Monday, May 16, 2016

RACE MATTERS - The Challenge 2016

"The challenge of understanding the full dynamics of racism in 2016" by Kenya Downs, PBS NewsHour 5/10/2016


Sunday morning, when churchgoers pile into the pews to hear sermons of love and tolerance, is one of the most segregated experiences in America.  For more than three decades Rev. David Billings has been working to change that, tackling the difficult nuances of race and racism in America with his organization the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond.  They conduct workshops called Undoing Racism and provide training for employers, universities and other organizations that struggle with issues of diversity.

As part of our Race Matters Solutions series, NewsHour special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault talked with Billings about segregation and racism within the religious community.

In the past “white churches barred black people from attending,” he says.  “But whites could always attend a black church.  In fact they were welcomed.”

There may not be laws banning interracial churches today, but Billings says the climate of white churches can still make non-whites feel just as unwelcome.  But he also says separate churches may not be such a bad thing.  In fact, a church may be a “sanctuary” not just for religious reasons.

“Church was one place where black people had an hour or two free of white people,” Billings says.  “The black community still needs time away from the dominant white culture.  Some place where you can take a breath, without answering to whites.”

He uses himself as an analogy.  “If you put [a white person like] me amidst of your church, I'm always going to be asking questions.  I'm only going to say ‘I don't think it's that way,' or ‘I'm not like that,'” he says.  “So I become the center of attention, the attention comes back to me when those in the church want it to be their congregation.”

Diverse places of worship do exist throughout the country but Billing contends we still have a long way to go “because there's still a false thought that this country has dealt with racism.”  As part of the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond's work, Billing challenges communities and people to redefine racism.

“In this country people can just define racism anyway they want,” he says.  “We say ‘no.'  You got to have a definition where it impacts where your organization is going.  It has to include your race's relationship to power in this country.”

Billings acknowledges that his own power stems from being a white man in a nation that he says was designed to benefit him above others.  But as America becomes more diverse and the demand for equal opportunity grows, “some white people are feeling that we are not benefiting as much as we should,” he said.  It's a psychological dynamic he describes in his upcoming book, “Deep Denial.”

“Down deep in us, even for those of us who voted for President Obama or have colleagues that are part of our organization, there's a degree to which we feel whites should be running things,” he says.  “And when there isn't, we get upset about it.”

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