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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Anti-Racism Begins Now

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Ryan Downing
Ryan Downing
Ryan Downing has been pastor of Faith UCC since September 2016. He has a passion for exploring faith, spirituality, and the common good with others, both in and outside the church.

A few weeks ago, while standing on the corner of 5th and Mulberry to protest systematic racism with a group of mostly young people, I found in them a spirit of urgency and hope. I also found a welcomed challenge.

Identifying myself as a local pastor, some of the young people wanted to know, “What are churches doing? What are you doing?” With what Martin Luther King described as the,“fierce urgency of now,” in their voices, they sincerely wanted to know how others were going to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Since then, as a white pastor in an overwhelmingly white church, I have reflected on those urgent questions. Here are some answers.

We show up. We bear witness to what is happening, and we stand with those who stand for non-violent change in their efforts to honor the worth and dignity of all people.

We listen more. The only way any of us who are white will truly be able to even begin to understand what it is like to be a person of color in America is if we listen more to people’s stories and experiences.

We own up to our own realities. For example, while I am not overtly racist, I do have certain unconscious biases that have been ingrained in me. Also, as a white person, it is important to recognize that without any effort of my own, I have been and am treated differently by society, and I have benefited from that differential treatment in ways that I am not even fully aware of.

We educate ourselves. Numerous books are available that help to tell the larger story of systematic racism today, books like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”

We understand our history. We are only a generation or two removed from the time of Jim Crow, and we are just a few generations removed from a time when people were legally owned and tortured as slaves. To remember and understand our history is not to pin guilt on present generations. Instead, it is to recognize that things do not happen in a vacuum. Instead, justice-making, healing, and reconciliation are ongoing processes that require active participation and commitment.

We pray. I know that might ring hollow for some and sound strange to others, but when I say pray, I mean taking some time to open ourselves to something that is greater, more loving, and more connecting than anything of our own making.

These are all just first steps, but regardless of where anyone might begin, there are times in history when none of us can escape our responsibilities to one another. Between COVID, economic hardship, and the calls for racial justice and peace in our democracy today, we are in such times. To paraphrase Dr. King, we are living in the fierce urgency of now.

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