In Their Own Words: When God’s Children Can’t Breathe, Part II
Photo: Los Ranchos congregations are carrying each other’s burdens by speaking out against systemic racism.
In June, we began a multi-part series entitled “When God’s Children Can’t Breath” based on a vigil co-hosted by New Hope Presbyterian Church of Orange and St. Mark Presbyterian Church of Newport Beach.
Rather than writing a series on systemic racism, I thought it would be more helpful to lift up voices from our presbytery as I hear them, especially as Los Ranchos congregations discern ways to embody the Great Ends of the Church, and specifically the “promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”
This is the second installment of that series, which began with Rev. Chineta Goodjoin’s invitation to lament. Her first question was directed to the black community participating in the vigil, from whom we were privileged to hear the thoughts of Carol Nealy in July. Now we get to hear from a second member of New Hope Presbyterian Church, Lauren Glenn, as she answers Chineta’s question: “What has been the personal impact—physical, psychological, spiritual—of racism and racial violence in your life?”
Ruling Elder Lauren Glenn
Racism “Reduces Who I Am”
The people who have spoken before me have summed up a similar experience as mine, so I would sum up my thoughts by saying that racism and racial violence have impacted me by reducing who I am—reducing who I am whether I am at work, in the way I dress, and the way I talk when in white company, and that is something that black people, at least me, learn when we’re growing up. It is just a part of racism, reducing who I am.
It’s kind of subtle. Basically, people are telling you that it is not enough to be able to feed your family, to be successful, and to do what you want to do. So, constantly, you are always being forced to reduce yourself. And then, like what Carol said, is the second part, which is “respectability politics.”
Racism causes black people and me to participate in respectability politics because one thinks, “Well, I have these degrees. I am proper. I have a respectable job. I speak well. I don’t speak slang. I don’t code switch. Therefore, you should treat me right.”
And then, in the very same moment, you think, “These other black people are embarrassing me,” when really it is racism that is the problem. It is the system that is the problem, not the individual victims.
So it causes you, it causes me and everyone, to internalize racism, so that one starts blaming the victims of racism for why a white person will do things. It is easy to fall into thinking, “This is why they do this to us, this is why they kill us, because we weren’t respectable enough.”
And so, in some ways I’m always trying to attack the system and to avoid implying that it is any one individual’s fault because it is not one individual’s fault for why racism exists.
I Shouldn’t have to Say
I shouldn’t have to find a reason to prove why I have a right to exist. I don’t want to say, “’Black Lives Matter” means ‘Black Lives Matter Too.’” I shouldn’t have to say that.
We’ve been doing that for four or five years, so when black people feel they have to say it, that is an expression of respectability politics because we don’t want white people to feel bad.
God Saw Fit for Me to Be Here
So, for me, racism has made me to always think about what white people feel so they won’t hurt me. But things like this help me always to remember that I know who I am. I know what kind of God I serve. And I deserve to be here because God saw fit for me to be here.
Back to Tom
Amen and amen, Lauren! Thank you for courageously sharing your experience with us.
I believe God is calling our presbytery to interrupt the forces of racism in our time. One way we can do that is for people to learn more about our complicity in structural racism and how we can do something about it.
Based on its great success, I invite you to join a new round of our summer book study on White Fragility led by Spiritual Formation Consultant Susan Thornton or by a facilitator in your church. Having participated myself, the study provides an excellent foundation to understand what racism is and what it is not, the history of systemic racism in American society, and the social forces that we must interrupt to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.