As we near the end of Black History Month, we’re excited to share with you some insights from the Transformation Ministries Staff. The most recent episode of We All Need Each Other featured Jemar Tisby, author of How to Fight Racism. Tisby is also a historian and, as expected, he wove Black History throughout the conversation. We asked Transformation Ministries staff some of the questions that didn’t make it into the podcast episode, and their answers are incredibly insightful.
Please enjoy this Q&A with Director of Academic Empowerment Karen West, Office Manager Maggie VanZalen and Resident Cam Stillson!
Q: What are your general thoughts about Black History Month?
KAREN: It is imperative that we as Black people continue to learn and reflect on our story, our heritage and our struggle. It is also important that our history is shared and embraced by other races and cultures. There is much to be gained by keeping our journey in the forefront of our minds so we never forget where we came from and how much farther we have to go.
CAM: I think Black History Month is important because our country has historically tended to view Whiteness as the "default," the "standard," or the "universal." If we do not intentionally set aside a month to celebrate Black History, then (because of inseparable historic and current realities), Black History will likely be neglected.
Q: Jemar Tisby's book How to Fight Racism includes this statement: "Everyone is either fighting racism or supporting it." How do you feel about that statement?
MAGGIE: It's easy to read that statement and feel like it's a bit extreme. Especially as a white person there is much of me that wishes the statement was not true - it would be easier and more comfortable to not engage in the fight against racism or confront the privilege I have. However, in all of life I don't think that doing nothing actually leaves you in a neutral position. Life has a current to it - we're either swimming upstream or being taken downstream. Not swimming doesn't leave you in the same spot in the river - you're actually being taken downstream with the current. To not engage in the fight against racism doesn't mean you're just neutral on the topic - you are implicitly supporting and allowing the system to continue.
CAM: I agree with this statement on one main premise: Systemic racism is the default in America. If you are not fighting against racism, you are living within - and, thus, fueling - a system built upon it.
Q: How are you engaging the fight for racial justice?
CAM: I am engaging the fight for racial justice by (1) educating myself and (2) engaging in conversations with others who are blind to the realities of racial inequity. The first part often and most frequently involves conversations with my Black sisters and brothers, and the second part most frequently involves conversations with my White sisters and brothers.
KAREN: I am engaging in the fight for justice by standing as a strong black woman and teaching younger generations to be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be. I try to lead by example and call them (younger generations) to a higher standard. I also am intentional about sharing my experiences as a black person with other races and cultures so they can be enlightened and partner with our race to recognize and resolve racial injustices.
Q: What do you do to stay encouraged in the midst of hard times?
KAREN: I stay encouraged by reminding myself that my heavenly Father is the Creator of all mankind and he does not see one as better or superior to another. I am on this earth to ensure that his plan for unity and peace is exemplified by the life I live and the message I convey. My faith brings me peace in the midst of chaos.
MAGGIE: Something that is key for me is to live in the tension of two opposite things being true at the same time. The Lord is not distant with us in our suffering, he weeps with us and gives us permission to be angry and lament. And yet we also have the hope that this life is not all there is, that one day everything sad will come untrue. Life can be incredibly painful and difficult and it is important to acknowledge that. But we can also be lighthearted and silly and enjoy really good food with friends. Laughter in the midst of pain does not invalidate the hardship - joy and suffering can exist at the same time.
CAM: To stay encouraged in the midst of hard times, I fall back on the reality of the ultimate, eternal hope that we have in Christ. We can sweat and toil for the sake of the kingdom of God, trusting that our work is not in vain because, in the end, Christ will make all things new.
If you are interested in this discussion or would like more information on resources and ways to engage your local community, contact us and we would be happy to continue the conversation.