The Humanizing Project: Addressing Racism and White Supremacy within Systemic Structures
The second in our Anabaptist theology series features an interview with Dr. Drew Hart of Messiah College on his book “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.” Our conversation looks at issues of embodied solidarity, ground-up thinking and organizing, systemic racism, reconciliation, dignity, and hope.
Keywords: Anabaptist, Racism, White supremacy, Reconciliation, Critical Race Theory, Solidarity, Hope, Dignity
Dr. Drew Hart is Assistant Professor of Theology at Messiah College. His interests and areas of expertise include the Anabaptist tradition, Black Theology and Black Church Studies, and issues of White Supremacy and Colonialism. He is the author of two books, “Trouble I’ve seen, Changing the way the Church views Race” and “Who will be a witness, Igniting activism for God’s Justice, love, and deliverance.”
1) How does defining racism as a systemic structure change the way we encounter this construct when compared to a classic definition about personal bias?
2) Describe what Hart means in defining a "humanizing project"?
3) Hart speaks of putting our bodies at the margins and in new places. What does it mean for activism to be fully embodied?
4) How do structures of white supremacy control our sense of limited envisioning?
5) How does Donna Hick's construct of dignity relate to the work of justPeace and peacebuilding?
Brueggemann, W. (1978). The prophetic imagination. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
G. I. Hart, D. (2016). Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the way the church views racism. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press.
Hicks, D. (2011). Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict. New York, NY: Yale University Press.
To see that our lives are bound up in one another, that we all have human dignity, right. Um, and that we are all seeking for the wellbeing and the flourishing of all people, not just our own people that we identify with. White supremacy is shaping people away from that. But It requires, you know, some pretty radical transformations in terms of the kind of people we're going to be with others.
You are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at musicpeacebuilding.com, exploring intersections of peacebuilding sacredness, community creativity, and imagination through research and story. In our last podcast, we looked at Anabaptist perspectives of peace. In the, between times we have experienced a reckoning of the violence of our racialized systems in the United States. This second podcast in the Anabaptist series, an interview with dr. Drew Hart interspersed with quotations, from his book trouble, I've seen changing the way the church views racism offers a timely exploration of issues of race and white supremacy.
This book takes a critical look at the structures of white supremacy within church and the degree to which racism is a construct that needs to be addressed through structural and systemic change. Dr. Hart employs a language of Christian theology to speak to the work of addressing racial injustice and white supremacy as work that engages personal examination and transformation. Putting our bodies in solidarity with those at the margins and reconciling our fractured relationships. While this podcast explores racism within church and larger society. It is my hope that I, as a teacher might think about how I might transfer the lessons of dr. Hart's scholarship to my own ongoing discernment and my secular yet sacred work within music classrooms. I began by asking dr. Hart about his spiritual and religious formation.
It all began on the campus of Messiah college. Um, in fact, it's interesting. I went there as a biblical studies major and always had at least some idea that my vocation calling was moving towards ministry in some form. But, uh, when I got there, I got introduced to this word Anabaptism and really didn't even know what it was or meant and no background to that. You know, as far as I was concerned, there were anti-baptists, you know, I was like, what's wrong with the Baptist? You know, I don't know, but I'm slowly and surely engaging with my different professors. You know, I got a sense of the kind of peace tradition, the emphasis on taking Jesus seriously. Um, I think it was clear that those who identified as pacifists within the biblical and religious studies department, strong pacifism was there. Um, certainly emphasizing certain social questions.
Now it was probably a little bit hard for me to parse out at that time. What was Anabaptism, what was just scholarship in general? You know, all that, it's all mixed and mashed together, but that was my introduction. And then when I was, uh, getting ready to graduate from Messiah college, I got a phone call from the senior pastor at Harrisburg Brethren in Christ church. Uh, and he wanted to come out and meet me. Um, he was preparing one of their youth, pastors were leaving, uh, and they heard about me. And so my senior year, he came out on campus and we had a meal and just conversed. And honestly what attracted me about the church was not that it was Anabaptist. It was actually just the conversations around race that they were having as a congregation that was built into their vision. Um, and that's something that I was passionate about.
And so leaving Messiah college, I wouldn't have identified as Anabaptist, but I did begin wrestling with some of the themes that are really critical to Anabaptism right. Wrestling with questions around peace and violence. Um, certainly the idea of following Jesus, being more central to Christianity than just, you know, adoring him right. In some broad sense. And so I went to, there not necessarily identifying as a Baptist, but appreciating the conversations and the questions that it raised for me in my own walk and journey. But I would say while I was there in that community, um, a lot of things began to happen probably quietly, right. Um, the kind of hospitality that I received, I was a stranger and literally had people put me up in their homes, um, which I just thought was crazy. Like, why you got this random black guy in your home for months right before I was able to get settled and, um, get situated.
And so the kind of hospitality that I received was moving that the emphasis of the church in terms of some of the social concerns that they had. Um, I just thought it was really beautiful the way that it was kind of being fleshed out in community. Um, and it wasn't a perfect community, either we wrestled and I disagreed with some stuff that was happening there. Um, and so all of that was happening. Uh, but I was only there for about three and a half years, even as a youth pastor there. I never identified as AnaBaptist, which is interesting. Um, no, I, again, I think I had some inclinations and leanings in that way, but when I left and went back home to begin my MDiv program, um, in Philly, I actually became associate pastor for my home church that I grew up in.
And it was actually at that point when I was in seminary, I was reconnecting with friends from my old social networks and that I realized that, you know, these AnaBaptists did something to me. Right. Um, and then, and so I actually, while I wasn't a part of the Anabaptist community and when I first started referring to myself as an Anabaptist and for me, you know, if I were to sum up the oversimplification definition for me of what that meant was taking Jesus seriously, right. Then that's usually the language I kind of sum it down to. Right. And how to do that in community with others. And so, yeah, that was my journey. That's how I got into the Anabaptist community. And then it was really, while I was in Philadelphia, that I started connecting with, um, many more black and Brown and a Baptist leaders, particularly in multiracial communities that are all throughout Philly. I often say Philadelphia is the best place to be at a Baptist in the world. It's just beautiful. There are different kinds of Anabaptist expressions that exist in the city. Hmm. No,
I feel like I remember in the book, how much I loved your little vignette yet of the religious studies professor, who everybody cited as being ultra liberal feminist, and then you walked into classroom and it was kind of coming face to face with, with a different sense of Anabaptism. It was like that, that was fascinating.
That's right, it Was Rita finger, finger, um, old Mennonite woman who's she has a, she stumbled in her speech and just a sweet but serious scholar. Um, and yeah, I mean, she was half forcing us to take close readings of the text, right. And to wrestle with what kind of Jesus do we see being revealed right. In these stories. Um, and it was clear, you know, Jesus identified with women in a different way than I had ever grasped at that time. Um, and so eventually the rumors around her that she was some radical feminists that hates men all broke down and I realized, you know, no, she's trying to teach us the way of Jesus, but through scholarship, right?
Yeah. Hart writes of a process of taking Jesus seriously, that requires learning to see again, he writes this call to not go with your gut, to move toward an intimate, transformative and relational solidarity with marginalized and oppressed people. Is not easy.
It requires learning to see again from oppressed people's perception of things, rather than through one's own lens. Was the idea of vulnerable witness. And then I put that side by side with what your book was talking about, about kind of the bottom up work and this idea that Jesus identified with the poor and hungry and invited them to participate in a kingdom of justice and peace in which the most vulnerable are no longer neglected. He joined in their lives and experienced their struggles. Can you talk about what you write about, about bottom up thinking and this idea of vulnerable witness?
Yeah. Um, I guess, I mean, the roots of it is, and it is it's been deeply shaped by, I mean, I would say like I'm complex, cause I am both shaped by, uh, I often say now say the radical discipleship side of Anabaptism and the kind of prophetic tradition in the black church. Right. And it's kind of a fusion of those two things. But, but I think for me, when I think about, um, Anabaptism in this kind of bottom up, you know, there's this deep suspicion of the powers of elitism of top down measures that are coercive, um, that ultimately often are so violent. You know, there's a way in which I don't know. I look around in our society and I see like so much hope put in solely into like the system and electoral politics. Right. And I'm not someone who opts out of electoral politics, a position that some Anabaptists have taken, that's not my position at all, but it seems like a strange posture to put so much hope in electoral politics and top down politics.
And in some ways advocating the potential for grassroots movements on the ground. And in some ways it is neglecting like the redistributing of power, right. From the bottom up rather than concentrated top-down power. And so I think for me, redistributed power is number one, I think more ideal. Right. Um, that's what I think, like organizing on the ground, connecting one-on-one with people, inviting them to participate and join in what's happening, um, is a much more beautiful way to embody the very thing that you're ultimately working towards. I think we have less control than we would like to think also. There's a way of looking at history in terms of like, who are the Kings and the presidents. Right. But I think there's another way to look at what's happening on the ground. And so like I love, uh, scholars like Vincent Harding, right. He tells his a book called "there is a river" and it's just a history of black folk struggling and resisting from the jump, right from the moment that they're being captured in Africa to coming over here, that there's always this long river of struggle and resistance that's happening on the grassroots.
Um, and sometimes we miss that powerful story in the change that has come from that. Right. Um, because we're always looking up and we're not seeing what's actually happening on the ground. And so I think, um, yeah, peacemaking, um, that is what does it mean for it to be embodied? Right. I think you wrote about putting our bodies in new places. What do we do with our actual bodies? How do our bodies disrupt the status quo? How do I mean, in some ways, if you think about this, my crazy thought this morning, I was thinking about the language of like civil religion and then civil disobedience, right. Civil religion so I. I read it more negatively than many scholars have, because I think that societies want to, they want you to obey a particular way of being citizen in the society. that up keeps empire in some ways.
Right. Um, and, and so what does it mean for our bodies for the best option is for our bodies to be disobedient to empire and the way the narratives that are told to what it looks like to be good, a good citizen, right? Like oftentimes that perpetuates, whether it be, you know, prison, industrial complex, or military complex around the world, all these things that are tied into being a good citizen. Right. Right. And so what does it mean for us to embody disobedience in a good way? Right. Um, and I think that our imagination, again, for our presence, with our neighbors in our communities, um, needs to be reimagined in radical ways often.
Yeah. Hart's language of empire and limited vision reminds me of Walter Brueggeman's book, prophetic imagination. Often speaking of the importance of the arts, Brueggeman writes of the resistance to forms of religion that are aligned to limited visions of empire and human conquests. He writes hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality, which is the majority opinion. Hope is subversive for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question. Our conversation moved into struggles that Hart's own students had had with limited envisioning as they considered the book, the color of money on the role of monetary systems and policy and suppressing black bodies and voices. It was interesting that towards the end of the book,
as she begins to thinking about the idea of reparations, right. Um, I was watching how my different students were reacting because all of them understood the argument. Um, but there was a way in which the first response among some of my white students was, it wouldn't be fair if we took something from white people. That was their first response. After hearing all of this stuff, they were worried about the impact it was going to have on white people. If there were some kind of reparations. And I just thought it was a really strange response, right? In some ways, um, they lacked the complete capacity to empathize with the black people that they just learned, all this history about that for them, they'd say it was transformational. It changed their whole understanding of the history and all that. And still, they still are empathizing that their biggest concern is what's the impact on white people, right?
So that literally race was, um, managing and controlling their empathy and identification with others. It limited the capacity to, in some ways to be fully human with all human beings, a shared humanity, right. It wasn't a shared humanity. It was a white humanity still being privileged, even as they can identify, discuss and articulate very well. How anti-black oppression has played out in the 20th century. And I guess that's one way of looking at like, this problem is, um, what does it mean to be fully human, in the sense to actually, um, fully share in the human condition and see us all as participating in that, to see that our lives are bound up in one another, that we all have human dignity, right. Um, and that we are all seeking for the wellbeing and the flourishing of all people, not just our own people that we identify with.
It seems that white supremacy is shaping people away from that. Right. So that, you know, the primary concerns is whiteness. It is a sustaining that even as they're wrestling with questions of justice and want to say that it's wrong. Right. And so I think that's just one example I think, of, of what it means to be, to, to participate in this humanizing project. I think at the end of the day, when we step back, nobody wants to think of themselves as people who are, are apathetic to slavery, to Jim Crow, you know, or to mass incarceration today, or whatever else we want to talk about, but it requires, you know, some pretty radical transformations in terms of the kind of people we're going to be with others. Um, that I think we're not aware of how it negatively impacts white people. Not just, I think there's so much conversation around white privilege and and talking about the economics of it, but, but it misses the human side of things. Also in terms of the kind of people we are, the kind of character we have in how we interact
drew Hart notes, that one of the problems that often leads to white defensiveness is our definition of the term racism. Racism is often defined as quote, personal prejudice or hatred of someone of a different race. This definition protects those who unconsciously quote, operate out of racial bias because they can always deny it. Instead of choosing a definition that invites personal judgment, defensiveness and individual realities, Hart invites us to adopt critical race theory, choosing a more systemic definition of racism. A more systemic definition invites us to examine our role, complicity and conscious and unconscious responses within larger racialized systems. In. So doing, we engage in the collective work of a humanizing project
Speaker 4 (17:55):
so then you talk, talk about solidarity. I think this continues this conversation, and you write solidarity requires that socially advantaged people realize that their life in this racialized society requires them to use their bodies. That goes back to our first conversation as a living sacrifice in joining in the struggle and encountering the presence of Jesus in new and unimagined ways. People will be amazed at how their fractured relationships with God, others in themselves are reconciled. So we're not only talking about reconciliation as the deconstruction of racism, but we're also talking about it as kind of a hope for the repair of all fractured relationships.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, so it's interesting. So I'll go back to my experience with that first church that I was a youth pastor at, and, you know, it had a, the language of racial reconciliation was really important to that congregation, but the more I struggled with how they talked about reconciliation, because it was, it was bringing people together, but it wasn't necessarily participating. I would, in my, my understanding of what that might mean, right. Participating in, um, the pursuit of justice and wellbeing for all people together, it was, you could have people who lived on the West shore right across from Harrisburg, which is a historically white area where black people were banned from right. Um, sending their kids to the schools that have better funding and this and that. And meanwhile, on Sunday morning, they're coming together with folks who are a part of the Harrisburg school district and their kids are, uh, experiencing under-funding and all kinds of challenges that are historic and go back decades.
And it seemed like that outer world had nothing to do with reconciliation, but it seems like if there's a way to think about reconciliation in terms of solidarity, right, on the ground, in the struggle together, joints right. Fully human together, and that your concerns and my concerns are bound up together and that we're going to collaborate and link arms in that kind of real way. Um, it seems to be a better context for meaningful reconciliation. Otherwise reconciliation feels cheap, right. If we play off Dietrich Bonhoeffer, right. Cheap reconciliation and costly reconciliation. Right. Um, so like, I think about some of the friends that I have now who, you know, so I'm a leader of a group in Harrisburg called free together. And one of the co-leaders is white woman, a friend of mine, Heather. And I think about the collaboration that we do on the work, like our friendship has been built out of co laboring together. Right. Um, and so that seems to be, and it doesn't necessarily have to be that specific context, but, but, but that kind of solidarity in the midst of actually struggling together for the flourishing of all in our neighborhood. That that is I think, a more meaningful way to think about reconciliation than just let's sing kumbaya or have a you know, potluck together. Yeah.
In his book explored solidarity through the language and model of a Jesus at the margins. He States, Jesus identified with the poor and the hungry and invited them to participate in a kingdom of justice and peace in which the most vulnerable are no longer neglected. He joined in their lives and experienced their struggles. Jesus knew what it was like to have a cousin executed by the powers that B He personally understood the vulnerable feeling of being picked up at night, put through an unfair trial and executed by the authorities without anyone to champion his cause dr. Drew Hart. And I then entered a conversation about the power of religious traditions that are born on the underside of power.
But honestly, like my dissertation, I actually fully went in and so my dissertation put black theology and Anabaptism in conversation. And I often joke and say, it was just me working out my own problems. Right. Um, but it was his thinking about how both of these traditions, you know, the black church and the black prophetic tradition in particular, you know, along with, um, Anabaptism that you have, these two Christian movements that are born on the underside of Christendom. And then you could say white supremacy partially with Anabaptist it's in the early phases of colonialism at that moment. Um, but certainly the black church, right. Completely under that. And so for me here are two traditions that help us in different ways, both think through questions around, uh, Christiandom, right? Christian supremacy course of lead being pushed down on society, as well as white supremacy.
And how do we think about the racialization of our society today? Um, and they do it in a There's a creative exchange that can kind of go on. Um, but, but on similarity front, like they both are turning to the person of Jesus and saying, let's take seriously the particularities of Jesus, right. His life and teachings and death. Anabaptists usually emphasizing the peacemaking of Jesus. Uh, I'd say that, um, that the black church and the African American tradition has often emphasized, um, you know, the liberation of Jesus, uh, participating in the liberation of God and the, um, Jesus's solidarity and identification with the oppressed. Right now, you could say that there are themes of each and on either side to some degree, but certainly those emphases, right. Those different angles. And so I think that that's kind of, for me really important to think, and it opens me up then to think about, you know, what are other Christian traditions that help us understand and see Jesus from the underside.
Right. Because I mean, the challenge that we find now is that Jesus has been so deeply domesticated, um, whitened. Right. I often now say Jesus has been made a mascot for the status quo and the social order. Right. Um, and, and so he, um, has been misrepresented and mangled in so many ways that he, Jesus is used as an ideological weapon, right. To further oppression and injustice. So often in our world, which seems so strange if anyone actually reads Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And so for me, um, how do we rediscover and encounter Jesus in the world, anew, but not from that top down mascot, whitened Jesus, but instead, um, the Jesus that, you know, that black folk discovered when they stole away from slave masters in the, in the woods to encounter, you know, a liberating God, like that's the Jesus that I think is, is needed in our world today. And, um, and so I think about Anabaptism in that kind of way as a broader conversation of, um, just the way on a global level, Christianity has been so mangled and diseased and in so many ways in which, um, if there's going to be hope for Christianity moving forward, Jesus and Christianity need to be salvaged. Um, and I think that that Anabaptism is one of the traditions that are really participating in that, um, discourse, but also embodying it on the ground.
Mm. And I think that's one of the things that has struck me as so uniquely about Anabaptism is that it really it's, it's a, it's almost a theology that rejects the idea of theology . It's a lived theology in many ways. Yes. In the epilogue of his book, heart relates the fear of being pulled over at gunpoint, by police for a lapsed car registration. He details how black youth are routinely trained to dehumanize themselves and sacrifice their dignity. As I reflect upon Hart's story, I think about Donna Hicks work on dignity within the field of peacebuilding - in her book on that subject IX States, dignity is different from respect. Dignity is a birthright. We have little trouble seeing dignity. When a child is born, there is no question about children's value and worth, treating others with dignity then becomes the baseline for our interactions. And when a mutual sense of worth is recognized and honored in our relationships, we are connected. She later writes of injuries to dignity. We feel injuries to our dignity at the core of our being they are a threat to the very essence of who we are worse.
The perpetrators get away with harming us and the injuries usually go unattended. If we continue to harm dignity, we will see more broken hearts, more broken families and more intractable conflicts over the world, until we understand and accept the truth about the toxic emotional power of the violation of dignity. I invite us all to embark and continue on a dignity enhancing, humanizing project that recognizes worth and value of black lives. A walk of addressing systemic racism within our society and culture. I am starting my own walk. I returning to unread books on black history and racism and listening to new podcast voices with expertise on this subject. In music education, I highly recommend a new podcast on the score, urban music education podcast on white fragility. And most importantly, I recommend the penetrating scholarship of dr. Drew Hart from Messiah college, his newest book, who will be a witness igniting activism for God's justice, love and deliverance is available for preorder. Now
Speaker 5 (28:22):
This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown college, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding thinking deeply. We reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at musicpeacebuilding.com.