Two pandemics are wreaking havoc today: Covid-19 and racism, say four panelists who led an online discussion sponsored by Women of the ELCA.
More than 80 people attended the early June webinar—Racial Solidarity in Times of a Pandemic—hosted by Jennifer DeLeon, Women of the ELCA’s director for justice.
“This pandemic has amplified racial justice conversations in our lives,” DeLeon said as she introduced the topic. “The sin of racism is nothing new. It affects every person of color in different ways, and our liberation and struggle are united.
“We designed this webinar to help us focus on how we can continue to teach each other and learn from each other,” she added.
The four panelists included Andrea Martínez, marketing and outreach senior specialist for Habitat for Humanity, Atlanta, Ga.; the Rev. Angela Shannon, pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, Bowie, Md., and vice president of the African Descent Lutheran Association; Prairie Rose Seminole, program director for the ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Ministries; and Stacy D. Kitahata, co-executive director of Holden Village, Chelan, Wash. (Visit welca.org/racialjustice for more information and resources listed during this webinar.)
Committed to racism education
From its earliest days, Women of the ELCA has been committed to racism education. Its churchwide executive board has engaged in anti-racism training and, in turn, has called for anti-racism training across the organization.
In 1993, the churchwide board adopted a Comprehensive Affirmative Action Policy for the organization. In the late 1990s, an anti-racism training program known as Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality (now Racial Justice Advocacy Network) was created and a network of racial justice educators by the same name was formed.
In 2002, at the Fifth Triennial Convention, the churchwide constitution was amended to provide, as one of 13 principles of organization, that “This community of women shall claim and practice an anti-racist identity and actively seek full participation and shared power in determining its mission, structure, constituency, policies, and practices.” (Article III, Section 13)
In her presentation, The Tale of Two Pandemics: Systemic Racism and COVID-19, Martínez said the COVID-19 virus shined a bright light on what has always existed: systemic racism.
“I’m passionate about addressing how social determinants impact health risks and outcomes [of people of color],” Martínez said. Social determinants of health include where people live, learn, work, and play.
“A lot of factors influence health and create health disparities,” said Martínez, who has a master’s degree in public health. “They include housing, employment, income, education, neighborhood characteristics and location, access to food, and other necessities.”
Poverty limits access and increases health inequities, she said.
“When we talk about systemic racism and its counterpart racial justice,” she said, “we aren’t talking about solely dismantling the KKK or people who use the N-word. We are talking about the fact that [injustice] is built into every aspect of society.” (See Martínez’s tips below on how to begin acting for social justice for all. Watch her presentation here.)
The Rev. Angela Shannon
The Rev. Angela Shannon said given the history of slavery, reconstruction, the Kerner Commission, and failed attempts at parity, she is “tired and exhausted” of being asked by White people, “What should we do?”
Given our history, the killing of Black and Brown bodies is nothing new, she said.
“The pandemic has exposed every vulnerability of every major institution that we have, including our own church,” Shannon said. “We have had many opportunities to right ourselves, to redress what happened in slavery, during the Civil Rights Movement. But we didn’t, so here we are again.”
“We said, ‘We shall overcome.’ But did we, really?”
Shannon told the story of correcting young Black men who weren’t social distancing or wearing protective masks in public.
“They said, ‘Mama, we wear our masks every day and gloves at work, and we’re Black men in America.’”
“That told me two things: One, that they are essential workers, the ones whose work was of little value until the pandemic. And two, risking COVID is just as dangerous for them as living as Black young men. Those are hard choices.
“They are caught between a rock COVID and being Black in America,” she said. “Out of respect for me, though, they did social distance.”
Shannon asked the question: “What is about the crush of racism that will drive you from the relative safety of your own home and risk your health to take to the streets and protest?
“We are all in this pandemic, and we all need to act.”
Prairie Rose Seminole
During the current COVID outbreak, Prairie Rose Seminole has found “she needed” to live in Western, N.D., on the border of Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
“It’s going to take a lot of intention to create systems outside of the design that oppresses all of us and privileges some,” she said.
Seminole said several governmental policies have disenfranchised Native Americans and other people of color.
“The chasms are getting greater in some areas because [people of color] are still being looked at as a population to be dealt with and a burden to be carried and not for the gifts we have to serve our communities,” Seminole said.
But White people can act against oppression. They can “burn down the systems of White supremacy in this country.”
“We’re on this journey together,” she said. “I hope we can learn to trust and build in right relationship with one another. Because you’re going to lose a lot of us if we can’t make that work happen.”
Stacy D. Kitahata
Stacy D. Kitahata quoted Asian American scholar Dr. Erika Lee who describes the community as benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while also being victims of hate crimes and microaggressions. Asian Americans as a group are being attacked and blamed for the COVID-19 virus, she said, despite the fact they include 50 ethnic groups and use 100 different languages.
In the first 16 weeks of the virus, the organization Stop AAPI Hate documented more than 1,700 incidents of harassment, shunning, and assault against Asian Americans, she reported.
The stories of White people and people of color “are intrinsically related. We urgently need each other to work for democracy and against authoritarianism and nationalism, which is happening right now,” Kitahata said.
She invited people of faith to imagine and live into the reality of a new heaven and new earth where we are in relationship to one another, she said.
“Pastor Shannon asked what would compel us to leave the safety of our homes and send us into the street,” Kitahata said.
“We are compelled to leave the house when our neighbor’s life is as precious as our own. If you cannot safely leave your house, you can still find the way that God is calling you to walk where God humbly walks right now.”
Visit welca.org/racialjustice for more information and resources listed during this webinar.
Feature photo: Top left, clockwise, Rozella Haydee White (who helped behind the scenes), Prairie Rose Seminole, Andrea Martínez, Stacy D. Kitahata, Jennifer DeLeon, Angela L. Shannon.
Andrea Martínez: Where to begin?
- Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Yep, it will happen. Work through that.
- Black/indigenous/people of color (BIPOC) do not owe you anything. They don’t have to educate you. They don’t owe you their stories or their trauma or the reopening of wounds. Don’t ask them to do it.
- Do the work. Resources are plentiful. BIPOC don’t need to do your homework for you.
- Lean into the discomfort. Get uncomfortable. People from these communities perpetually live in a state of discomfort.
- What is your contribution? Align your participation with your gifts, skills, and resources.
- Use your privilege. What does your network look like? Is it addressing things in your family unit or at work?
- Destroy the myth that whiteness is the central aspect of everything. Destroy the illusion that whiteness remains central, and everybody else is on the periphery.
- How do you spend your money? How you spend your money matters. Think about where you regularly go, to what businesses. Do they align with your values? How are you supporting black-owned businesses?
- Amplify. Share stories from the community. Share Black art, share Black stories.
- Listen to people who are actively organizing. You don’t need to start a different movement. Join the existing one. Think about what they are saying. Listen. What are their calls to action?
- Advocate. Call and text and meet your government representatives. Hold them accountable. Use your privilege—sign petitions.
- Vote. Look beyond your individual needs. Look at who is disenfranchised in your community. Who are the most vulnerable? Consider how legislation impacts the most vulnerable in the community.