and an education are more than assigned texts, to be sure, but the demographics of my colleagues and the pedagogy that takes place in hallways or over meals do not counterbalance or exonerate scores of syllabi. Whatever discussions I have had or heard about a black theorist, like Cornel West, or racial injustice, like the murder of black people by police, have not had a recursive effect on the formal architecture of my education. As W. E. B. Du Bois writes in his essay “The Souls of White Folk,” “How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe...that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought…” How easy to do with adults, too.


I know that my philosophy and theology teachers have not gone out of their way to ignore black theorists on their syllabi, and I can say with confidence that my teachers have instilled in me a genuine concern for justice, hospitality, and solidarity. Their teaching led me to begin my own struggles into studying and working to dismantle the racist systems that have shaped me and the world I inhabit. 


But this is precisely what is so troubling about racism—that otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and responsible people nevertheless exist in and as part of a society that endangers other people’s lives. Racism and white supremacy are not reducible to personal opinions or intentional prejudices, but are structural and political problems with long, winding genealogies. Deeply embedded, these structures continue to shape us and our institutions with or without our conscious participation. So often, it is our unconscious participation that guarantees racism’s staying power, since those of us who think of ourselves as “good,” “kind,” “educated,” “Other-oriented,” or “on the side of justice” can be easily blinded by these self-perceived attributes, trusting that we are on the right path without coming to terms with the fact that the path itself may be part of the problem.


When it comes to our own institution, the Institute for Christian Studies, it might be tempting to assume the root issue of our antiblack racism is a lack of representation, which would be solved by including black theorists on our syllabi. We certainly should include other voices in a way that is meaningful and not tokenizing. The problem of racism, however, of our Christian racism, is deeper. More than recognizing our representation patterns, we have to ask why an institution like ICS, even while it does not have an exclusively white student body, staff, or alumni community, dialogues almost singularly with white thinkers, and why it is unable to consider its racism on its own without the intervention of a massive social movement. 


We have to inquire, in other words, into the whiteness, antiblackness, and racism of our Christian world, by which I mean both the confessionally Christian pedagogical world of ICS specifically and the Christian world in which ICS is situated generally. We have to inquire into the mediations between the wider Christian world Baldwin interrogates and our own niche within it. The Christian world we have built, no matter how many important essays it has produced about hospitality, the Other, relativity, obligation, justice, or many other truly good words, is one that is nevertheless blind to racism—and more, one that therefore reproduces racism. Addressing our racism, to put it another way, would mean not only registering our blindness, but recognizing, as Baldwin does, how this blindness enables loneliness and terror, how it participates in the building of a whole racist world. 


To make the stakes clear, the problems black people face in Canada and the United States are not simply matters of inclusion, and the challenges for white people, like me, are not simply matters of checking our privilege or becoming better listeners; these are matters of literal life and death. Racism is more than bad opinions or failing to meet the best practices of diversity trainings. Racism, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains in her book Golden Gulag, is “the state-sanctioned and/or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” 


Considered in this way, we might ask: What is ICS doing or not doing that provides support or cover for a racial regime that produces and abuses foreshortened lifespans? What are we doing to oppose this regime, not as a byproduct of themes or ideas we study, but directly? What precedents are there in our community for addressing structural racism? How and why have we failed to make the struggle against racism an enduring feature of our work for justice? How have the reformational tradition and Dutch Calvinism contributed not only to the racist horrors of apartheid South Africa, but to the racist horrors of Canada and the US? As Angela Davis famously put it, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”


What I have always appreciated about ICS, what drew me to ICS, is its commitment to trenchant criticism of Christianity from within and as part of the Christian community. ICS has been so committed to this criticism that it has historically been a liability, as Senior Members questioned the homophobia, patriarchy, and assimilationist tendencies of Christianity and the Reformed tradition. ICS also carries a spirit of activism, which blurs the boundaries between theory in the ivory tower and work in the trenches and refuses a clean break between ideas and practice. It is a spirit that led the first generations of ICS students to oppose the Vietnam War, led Senior Members to speak out against apartheid, and continues today in our research on refugees in Canada.*


I take it that this spirit is also what motivates this blog series, and it gives me a fragile hope that ICS could, in fact, really engage the reality of antiblack and other forms of racism, internally and externally, with all the inevitable mistakes, failures, and difficult work that will mean. It is that spirit that might also help us to not only call into question, but hasten the end of our racist Christian world, its ideas, habits, and brutalities, and our own contributions to it. Historically and ideologically, Christians have played a unique and outsized role in the construction of a racist society, so much so that black theologian Amaryah Armstrong urges us to see the “history of Christian order as the maintenance of racial order”; as Christians who dare to say the word “justice,” we have a responsibility to dismantle this order—starting with ourselves.





Monday, August 10, 2020

Uprooting Racism: A Ground Motive Series

No comments:


Introduction


The killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, which has launched countless protests and demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world, has made the conversation about systemic racism unavoidable. Much of the outrage surrounding Floyd’s death, however, is due to the fact that for many this conversation is not at all new. Calls for radical social and political change, such as the renewed and increasingly popular demand to defund police forces, highlight the tragedy of Floyd’s death as yet another representative of entrenched institutional racism, yet another horrific instance of the aggression, violence, and marginalization that Black and Indigenous persons and People of Colour (BIPOC) experience on a daily basis. It has become increasingly difficult as well for non-BIPOC persons to avoid confronting these realities, as the events of the past several weeks have helped to expose the ongoing presence of white supremacy and have forced white persons to address their own privilege and complicity in racist systems. And as a larger society we are seeing many of the familiar assumptions and thought-patterns that have guided our discussions of race and systemic injustice in the past crumble before our eyes: Must protest always be “nonviolent” in order to be legitimate? Is it really necessary to have a militarized police force? Is there a way out of this crisis within our current political systems?

Here at Ground Motive, we want to bring these questions close to home for ourselves as members of the ICS community. As institutions and communities become aware of their participation in systemic racism, we would like to begin by recognizing the need to lament – in a biblical sense – our involvement in the systems that have victimized so many; to listen to the voices that continue to be marginalized and oppressed in our fields of study, academic circles, and communities; and to imagine, together with those voices, ways to effectively dismantle racism within our institution. Authentic engagement in this process entails reflecting on what it means for us to participate in antiracist efforts as Christian scholars and educators, acknowledging that the tradition that supports Christian educational institutions rests (at least in part) on colonialism, marginalization and oppression of minorities, slavery, and many other concrete outworkings of systemic racism. 

It is because of the tainted nature of our tradition that one of our most pressing challenges in engaging with the struggles of BIPOC communities is to look within, to acknowledge, assess, and address the ways in which we have benefited from and continue to perpetuate racism in our scholarly practice. In particular, as we embark on this process of self-examination and deep reflection on our practice, we must acknowledge:

  • Our complicity, as a predominantly (although not exclusively) white and settler community, in systemic and institutional racism, as well as our privilege not to be subject to the oppressions experienced by BIPOC communities

  • Our responsibility to engage in the practice of thoughtful reflection on issues of systemic racism, injustice and marginalization, and to bring these issues to the forefront of our work as scholars

  • Our responsibility to create spaces for equal participation among diverse communities together with members of such communities, and to empower those voices that represent perspectives beyond our own 

  • Our need to join others in dismantling the systems of racism in Canadian society and elsewhere.

As a first step in our self-examination, we have created this Ground Motive series as a space for institutional reflection on the practice of philosophy and its bearings on racial inequality. In an effort to foster internal critical engagement, we will invite faculty, students, and other stakeholders to share their personal reflections on our institutional complicity with systemic racism in our practice. In an attempt to attune our ears to the struggle of BIPOC communities, we will invite people from those communities in the field of philosophy or in the context of Christian education, within and outside the ICS community, to contribute their own reflections. Finally, in an attempt to develop concrete outcomes to our reflections, we will invite some of our community partners who work in equity and diversity advocacy to suggest strategies and tools to translate our discussion into an action plan designed to assess and combat racism within ICS.

We welcome your questions, thoughts, and reactions to these posts, and invite you to engage them with the spirit of respect and openness that has always characterized our learning community. As we struggle together through these issues, we hope to help build a more critically and socially-engaged ICS.

Welcome to this Ground Motive series, Uprooting Racism.


- by Andrew Tebbutt and Héctor Acero Ferrer, Series Editors