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Disrupting Systemic Racism

Rust cog in a machine
Cog (Levine, 2013).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about systems lately. If you think in terms of a thermostat, you set the temperature, the AC or heat kicks on, when the temperature gets to the desired degree, the AC or heat system holds the temperature constant until you manually change (or disrupt) it again. You are external to the AC or heat system, put you participate in its output of cooling or heating. In many ways, this as a way to think about dismantling systemic racism.

Spinning system of cogs as a brain
Cog (Stcynine, 2008)

Another way to think about it, are cogs in machines. You take one cog out and the system may fall apart or work less efficiently. Sometimes cogs rust, teeth break, or get stuck, and the only way to break them free is to apply some oil and a use wrench, chisel and hammer, or what ever tools you have to remove the cog.

I used to think that dismantling systems requires working within the system to change it. But that is only partially true. Sometimes it takes one person to step outside of the system to to apply the oil and disrupt the system enough so those that participate within the system can change it. In other words, it takes both internal and external work. Internal work may be examining how you see through your own positionality. As a white-skinned cisgendered male, I had to examine how my own colorblindness was itself a racist assumption. As someone who works within many systems such as academia, faith-based, and community systems, I am able to speak into them against systemic racism because others have been brave enough to step out of those systems. Externally, as a white-skinned Queer male, I try to be a visible witness against systemic racism and speak into the white-skinned male supremacist patriarchy in hopes to influence someone to think differently about systemic racism. Realizing that I alone cannot change the world, I may influence someone who has authority and power within the system to change how it operates.

How will you disrupt systemic racism today?

Hand holding a single giant cog.
Giant cog (Pet, 2005).

References

Levine, A. (2013, October 7). Cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/gt3aLn). CC BY 2.0.

Pete. (2005, June 28). Giant_cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/2Y7EH). CC BY-SA 2.0

Stcynine. (2008, December 4). Cogs [GIF]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/5GidGv). CC BY 2.0.

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Misguided Assumptions

Every now and then, my own implicit bias rears its ugly head and exposes my racist attitudes in new and unexpected ways. I have been listening to The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creating class classroom by Felecia Rose Chavez (2021).

Chavez (2020)

However sincere my intentions were, Chavez (2021) has me asking what are the underlying assumptions am I making in my teaching? The truth is, my white-skinned savior complex has been operating under the guise of helping. I have been guilty of working harder with black-skinned and brown-skinned students to ensure their success by showing and telling them how to improve their writing, speak their voice, locate references for their topics, and citing their sources in APA 7 format. Point blank, I have been assuming that black-skinned and brown-skinned need that extra help. I am guilty of upholding the white-skinned supremacy of institutional and systemic racism in my battle against the same. I have been playing the role of white savior in my classroom.

Deconstructing racism and disassembling systemic barriers requires challenging a worldview system that has privileged whiteness and, in my case, interrogating my white-skinned assumptions.

What assumptions are you making with your well-intentioned anti-racist work?

References

Chavez, F. R. (2021). The anti-racist writing workshop: How to decolonize the creative classroom. Haymarket Books.

DiAngelo, R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Beacon Press.

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The Color and Gender of God

I read the book, The Shack (Young, 2007), well before it became a popular read, the movie was produced, and it was a topic of discussion in Christian book circles. I loved the character of God in the book, who was a Black woman named Papa. The juxtaposition of a feminine God with a masculine name combined with the narrative of God as Black versus the white patriarch character I had been introduced to in my Christian journey resonated with me.

In an early post on my blog, Racism – How very white of you, I have a blog entry titled, What Color Is Your Jesus? (Cook-Snell, 2020a). In that I write, “So why do we (white Christians) usually portray Christ as white? Of those pictures that show a black Jesus, most are associated with the crucified Christ versus the everyday living, breathing, eating, and miracle working Jesus (Marsh, 2004). Marsh (2004) posits when we (white Christians) see pictures of everyday black Jesus, we cannot relate and cannot see ourselves in a crowd of black and brown people following a Black Jesus.” Depicted in that entry is the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas, a Black crucified Jesus (Cook-Snell, 2020).

Black Madonna of Częstochowa (n.d.).

I hold these images in my mind while I currently listen to God is a Black Woman, written by theologian Christena Cleveland (2022). Cleveland’s discussion (and I’m only in chapter 2), brings in the feminine God and counters the B.C.E. and C. E. imagery of God. She challenges the Indo-European, Greco-Roman, and westernized traditions of a masculine, white-skinned God. She questions how this imagery continues to relegate and push to the margins of Christianity those who have been held captive to doctrine, racism, heterosexism, ableism, genderism, and the other “-ism’s” plaguing both the secular and the sacred.

Realizing the capturing and enslavement of black and brown persons fed both the European and the subsequent rise to dominance of the settlers on stolen land that was colonized by white-skinned individuals was sanctioned by the capital “C” church as authorized in the Doctrine of Discovery (Cook-Snell, 2020b), it is time for the capital “C” church to question how we have depicted God and the harm this has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate. As a member of the United Church of Christ, I am thankful that our denomination has, and continues to, stand in the gap for marginalized, minoritized, and underrepresented persons, but we still have more work.

References

Black Madonna of Częstochowa. (n.d.).In Wikipedia. Retrieved from February 22, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna

Cleveland, C. (2022). God is a black woman [Audio Version]. HarperCollins.

Cook-Snell, B. (2020a, January 31). What color is your Jesus? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/01/31/what-color-is-your-jesus/

Cook-Snell, B. (2020b, March 26). The WASP’s nest? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://bretthcook.blog/2020/03/26/the-wasps-nest/

Marsh, C. (2004). Black Christs in white Christian perspective: Some critical reflections. Black Theology, 2(1), 45-56. https://doi.org/10.1558/blth.2004.2.1.45

Young, W. P. (2007). The shack. Windblown Media.