A group of 26, mostly Oakhurst members, (15 Anglo, 10 African-American, 1 Asian) gathered to discuss how race impacts our lives at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. The following question was posed to the participants, who were given ten minutes to write down their responses.

What compromises or sacrifices have you had to make in order to co-exist racially here at Oakhurst? In worship? In committees? In social interactions?

Written responses were then collected and shared anonymously by the RED Team with the group to facilitate discussions on how race impacts our lives at Oakhurst. What follows, first, is a description of one of the powerful topics from the discussion, and second, a comprehensive list of the written responses submitted.

Discussion

During the discussion many ideas, feelings, and experiences were shared as the RED Team read responses. One of the most discussed topics, and what we’ll focus on here, was the concept of “Micro-Aggression” comments made in various church settings and generally in society. A micro-aggression is

“A comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.” (Merriam-Webster)

Minorities are fluent in this language of racial bias, experiencing it every day while the majority white community is many times unaware of the implications of such comments. A specific example during the discussion was provided by a black female in attendance. She stated that after submitting a written commentary for Advent season at Oakhurst a white member asked her if she wrote the commentary or if she had help with it. Whatever the intent of the comment, it sent the message that a black female shouldn’t be able to write a high quality commentary for Advent season and would need someone else to help.

This micro-aggression, intended or unintended, reinforces a stereotype and leaves underlying pain and division. As a congregation living in the complexity of the power of race, intentionally recognizing, discussing, and addressing these comments is an integral part of our continued growth together. It’s not easy to do but honesty and thoughtfulness, in understanding the impact of our words or in addressing the words that hurt us across racial lines, is integral to our existence as a church headed into a transitional future.

Pastor Nibs, many times, has been our “go-to” person when micro-aggressive comments work to fester and divide us. He has been our point of conflict resolution across racial lines. With Nibs’ retirement, the Oakhurst congregation is now entering a new era, and this work cannot be lost in transition. We as a congregation need to pick up the work.

The RED Team will continue to provide the time, space, and avenue to discuss racial issues as well as be a vessel of support for members to bring their questions or concerns for resolution. But it is also on all of us to continue this work as the body of Christ in worship, in committees, and in our relationships with each other.

Responses

Below are the written comments from members responding to our central question. The discussion ran into many other areas, as you’ll see, highlighting the good work we’ve started and the essential work we must continue as a congregation.

What compromises or sacrifices have you had to make in order to co-exist racially here at Oakhurst? In worship? In committees? In social interactions?

  • Racially: I feel comfortable around my own. Worship: I feel like I can’t worship like I need to worship without being judged. Committees: My way of solving issues may not always be popular.
  • Compromise: feeling as if I am straddling a line between black/African American folk and white/Anglo folk, but not belonging to either group racially.
  • Accepting the testing and tracking that happens in our schools, which is frankly terrible for all kids! It perpetuates racism in our schools and is fundamentally developmentally inappropriate for our little ones, and stresses my kindergarteners out.
  • Over the last ten years, I’ve learned that I can’t make any assumptions about how minority people feel at this church. I used to think everyone got along fine here, but I’ve learned from talking with others that micro aggressions occur all the time. I along with every white person here have to actively deal with our own racist tendencies. I have learned to listen more and to ask questions, especially of others who have a different skin color.
  • I have had to be open to and respectful of other points of view, which are different from my own experiences.
  • We live in Decatur because they have one of the stronger school systems in Georgia. But I don’t think the schools are diverse enough – certainly not as diverse as community where I grew up. Where in Georgia is it possible to achieve a good education with a diverse student body?
  • I’ve had a hard time getting past feelings of guilt and privilege to really share my own struggles with others at Oakhurst.
  • Sometimes I have to focus on the person’s intentions rather than their impact when there are insensitive comments or micro aggressions.
  • Happy to do it, but reading and discussing books like White Rage are difficult. Racism always deeper and worse than I realized.
  • In worship I’ve had to give up lifelong “Presbyterian – decently and in order” expectations, but have grown through this process.
  • Compromises or sacrifices? Learning to be more patient, to listen more without interrupting. That’s a learning opportunity, not a sacrifice.
  • Compromises: worship that is high-spirited with drums, other instruments is loud! For a more calm worship, getting closer to God. Not being entertained to accept God. Committees: working together for the common good. For committees and church we all have comments to add to the pot.
  • Committees: I cannot do as much as I would like to do on the committee I chair because it has so many items (community concerns) it is hard to be heard. Some of the younger and newer members need to hear more of the history of the church and community.
  • Committees: in committees I’ve often refrained from being completely honest because we are a mixed race group. Socially, I sometimes feel excluded as a white person when a group of black people plan an event in my presence and I’m not invited.
  • I am white. I can’t think of any sacrifices I’ve made to keep coming to Oakhurst. I’ve compromised, maybe, by rethinking and rethinking what I might say to someone. The person that really irritates me here is white. I do appreciate being continually reminded of my privileged skin color and realize that people of color can see me coming and start forming their opinion.
  • The size of the congregation has meant less money for leadership in some areas: building maintenance, attendance at Presbytery events. We often seem like a very insular group.
  • We become more able to be unthinking when we act or speak to each other because we might think that all the hugs around make it OK.
  • I have become more aware as I get older how being pale skinned gets me recognition and acceptance in society. If my coloring were dark, my life would have been quite different.
  • I try to be more intentional about what I do or say so that residual racism (that I try to overcome) doesn’t get in the way of friendships and living and working with the congregation.
  • #1: not being able to joke freely about issues without someone feeling the need to respond to negate my statement. Therefore, sometimes I just shut up. Also not being able to be honest without being viewed as a Problem!
  • In some groups I’ve been involved with, I’ve been pushy and domineering – partly because of the nature of my role in the group. I’ve had to learn to step back and listen more. This is not particularly a racial thing, except that I’m white – terrible term – and haven’t recognized the privilege that has given until very recently.
  • As a black person, I sometimes have to downplay my own “rage” when discussing racism and social injustices.
  • Having my authority and responsibility challenged in worship.
  • Never thought about this, other than to observe that some members do or say things that others may consider racially insensitive without realizing it, and people seem reluctant to talk about or address this.
  • In our schools, the idea that all or most white kids are “gifted” upsets me profoundly. The compromise I make is staying silent and not actively trying to dispel these ideas.
  • Listening to/witness to pain/suffering/injustice of issues around race not easy.
  • I can’t think of anything and I’m white. This is probably my white privilege because I don’t feel I have to compromise based on race.
  • I don’t think this is a real sacrifice, but as a white person, coming to Oakhurst means putting illusions of white innocence on hold, and it means giving up the ease and familiarity of exclusively white space. Good and necessary – and small – sacrifices.
  • Time. Start and stop in worship service. Done at noon.
  • Unspoken kitchen territorial-ness
  • I don’t really feel that I have had to make sacrifices to co-exist racially at Oakhurst. Rather, I feel that being involved in different aspects of diversity and life at Oakhurst has helped me grow, not only as a Christian, but as a person. One thing that might be better is when someone speaks in another language, i.e. the scriptures, if it could be translated.
  • I’ve had to learn a lot about my whiteness and my white privilege here. While it is not quite a sacrifice, it has been very difficult and painful.
  • Sometimes I have had difficulty in maintaining a polite demeanor in answering questions. The questioner asks such a stupid question I want to say, did you leave your brain at home? That’s in a general situation. In committees, my education, work experience and life experiences are totally overlooked. I have been told in no uncertain terms that I do not know what I am talking about. This is also true with questions concerning my 20+ years of experience in a certain area. I sometimes feel patronized after participating in worship.
  • I remain silent about many statements made by someone that are racially biased. Many social attitudes are racially biased, many white people will not interact with black people. Worship is the place that seems to be racially neutral; many of the new white members are not interactive with black members.
  • Sacrifices to racially co-exist? In meetings, I’m used to my opinion being automatically valued as a white male. Hold back.