Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another chance to talk about who we are, race, and identity in rural PA

Shiloh Church, in Danville, invited me back to lead their Sunday School program this past Sunday. Shiloh has been working on open and affirming messages, and teachings. I think their hard conversations around that theme made the discussion rich, and ripe for tackling issues of racism.

I want to thank The Sunset Rotary, Sam Pearson, Carmen Henne-Ochoa, and Pastor Mary for giving me feedback on my original talk, and message.

John Kador, and the Rotary encouraged me to make my message more personal. Sam and Carmen encouraged me to focus more on white privilege. Pastor Mary requested I include definitions, and Pastor Mary and John suggested making the talk more interactive, including open ended questions about racism. I also want to mention Dave Young, of the ACLU, and John Kador, for originally suggesting that I use open-ended questions, and an interactive format. 

I took all of these suggestions, and I think all this feedback made a much better talk. 

My Reflection on the Talk
What strikes me repeatedly, is the ability of humans to not see what is painful, and the strength of denial in humans, when we want to avoid something. The denial of problems of racism, and discrimination in our area is very strong.

To start addressing this, I think there is a basic standard of community we can all agree on: we should respect other people's space and human dignity.

If we can reflect on our discomfort, or anger at other people in our community, and relate it to this standard, I think we will make progress in understanding our own fears, and discover ways we can change our own behavior to bring comfort to ourselves, and our fellow citizens.

One interesting point in the conversation was reflecting on how we might feel threatened by a group of all non-white people hanging out, or forming homogeneous communities within our area- how rural communities might expect others to conform to their standards of 'normal,' excluding, or victimizing many 'others.'

The ideal of equality does not require us to like each other, but for us all to respect each other, and have equality under that law, and in our community systems.

Good relationships cannot be forced through integration, but must be developed authentically, and organically. If we do not have respect and equality in our communities, then positive, authentic relationships will continue to be illusive, and we will continue to miss out on the benefits of diversity, and contribute to negative social outcomes in our region.

I myself was not accepted into the community when my family moved here in 1987, not so much by the kids, but by adults- parents, teacher, administrators. I was not welcomed. This had many negative effects- one was that I did not respect the unique culture here, because it discriminated against me. It has taken me a long time to respect the unique culture of Central PA, and there is much to be explored, liked, and respected about it-- but if we can't amicably share it with 'others,' they may never find out. Conversely, if we don't welcome people, not only do they feel excluded, but we might never know what they have to offer.

Thanks again to everyone who is supporting and encouraging the path toward Undoing Racism® in Central PA.

If you would like to schedule a talk with your group or organization, please contact me through the contact form on the right of this page.