Is this your car? “Paper-Cut” Racism in Madison

Yesterday, we began a conversation about race and racism at Grace Church. Today, Paul Fanlund of the Capital Times wrote a piece about the little indignities African-Americans encounter in their daily lives in Madison. It confirms some of what we heard yesterday.

Grace is blessed to include among our active membership a number of people of color, several of whom participated in the conversation. We began by talking about white privilege and as is often the case, there was some pushback about the concept. But as we listened, we heard some heartbreaking and shocking stories about the treatment of children of color in the schools.

But one of the most emotional moments was when one man asked us, “What does the police officer ask you when he pulls you over in a traffic stop?”

We responded, “May I see your driver’s license and registration?”

“No,” he said. “I’m always asked, ‘Is this your car?'”

That anecdote hit home for us the vast gulf separating the experience of whites and people of color in Madison and Dane County. To be treated suspiciously in virtually every encounter with authority is not just an irritation, it is an attack on one’s self-esteem and reinforces the powerlessness and despair people of color face.

The little indignities experienced on a daily basis are more than a nuisance. They are a daily reminder that people of color, African-Americans, live in a culture in which they can never feel truly at home.

At Grace, as we seek to participate in our community’s conversation around racism and efforts to create a more just community, it is important to begin by listening to the experience of the people of color who are part of our congregation. By acknowledging their voices and hearing their stories, we help to create in our midst the beloved community called into being by Jesus Christ. My hope that even as we reach out to engage others, especially the broader African-American community, we will deepen our ties and common life and serve as a model for others.


Resources on Racism in Madison and the US

In our adult forum today, we’re joining the conversation about racism and inequity that has been taking place in Madison and across the country over the last year. I’m posting here some resources that might help us think about these issues in our own lives and in our community.

First of all, white privilege. Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” introduced the term: white-privilege

Second,the conversation was jumpstarted in Madison by an article by the Rev. Alex Gee, Jr. That is available here. In the year since its publications, Gee has formed a new orgnizationt, Justified Anger, that seeks to keep issues of race and inequity at the center of our political and cultural life in Madison.

About the same time that this conversation began, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released its Race to Equity Report that provided a shocking look at racial disparities in Dane County, WI (where Madison is located). The report is available for download here: WCCF-R2E-Report.

Some books to read:

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

If you’ve never read it, or if you haven’t read it recently, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a powerful challenge to whites, especially white Christians, who criticized the nonviolent protests and boycotts in Birmingham in 1963. More than fifty years later, in the wake of Ferguson and Eric Garner, its words retain their power and are as relevant as ever. Read it here: king