Summer Reading and Racism

What have you been reading this summer? In almost every group of which I am a part, people are reading books about the history of race in this country and the way that history has brought us to the events of 2020.
For instance, I am in a small book club in Peoria with my daughter, who lives here. We have met twice this summer sitting far apart from each other in a backyard. There are several sets of mothers and daughters; most of the women are neighbors, and most attend Roman Catholic churches here. The other night, one of them invited all of us to the online study her church is having on the book “White Fragility.” The church my husband serves has a group led by a member of the church that usually meets in a brewery. During the pandemic, they are meeting online. The young elder who is leading the group chose “How to Be An Antiracist” to study for the last several weeks.
In every committee meeting of which I have been a part in the presbytery these last several weeks, the committee members have talked informally about similar studies in their congregations. And the committees have talked among themselves about their committee work and how it can address racism. I will soon be part of a study of the book “White Too Long” that will be led by my colleague in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery for Presbytery and Synod leaders from around the country.
I will get to that book once I finish “How to Be An Antiracist.” I find the style used by the author of this book, Ibram X. Kendi, to be very compelling. He uses stories from his own life to reflect the arc of the discussion of race in this country. It has made me think about how I was taught about race as I was growing up, albeit in a very different place and time and in very different circumstances from his.
Rosa Parks staged her protest on a bus in Alabama when I was six weeks old. By the time I was in grade school a decade later, her act of bravery and political action was a part of the discussion of “current events” both at school and in the media. Wherever I first heard about her and in most of the subsequent discussions in which I heard about her act, it was presented in this way: Ms. Parks worked hard all day and was tired. She sat down in the first available seat on the bus and then when she was told to move, she was just too tired to do so.
Is that the way you also learned this piece of history? It was not until sometime in the last decade that I learned that was not the case at all. She may have been tired, but what she was tired of was racism. She was a civil rights activist and she and other leaders decided that she would be the one to take this action and force those in Montgomery and across the country to address the racism that pervades our culture. I imagined that schools were probably now teaching the truth of her act of courage.
I was surprised, then, when I was talking with my grandson a few weeks ago and the subject of Ms. Parks came up. I asked if he knew who she was. He said, “Wasn’t she the one who was tired and sat down on the bus?” I was astounded and quickly told him what I knew of the real story and told him he should look it up to see what the facts of the matter are. I could not believe that schools and the biographies created for children that he enjoyed when he was younger were still telling the story the same way I learned it 50 years ago.
As you have continued your own examination of race in this country or started that examination in a deeper way this summer, what have you learned that disabuses you of the “facts” that you were taught? How have you come to understand your own place in the racial history of this country in a different or deeper way? And, if you have not been studying the literature (books, podcasts, television offerings, etc.) that will further your understanding, what are you waiting for? There are opportunities everywhere for you to think more deeply about this topic and to see how our call to bring hope in the name of Jesus impels us to change.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago