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Racism isn’t pleasant, is that an understatement or what?  Two thoughts from this past weekend.

The first was seeing the movie, Glory Road.  First of all, this is a wonderful movie, even better than Remember the Titans (Glory Road was made by the same people).  The second thing is that anyone my age (and maybe older) should go see this movie because it helps bring to life a history, a shockingly recent history, that we need to know in order to understand our world today.  Racism as a cancer was/is too powerful of a force for those of us born in a post-1980’s world just to ignore.  So go see Glory Road, because it’s a great movie, but also very informative.

The second was a sermon I heard from De Niece Welch (Associate Pastor @ Shadyside Presbyterian Church and an African-American) discussing talking about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and where we are in society.  I won’t be able to get this quote right because I didn’t write it down but here’s the jist.

“So where are my people [The African-American people] today.  Well, the emancipation proclamation got us off the cotton fields.  And Martin King and his followers got us civil rights and equality.  So what now?  Well, the hardest battle is ahead, because it’s easy to change laws, but now we need to change hearts”

A couple things for me really rang true here.  From my side (Euro-American) I believe that racism is alive and well.  While laws, etc. have been changed to reduce racism, institutional racism still exists although not as widespread as it once was, but personal racism is all too alive and well.  While there might be segments of the population who hate solely on the basis of race but I think for a lot of people it’s out of ignorance.  As I reflect on my high school experience, the racism that I held (and still hold, although to a lesser degree now) was and is based on ignorance.  I didn’t grow up around African-Americans and my high school was only 10% African-American, 89% Euro-American, and 1% other (primarily Asian) and therefore my discomfort with them was out of unfamiliarity and a fear of the “violent city”.  When I came to seminary I moved into an area that is between two communities in Pittsburgh: affluent Highland Park, and East Liberty, which is predominantly African-American and violent.  From my side moving into this neighborhood has exposed some of my “ignorant racism” for me and I can see signs that I’ve moved past it.  For example, there is a Giant Eagle that I can get to in two minutes in the East Liberty area, but when I began seminary I didn’t like going there – it wasn’t in as nice of a part of town as the one across the river @ Waterworks.  Sometime last year I realized that was stupid and started going to the Giant Eagle closest to me when I needed something quick (I do my main grocery shopping in the North Hills because I go right past a Giant Eagle on the way to and from church).  In retrospect I realize how stupid I was being in not going someplace because I felt “uncomfortable”.  Seminary also gave me a chance to become friends with African-Americans which I had never really had before (or if I had had it, I didn’t take advantage of it).  Now, I can affirm unequivocally I regard African-Americans in every way equal to any other person, regardless of race.  But while I can affirm that at face value, I’ve learned that overcoming racism requires breaking through barriers into friendship.  

A second thing that has stood out to me is when I tell people where I live in the city.  I’ll often get responses, “Oh wow, you live down there?  Aren’t you worried about violence?”  People are right to ask this question, after all, on at least three occasions there have been shootings right near the seminary that I’ve heard.  And, last week one of my classmates was mugged by four young people right near the seminary.  But what really drives the question is a racism of ignorance, because people just don’t know what life is like in the city (not that I really do either, but I have a better idea).  They immediately associate the city with African-Americans and thus associate African-Americans with violence.  It’s not that they think African-Americans are less human or of lesser worth, but those perceptions drive them.  I can’t fault them though; I had those same perceptions prior to living here.

While it is nearly certain that I will end up pastoring in a predominantly Euro-American context what these events have underscored for me is two things.

  1. The importance of education: The church has a responsibility to teach our history, one that is sadly marked with racism, in order to help today’s youth understand why things are the way they are
  2. The importance of partnership: I will make it a point to ensure that the church that I work with partners with a church that is comprised of predominantly of people of another race.  This can include many things (pulpit exchanges, joint mission trips, joint service projects, etc.).
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