Governing Assumptions for Our Ministry of Racial Justice
NOTE: This project officially began on July 1, 2020 and ran for 21 days but you can jump in any time to utilize these resources, to guide your learning. Thank you for taking this journey.
Racial justice is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and working towards it is an essential dimension of Christian discipleship. Jesus’ commitment to serving those who are poor, excluded, or oppressed and opposing the systems that make them that way was at the very heart of his public ministry. In fact, since discipleship means to follow someone, it is worth remembering that the one we follow began that public ministry with a declaration of purpose and intent in his hometown synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). And then the rest of his ministry was practically defined by him doing exactly that through his teaching, healing, and hospitality, and in his opposition to systems and authorities that tolerated or actively promoted inequity, injustice, and exclusion.
As disciples of Jesus Christ in 21st century America, it is indisputable that following Christ requires us to follow him through ministries of antiracism. As the Belhar Confession, one of the theological standards of the Presbyterian Church (USA), put it: “[We believe] that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.”
Systemic racism is embedded in every corner of our society, and we are all embedded in it. White people in the U.S. often have a hard time seeing it because we don’t experiences its oppressive impact on a daily basis. But it is “the water we swim in,” and we cannot escape that or differentiate ourselves from it. We can, however, notice and understand it, and work to change it.
Effective action against systemic racism requires effective understanding. Learning is itself a key action of antiracist ministry, even while it should be accompanied by other actions that work against the systemic dimensions of racism.
It is not the responsibility of Black people, Indigenous people, or people of color (“BIPOC”) to explain the problem of racism to white people or tell them how to solve it. White people created systemic racism and continue to benefit from it in countless ways, even while denouncing and working against it. Therefore it is the responsibility of white people to do the work themselves of learning to recognize, understand, and dismantle systemic racism.
White people in the U.S. need to be intentional about building up their “stamina” for racial justice work. One of the biggest privileges of being white in the United States is that engaging in issues of systemic racism is optional. That means that most white people struggle to process or even acknowledge the power and pervasiveness of systemic racism because they’ve never had to do so. This frequently results in white people responding to racial issues with a range of defensive reactions, usually unconsciously, to avoid the difficult work of racial justice.
And even people who are deeply committed to racial justice continue to come up against it in themselves, though their stamina for working through it grows exponentially through intentional action, similar to someone who goes from a sedentary lifestyle to being a marathon runner. So for white people seeking to understand and engage in racial justice, it’s important to be aware of this dynamic and to be willing to push through when they recognize themselves reacting in this way, thus embracing the opportunity to reach a greater level of stamina and insight for racial justice ministry.
Putting It Into Practice:
The 21-Day Racial Justice Immersion Project
Given the above assumptions, we have created a “21-Day Racial Justice Immersion Project” to help our members and friends begin to actively practice a ministry of antiracism in their own lives.
What is this project about?
“The 21-Day Racial Justice Immersion Project” takes its name from two sources. The word “immersion” is an allusion to one of the most well-known verses about justice in the Bible: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). The prophet Amos calls God’s people to be immersed in the waters of justice, to plunge themselves into God’s work for justice, and this project will help us to understand the realities of systemic racial injustice in the United States and how we can be part of helping wash them away.
The second source for the title is also a major source for the structure of the project itself: the work of Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., a prominent educator and thought leader on issues of racial diversity and privilege. Dr. Moore created a “21-Day Racial Equity Challenge” to help people develop “good habits” of working for racial justice.
Human behavior research suggests that it takes 21 days of intentional, daily practice to break a bad habit and develop a new one. Dr. Moore developed a set of practices to facilitate this goal, and has encouraged organizations throughout society to adapt and build on his work. With his permission, we are adapting Dr. Moore’s work to shape our own, and are grateful for his wisdom in developing his work and his generosity in sharing it.
What does participating in the project involve?
The basic commitment is simple: you commit to a 21-day practice of taking at least one action for racial justice each day. The actions you can take are clustered into five main groups (see further below for resources related to each cluster):
- LEARN – Read/watch/listen to a resource from a curated list of books, articles, podcasts, and videos.
- NOTICE – Follow guidelines and exercises provided to help you become more aware of patterns of racial injustice in everyday life, culture, institutions, and other spheres of society (e., politics, economics, etc.).
- CONNECT – Follow and engage educators, activists, organizations and thought leaders from a curated list who are working on various issues and intersections of race, racism, and society.
- ENGAGE – Take concrete actions to engage others in racial justice work; promote BIPOC voices; support BIPOC-owned businesses; and disrupt racist words, behaviors, and systems when you encounter them. Suggestions and resources to facilitate this work will be provided.
- REFLECT – Think and write about what you are learning and the impact of this work on your feelings and perspectives.
What happens after 21 days?
First, we hope that you will continue the “good habit” of practicing the ministry of antiracism that you have begun through this project, whether you began on July 1, 2020 or are coming to this work at some other time.
Second, the Session has established a Racial Justice Task Force to develop plans to make racial justice an ongoing commitment of our congregation’s mission and ministry. So keep your eyes and ears open as that work develops and further opportunities for action in antiracism ministry become available.
Resources for the 21-Day Racial Justice Immersion Project
This list will be continuously updated, so check back often.
The resources below are being curated in real-time, meaning that the list will continue to grow and change, but it is always intended to be illustrative and representative, not exhaustive, in its scope. So be sure to take both those dimensions into account while you are reviewing the list and selecting actions.
We also want to thank Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and our friends at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, who are the source of the annotations for many of the resources for learning below, as well as the resources for doing this work with children. We are grateful for your good and faithful work and your generosity in sharing it!
Resources for Learning
NOTE: For holders of Bethlehem Area Public Library cards, you may be able to access many of these resources – and additional ones – through this website page (BAPL programming, free audio books, films and documentaries, books, additional curated lists, etc.).
For the purposes of the project, if you are reading a book, read at least one chapter as your “action” for a given day. If you are buying books, we encourage you to support Black-owned bookstores, which you can also count as an action under the “engage” cluster of opportunities! Here is a list of Black-owned bookstores, many of which offer online ordering: https://bit.ly/2BiuSsq
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
This book guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.
- How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
“Kendi dissects why in a society where so few people consider themselves to be racist the divisions and inequalities of racism remain so prevalent. Punctures the myths of a post-racial America, examining what racism really is—and what we should do about it.”
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
- Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role In Racial Injustice by Kerry Connelly
Exposes the ways white people participate in, benefit from, and unknowingly perpetuate racism—despite their best “good person” intentions.
- Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Short, emotional, literary, powerful – this book is one that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.
- The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh
Reveals the surprising causes of inequality, grounded in the “psychology of good people”. Offers practical tools to respectfully and effectively talk politics with family, to be a better colleague to people who don’t look like you, and to avoid being a well-intentioned barrier to equality.
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America.
- There’s A Storm Comin’: How The American Church Can Lead Through Times of Racial Crisis by Harold Dorrell Briscoe
Provides insights that are synthesized with biblical data to create a framework that gives churches practical steps to prepare for and respond to racialized crises that inflict trauma to the social fabric of America.
- “A History: The Construction of Race and Racism”
A historical account of “race science” that, while widely discredited now, has still profoundly influenced how we think of each other and our societal structures and systems.
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”
- “For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies” by Courtney Ariel
Listen more, talk less. Resist the need to respond to a person of color’s opinion with a better or different insight. Educate yourself about systemic racism in this country.
- “The Long History of Racism Against Asian Americans in the U.S.”
Asian Americans are often overlooked in the discussions about systemic racism in America, but their experience of it is a long and painful one.
- “What Does It Mean To Be Antiracist?” by Anneliese A. Singh
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist – we must be anti-racist.” – Angela Davis
- “We Have To Stop Thinking About Racism As Someone Who Says The ‘N-Word’”
“Racism is a white problem. It was constructed and created by white people and the ultimate responsibility lies with white people.”
- “Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge,” Kareem Abdul Jabbar
“What you see when you see Black protesters depends on whether you’re living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for “NCIS” to start.” An opinion piece.
- You’ve Got To Go Through It – The Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle
A powerful sermon by the Executive Presbyter of Greater Atlanta Presbytery, proclaiming that as Christians, we cannot simply avoid or skirt around the challenges of racism and classism, we have to go through them.
- The Origin of Race – Dr. Willie Jennings
Taken from an event for the National Capital Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA), this is a powerful reflection on how Christians can understand and respond to issues of racism by one of the most important theologians working on racial justice in the United States today.
- The Disturbing History of the Suburbs
An “Adam Ruins Everything” episode that quickly and humorously educates how redlining came to be.
- The Little Problem I Had Renting A House – James A. White, Sr.
A powerful story about the lived experience of “everyday racism” — and how it echoes today in the way he’s had to teach his grandchildren to interact with police.
- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race
A TEDx talk by Jay Smooth that suggests a new way to think about receiving feedback on our racial blindspots.
- What Being Hispanic and Latinx Means in the United States
Fernanda Ponce shares what she’s learning about the misunderstanding and related mistreatment of the incredibly diverse ethnic category people in U.S. called Hispanic.
- Indigenous People React to Indigenous Representation in Film And TV
Conversation with a diverse range of Indigenous people about media depictions of Indigenous people, Columbus Day, and Indigenous identity.
- How to deconstruct racism, one headline at a time
This TED Talk by Baratunde Thurston explores patterns revealing our racist framing, language, and behaviors.
- The urgency of intersectionality
A TED Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw that asks us to see the ways Black women have been invisibilized in the law and in media.
- How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them
This TED Talk by Vernā Myers encourages work to vigorously to counter balance bias by connecting with and learning about and from the groups we fear.
- The 1619 Project
An ongoing project developed by The New York Times Magazine with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia.
- Code Switch
Hosted by journalists of color, this podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. It explores how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between.
- Here & Now – Without Slavery, Would The U.S. Be The Leading Economic Power?
Host Jeremy Hobson explores with Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, how slavery established the United States as a world economic power.
- Breakdances with Wolves Podcast
Hosted by Gyasi Ross, Wesley (“Snipes Type”) Roach, and Minty LongEarth, “a few Natives with opinions and a platform.” Episodes report on current events through an indigenous perspective.
- Black Like Me
Host Dr. Alex Gee “invites you to experience the world through the perspective of one Black man, one conversation, one story, or even one rant at a time.”
- Colorblind: Rethinking Race
For years, we have talked about racism and healing, but until we understand the root of racism, examine its origins and confront the history, we can never get to a place of healing.
- 13th (Netflix)
Ava DuVernay’s Netflix film 13th reveals how mass incarceration is an extension of slavery. Slavery technically ended over 150 years ago. But DuVernay wants you to take another look at the amendment that abolished it. … the title refers to the 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery.
- The Central Park Five (Amazon)
A film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns that tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.
- Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson encounters racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fights for the life of Walter McMillian, wrongly sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year old girl.
For Working With Children
- Anti-Racist Books for Elementary Students: A Diverse Book List
- Talking To White Kids About What Whiteness Means by Kaethe Schwehn
The children’s books to help start the conversation.
- 20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good
- Black Lives Matter Instructional Library
A wonderful resource to listen to various children’s books.
- Your Kids Aren’t Too Young To Talk About Race
A comprehensive list of various resources including books, articles, podcasts, and more.
- “Talking Race With Young Children” (NPR podcast)
- “7 Things to Do When Your Kid Points Out Someone’s Differences,” by Rachel Garlinghouse
- “Talking With Children About Racism, Police Brutality and Protests” by Laura Markham
- “6 Things White Parents Can Do to Raise Racially Conscious Children” by Bree Ervin
- Raising White Kids (book), by Jennifer Harvey
A consideration of how to raise antiracist children from a Christian ethics professor.
Resources for Noticing
Many people, especially white people, respond to their growing awareness of racial inequities with some version of, “why didn’t I see this before?” The simple answer is, we weren’t looking for it. The practice of noticing requires intentionality because we all tend to simply accept the reality that we experience and only notice things that are either out of place or that we are specifically trying to see. The author David Foster Wallace once illustrated this with a brief story in a commencement address:
There are two young fish swimming along who happen to meet an older fish. The older fish nods at them and says: ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks: “What’s water?”
In a very real way, systemic racism is the water in which we swim in the United States: it is all around us and, as white people, it is so familiar that we literally don’t recognize its presence most of the time. So the practice of “noticing” is important for the ministry of antiracism because we are otherwise unaware of how ubiquitous and powerful systemic racism is.
So, the practice of noticing is an organic one, but here are some questions from Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. to help you do it:
- Who is and is not represented in ads?
- Who are your ten closest friends? What is the racial mix in this group?
- As you move through the day, what’s the racial composition of the people around you? On your commute? At the coffee shop you go to? At the gym? At your workplace? At the show you go on the weekend?
- What percentage of the day are you able to be with people of your own racial identity?
- Notice how much of your day you are speaking about racism. Who are you engaging with on these issues? Who are you not? Why do you think this is?
- What are the last five books you read? What is the racial mix of the authors?
- What is the racial mix of the main characters in your favorite TV shows? Movies?
- What is the racial mix of people pictured in the photos and artwork in your home? In your friend, family, and colleagues’ homes?
- Who is filling what kinds of jobs/social roles in your world? (e.g., who’s the store manager and who’s stocking the shelves? Who’s waiting on tables and who’s busing the food?) Can you correlate any of this to racial identity?
- Who do you notice on magazine covers? What roles are people of color filling in these images?
- If you’re traveling by car, train, or air, do you notice housing patterns? How is housing arranged? Who lives near the downtown commerce area and who does not? Who lives near the waterfront and who does not? Who lives in industrial areas and who does not? What is the density of a given neighborhood? Can you correlate any of this to racial identity?
Resources for Connecting
“Connecting” involves following, listening to, and learning from individuals and organizations that are working on various dimensions of racial justice in our society. Some of these will have resources that you can access and incorporate into your practice of Learning (described above); some will be more like conversation partners that you interact with over time, and some will provide opportunities for you to participate in their activities.
While we are not endorsing every activity or publication below, these are all important “players” in terms of their work on race and racism in the United States. The point here is to be intentionally connected with people both within and beyond the Christian church who are part of the larger movement for racial justice in the United States. So an “action” here is to follow and engage them on social media, explore their website, attend a training, etc. Here are a few organizations and publications to get you started:
News and Publications:
- Colorlines – News site for and by people in communities of color. Published by Race Forward (see below).
- TheGrio – news and opinion geared towards Black people
- The Root – online magazine of Black voices addressing culture and current events
- Latino Rebels – news and opinion geared towards Latino people
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture – Talking About Race
- The Antiracism Project – education and resources for antiracism work
- Race Forward – research and trainings to support racial justice work
- Color of Change – online organization focused on organizing and advocating for Black people
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) – focused on equipping and organizing white people
- UnidosUS – focused on organizing and advocating for Latino people
- 18 Million Rising – focused on organizing and advocating for Asian Americans
- Define American – digital media organization using storytelling to get beyond partisan politics in addressing issues of immigration and identity in the U.S.
- Southern Poverty Law Center – anti-hate organization that conducts education, monitoring, and legal action related to hate groups in the United States
Resources for Engaging
We’re using the word “engage” here to describe a cluster of actions that don’t fit neatly in the other categories. Some of the other categories may include opportunities for practicing engagement in antiracism, as well. But perhaps the best way of understanding this cluster is in terms of actions that, in some tangible way, help to oppose, resist, or dismantle aspects of systemic racism and white supremacy in our society. So here are some representative examples of what that could mean:
- Invite someone else to join you in one of your “actions” for this racial justice project, such as reading a book or watching a movie. Netflix even has a feature where you can synchronize watching a movie with another person who is not in your house!
- Break “white silence” by discussing this project with your family and friends and what you are learning/experiencing from it
- Correct and/or challenge racist comments, jokes, etc. when they happen in front of you. Here is a whole collection of resources to help you in various scenarios: https://www.splcenter.org/20150125/speak-responding-everyday-bigotry
- Use your social media feeds to highlight BIPOC voices about particular events or issues
- Donate to organizations that are working for racial justice and against systemic racism
- Make a point of patronizing businesses owned by BIPOC people as a way of addressing the “wealth gap” of systemic economic inequity. Here is a list of black-owned businesses in the Lehigh Valley, for example: https://www.lehighvalleychamber.org/list-supportblackbusinesslv.html, or you can order online using sites like https://webuyblack.com/.
- Financially support BIPOC-led projects on crowdfunding sites like kickstarter.com
Resources for Reflection
This is perhaps the simplest cluster of actions, though certainly not the easiest! Reflection simply requires you to be intentional about considering what you’ve been learning and how that has been impacting you in terms of knowledge, beliefs, emotions, commitments, behaviors, and so on. Use whatever media seems to be most helpful for you in processing such questions. Here are some examples:
- Write in a journal what you are learning or feeling
- Find a partner who is doing this project or something similar and set a time to talk by Zoom or FaceTime (so you can see each other’s faces)
- Paint or draw something that reflects something of your experience or insight
- Do a video blog of yourself as if you were being interviewed
- Write a song or poem or short story