50 Years Later: Gratitude and a Call to Advocacy
Written by Elizabeth Leung
As the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, I am reminded that I belong to the generations of people of color who were born or have migrated to this country in the decades following the March on Washington, and who have benefited from the black-led Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The work continues to this day, and many have written about the persistence of racial disparities in our social institutions and structures in 2013, which impact the everyday lives of many people of color across generations. We see this in increasing inequities in job opportunities, voting rights, criminal justice systems and so many other areas of our common life.
It is an issue the United Church of Christ and our partners continues to struggle with and prayerfully work to address. Our General Synod 17 confessed that racism is a sin. In the 90’s we published a Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism and the Role of the Church and in 2008 we embarked on a “Sacred Conversation on Race” campaign to reiterate this confession and speak to the current realities. Just this summer General Synod 29 decisively adopted a statement brought forward by our Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries calling on the church to publicly support voter’s rights through public statements, advocacy and actions in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act.
As I reflect on the march’s anniversary, racial (in)justice and faith, and struggle to understand these large issues from a spiritual perspective, I find myself called to Scriptures.
The story of the Jericho walls (Joshua 6:1-27) comes to mind, when I think of the March during the Civil Rights Movement. Though the walls of the destructive laws, policies, and practices in the U.S. did begin to crumble in the 1960s, the legacy of racism has not stood still in the past 50 years. Racism has evolved with the times. It has mutated in its mechanism – finding life by determining the (in)visibility of certain groups of people and resulting in the use of subtle, coded language. It is no wonder that our General Synod confesses the realities of this continuing evil and the challenges within and without communities of faith.
We see subtle racism rear it’s head behind claims of “color blindness” and in quietly patronizing attitudes. Much of the racism we experience today may not be overt as it was in the past, but it is still very real, and is often perpetuated by people of good-will who are not conscious of their biases. The erroneous claim that we are a “post-racial” nation means that it is our responsibility to practice seeing these racial realities and disparities. Our advocacy needs to address power inequities at the institutional level. To understand racism as evil today is to struggle against that “cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12) which manifest in its systemic impacts in our society.
As the next generation takes up our responsibility to fight against systemic racism in all its mutations and evolving forms, and to work for racial justice that enables the flourishing of all created in the image of God, let us lean on the Holy Spirit of God left to us by our Lord Jesus (John 14:15-21). As we are reminded in our UCC statement of Faith, God promises to all who trust in God: “forgiveness of sins, fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, God’s presence in trial and rejoicing.”