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One race amid systematic racism

Ed Wolff, Community Voices • Jul 15, 2018 at 8:15 AM

During a symposium of “Awakening the Dreamer,” a four-hour facilitated discussion of changing the dynamics of our nation’s culture, there was an exercise for us participants to name unexamined assumptions.

I responded with a thought that had just popped into my head: “There is more than one race,” which is an unexamined assumption. That’s why we use the term “racism.” Actually, there is only one race. No matter what faith tradition we follow, we will find that to be a basic truth. Whoever or whatever we call the Divine, or whatever “story” we embrace, we acknowledge that the Divine created humanity, not different races.

The only division my faith tradition cites is the creation of different languages that had separated us. Science is now supporting findings that indicate skin color is a factor of development through climatic and other influences so that humanity can adapt to their environment. Again, in my faith tradition, it is mentioned that we need to look for the Divine in all people with whom we connect — all people as belonging to one race, the human race.

My journey that found myself strongly embracing the reality that there is only one race and that all human lives are connected with one another began in 1993.

Before that, I casually recognized that people of color were treated unfairly and believed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act would bring fairness. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency of our nation confirmed my belief. I had no thought of white supremacy and privilege. However, while attending a seminary in Columbia, S.C., I was required to participate in clinical pastoral education which took place in the summer of 1993, after my first year. I selected the state’s prison system in Columbia that included four prisons from minimum to maximum security.

I was aghast when I found over 80 percent of the inmates were of color. I could not reconcile my Creator’s love of humanity with what I saw. Either people of color were created for crime or I was staring straight into the face of systemic racism. It was obvious that the latter took place in a nation that boasted freedom for all.

From time-to-time after that, I faced similar circumstances of racism, but I either just shook my head in disgust then turned my head away or promptly forgot it. However, each experience was an additional building block that found its way into my current thinking and the reality of systemic racism, constructed through intentional governmental and social design, started to pierce my heart.

The reality that I could no longer ignore systemic racism that was now most often revealing itself subtly and quietly occurred when the people in a Bible Class at Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were murdered by a racist. I intensified my understanding by reading articles and books on racism. The article that had a significant impact on me was, “I, Racist,” by John Metta, a software architect and person of color. He said that anyone who considers being white “normal” thinks as a racist.

I found myself saying, “Guilty!” Subsequently, I was at a denominational convocation and found that one of my fellow ministers, the Rev. Ron Bonner, a person of color, wrote a small book, “No Bigotry Allowed.” He stated that in dismantling racism we must get outside our comfort zone and be willing to embrace deep dialogue with people whose skin color is different than ours, listen to their stories, and hear their experiences and recognize and embrace their cultures as part of our nation’s development.

Other significant readings were, “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nahisi Coates, “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, “The Fire Within,” by James Baldwin, “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander, “Waking Up White,” by Debbie Irving, and “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo.

In the midst of this, a group, Black/White Dialogue, was formed where people of different “colors” met and shared experiences, attempting to bring to light the various shades of systemic racism and its personal affect on people and on our culture. It’s purpose is to assist in our area’s communication efforts to share stories, information, joys and concerns about our ability to come together as a people desiring community, understanding, respect and support for one another.

Our region is extremely heterogeneous. Only 5-6 percent of this area’s population is of color, excluding Hispanics. This reality influences the way people embrace the local culture, as if there is only one. Diversity is healthy. Having different cultures brings vitality to the area. Diversity, or inclusivity, challenges our thinking in a healthy way as we grasp and embrace different perspectives yet recognizing we all have the same desires and concerns — having good health, a solid roof over our heads, adequate food on the table, safety for our children and neighborhoods, a growing economy, and a peaceful world.

We are all one race, born into different families with different cultural preferences, perspectives for the future, and desires for a positive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life. However, it takes all of us living in an inclusive community, working together, to make it happen.

The Rev. Edward Wolff of Jonesborough is a retired Lutheran minister and progressive activist.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.

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