About 75 people of different ethnicities, hailing from several counties and many churches, gathered at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Hayesville on February 7 for a forum on racism. From college-age to those old enough to remember the segregated 50s, they passionately discussed the state of racism today.
The forum, formally titled “Fifty Years Later: The State of Racism in America,” was led by William Mance, Episcopal church leader and chairman of the Diocese of WNC's Commission to Dismantle Racism. Mance combined audience participation with a video filmed in Jackson, Mississippi in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and other important milestones in the Civil Rights movement.
The forum began with participants defining terms: prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, scapegoating, and stereotyping. Those who spoke were honest and specific, while always remaining respectful to others. Personal anecdotes included one told by Donald Carter, associate pastor of Fort Henry Baptist Church in Hayesville. Carter explained that as a young black male, every time someone implied that he couldn't do something because of his ethnicity, he set out to prove the person wrong.
Mance led the audience to acknowledge that unlearning the racism we learn from our parents and society is never easy. One solution is for all of us to change ourselves first. Judith Alvarado, director of REACH who identifies as Latina/Indigenous, suggested, paraphrasing Gandhi, that everyone “Be the change that you want to see in the world today.”
Episcopalians take it as a mission to try to change our racist culture, starting by asking hard questions such as “Is racism a sin?” Despite the many examples cited showing that racism is still alive today, though in subtler forms than previously, participants left on an optimistic note, determined to move beyond discussions of “us and them” to just “us.”