Eric Metoyer reports from ‘Fifty years later: The State of Racism in America’ in Jackson, Miss.

Last Friday, November 15, and Saturday, November 16, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson, Miss., The Episcopal Church hosted the forum “Fifty years later: The State of Racism in America.” Friday’s program provided a live webcast, received locally at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley where several members of the DioCal community viewed and discussed the program. Ray Suarez, former PBS NewsHour correspondent, moderated Friday’s session by stating that The Episcopal Church discusses the hard questions of faith and society, which is why the forum was held in Jackson.

The Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke about the human construct of racism as always defining the other in our society, the threat, and that those distinctions are taught. She said “Racism exploits and demeans the diverse nature of human creation, diminishing the spirit within each person, and despoiling the possibility of abundant life.” The Presiding Bishop shared her witness of first encountering racism as a an 11-year-old writing about the Klu Klux Klan in school and how her horrified reaction started her on the road to justice. Her address can be found here

 

The panel conversation “Racism in America – why does it persist?” featured the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, and the Hon. William Winter. The group discussion considered the idea of racism as America’s original sin, that the legacy of slavery is so embedded in the society it doesn’t go away on its own and that it has to be challenged regularly. Curry suggested comparing racism with alcoholism — that to fight the addiction it has to be named.

 

The second panel discussion: “Racism in America’s future — where is there hope for change?” featured speakers the Hon. Byron Rushing, Dr. Randy Testa, Dr. Erma Vizenor, and Mr. Tim Wise. Rushing and Testa suggested racism is learned, and can be unlearned and Testa gave the example of the Children Civil Rights Crusade in Birmingham, Ala. Vizenor, a chairwoman of the Ojibwe nation, spoke about racism toward American Indians, and how history is the gift and the burden of the past that we live with today. Wise said we should beware that “individual acheivement does not equal systematic advancement,” thus the election of Barak Obama did not end racism in this country. 

The panel on the second day featured Dr. Anita George, the Rev. Dr. T. James Kodera, the Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, and Mr. Isaiah Brokenleg. Their conversation centered around the idea of the culture teaching racism despite the best efforts of indviduals and workshops end racism. In the workshop “Racism through another lens,” the Rev. Dr. Kodera spoke to the history of Asians in America, the racism which led to the Asian Exclusion Act in immigration policy, the Japanese internment, as well as the “Model Minority” today.
 
If your congregation is interested in viewing the event with discussion, please contact the Rev. Eric Metoyer, ericm@diocal.org.

The webcast of Friday’s event can be found here.

Episcopal News Service reporting on Fifty years later: The State of Racism in American by Mary Frances Schjonberg is available here and here.

photos: Mary Frances Schjonberg