One week after graduation, I taught an intensive one-week course, “Identity and Difference: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Class and Sexuality.”
Surprisingly, several students chose this as the final course of their theological education before going on internship or first call. Not having taught the course for a few years, I recognized that my thinking had shifted on these matters – specifically, that all people have overlapping identities but some people’s overlapping identities, that, when interfaced with structural power, face discrimination that can be exceedingly harmful if not, death-dealing.
To explicate this, legal theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. Defining the term in a September 2015 column of The Washington Post, she described the intersectionality as “a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” that has “given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.” My class provided an intellectual space for students to do theological reflection on intersectionality and what it means for them.
And in response to this, first-semester M.Div. student, Karl Anliker, writes a reflection about his identity/identities and power, and specifically how it has impacted the way that he responds to African American History. And then after Karl’s post, please read the text of a special e-mail written by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., in response to recent attempts to attack the museum with racist vandalism.
Please read. Reflect. Share. This issues are as important now as never before.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
CNN reports that for the second time in a week a noose was found on the grounds of a Smithsonian Museum and this time it was at the African American History Museum in Washington D.C. 
Very recently in my life, I might have understood this to be a “micro” aggression or a prank. However, I have come to see and understand that there is nothing “micro” about this crime nor can it be dismissed as a prank. This is a symptom of a system made up of individuals like myself who have systematically benefitted from the erasure and dehumanization of an entire group of people. I must name White Supremacy. I must acknowledge my complicity and privilege in this system.
The noose was found in a portion of the museum concerning segregation. The Museum’s Director released the following statement on twitter:
Before I, as a white, cis, hetero male, move to outrage over this reality, I must ask myself a very important question. I have been to dozens of Museums in the Midwest in my lifetime. I have lived in Hyde Park, Chicago since January and visited the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, but have I ever visited a Museum of African American History?
I have heard many people speak of the museums and cultural centers for which Chicago is famous. However, I had never heard of the DuSable Museum of African American History until Dr. Thomas at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago brought it to my attention.
A trip for two to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum can cost over fifty dollars. The DuSable Museum of African American History is eight dollars per person for Chicago residents and there are free days.
So we visited the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park only TEN MINUTES from our apartment.
The Museum is relatively small, tucked amidst the giant buildings of the University of Chicago’s Medical Center. The size, however, can be deceptive. Within the walls there is so much.
The Museum is packed with historical information, audio visuals, and art. There is the story of the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington.
Harold Washington was uniting those left out by the democratic machine in Chicago. He was in the midst of this important work when he suffered a heart attack which ended his life. Had you heard of Harold Washington’s story, a man who President Obama would later recall in his speeches? I know I had not.
Their names are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Harold Washington, Frederick Douglas, Ida Wells, Du Bois, Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Bob Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Barrack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jesse Jackson, Bobby Rush, Carol Moseley Braun, Dorothy Tillman, Jewel Lafontant, William W. Lee, Thurgood Marshall, and Ralph Tuner and that is only a few. I did not know them for I did not wish to hear and read their stories.
Ben Carson recently referred to African Slaves as “immigrants.”
The erasure and complicity of people like myself who inherit and comply with the culture of whiteness and white supremacy, however, goes far beyond what many pundits berated Ben Carson for when he minimized the experience of those stolen from African for slave trade in the Americas. It would be easier if white supremacy was as easily seen.
I have erased far more than the slave ships and the Maafa.
I have erased inventors and leaders.
I have erased families and ancestors.
I have erased Queens and empires.
I have erased speakers and preachers.
I have erased art and culture.
I have erased.
What is it like to be a white person in a museum dedicated to history I have actively erased?
Well it involves confronting my own complicity and privilege and choosing to listen to stories whose time is long overdue.
As a person of faith, I draw upon the Christian tradition to give me strength against seemingly insurmountable systems of the white supremacist hetero-patriarchy that have demonized and dehumanized for so long.
Dorothy Day in her book Loaves and Fishes wrote:
“One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”
My resistance to talking about race must be put aside. My need to affirm myself and my own identity must be put aside. My fear that I may say the wrong thing and be corrected or the fear that I may not know must be put aside. My guilt in complicity with white supremacy must be overcome and I must move to concrete, faith filled action in the world to overturn systems of evil in our midst. I must humbly walk with God, not looking to affirm myself and become “woke” but to journey down a road of repentance, restoration, and transformation.
When confronted with racism in the media and the reality of white terrorism against communities of color, I think the white community may ask, as we often do:
What am I supposed to do about it?
The answer in this case is clear. We must go; we must listen, look, and seek to understand. For students at LSTC or the University of Chicago, it is only a 10-minute walk to the DuSable Museum of African American History and it is a Smithsonian Affiliate.
An email from the Founding Director of the Museum of African American History and Culture:
As many of you may know by now, on Wednesday, May 31st, a noose was found in the history galleries at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans. Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.
Our museum is a place of learning and solace, a place to remember, to reflect and to engage in important discussions that help change America.
This was a horrible act, but it is a stark reminder of why our work is so important.
In an show of strength, our colleagues from across the Smithsonian Institution, led by our sister museum National Museum of the American Indian, held a “Solidarity March” yesterday, coming to the NMAAHC. To see pictures of the Smithsonian Institution standing in solidarity against hate click here to go to our Tumblr.
The great work we do continues, and I hope you will continue to be part of it.
All the best,
Lonnie G. Bunch III
Karl Anliker (he/him/his) is a first year student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the Master of Divinity program. Karl most recently served with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at All Peoples Church that Karl first proclaimed #BlackLivesMatter and his determination to resist white supremacy, more fully understand his privilege, and move white communities to real solidarity began. Karl lives with his wife Charlotte in Hyde Park, Chicago where they find joy in walking around the neighborhood and a sun room garden.