Solving racism requires examining the heart, says Associate Dean Pam McCoy
Jesuit and Christian traditions challenge us “to care for the whole self as cura personalis suggests, but we also have to care for each other simultaneously,” says Associate Dean Pam McCoy. This is true even in the context of racial justice in America.
McCoy and Adjunct Instructor Andy Kaufman share a vulnerable, personal conversation about race and racism in America in an episode of the Q Talks Podcast. They have different skin colors and different life experiences, but they are connected by their deep faith in Jesus and their desire to address systemic racism.
1. Religion challenges us to address racism
As followers of Jesus and the Bible, McCoy and Kaufman agree their faith asks them to address racism and recognize all people as created equal. “The Bible says that we are created in the image of God. This lie about race and there being a difference between the races is a man-made idea that was used to define creation in a way that is different than God’s design,” says McCoy.
In fact, Kaufman says “when we look at [racism] from a spiritual perspective, it’s sin. Some have called it America’s original sin.”
This departure from God’s will has caused pain and trauma in America. “Whenever we do something that differs from God’s design, it ends up in brokenness," McCoy says. “The brokenness here is that this lie was used to justify why land would be taken from native dwellers, and how nations would be established.”
2. Racism manifests in various ways
As a Black professional woman, McCoy experiences a pernicious form of racism. “My experience with racism is one where there’s microaggression, very stealth ways in which racist and bigoted actions are carried out,” she says.
She feels the burden of entering a room where “it’s very likely that someone in the room who is white thinks that you shouldn’t be there, and they wonder why you’re there. It leaves you with the burden of trying to prove your worth. You have to anticipate you’ll be second guessed, you’ll be marginalized, and you’ll be challenged in ways that your white counterparts are not challenged.”
McCoy states that her experience with racism is different than the experience of some Black Americans.
“I might deal with systematic barriers to progressing in my career…but there are other Black Americans where they have poor health, they don’t have the best resources to food, they don’t have enough money to live on, [and] they don’t have access to better education,” she says. “One of the things it does for me in my confession is to say, ‘Yeah, this is tough but it’s not as tough as what other people have had to go through, especially considering that my parents lived through Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and up until now.'”
As racism manifests in various ways, white people must begin to understand and empathize with the fact that everyday experiences for them may be much more dangerous for Black individuals. Kaufman offers his experience of driving in front of a police officer.
“What I think of when I see a police officer following me in the car is not what [Black men are] thinking,” says Kaufman. “There are all these things that would be easy for me to think they’re not a big deal or are easy to miss. The burden that you carry, that I have not appreciated, not understood.”
3. Being “colorblind” ignores the root of racism
McCoy and Kaufman assert the “colorblind” and “I don’t see race” approaches are not helpful for addressing racism. “We can’t ignore the reality because we are living in a world whose foundation is built on a lie [that Black people are less than white people], and that lie is the thing that is hindering us,” McCoy says.
Without recognizing this lie, racism will remain ingrained in our hearts, she says. “Why does it persist? Because the root cause and effect of racism is what’s in the heart of every person. It’s not only hardwired into our culture; it’s hardwired into our hearts.”
Kaufman, the father of two children of color, says as he’s gotten older, “being colorblind just becomes more apparently foolish.”
“We are one, we are followers of Christ, we’re made in the image of God, and yet we’re different,” says Kaufman. “It’s the unity and diversity, and the spiritual lens leads us to appreciate both of those.”
4. Racism is everyone’s problem
McCoy and Kaufman wrestled with many Americans thinking that racism is not their problem. In their minds, they are not upholding racist systems. McCoy encourages all to look within themselves “because we each own a piece of the mess.”
She adds, “The hurt in this country is so deep that it’s going to take acknowledging the sin, confessing the sin, and a real effort to forgive the sin.”
McCoy values individual acknowledgments of racial injustice more than corporate statements.
“You can parrot a corporate acknowledgment, yet maintain racist and bigoted thoughts in your heart,” she says. “An example might be your company sets quotas for hiring, you follow the mandate of the quota but your heart does not see the value in candidates of diverse backgrounds. You’re just doing it because you’re required to do it.”
Kaufman encourages people to reflect and own their racist behaviors. “I’ve yet to talk to anyone who says, ‘You know Andy, I’m truly an outright racist.' I think most of us feel strongly to the contrary. We easily see this as someone else’s problem, not mine,” he says.
5. Addressing racism from a religious perspective
McCoy offers several suggestions for individuals wanting to eliminate racism from their hearts, beginning with reaching out to people of different backgrounds. “One of the most practical things we can do is do life together,” she says. In Chicago, “we live in a very segregated, metropolitan area… In not doing life together, we’re also not talking about our experiences.”
She also encourages vulnerability and authenticity in interracial conversations. “It is very hard to talk about racism, to talk about what it feels like, without one party or the other party feeling defensive. So we pick and choose our words, but in friendship, I like the friendships where I can drop the masks.”
In those conversations, she encourages people to own their mistakes and listen. “Should we not say [something] correctly, if it’s not received the way we want it to be received, we don’t retreat,” McCoy says. “We acknowledge that I didn’t intend to be offensive, but I understand how this could’ve been perceived as offensive, but I really want to know your heart on this and then have a willingness to listen.”
Kaufman echoes this approach as productive. “Even when I know I’m going to ask it wrong, I’ll say it wrong, if it’s clear I’m doing this in love… if we do it in love, if our intentions are that, we are living through a spiritual lens,” he says.
McCoy prays that society continues to grapple with systemic racism. “You know what I fear? That four months from now we’re not going to be talking about George Floyd, we’re not going to be talking about how we feel right now, because we’ll be off to the other thing.
“As we’re thinking about this, as people of faith, we know that prayer is an essential component here. Prayer is not just talking to God, its listening to God, that’s how I’ve always discovered the things that are hidden away in my heart that aren’t so pleasing.”
In addressing racism through prayer as well, Kaufman says his approach to prayer has changed. “Instead of being horrified with what’s out there, [I’m asking] how can I engage in the work of reconciliation. It really comes down to listening a lot more, learning a lot more, and loving,” he says.
6. We are called to forgive when it’s difficult
In mending racial disparities, we must be willing to forgive when it’s challenging, say McCoy and Kaufman. “When I think of what the Bible offers us, forgiveness and reconciliation are two of the most powerful transformational ideas in the Bible.”
McCoy worries about the ability to forgive when racism causes dire consequences, such as the loss of life.
“The thing about forgiveness that concerns me and should concern all of us is that when the sting of racism hits your home in such a way that it causes a loss of someone you love, now can you forgive?” she says. “When I think about this, I pray that my heart, my spirit, my commitment to God, my faith and trust in God will be enough that I could forgive.”
In forgiving, McCoy says we must remember what forgiveness really looks like. She encourages others to understand that forgiveness and forgetting are not at all the same thing. “Forgiveness is not a feeling….Forgiveness is a will of the spirit.”
In citing John Perkins, author of One Blood, Kaufman says, “Reconciliation must begin with our own personal grief and confession of actions that support it, whether directly or indirectly.”