Our pastor-led group explores the impact of the term ‘anti-racism’
For several months, a group of us have been studying and talking about race and racism in our communities and our country. We are finding opportunities to probe our own thoughts and feelings about an issue that is at once important to understand and at the same that can be polarizing.
In our latest conversation, Rev. John Coleman Campbell raised a provocative issue — whether the concept of anti-racism is helpful or harmful. We’re in the process of working through a book called the Racial Healing Handbook and the fifth chapter extols the virtue of anti-racism.
As articulated by Ibram X. Kendi and others, the notion is that there is no such thing as a non-racist, only racists and anti-racists (people who are actively trying to address the effects of racism).
Campbell, who is the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, said he’s been struggling with the term. “I don’t know if it’s a confession or what, but I struggle with… talk about becoming an anti-racist,” he said. “And part of my struggle there is I don’t know that I like being identified by what I’m not,” he added.
Campbell went on to say that as a pastor he is devoted to building bridges between people who think differently and who are of different cultures. He’s pointing to something important and rarely discussed with any depth. Does dividing people up into “us vs. them” categories serve us in building community.
One discussion I have found to be illuminating on this subject is a podcast episode of the Braver Angels organization in which conservative, African-American host John Wood Jr. interviews James Lindsay, a progressive who is reviled by many on the left because of his criticism of the term “anti-racism.”
Lindsay’s argument is that it reinforces the divide and does nothing to bring people together.
Both Wood and Lindsay agreed that racism is in fact a legitimate issue — that we are not in a post-racial society and that effects of racist policies and practices in society continue to victimize African-Americans through mass incarceration and the effects of practices like redlining, etc.
Past Thom Nees shared some wisdom on the issue of binary thinking from Father Richard Rohr: “Dualistic thinking works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers instead of any deep perception.”
One theme from the Braver Angels dialogue was that fixating on the problem is unhelpful — that while it is important to acknowledge the problems of racism, we must at the same time focus on what we aspire to create — a more compassionate and just society.
Lindsay has a well-deserved reputation as a provocateur on this issue and I don’t think he helps his case by the harshness of his social media voice. But I think he has a legitimate argument. I recommend checking out the podcast if you want to learn more.
What seems most important for those of us who want to make a positive difference is to strive to shift from binary thinking — “us vs them” — to “both and” thinking.
Our local group’s 90-minute discussion, which can be accessed through YouTube by searching for Living Into Inclusivity, explored how each of us are incorporating what we are learning into our lives. There are some wonderful insights in the discussion.
I suspect that members of our group may not be on the same page when it comes to the term anti-racism, but we share a commitment to making a positive difference in our communities. Struggling together with these issues has been rewarding.
I think it is vital that we learn to interrogate our own thinking and attitudes and be willing to change our minds when circumstances warrant.