"A highly effective way of ensuring the perpetuation of a racialized system is simply to deny its existence"
From "Divided By Faith" by Emerson and Smith.
Great leaders confront reality. They have a distinct vision for the future but an uncanny ability to understand the reality of the present. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to "have a dream" while prophetically speaking to the reality of the pervasive racism of America at that time. Leadership mobilizes towards a clearly defined target while simultaneously revealing the inadequacies of the present. In fact, there is no need for an alternative or preferred vision if there is nothing wrong with the present conditions.
In America, we have incredible disparities among different ethnicities. Whether it is education, health, wealth creation, social mobility, or access to leadership roles, ethnic minorities generally fair significantly worse. Sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith noted in their study on race in the church, noted that there is a tendency to separate the concepts of racialization (policies and practice that cause racial division but without the intent of disparging an ethnic group) and racism from educational and economic disparity, particularly in conservative evangelical movements. This means that instead of seeing systemic and structural barriers for success, many conservative evangelical leaders see something inherently wrong with those who are not successful economically, such as a lack of motivation or intellect. Interestingly, the connection between structural barriers to success (terrible schools for example) and individual barriers to success (unmotivated students) are often related and intertwined in a toxic catch-22. One's educational opportunities may be extremely limited due to under-resourced schools and that leads to limited motivation at that school. Conversely, due to poor motivation in the families served by a school, it is impossible to improve. Its classic chicken and egg stuff.
Can we confront the reality that there is something wrong in our communities where ethnic minorities have significantly reduced opportunities to "Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness". If we can open our eyes to see, then we are free to strategize ways in which we can arrive at our preferred vision. I believe that confronting reality is the first step in becoming healthy and whole communities. Healthy confrontation of reality is:
1. Not "blamestorming": Confronting the educational, economic, and social realities of our communities is a factual pursuit. The purpose is not to blame someone or somebody. In our contemporary political debates, we are constantly looking for someone to blame. Confronting reality seeks truth, not blame.
2. A way of promoting community cohesiveness: Confronting the realities of our community allows for a deeper understanding of one another. Cheryl Sanders, Howard University Professor, states that testimony is the first stage in empowerment. If we want to empower the disenfranchised, we need to listen to their stories and hear their situations. Not with judgement and advice, but with humility and a teachable spirit.
3. A prophetic act of truth telling. Prophetic actions consists of speaking truth to power. When we insist on sharing the reality of our communities with governments, institutions, and corporations that are often ignorant of the complexity, or arrogant in their complicity, we begin to hold powerbrokers accountable to the communities that they serve. This also serves to bring resources to bear in the problems.
Who are the vulnerable in your community? Are there peoples or communities around you that seem to be locked in grinding poverty, perpetual undereducation, and violence? What's their story? What's their experience?
Lets lead by confronting the reality of our communities, allowing ourselves to identify with the problems so commonly faced. Lets not focus on blame, but recongize from the onset that there are always systemic/structural barriers as well as intrapersonal barriers for success and liberation.
Once you do that, I challenge you to begin to share a God-sized vision that takes us from our current reality to what God desires for communities. Communities of Shalom (peace, wellness, and opportunity).
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor