Confronting White Supremacy in Historical Erasure and the Faith to Respond – Karl Anliker, MDiv Student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingOne 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. [1]

african american museum.jpg
Outside view of the Museum of African American History 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:[2]

Dusable.jpg
Twitter Statement from the DuSable Museum of African American History.

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.

DuSable Entry.jpg
Main Entrance to the DuSable Museum of African American

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.

Slow to Greatness.jpg
Photo of the Harold Washington Exhibit at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

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.”

NAACP.jpg
A screenshot of a Tweet where Steve Kopack and the NAACP respond to Carson’s words.

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.

KKK.jpg
Display from the DuSable Museum of African American History

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.

QUOTE WALL.jpg
Quote and image of DuSable Museum of African American History founder, Margaret Burroughs.

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
Founding Director


head shot.jpgKarl 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.


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/31/us/african-american-museum-noose/index.html

[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/noose-found-african-american-history-museum-washington-dc/

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9 thoughts on “Confronting White Supremacy in Historical Erasure and the Faith to Respond – Karl Anliker, MDiv Student, LSTC

  1. Smitha Das Gunthoti

    Thank you for the great information regarding DuSable Museum of African American history. It is a new knowledge for me.

    Like

  2. Clyde B. Easter

    Hi Karl. Thank you for your post. Your visit to the DuSable Museum reflects your determination to hear, know and understand the stories of people of African descent in America. For this, I applaud you. Intentional engagement and actions like yours move us closer to racial reconciliation and equality in America. If you are not already doing so, I would also suggest that you seek out living black and brown persons for their stories as well. Hear them and as much as possible immerse yourself in their day-to-day lives. In this way, you will become more than an intellectual observer, but an embodied experiencer. This unity of feeling and action is what solidarity really is. As Christians, we have an ideal model for this physical identification. His name is Jesus. The transcendent God loved sinful humankind so much that he became fully human, subjecting himself to joys and triumphs of the human condition. But not only this, God became a particular human, at a particular time in history – a lower-class Jewish male living in 1st century Palestine under Roman domination. This is significant because as a lower-class Jew, he identified with the those Jews who suffered mainly from Rome’s systemic and structural oppression. But as a male in a patriarchal society, he possessed a measure of privilege – privilege which he used to lead a revolution against the status quo. What am I saying here? If whites are to ever know what it’s like to have to negotiate the subtleties of systemic racism day in and day out, if they are to empathize enough black and brown bodies to feel the urgency of destabilizing white supremacy and its privilege, they must not only intellectually grasp the plight of black and brown identities in America, but must what they feel. And they must go beyond knowing this experience to using whatever privilege they have to improve it.
    For whites that profess to be Christian, I urge this action even the more, for it is at the foundation of their faith and integrity as believers. How might this embodiment look? Perhaps whites can shadow a black or brown friend or colleague for a day, a week or longer. Or maybe they could spend several hours doing normal things with him or her – like shopping, riding the bus, attending a movie, visiting the doctor’s office, paying special attention to how your friend or colleague reacts and how others react to them. In other words, take a walk in their shoes. If the thought of this involvement makes whites at all uncomfortable, I pose for your consideration that that’s a good thing because the discomfort suggests an opportunity for growth. Congrats again for the strides you have already made toward dismantling white supremacy. Keep up the good work and let any signs of resistance be your gauge that you are on indeed on the right track.

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  3. Chelsey

    Great read Karl. I too, must admit that I have followed the culture of whiteness and white supremacy. It was not until I had taken this Maymester course, that I had heard of the DuSable Museum of African American History. How have I been to the Field Museum, but I have not visited the DuSable Museum of African American History? It is simple, I also did not wish to listen. Thank you for this article; I will be visiting the DuSable Museum of African American History and I will “listen, look, and seek to understand.”

    Like

  4. Amy Asendorf

    Thank you, Karl, for this important and poignant confession. I am so glad that you have named the erasure in which you (and I, and many others) have actively participated. In particular, I want to highlight what you said toward the end about resisting the fear of being corrected and resisting the urge to become “woke.” It occurs to me that both of these urges spring from the toxic masculinity of white cis-heteronormative culture and capitalistic frameworks in which we must compete, we must win in every social interaction, even in hearing and responding to oppression. Such a domineering modus operandi proves not only counter-productive but extremely harmful: by prioritizing one’s own need to “win,” we center our own experience over and against the experience of those we are seeking to hear and understand.

    You are right to point out that, as a white cis-hetero woman, I have the choice to actively listen to and believe the stories of Black Americans, or to ignore them; I have the choice to either confess or to make excuses; between amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized, and silencing them. My privilege means that I am afforded this choice. Yet, while my white privilege allows me the luxury to ignore stories of racial oppression, my baptismal identity in Christ demands that I listen to them. How will I tell the story of LSTC, for instance? Will I paint a picture of a progressive institution that boasts diversity and inclusion, or will I tell the story of how our building required the destruction and the forced displacement of those living in what was previously section 8 housing? Will I choose to tell the story of those who continue to feel unwelcome and erased at our school such as students of color (especially women and femmes), international students, and transgender and gender non-conforming students?

    Like

  5. PJ

    Karl, thank you for your frank and honest reflection. Recognizing that we as European Americans have participated in “erasure” is an important first step. I appreciated that in your blog post you shared the ways in which some of these erased and suppressed stories have been uncovered for you. Listening first is necessary for sharing and amplifying.

    Like

  6. Hans Becklin

    Karl,

    Thank you for putting this into words–“active erasure”. It is active indeed–and something that we must actively fight against through humbling ourselves and learning the true and complex histories.

    I remember visiting O’Hare airport as a young boy and asking my parents who Richard M. Daley was (I remember distinctly seeing a huge banner in the terminal saying “Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley Welcomes You!)

    They told me that he had (under dubious circumstances) succeeded his father as Chicago’s mayor, actively erasing the political milestones represented by both Jane Byrne and Harold Washington! It wasn’t until I heard an episode of “This American Life” all about Harold Washington that I even knew about this great pioneer.

    Like

  7. Marissa Becklin

    Karl, it was such a gift to spend a week with you in the midst of Dr. Thomas’ course on intersectionality and to learn about your experiences and perspectives. I thank God for the insight that you offer in this article, as your ability to be vulnerable and speak honestly about erasure and internalized white supremacy are a gift to others who have also been complicit in this erasure—I speak primarily of myself here, but I am sure that this gift of yours has touched the lives of others as well. In a world that makes claims about the impossibility of these kinds of honest and repentant conversations, your witness here is proof that those narratives are false. We are called to bear witness to the pain, oppression, and sin that we have participated in and to repent by doing differently in the future. I particularly love your comment about not “looking to affirm myself and become ‘woke’ but to journey down a road of repentance, restoration ,and transformation.” Your words here are powerful—this work is about gospel-centered honesty and vulnerability, not about the acquisition of another status. Thank you for this article, and peace to you as you continue your seminary education.

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  8. Nash Shaffer

    Karl’s experience and my experience with the Dusable Museum are two different things. I was born in 1973 about 5 years outside the Civil Rights movement which means that my teachers in the 1970’s and 1980’s were either GI’s of Baby Boomers who were eye witnesses and participants to the Civil Rights Struggle. Therefore it was mandatory that we visit the Dusable Museum. The Dusable Museum was an every year field trip sponsored by my school or church. It was important to the adults that raised me that I knew my African American History. And that history was nothing to be ashamed of. A noose left at the African American Museum is reminder that there our those who deny history and wish that this history would go away. I learned in 7th grade about a tribe in Africa called the KUSH tribe. The Kush tribe failed to pass their history down to their children. Therefore their children repeated the mistakes of their elders. If African, Native, European Americans do not rehearse the ugly history of our past to our children people like Governor George Wallace will rise again….oops….it already has happened with number 45 who in the words of Dr. King said, “lips are dripping with words of interposition and nullification”. It can not be just okay for Jews to rehearse the horrors of the Holocaust and African Americans not rehearse the horrors of 2 million souls laying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean because of the slave trade. If we do not talk about the crimes committed against humanity (Africans) those crimes will be repeated not just against Africans but also against those who have no voice.

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  9. Vickie D Johnson

    Karl, your words come from your heart and certainly reach my heart. I am grateful that you have had the experience of the DuSable Museum. It is a hidden jewel in our backyard. Thank you for your admission of erasure. Just hearing you say this makes me feel that somebody finally gets it! Your willingness to be vulnerable so that you can put your privilege in its place is the type of outcome that we expect from Intersectionality.

    Like

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