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Hard but Necessary Conversations - a panel discussion on racism and the church

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Written by: Albert McIntosh

In the context of being a culturally competent, spiritually sensitive, and trauma-informed practice, I felt it was imperative that we address the current racial climate in our nation. The events of the last week of May 2020 resulted in a racial flashpoint in our nation that was ignited by the public murder of George Floyd in police custody.  It is fair and accurate to call this a watershed moment that has driven all of us to discuss issues of race relationships in a way that forces us to ask some serious questions of ourselves, our churches, community, and nation.

It is also important to recognize that many people have been traumatized by these events, and that trauma has already been compounded by those grieving the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.   We must all understand how racism impacts mental health and what can we practically do to respond to our clients who are suffering from the mental health fallout of racial oppression fatigue and trauma. Racism is defined as "a false belief system that promotes the notion that one racial ethnicity is superior or inferior to that of another." It rejects Biblical truth, that says we are all created equally in the image of God.  Racism is the result of ignorance and fear and embraces false stereotypes and narratives that contribute to explicit and implicit biases which ultimately results in human suffering.  

The question may be, "Why, with all the advances in civil rights, is racism still an issue in our nation?"  Part of the reason has to do with generational effects of systemic racism that was and in many ways still is woven into the systems of our society despite advances in civil rights.  Systemic racism is a reality that those in the African American community face every day.  There is no question that there has been an improvement when we view these issues from a historical perspective. I cannot compare my struggles with racism to that of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents who lived through slavery, Jim Crow, lynch mobs, segregation, and oppression.  However, the effects of systemic racism and the reinforcing attitudes derived from the implicit biases of others still result in the suffering of marginalized communities.   

On an individual level, microaggression is also fueled by implicit biases.  So implicit bias is subtle, unconscious, and hard to pin down. These biases are associations or mental connections that we may consciously recognize as wrong but subconsciously accept like racial stereotypes that cloud judgments in courtrooms or subtle preferences for men leaders versus women leaders. Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.  

So, what can we do?   1. Have the courage to admit we all have implicit biases and make a commitment to examine our hearts (Ps 139:23-24).   2. Make a commitment to reach out to those of a different ethnic, racial, and religious background with intentionality, not only in your professional life but also in your personal life as well. 3. You do not have to agree with others, but you need to respect and accept the dignity of all people. 4. Be willing to have hard conversations.  We do not have the luxury to avoid talking about uncomfortable topics (Ask others how they have been affected or doing/thinking/feeling considering the recent events).   6. Be willing to allow yourself to be educated by others from a different racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation. Earn the right to be heard by listening to the story of others.  

The following is a panel discussion that includes myself, along with several other faith-based leaders in the community addressing the role of the Church in racial reconciliation.

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