By Mennonite Church USA staff
This year marks 400 years since 1619, the year when a ship carried enslaved people from West Africa to the British colony of Virginia for the first time. This is a season to grieve for all those who have been dehumanized in our country’s particularly brutal system of slavery, and it’s a time for action.
The systemic roots of slavery’s horror and oppression persist not only “out there” in the world but also within our church. Black members of our community face the daily reality of systemic racism and address issues of historical trauma on an ongoing basis. White members of our community have benefited from this system of oppression and continue to receive unearned privileges today. The commemoration of these 400 years presents us with the challenge to acknowledge the legacy of this history and to use all the tools we have at our disposal to recognize and dismantle the injustices of racism and white supremacy.*
“Racism, antipathy and alienation among different cultural groups stand in the way of Christ’s kingdom of love, justice and peace,” it states in our 2014 Purposeful Plan. “As missional communities we will seek to dismantle individual and systemic racism in our church.”
We recognize and remember that African Americans within our own community have called us to confront the sins of slavery, white supremacy and racism, but their voices have been too often silenced and marginalized. We lament this inaction and silence.
We lament the ongoing realities of racism and white supremacy that continue to be present in our society and our churches. We lament that our Scripture was a tool used to justify slavery. We lament that we still find the roots of slavery in our country’s incarceration and detention systems, in the massive inequities and disparities that exist in our communities, and in the internalized superiority, internalized oppression and microaggressions* built into our institutions and structures, including our churches.
For those of us who are white, we must confess our own complicity in racist systems. We confess to accepting privilege and remaining silent. We confess that racism is not something external and separate from us, but it is persistent and present within our churches and internalized within ourselves. We confess that racism and the ways we have internalized it act as a barrier that separate us from our wholeness, from each other and from Jesus.
We also recognize that these are not injustices that end when we lament, confess and ask for forgiveness.
At the most recent Hope for the Future gathering for people of color in MC USA, participants wrote a letter to the church that called the church to “be visibly active in making a difference in the world.” Their words and leadership call us to reorientation and renewal as we together uproot white supremacy in our church and in the world.
We invite people across MC USA to take this 400 year commemoration as a reminder of the urgency for us to be visibly active in making a difference in the world. It is urgent for us to work to actively dismantle the violence and injustice of structural racism.
White supremacy refers to “a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.” Read more about white supremacy and racism from dRworks.
Internalized Racial Oppression, as explained by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, manifests itself in two forms.
Internalized Racial Inferiority: “The acceptance of and acting out of an inferior definition of self, given by the oppressor, is rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of disempowerment and disenfranchisement expresses itself in self-defeating behaviors.”
Internalized Racial Superiority: “The acceptance of and acting out of a superior definition is rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.”
Racial microaggressions are “brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Read more on microaggresssions from Velda R. Love.
A non-comprehensive list of resources
- Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a program tool of MC USA for assessing and developing intercultural competence
- Roots of Justice, a nonprofit organization established to carry forward and broaden the work founded by Mennonite Central Committee U.S., in the Damascus Road Antiracism Training Process
- “Jesus Wasn’t White,” a video produced by Mennonite Mission Network’s Peace and Justice Support Network
- “Mass incarceration and the Christian mandate,” a video on mass incarceration from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and additional resources on mass incarceration
- “Ruby Sales: Hope for the Future,” a podcast recording of Ruby Sales speaking to MC USA’s Hope for the Future gathering
- The Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
- Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism by Iris De Leon-Hartshorn, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus
- There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America by Vincent Harding https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/532319.There_Is_a_River
- 1619 Project magazine
- Peace Sunday 2015 worship materials from MC USA and MCC https://www.commonword.ca/FileDownload/22743/PeaceSunday2015%20final.pdf
- A Litany of Lament by Joanna Shenk
- A prayer of lament over racial tensions in our country from Transforming Center