Dismantling Racism Word Cloud

Becoming Human: Dismantling Racism

During the season of Lent 2020, the University of St. Thomas and The Basilica of Saint Mary collaborated on an educational series toward dismantling racism that was called “Becoming Human.” The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States made online delivery necessary. This "online portal" provides access to the series as well as some additional tools that will help to engage in the work of transforming our communities.

The theory guiding this series is that the racial history we all inherit is dehumanizing for all of us, though it is dehumanizing for white folks in different ways than it is dehumanizing for people of color. The only way to “become human” is to confront the legacy of white supremacy and undergo a process of transformation, even conversion, to engage more humanely in the world, especially across the color line.

Key to this effort is learning the history of how white supremacy has been structured into the American legal system from its founding (week one), persisting beyond the era of Civil Rights especially through the “war on drugs” (week two), and leading to the contemporary reality of mass incarceration (week three). Learning the stages of development in racial identity can help to disrupt the “White Savior” complex, the tendency of white people to engage in efforts that are unhelpful at best, and patronizing at worst (week four). True social transformation can happen when there is a match between our unique gifts and the world's need. As Frederick Buechner put it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet” (week five). Since theology is a carrier, too, of white supremacy, learning about the Blackness of God might also help in recognizing the moral imperative behind this religious calling to engage in the work of social transformation (week six).

This series will echo the Christian cycle of creation-fall-redemption, starting with the theological idea that humans were created in the imago Dei, but fell into a sinful condition where persons, relations, and structures fail to function in the ways that God desires. Humans were created reflecting something of the divine life, but sin—especially the social sin associated with the domination of one over another—has diminished life, not only for people of color, but also for perpetrators. The final two sessions in the series will point to the hope that God is redeeming us from the condition in which we find ourselves. The series holds onto the hope that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, enlightening us, empowering us, and encouraging us to resist systems of oppression, and to cooperate in the task of reclaiming our common humanity.

 

Module One

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny, Chair of the Theology Department and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas, welcomes attendees to the first session of "Becoming Human."

Video: Civil War to Civil Rights
Dr. David Williard, Associate Professor of History at the University of St. Thomas, walks participants through a sequence of laws that structured white supremacy in the legal system in the United States from the time of the Civil War up to the Civil Rights Era.

Activity
“Project Implicit” is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition—thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. This activity asks you to take a test related to implicit bias as it pertains to race.

Reflection
After taking the test through Project Implicit, take a few moments to reflect on the findings, and write down some initial reactions. If you have never taken the test before, consider your first test a baseline. You might return to the test in future years to see if the results have shifted.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
PowerPoint
Video: Q&A
Further Reading

 

Module Two

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny welcomes attendees to the second session of "Becoming Human."

Video: The War on Drugs
Dr. Jessica Siegel, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of St. Thomas, guides participants through the impact of the 1980s "war on drugs" on black and brown people in the United States of America.

Activity
Play a game of Monopoly, using by the “Rules for Monopoly in a Stratified Society.”

Reflection
After playing the game of Monopoly using the rules for a stratified society, record your reactions. Describe what happened generally, and what happened to you specifically. How does this exercise influence how you think about the issue of the war on drugs and institutionalized racism in the United States?


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
PowerPoint
Video: Q&A
Further Reading

 

Module Three

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny welcomes attendees to the third session of "Becoming Human."

Video: Mass Incarceration
Dr. Amy Levad, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of St. Thomas, describes the dozens of incremental steps that took us from the "war on drugs" to a crisis of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects people of color in the United States.

Activity
“White Privilege” is a term that is difficult for some white folks to hear. In order to help situate where it came from and what was intended by it when it was initially coined, please read this short article by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Then take this quiz on buzzfeed, “How Privileged Are You?” For a bonus activity, go on this social privilege Scavenger Hunt.

Reflection
After taking the quiz on Buzzfeed, record your reactions. Are you surprised by the results? If you found you are more privileged than you realized, how will this affect how you navigate the world from here? Do your degrees of relative disadvantage help you to empathize with those who experience oppression, and do your degrees of advantage help to identify where work for greater equity is needed?


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Prezi
Video: Q&A
Further Reading

 

Module Four

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny welcomes attendees to the fourth session on "Becoming Human."

Video: Defeating the "White Savior" Complex
Dr. Amy Finnegan, Associate Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas, examines the "white savior complex," and identifies how it is inherently problematic.

Activity
Follow the instructions on the attached activity sheet to begin an exploration of your own cultural identity.

Reflection
Write a reflection about the process of completing the cultural genogram in this week’s activity.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

PowerPoint
Further Reading

 

Module Five

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny welcomes attendees to the fifth session on "Becoming Human."

Video: Mobilizing for Social Change
Dr. Michael Klein, Associate Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas, searches his family's stories and Minnesota's history as a means to enter humbly into engagement across lines of difference.

Activity
In order to find where your greatest gladness meets the world’s deepest need (Frederick Buechner), fill out this survey from Stanford University. You’ll receive a visualization that will help you know where to put your gifts and resources to work to end structural racism. Afterwards, translate your results onto the social change wheel.

Reflection
"We make the road by walking." Reflect on how we will learn about the relationship between who we are (identity) and how we work for change (agency); how we will connect the work we do to the work of others across identities, strategies, and movements; and how we will connect intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, and systemic change.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

PowerPoint
Further Reading

 

Module Six

Welcome
Kimberly Vrudny welcomes attendees to the sixth and final session on "Becoming Human."

Video: The Blackness of God
Dr. Kimberly Vrudny, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas, attempts to draw the series to a close by outlining stages of racial identity development, tracking the stages in lives of black folk as well as white folk. Then she discusses the "Blackness of God" by reference to a famous essay by AME theologian, James Cone.

Activity
Write a  “Letter to the Editor,” or “Letter to an Elected Official,” following the advice in the Community Tool Box. Think about how you will craft each section based on what you’ve learned in “Becoming Human.” What do you most want the wider community to know? And what would you like to see happen in the community as a result of taking in this knowledge? Be as concrete as possible.

Reflection
Reflect on the phrase, "Becoming Human," especially in conversation with Jane Alexander's sculpture depicting three monstrous men who represent (according to Vrudny's interpretation) "whiteness," insofar as they participate in the destruction of black and brown lives. Is it "monstrous" (i.e., "sinful" in theological vocabulary) for a culture to bestow privileges to some on the basis of ethnicity, do you think? Is it "monstrous" (i.e., "sinful" in theological vocabulary) for a culture to bestow privileges on the basis of gender, do you think—or is there a difference and, if so, why?


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
PowerPoint
Further Reading

 

Before you go:

Opportunity to dig deeper through travel abroad:
The Theological Roots of Nazism and Apartheid