Church killings prompt discussion of race

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By Erin Gray
The Meridian Times

Dr. Ronald E. Hall, professor of social science at Michigan State University, admitted he was racist to a community of Faith Lutheran Church members on Thursday evening in Okemos.

“If you are born and raised in America, it is impossible that you are not a racist,” Hall said.

Hall was one of four panelists answering questions during the community forum on racism and ethnicity at Faith Lutheran Church. Hall is a national lecturer on race and skin color, and is author and co-author of several books, including “The Color Complex.”

He described America as an inevitably racist culture. “If you’re an alcoholic, that is the first thing you have to admit before you can cure yourself,” Hall said. “If I’m ever going to get a handle on my own racist tendencies, I’m going to have to acknowledge I am born in a racist culture, so I am a racist product.”

This forum was put together in response to the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said the Rev. Ellen Schoepf of Faith Lutheran Church.

In that shooting, nine African American men and women were killed because of their skin color, including two graduates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America seminaries.

The perpetrator was a member of a Lutheran church, according to Schoepf, so she said it felt necessary to discuss the issue with her community in Meridian Township.

“Our congregation decided we need to really start having a conversation regarding race, addressing the issues and facing the racism that truthfully is present in almost all of us,” Schoepf said.

According to Hall, different levels of racism are present in all people. People can recognize racist tendencies or beliefs in themselves, and not feel compelled to commit hate crimes or lash out upon different groups.

“I recognize that it is a shortcoming in myself, because that is the environment that I am a product of, and if I don’t acknowledge it then that continues the problem,” Hall said.

Accepting that racism is part of the American culture and present within everyone is the first step in resolving this issue of racism, according to Hall. “Embracing diversity is key,” he said.

Schoepf said Okemos is a predominantly white culture, where systemic racism often occurs. She said that the majority of whites often take for granted the things that minorities might not have.

“We take for granted some of the privileges that we have as white people,” Schoepf said. “We are totally unaware of them and we fail to understand people of color and the fact that they don’t carry those privileges.”

Bishop Emeritus John Schleicher moderated the forum. He said that racism occurs when a minority group gains freedom and the majority group feels threatened of losing its establishment as a majority. Schleicher said when this occurs, feelings of fear and envy arise which result in hatred.

“When it has to do with people of color, especially people of darker skin, I think it was always a fear that maybe if they were given too much freedom or too much power then that would threaten the white culture,” Schleicher said.

Hall referenced Gloria Steinem, American activist and feminist, and said, “The most revolutionary emotion you can have is empathy.” Hall encourages people to have empathy for those in trouble and he said it is a question of ethics.

“If I see gay and lesbian people being abused, which has nothing to do with me, I object to that because it is wrong, not because it is going to directly or indirectly impact me,” Hall said. He said that can be applied to sexism, ageism or any of the isms.

“Be involved for moral and ethical reasons and not personal reasons,” Hall said.

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