By Lisa Dunson
“For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Most of us have taken time to reflect on 2021 and made commitments and/or resolutions about things we want to change, things we want to do differently, things we want to add or remove from our lives in the new year. And given all that we as a nation continue to deal with, many of us have wondered how we move forward in 2022. As we look to fulfilling our personal commitments we also must look at ourselves from an organizational perspective and ask ourselves, having made a public commitment to becoming an antiracist organization, how are we, the Alliance of Baptists, going to move forward in 2022 as we live into and model that commitment? How do we use this new beginning as a springboard to delve deeper into this work at an organizational level?
One of the questions that is always with me is how the justice and antiracism work that the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors has embraced is going to filter down to the local churches. You see, I know that for this work to be successful and the vision to be made manifest, we all must put in the hard work of making sure we are intentional in our actions, our sermons, our teachings, and our communications. Every facet of our individual, congregational and communal lives must reflect the people and the organization we aspire to become. The challenge is that it is often difficult for non-BIPOC persons to see through a BIPOC lens. As an African American, I must often look at a situation through two lenses. The first is always through my African American eyes, then I have to look through a pair of imposed European lenses. Again, citing the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels [their] two-ness, an American, a Black…two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
I’m sure that some of you reading this are thinking to yourselves, but Lisa, I am not a racist. I have Black friends and my church has a wonderful Asian family that we all just adore…and our new neighbors are of Latin descent and…the ‘ands’ can go on and on. So, let me try to pose this in a way that might help promote some self-reflection:
- When you’re driving through a neighborhood where young Black men and women are hanging out on the street corner or in a parking lot, do you immediately lock your car doors? Would you lock your doors if those people were white?
- What do you think and/or say when you see a Black person in the middle of the road or if a Black person walks up to you in a parking lot as you’re approaching your car asking for change?
- How do you feel and what are your thoughts when you walk into a store or restaurant and hear folks speaking in a language other than English?
- Do you clutch your purse closer to your body when you see a group of young Black men walking or even a lone Black man jogging toward you just as the sun begins to set on the street on which you are taking your evening stroll?
- When your church flies a banner claiming “All are welcome”…. are ALL really welcome when ALL actually show up in your pews (and let’s not even talk about your pulpits)?
I could go on, but I hope the questions serve as a starting point at which you can begin to think about and become more aware of the subtle injustices and racism that are experienced daily by most people of color. And being one who would not want to approach a potential problem without a potential solution, let me offer some things we can all do to ensure that we are living into who we have said we want to become. First, pay attention to how you treat others and the feelings that arise in you when you meet someone who is outside of your circle of comfort. It is not the feelings that are wrong, it’s how we sometimes respond and/or react to those feelings that show our true colors. Taking time to examine why we have the feelings, where they came from, what and who awakened the feelings, and what we do with them is the first step in recognizing and addressing the internalized racism that just might be living within.
Second, engage in activities with folks who are outside of your culture. As an example, I am currently entering my second year in a program at the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary where I am the only Black Baptist UCC’er in the class. Yes, it is a different experience; however, it has been an opportunity for growth and learning for me as well as for my white classmates. And just to give you some perspective, our class of sixty is overwhelmingly white.
Third, be intentional about naming and claiming the pieces of this work that make you uncomfortable. There are a multitude of persons who have gone before us in this work and more multimedia resources than we could ever count that address the work of antiracism and white privilege. Find a trusted person to have a brave conversation with about how this work makes you feel, what challenges you or moves you to action or even how to do this work. It’s when you don’t ask that you become stagnant and unable to learn, change, and grow.
It is extremely important that we, the Alliance of Baptists, walk our talk. We have said that we want to be an antiracist organization, so we must do the work. We must immerse ourselves at every point of contact into this work for our work to bear fruit in us and in the world; and we must embrace a new way of thinking and living with one another. It is my hope that as we move into 2022, we will all be more intentional in how we live, love, work, worship, interact and respond to the people who cross our paths, no matter the color of their skin.
Alliance of Baptists, what are we committed to in 2022 and how are we going to use this new year as a springboard to move from commitment to action as together we do our part to fight injustice and to eradicate racism?
The Rev. Lisa Dunson is the vice president of the Alliance of Baptists Executive Committee and is a member of the Ministerial Team at Covenant Baptist UCC. She also serves as Co-Chair of the African American Women in Ministry (AAWIM) Global Engagement Committee and on the Executive Committee for the Potomac Association AAWIM.