by Jenna Bryant
For some reason, I have particularly vivid memories of recess where the Southern California sun would send us hiding in the shadows of the buildings, the only true respite being the beloved orange slices occasionally passed out on particularly scorching days. It was here, in between Capri Suns and the daunting topic of addition, where the foundation for my understandings of the world was laid. During this time, my friends and I, both male and female, with every skin color you can imagine, played with the fierce determinism familiar to all young, bright souls still untouched by the burdens of adulthood. The innocence of a child’s world was all I knew, where everyone is a likely best friend no matter skin color, language, or clothing. In fact, it was a pretty simple framework in which I existed: unless you tried to kiss me or fight me, you’re in.
There was a particularly beloved structure on our playground, that of a miniature metal bus frame with wooden seats which we would take turns driving, passengers requesting the next destination, Disneyland being the most frequented site. It was on one of these sweet days when I sat on top of the bus, overlooking my next play option, when someone from below shouted up at me. I looked down to find two young children, unfamiliar to me, staring up with a wild gleam in their eyes. “You’re as white as a toilet seat!” one of them yelled and although I was confused, I immediately knew this to be intended as offensive. Feelings of self-consciousness and hurt welled up within me and not understanding why these two potential friends would make such a comparison, I yelled back with equal ferocity Continue reading
by Malinda Berry Malinda is an educator-activist-doer. She’s had teaching roles at Goshen College, AMBS, and for the last five years at Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, IN. Her scholarship endeavors include being one of three founding editors of the Prophetic Christianity book series, a project focused on cultivating the scholarship of those connected to the Black Church, the Historic Peace Church and progressive Evangelicalism.She calls herself an “epicurious localvore,” she enjoys worship and prayer that involves our senses, and she loves to knit. This piece originally appeared in Timbrel magazine’s Winter 2016 issue on race.
Race is a quirky thing. We both want to talk about it and don’t want to talk about it, all at the same time. I have learned a lot about race over the past twenty-plus years, and one of the lessons I keep coming back to is how important it is for each of us to develop and raise our “race consciousness.”
Consciousness-raising is a phrase from the 1960s associated with gatherings of women where they would share their stories about their lives about discrimination and oppression they were enduring because they had been born into a sub-culture linked to broader Western culture in which women are necessary but of lesser economic, political, and cultural value than men. Women wondered why her brothers and male cousins were allowed to do what they wanted. Why did the congregation affirm her spiritual gifts but decide not to affirm her to be an elder? Why didn’t anyone, especially her own mother, believe her that the neighbor had molested her?
“Discrimination” and “oppression” are hard words. Hard to speak, hard to hear, hard to chew, swallow, and digest. Why? Because we tend to begin our explanations for life’s difficulties with personal responsibility. This isn’t just a societal or cultural tendency; as Christians we do this all the time. We have baskets full of scriptural references to our moral obligation to accept individual responsibility for ourselves, some more indirect than others: “spare the rod, spoil the child” based on Proverbs 13:24, Jesus’ words in John 6:44 that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV), and Ezekiel’s delivery of a “word from the Lord” in 18:20 that clarifies “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child” (NRSV). And yet… Continue reading
by Cyneatha Millsaps and Annette Brill Bergstresser (this conversation originally appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Timbrel magazine.
Cyneatha Millsaps (right) is lead pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois. She’s also a consultant for Illinois Mennonite Conference; coordinated Central District Conference’s 2014 women’s retreat, “Black Mennonite Women Rock”; and was a speaker for Mennonite Church USA’s KC2015 convention. Cyneatha is a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She is married to Steven; they have seven children and 19 grandchildren. Annette Brill Bergstresser (left) serves as editorial director for Mennonite Church USA and as communications assistant for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. She has helped organize and lead learning events on undoing racism in various settings. She has a certificate in theological studies from AMBS. Annette, her husband, Deron and their two daughters are part of Faith Mennonite Church in Goshen.
Cyneatha Millsaps and Annette Brill Bergstresser learned to know each other in February 2012 as partners on the Sankofa Journey, a 1,800-mile cross-racial prayer journey by bus to historic Civil Rights sites across the South. (“Sankofa” is a West African word meaning “looking backward to move forward.”)
Let’s start with the hard question. How do you want to be identified? Black? African-American? White? Caucasian? Anglo?
Cyneatha: I prefer African-American. I don’t mind if people say Black, but to me Black is a color, and African-American is an identity. I want to identify not only with my people of origin but also with who I am here in America—part of a group of people who have suffered and who continue to overcome many different challenges.
Annette: I usually identify as white or Anglo, and as German-American, since my parents emigrated from Germany and that heritage has shaped me significantly.
Many people don’t know how to talk about race. What are practical ways people can be prompted to safely discuss issues of race and racism?
Cyneatha: The Sankofa Journey leaders invited us to be open and honest with ourselves, and their approach has helped me lead conversations on race—trying to get people to a space of just being comfortable. I tell people not to worry about whether they say something the right way, but to just say what’s on their mind, and together we’ll work through their question, thought or concern. The Sankofa leaders made it clear we couldn’t keep tiptoeing around race; we’d just have to talk things through. Continue reading
This piece originally appeared in Timbrel magazine. For more conversations around race and racism, order your copy today.
by Alyssa Rodriguez
It is just another Tuesday in the health clinic I coordinate. A young mother, a three-year-old boy and an older lady I presume to be the boy’s grandmother walk in for his appointment. Assuming the older woman is the child’s grandmother is the furthest I go in deciding before being told what these individuals’ story is. I have learned better than to assume. In this case I am correct but in the exam room where I play the role of interpreter; we find out much more about their story.
I envision a world atlas being laid out across the table like an accordion, outlining their journey. Just two days before, they arrived to Iowa from Honduras by way of Texas. The boy’s father is still awaiting release from the family detention center where they were held. His mother recalls being placed in an ice-cold holding cell for an undetermined reason and undefined amount of time while there.
“What brought them here?” is a question stamped in my mind upon meeting newly-arrived refugees at my job as I often do, yet one I am not always prepared to have answered. It is a question I feel guilty for asking since I know the defense that boils up in me when I am asked the same thing, as though my family hasn’t been here for multiple generations and is supposed to be somewhere else.
For this boy and his parents, the “last straw” that led to a one-way trip north was when he and his mother were walking down the street hand-in-hand and suddenly, a mara of young adult men stopped and shot a man in the face right in front of them. Like the poem, Home* says, “you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.” Continue reading