Oh no! We’re racist – now what?

I am no expert on racism. I have no interest in becoming “that guy who always talks about racism”.

I’m a preacher and a writer – I try and see truth, and then try to name and give expression to it.

I have so much privilege as a heterosexual white male that any subtle racism I’ve encountered has very little value.

I am completely unqualified to become an anti-racism crusader. I still have so much to learn myself – I’m a novice.

I’m just a guy seeking to understand reality.

That’s the point.

Overcoming white supremacy isn’t just for activists, it is for everyone.

We all need to own the racism we are complicit with in our specific context.

It’s not changing the world – it’s seeing the reality around us.

My post last week exploded more than I ever thought I would. It went wider than the very specific context I was writing in.

It was tiring and almost scary, but rewarding to see such a response.

And I’ve had experiences in the last week that continue to open my eyes in new ways.

I walked into work on Tuesday at my Mennonite institution feeling very intimidated – who read it? Who had issues with it? Who’s going to judge me harshly and keep silent about it because I tipped over a Mennonite sacred cow? Will someone attempt to cast me out?

I know local Mennonite culture, and I know that when you’ve really offended someone, you likely won’t hear about it.

I’m on a committee at another Mennonite-rooted organization. I, along with another person who is not Mennonite and a part of our committee, were talking at a table with some older Mennonite gentlemen who I admire and have a lot of respect for. We shared about how not identifying as Mennonite can make it feel very hard to feel included or even listened to.

Shortly after, I was asked about some Mennonite thing going on at another institution I’m involved with. When I said I hadn’t heard anything about it, one of them was shocked and remarked, “you haven’t heard of _______!” at which point I laughed, and said “You see, THIS is what Mennonites do!” and we all laughed. It was expected since I was part of this Mennonite entity, that I knew all the insider information – which I clearly didn’t. When that assumption was found to be untrue, there was shock and surprise.

I had another moment in another Mennonite-zoned area, where someone I had never met before, was talking to me and someone mentioned this blog post, and she asked what it was. I said it was a post about how Mennonites are racist. And without batting an eye, she said, “Of course they are! Look around you!”

It’s not too hard to see if you open your eyes to it.

My post wasn’t meant to attack any specific Mennonite person, church, or organization.

My post was meant to critique a well-fortressed and mighty culture that has become one of the powers that it aims to oppose – a culture I increasingly find myself a part of.

Thus, finding solutions or ways to change approach can be difficult. But we need to try.

Overcoming white supremacy isn’t just for activists, it is for everyone.

So what can we do? From what I’ve read, here are some suggestions. I welcome and appreciate other ideas.

First, we need to deal with how we respond as we acknowledge our own racism.

Acknowledging racism in us is not about us. Too many conversations about racism get hijacked by white fragility.

Spare your regret, your lament, your brokenness over your white supremacy and privilege. You don’t need to deny your Mennonite culture, or eliminate every trace of your privilege, to attempt to make things right. That’s actually counter-productive.

What’s more important is that you understand – and that you become more aware.

Second, we need to educate ourselves about white supremacy.

It’s actually not all that complicated – if you find it so, read this article again, and again, and again until you get it.

Pursue readings that address white privilege and racism in a Mennonite or Christian context,

I’ve been reading Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart and Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry (edited by Steve Heinrich) lately. If anyone has other books they’d recommend, please put it in the comments.

At MCEC annual gathering a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine from Scarborough was giving away a rap album he’d just made.

There was a joke from the mic referencing how Mennonites don’t really listen to rap.

Perhaps Mennonites should listen to more rap.

I’ve found listening to artists such as Wyclef Jean, Shad, Propaganda and others help me integrate race issues into theology.

Learn more about how white privilege manifests itself in your specific context.

Become more aware of how race affects people negatively in your own community – Mennonites have been complicit with a lot around here. Whether it be systemized discrimination against First Nations people. Or the treatment of migrant farm workers -take this national news story from this morning about a Jamaican man who died on a farm in Mennonite-filled Leamington, of all places. If you look for it, there’s a lot of injustice to see – that we have played a part in.

Don’t go and ask some racialized other in your midst to educate you (unless you already know they’re willing); you’re responsible for educating yourself. No one owes you an education.

Third, get to it!

Share life with people who are different than you – get out of your comfortable and homogenized Mennonite bubble as often as you can.

But don’t impose yourself on others.

Learn to focus not on the powerful, but as Drew Hart writes, “see the world from below”. Look around you in any gathering you’re at to see who might be marginalized, or excluded; get to know them and their struggle.

Push up against the expectations of the Mennonite and/or white culture that assume sameness.

But don’t tokenize those who are different from you – that will always be a struggle, and keep working and praying against that.

Don’t give in to temptations towards the big picture; don’t claim that you’re colour-blind or don’t see race. When you do that, you’re exercising your white privilege to “transcend” race. Stop.

If you have kids, you may love them all equally, but you don’t love them all in the same way. Each is unique depending on your relationship with them.

Become more aware of context – it’s important.

You can’t actually love someone until you understand where they’re coming from and why it’s important to them.

Try to understand others before you make up your mind about them. Or better yet, don’t make your mind up about others at all! See the good in them!

Listen.

Observe.

Be creative.

These are some suggestions – it’s a start.

If others have any others that would be helpful – or if anything I said seems problematic – comment below or on social media!

If you’re interested in talking more about racism in the local Mennonite context in-person (either individually or in a group) – send me an email at chris@pastorsinexile.org. I’d love for this conversation to be more real – and not just a digitalized transcript. Thanks for engaging!

One response to “Oh no! We’re racist – now what?

  1. I leave this here from a friend in the community who wished to remain anonymous.

    “Some others practical suggestions for developing Mennonite anti-racism:

    1) Avoid giving hiring preference for Mennonites you know or who are part of your family/friends’ networks. Instead, hire and recruit people who are the best fit for their job.

    2) When you find people emotional or too feelings-y, ask what in your cultural past has substantiated that view and then make a different choice.

    3) Work to hear sensitivity and not dismiss it as illogical or irrevevant and when someone experienced harm, believe them. And if you don’t, get coaching on how to support survivors and change your behaviour.

    4) Look in a women’s eyes when you are talking to her, not at her breasts. Yes, this happens. And prominent Mennonites in the community do it all the time.

    4) When you criticize a person based on perceived emotionality, step back and develop an understanding of power. Is humility or passifism going to serve a person who is experiencing harm? What does this person need to best move forward?

    5) Do not gaslight people with non-violence or peaceable platitudes. Hear them.

    6) Be willing to identify victims and perpetrators of violence. And the marginalized. Trying to make everyone feel good does not serve justice.”

    Liked by 1 person

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