I am posting some of Rev. Elsa Anders Peters see here answers for the book discussion of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. and following with some of mine. We read one chapter every two weeks.
Reyes-Chow seeks an audience of readers who are “living in the tension between intellectual pursuit and passionate action.” How or why does this describe you? Elsa responds: This describes exactly how I feel. I want so much to be engaged in passionate, embodied action but find myself so often in the realm of intellectual pursuit. (Case and point: I started this book group.) Racism has so often been an idea and a construct. It’s something I’ve wrestled with in the classroom. It’s been studied and observed which often came with a heavy dose of shame. I know that that shame has kept me away from this topic. It has weighed me down. It has disempowered me. It has made me feel like it’s insurmountable. How do you dismantle a construct anyhow? How exactly does that happen? How does it become something that isn’t just an intellectual pursuit but something that is engaged in passionate action. That’s what I want. I want the passionate action but have found myself on the sidelines reading and discussing books. It is my deepest hope to change this.
For me: the struggle with personal racism has always seemed to be an ongoing struggle of mind and action. If I think I am free of racism, that is self-delusion. Keeping it from poisoning myself and others is the task. In that sense it is very similar to my recovery from alcoholism. I know that I am powerless over racism, but that there are steps that I can take to live a life with integrity. I think often of my father, whom I knew as a southern born man who worked tirelessly for civil rights having been named Russell after his mother’s best friend, Miranda Russell who had been a slave and having gained the privileges that put him as a college student in an entirely black setting “men who could go to college because they played football. When he came to the end of his days and Alzheimer’s disease took from him much that was acquired, the racism of his youngest childhood experience emerged and everyone who knew him was shocked, sickened,saddened. It is there, for white people in this country.
In discussing privilege, Reyes-Chow cites some tweets from the #blackprivilege response. Did any of the tweets in the book (or those you found on Twitter) offer you a new lens on racism? Elsa responds:When I posted this question last week, I went looking around the inter webs for this hashtag. I read some of the things but it was this article from The Root that stopped me in my tracks. I know not everyone is going to agree and not everyone sees it the same way in the same community. I know. I know. But, what does it mean that this particular blogger saw this hashtag as so offensive? What does that mean for the ways that we try to point out the evils of racism? It makes me head explode and then fret with worry for our world and her people.
For me: Uhhh … I don’t have a twitter account and did not do this. I have trouble maintained well the platforms I use.
Especially for (young clergy) women, how did you relate to the dismissive comment that “gender doesn’t matter anymore”? Does or does this not help you enter into the conversation about race? Elsa responds: A few months ago, a blog post of mine went viral. This post about Mother’s Day and my personal struggles and woes as a pastor got picked up by other blogs including one particular blog that called me a racist. It was couched in a longer post where it was claimed that white women should just stop with the Mother’s Day thing. Because there are greater evils in the world, we should get over ourselves and be quiet. Here’s my problem with this: my mother died when I was a little girl. It is this truth alone that makes me demand justice for things that don’t make sense. This loss and my grief has made me an advocate and an ally for others that feel like no one might listen or understand. I wouldn’t ever say that I’m amazing at this but I do try to engage in the hard work of understanding the heartache and loss of others. I don’t think that we can ever really know what pulls someone into this good work until we ask. We can never assume. Instead, at least from my story, we should look for those opportunities of connection.
For me: It’s funny how this question draws personal experience. I am not a young clergy person. (this book discussion is generously open to all young and old, clergy and lay and any who don’t experience things in a binary way) When I was at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in the late 1970’s, I did my thesis from my extensive work with my professor James Cone’s Black Theology in an inquiry on how the gifts of Black Theology could create bridges with white blue-collar (that was an expression for working class) churches. I found out much later that one of the feminist theologians declared in a faculty meeting that my thesis topic betrayed “my sisters” and that I should be denied graduation. I held on to my feminism with a renewed fierceness because of this and the experience the same year of friends offering me “condolences” because my newborn was a boy.
How easily, how easily people who should be in community are divided and manipulated into hurting one another. If it happened now … I would be wise enough not to feel so wounded and also I probably would not be so presumptuous as to write for that topic!
How do you experience this truth in your church and in your life of faith that the “church too often finds itself trapped in the vernacular and strategies of a generation past. We have failed to find new ways to deal with the nature of race and racism that manifests in different ways”? Where do you see hope? Elsa responds: Yup. Can that be my whole response? Because I’m not sure I really have more to add to this. I’ve long struggled with the laud and honor bestowed upon white clergy who marched in Selma. Good people, mind you. Really good people. But, the way that that struggle and that work has been discussed in churches is as if to say that it’s done. We did it. There’s no more to do. Oh, and how cool that you were there. We’ve gotten lazy about asking each other where we should be now. And because of this I’m not sure I see much hope. Show me some, please.
For me: People in my small white and Indonesian church community suffer compassion-fatigue. Deeply committed in issues of immigration justice on a number of fronts and hand-on mission and frankly stunned — gob-smacked — by death after death after death after death of African Americans they do not know where, how, to take a hold of the situation. How can I possibly help? is the question.
Reyes-Chow concludes this chapter with a statement about Christianity’s role in conversations about race. How might you claim this possibility as a guiding force in your ministry and/or your life? Elsa responds:I can only hope that this is a guiding force in my ministry. I wrote this question in such a way because I want it to be — but I’ll admit that I’m not really sure what that looks like. I just know it should be. It really should be. Somehow.
For me: Christians humbly in community with people of all faiths and no faiths must take a role in these conversations … and then be willing to apologize for the presumptions, small and often unwitting (but sometimes not)arrogances and failures to listen. Oh, we shall say foolish things and that’s where the author is going as the chapters roll on … but to opt out would be to give up the Christian mandate to follow.
Elsa writes:Enough about what I think. What to you think? How might you respond to these questions or anything else you might be thinking after reading the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Add your thoughts and ideas to the comments below or to your own blog. Be sure to include a link or send me a message so that I can share your wise words
For me: please share your thoughts here or on Elsa’s blog. Thank you. Maren