Dialogue: Undoing Racism


In Dialogue, we highlight exchanges regarding CPT’s vision and peacemaking ministry, Undoing Racism has been a component in CPT’s peacemaker training since the program began in 1993. We asked CPTers to reflect on the importance and challenges of undoing racism in CPT. Following are excerpts from a few of the many responses.

Suzanna Collerd, River Forest, IL: Henry Nouwen said, “Christians are peacemakers, not when they apply some special skill to reconcile people with one another, but when, by the confession of their brokenness, they form a community through which God’s unlimited forgiveness is revealed to the world. Community emerges when we dare to overcome our fears and confess to each other how much we still belong to the world. When that happens the light of God’s forgiveness can shine brightly and true peace can appear.” (Peacework, p. 104-105)
Anti-racism work is so important in CPT because racism is brokenness. In order to confess our brokenness we must understand deeply why and how we are broken. As a predominantly white organization, I think we still have fears that people will find out how racist we are instead of confessing openly that we are racist, and are asking for forgiveness along with taking actions to grow towards being an anti-racist organization.
Racism, like all sin, separates us from God. I think there have been many spaces in CPT where we have depended on racism rather than trusted in God to be able to do our work. When we confront this dependence, we will indeed grow closer to God and be more effective peacemakers.

John Spragge, Toronto, ON: We have only the power of truth with which to make peace, and racism is based on lies.

Kim Lamberty, Chicago, IL:
When working to end war and violence, it helps me to think about the root causes. It seems that the three R’s – race, religion and real estate – are at the bottom of most wars. Most people are really fighting over real estate, but it is through racism that they give themselves permission to destroy others so they can gain power over the land.
In the U.S., I think white people are formed by our culture from infancy in such a way that we are racist – we expect to have power and control over people who are not from our dominant culture. I also think that the dominant, white churches in the U.S. tend to do their justice and peace work out of a racist mentality; in other words, in ways that maintain the power of the dominant culture and the disempowerment of marginalized communities.
If CPT is serious about ending violence in our world, we have to look at root causes, and racism is a root cause. And the place to begin is with ourselves.

Rachel Cloud, Eudora, KS: CPT has to work on racism for many reasons. For white folks, who are currently a grand majority in CPT, it is inappropriate and oppressive to not do the work. It is not the responsibility of people of color to tell white folks of racism. If we do not acknowledge racism, we cannot work to end it. Instead we close spaces for work by denying hurt and the need for change. Only by naming its existence, can we explore it and work to stop both subtle and blatant racism.

Colin Stuart, Ottawa, ON: My position of privilege in this society, in Canada, North America and the world is not only because I'm white, but also because of my class and my gender. It is important for me to understand this and reflect on how I’ve internalized all these “privilege making” conditions in order to change my own day-to-day actions and behavior. One has to distinguish them but I don’t think they are separable.

Mary Scott Boria, Trainer, Chicago, IL: Race and class are complicated conversations to engage. For many folks, race is the last thing they want to discuss whereas class may be a much easier proposition. I struggle for a way to talk about “oppression” so as to incorporate how power uses us all in its interests, without perpetuating our avoidance of race conversations and realities. As a black woman I have witnessed and experienced so much racism, even in my middle classness. When I am in the midst of my middle class friends, I am still a black woman. When I walk down Michigan Avenue [shopping district] I am still a black woman, and no one seems to care about what class capital I have. I am just a black woman first, and then I have to prove myself beyond that.

Kathy Kern, Rochester, NY: I want CPT to undo racism because it has hurt people I care about and caused me to hurt people I care about.

Dianne Roe, Corning, NY: I think undoing racism is at the center of our work in CPT. I believe that Jesus’ ministry and actions were about confronting racist structures. I can imagine Jesus saying to me, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a white person to enter the kingdom.” I want to be part of the kingdom. My attachment to power, possessions, and privilege are keeping me out.

Dwayne Hess, Baltimore, MD:
Confronting racism is tricky in groups of white people who think of themselves as open-minded and who like to do good in the world. We often ignore the effects of systemic racism, not because we are cold-hearted and mean, but simply because we can ignore it. We’re used to fixing problems and finding solutions, and many of us view racism the same way. We want to fix it and solve it without admitting how we have benefitted from and been complicit with racism. “Good” people and “good” organizations will continue to perpetuate racism until white people become uncomfortable and enter the not-easily-navigated river of undoing racism.

Joel Klassen, Toronto, ON: Undoing racism is fundamental to our work because race is fundamental to the construction of all our identities. As a white man, my unearned privilege tempts me to build power on the externals (by definition, oppressive) rather than on the subversive power of the holy spirit. To the extent that we understand race better, and to the extent that we become an anti-racist, multicultural organization, we can position ourselves more effectively to work for peace with justice.
As an organization, we need to acknowledge the use of white or passport privilege in our work. Part of our partners’ desire to have us work with them stems from our use of it. Much (not all) of what we do, and what we are consistently asked to do, has deep ties to privilege and oppression. To build an anti-racist identity, do we have to stop doing work that way?
We do not all share passport or white privilege on our team, or in CPT as a whole. But that privilege is like an umbrella over all of us, which our partners sometimes name. Our teams are enriched by diversity. I think the people of colour on our team [in Colombia] pay a price for working and living in an environment that is very much dominated by white North American culture, despite our efforts to make it less so.

Vikki Marie, Steering Committee Member, Vancouver, BC: There are certainly situations where having a white person standing in solidarity with you is of benefit. But CPT does not have to engage in either/or thinking or ways of doing things. I rather like the both/and option. For example, there are increasing incidences of infringement of Aboriginal Lands in Canada and increasing resistance to the encroachment. CPTers of colour as well as CPTers of European descent could work well side by side in these situations. I think the need for CPT in these areas will increase. The bottom line is, I think there is room for everyone in doing the work of gospel peace.