A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Racism and the Classroom

My friend and colleague at Ashland Theological Seminary, Dr. Mitzi Smith has written an important article on teaching about racism as a womanist biblical scholar. She writes,

As a biblical scholar teaching others to be responsible, critical, liberating readers of biblical texts, I affirm that no exegesis is without presuppositions, as Bultmann argued. The presuppositions that we bring to our analysis of texts are part of the matrix that is our social location. Our social location Smith is shot through with assumptions and judgments about race, class and gender. We live in a racialized world where we are asked to identify ourselves by socially constructed categories of racial distinction. Many of us live in segregated neighborhoods, attend segregated monochromatic schools with matching administrators and teachers, and worship in segregated churches.  How can we talk about biblical interpretation and not talk about race-- "the elephant" that is the room? To avoid critical discussions about race in biblical interpretation is to be complicit in a racialized status quo, for the end goal of biblical interpretation is contemporary significance. And what could be more significant to us than race and the oppressive houses that race built and maintains (churches, institutions, systems)?

 I offer a few brief recommendations.

  • Don’t avoid conversations about race because of discomfort. We selectively address topics uncomfortable for us or for students. The synoptic problem is uncomfortable for many students (it was for me), but we don’t avoid it.  Focus on providing a safe space for students to discuss uncomfortable, emotional topics while maintaining mutual respect.
  • Be intentional about assigning readings that address issues of race.  This may mean reading beyond one’s own interests.
  • Don’t rely on the minority faculty to address race, but insist upon diversity in all syllabi.
  • Engage in conversation with several minority faculty in biblical studies and across disciplines about addressing issues of race in the classroom. Don’t assume that one minority can speak for all or that all minorities think the same.
  • Recognize that while race is a modern construct, it is a form of othering. The Bible is replete with narratives that provide opportunities for talking about racism as a form of othering at both the micro (individual) and macro (systemic) levels.
  • Teach ourselves and students to read not from the place of our privilege but from the vantage point of the marginalized and oppressed.
Her entire article is worth your time and can be read here.

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