Peace Camp/El Campamento de Paz made a whirlwind start this morning as we dove into a racial justice training on the theme of “The Center and the Borderlands” with Jessica Vazquez Torres, a Puerto Rican native and organizer and trainer with Crossroads Anti-Racism Trainings. Though her native tongue is Spanish, she informed the group that she would be speaking in English, the language of the colonizer and the language of capitalistic economy. She helped us learn about Courageous Space (as opposed to “Safe Space”) through some guidelines for dialogue, a photo of which I will include here. Drawing upon the work of ethicist Miguel de la Torre, Jessica prompted us to consider the cycle of learning (which professionally is called the “hermeneutical circle”) that operates in the following way: to see-to reflect-to pray-to act-to evaluate-to celebrate. She encouraged us to notice the importance of prayer in this cycle: prayer is a bridge between reflection and action. It is imperative for Christian communities who do racial justice work to commit ourselves to prayer among many other education initiatives and actions because that is what grounds us and keeps us accountable to our religious leaders and spiritual guides. She also adds that the “celebration” aspect of learning about racial justice has to be included, because it is this very human desire to connect and get to know and rejoice in our community that gives us the strength and the courage to go on. Celebration is necessary when one is engaged in deconstructing the power and privilege which one has (often unknowingly) carried throughout one’s life. Celebration is also that which keeps us going towards reconstruction, when we are ready to emerge into something new.
Jessica asked the gathered community to name evidences for oppression being alive and well in our churches and in our world. A person of color said, “it feels like the 1950s again.” A young queer person said they don’t know what will happen when they try a new church: will it only say the congregation is welcoming and affirming or will the congregation actually know how to live it?
Jessica reminded us that we need to acknowledge the complicity of the church in the roots of white supremacist ideology. The church has been the architect of the moral justification for heinous acts of colonization, enslavement, genocide and so much more. For an example, we explored Pope Nicholas V’s papal bull concerning the “Doctrine of Discovery” from 1452, which gave Portugal (and following countries) religious permission to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens [Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ” on their quest to West Africa. Look it up. And as you read it, know that the last time it was cited as precedent in a United States court of law was 2005. The Supreme Court of the United States of America cited this papal bull in 1823 as they sought justification for the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. We must know and name the histories so that we can disabuse ourselves of the various complicities we have in perpetuating white supremacy. The danger is not only those who dress in white pointed garments and burn crosses, the danger is also those of us who know we are complicit, deny it, and seek to appease the powers-that-be because we ourselves are comfortable.
Jessica moved on to share some quotes from Gloria Anzaldua, an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory and queer theory. My favorite part of the morning was learning that Anzaldua wrote in three languages: Spanish, English and then a mix of the two. She did not always translate the Spanish words because she believed it was the job of native English-speakers to do our own work and learn to translate. Anzaldua originated the “center and borderlands” theory, which you can see some of in these pictures. (The white words within the black box are the descriptors of the "center," the "normal" way of living in the world within USAmerican culture. The white circle with the black words are the descriptors of the "borderlands" which the center has created to differentiate itself from "others." this is the "them" outside of the "us.")
WHEW! Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. What do you hope we do with these learnings at SFBC?
Peace to all.