Thanks to Debby Irving and Shay Stewart-Bouley for sharing this list of Great Ideas in YES! Magazine.
Most of our mainline denomination congregations in the Midwest continue to be predominantly white. Some of our congregations are exclusively white. This can present a challenge for recognizing the need for anti-racism work and to appreciate and celebrate Black History Month.
Debby Irving and Shay Stewart-Bouley point out that with regard to Black History Month, “the problem is that for non-Black people, too often there is a sense of being a passive celebrator”. Yet, they go on to say, “in this current climate there is immense opportunity. We can make real racial change by moving from passive observation to active engagement if we move past our own internal roadblocks and fears of messing up.”
Ironically, the “fear of messing up” is identified as one of the hallmarks of white supremacy culture: it’s a white, dominant culture state of mind that perfection is expected and desirable.
And, we white people (myself included!) use it as an excuse to avoid tough topics and situations.
Another excuse is that we don’t want to damage any egos. We see this excuse in conversations about teaching “critical race theory” (which is another term for history as it actually happened, rather than white-washed history that lauds white males who could do no wrong).
And we live into this excuse when we assume that some of our people are already too fragile, too exhausted, too conflicted to engage with this particularly challenging and divisive topic.
But these excuses perpetuate the harm of racism for another generation and dismiss the power of hope and faith we have that following The Way of Jesus, by seeking Truth, will bring us all Life.
Irving and Stewart-Bouley offer six basic yet powerful approaches to celebrating Black History Month that empower white people to move from “passive celebrator” to engaged human, Christian, anti-racist – and all of them are life-giving for both individuals and congregations/communities. Their supporting paragraphs for each include resources to help you follow through on the “tip”. I’ll follow each with ideas for why these are life-giving opportunities for congregations:
A. Attend Two or More Black History Month Events (especially those led by Black leaders)
- Take this opportunity to learn, explore, and immerse yourself in Black history, Black culture, Black awareness: grow in understanding and appreciation; and gain perspective from a lens other than your own.
- It’s also a chance to be seen as engaging the discussion: attend as a congregation to express congregational solidarity with the community that has prepared the event. Relationships can begin here!
B. Share What You’re Doing and Learning
- Individuals and families in your community are looking for ways to participate in anti-racism work; let your congregation be that space!
- Sharing experiences and learnings (and the willingness to learn and change) on every social media platform you use spreads the Good News of ending white supremacy culture, shows solidarity with your Black neighbors, interrupts the stereotype of all white Christians being intentionally racist, and bolsters the whole community in a sense of doing something to counter-act the generational harm of the church’s complicity with white supremacy and racism.
C. Gather a Group of People to Attend an Event and a Follow-Up Gathering
- Again, going as a group is great public witness about your congregation’s desire to participate in dismantling racism.
- Going as a group and creating a follow-up gathering means individuals are not learning or experiencing in a vacuum: there is mutual support in exploring any challenging emotions that arise and encouragement to continue in the work.
D. If No Black History Events Are in Your Community, Organize One
- Again, there are others (maybe not already members of your church) who are seeking a venue to engage in anti-racism work: let your congregation be that space.
- Preparing for a Black History Event is a great excuse to engage with Black leaders in your community and/or learn more about Black history, Black culture, and Black experience, today. It will also lead naturally to the final tip:
E. Grow Your Awareness about Who’s Doing What in the Racial Justice Community
- If you haven’t already developed a network with other community groups doing racial equity work, now is a great time to start!
- Embrace the opportunity to increase your support of others who are already doing the work of racial equity and justice – and position yourself and your congregation to increase their impact in the future.
Let Black History Month be a time to take next steps in your congregations anti-racism and racial justice efforts. Start – or re-start – learning, experiences, and transformation: while it can be emotionally challenging, it is also transformational and ultimately life-giving for your congregation, your community, our Black neighbors who would love nothing more than to live in a culture where their existence matters, and for our nation and world.
Find the full Yes! Magazine article here.