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By Nancy Bacon

Systemic Racism – What does that mean?

From the Pastor's Desk


June 20, 2020

Nancy Bacon

Greetings! It is good to be back from quarantine. I hope you are doing well. We are all learning how to cope with a new viral pandemic and the increased awareness of a racist pandemic as well. This one isn't new; it's been with us for quite some time.

When people describe it as systemic, is it clear to you what that means?

For me, when I think of that phrase, I am reminded of a Muslim teacher I once had in seminary whose specialty was the history of Christianity. When asked why he studied Christianity, he said, "Because, it's in the air we breathe." That is what systemic means - something pervasive. There are problems that can arise from not seeing it being ubiquitously hidden in the air we breathe.

In a given culture things can be hidden in plain sight. We take things for granted, because it's just the way things have always been or have been explained to us. In a mostly Judeo-Christian culture, we don't always see when religiosity has crept in, influencing our thoughts or decisions. Religious symbols or phrases have deeply associated meanings and we don't pause to consider where certain ideas came from - they just permeate our culture.

Sometimes, our understandings aren't factual or correct, but they remain as though they are. One simple example is that many of us have come to believe that Eve tempted Adam with an apple. Apples don't come from the Middle-East and the bible never says that the fruit she offered was an apple. It could have been a fig, we know Adam used fig leaves, or it might have been a pomegranate, but we don't know. We've come to accept the apple story, through art and song, and we keep passing it on, keeping the fallacy alive.

Often Eve, too, is portrayed in art as a fair woman with long hair. We don't know that she had long hair. The bible never says. Nor do we know what her skin color was. If we are open to science, we know that the first man and woman on earth were African and had dark skin. Yet, in white society, Eve is portrayed as white, as is God, who is said to have created humankind in God's image, both male and female. Without twisting up into theological knots, I think it at least useful to imagine, what if God is black? If the first people created in God's image are black - doesn't that imply that God is also?

Yet, for centuries, white Judeo-Christian culture has elevated a white bearded God. Michelangelo's depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel becomes representative of God for many. One of the dangers in accepting such a glorified image, is that white must be better, since God is white. Furthermore, biblical texts have been used to explain slavery and the rationale for why people of color ended up on the short end of the stick. People have argued that the Curse of Ham and the Mark of Cain somehow destined people with dark skin to be somehow inferior. It's a sad thing that the bible can be used in such a manner and that it can be given such erroneous ubiquitous authority, permeating our culture.

Adam and Eve's son, Cain, killed his brother, Abel. Afterwards, God marked Cain so that he stood out and looked different. We don't know how, but I like to imagine that perhaps if God and Adam and Eve were all black, Cain might have lost his pigment. God punished Cain not only with some form of physical difference, but placed a divine protection over him so that he would not suffer a premature death, but rather he would have to live with his shame and guilt an entire lifetime for what he had done to his brother.

I imagine God hoping through the centuries that Cain and his descendants might figure out how to be a loving "brother's keeper." I imagine God crying in horror over slavery, and cruel plantation owners and apathetic it's-not-my-problem white folks. I imagine God being there with people of color being beaten and lynched and God holding tight the four little girls who died in the bombed basement of the church in Montgomery. I imagine God crying still over mass incarceration of black people and the disproportionate number dying from COVID-19. I imagine God continuing to hope that Cain's descendants would see their brother's and sister's equal needs for income, property, education, healthcare and fair treatment under the law in the folks they considered "the least of these." I imagine God was right there with George Floyd and so many others in their final frightened moments when they could not breathe. God is still watching and still waiting for Cain's descendants to recognize that they were not given long lives and other blessings because they more closely resemble God.

Do what you can to stop spreading such racist pandemic thoughts throughout the air we all must breathe. Rely on God, the Breath of Life, to cleanse and open our hearts to one another.

May God Bless & Keep You,

Pastor Nancy

About Tehachapi Community Church, UCC:

No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here!

The Tehachapi Community Church, UCC is an open and welcoming community of faith that believes that each person, created in the image of God, holds a piece of the truth. Therefore we respect each person’s unique spiritual journey. We invite you to experience the difference that religious freedom in a caring community can make in that journey.

We are located at 100 East E St., in Tehachapi. Worship and Sunday School are at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Please join us for coffee and fellowship at our Friendship Hall after worship (approximately 11:30 a.m.). All are welcome.


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