Pastor’s group explores how little we know about the history of enslaved people, Native Americans
A group of nine local individuals led by seven pastors has engaged in monthly conversations exploring the racial history of this country and the impacts on our society. We call our group Living Into Inclusivity and recently we convened our fourth dialogue.
We explored how we learned about the history of race and racism in this country, discussed what we know about our family’s immigration story, and talked about who is deemed valuable in our system of citizenship.
It has been a wonderful gift for me to participate in these conversations, which include James Aalgaard of Grace Lutheran Church, Sheila Marie and John Coleman Campbell of First United Methodist Church, Thom Nees of Serve Wenatchee Valley, Dave Haven of Celebration Lutheran Church, Frances Twiggs of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Laura Shennum of Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and community volunteer Karen Rutherford.
Our focus has been to use this as an opportunity for an open dialogue and we have chosen to be fully transparent, recording each conversation and posting it on YouTube. You can find it by searching for “Living Into Inclusivity.”
Rutherford, an American History major at Whitman College, recalled learning very little about aspects of racism and discrimination and the policies that enforced those social rules as a student.
That was a familiar experience for all of us in the conversation — very little was discussed in terms of race in public school settings, both in high school and in college. Campbell talked about learning about these issues later in life and pointed out that racism a term that has come to the forefront rather recently. He recalled that terms like prejudice and bigotry were common when the subject of race came up as he was growing up.
One of the places he was confronted with the question of race was when he was the pastor of a Japanese-American Church and got acquainted with their internment during World War II.
Twiggs, who grew up in Tennessee, recalled learning about discrimination and prejudice from her family. Her mother told her to object when other kids told racial jokes, which established a barrier between Twiggs and other kids she grew up with.
She also remembered listening to the recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and started hearing about racism. As a college student, Twiggs got interested in Native American issues as she learned about the genocide and separation that were official government policy. “I can’t believe they wrote down that their purpose was that ‘if we can’t exterminate them, we’ll separate them,’” she recalled. She found it “highly disturbing” learning about what had happened to Native Americans in this country.
The adventure stories about American frontier heroes like Kit Carson that she was exposed to as a youngster took on a different meaning when she learned how they treated Native Americans.
Marie remembers reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and going to historical monuments but never having any meaningful conversations about what took place.
It’s not surprising that histories are told by the conquerors and that the perspectives of those who were conquered are inadequately represented.
Campbell pointed out the history of colonization by European powers and the divide and conquer mindset that was part of that history going back to the 15th and 16th Centuries. Colonization is understood as the beginning of racialization that continues to the present day.
As Campbell put it, “part of the violence and the racism has been to separate people from their history, particularly those who were (enslaved).”
Aalgaard talked about the importance of learning what has happened to various groups and doing what he can to “be in relationship with those who have been abused and oppressed.” One particular statement by James Baldwin sticks with him: “Negroes have to live where the White man puts them.” The reality for people of color in this country may look less ominous today but the divides still exist and the human impacts are still felt.
This was a rich and thoughtful conversation and I came away from it thinking that we need to find ways to explore our history from other perspectives than those of the conquerors to truly appreciate what has happened before we can think about moving beyond.