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Does Christianity Support White Supremacy?



Interview with anti-racism consultant and theology scholar, Clair Minson


This interview was recorded on March 15, 2021. To watch the video, click here.


Wendy

I am excited today to talk to Clair Minson, who is the founder and principal consultant of Sandra Grace, LLC, which is a change management consulting firm specializing in issues of race, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the nonprofit sector - specifically in workplace development. Clair is also pursuing a Master of Divinity at Lutheran, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. And of course, I always have to say that Clair's a West Indian sister, so welcome, Claire. Thank you for coming. So, tell us a little bit about yourself personally and professionally.


Clair

Sure. I'm born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas. I've lived multiple lifetimes, though, in America. So, in my first iteration I finished high school in Baltimore, so I can actually claim it as home. And then went to college in Atlanta and pursued a degree in psychology and criminal justice, moved back to the Bahamas, had a little person, moved back to America to do grad school. I completed a degree in counseling. So, I'm a licensed therapist in the state of Maryland, and then kind of fell into workforce development and fell in love with the work of supporting and helping people reconnect with their identity and their skill set. And then I moved into more intermediary capacity building because I wanted to think bigger, and I wanted to impact the field. And that ended up looking like this intersection of race, racism and workforce development, and really examining those manifestations of racism and white supremacy, culture and workforce development and supporting practitioners move away from that framing, which led me then to New Orleans for work full time.


And then George Floyd was murdered. Everybody prior to George Floyd was murdered. And once we got to George Floyd, and we were in the middle of a pandemic, I decided, you know what, I'm going to lean into consulting full time. And it's legacy for me. So, Sandra Grace is my mother and my grandmother. And together their names mean “brave defender of humanity with unmerited favor.” And so that is how I lean into the work. And so right now I'm consulting full time, both locally and nationally, really internationally with groups in the workforce development ecosystem, who are, at the very least aware that they need to do something different and help and different as it relates to diversity, equity, inclusion, racial equity, antiracism depends on where they are on the spectrum, and supporting their journey. So, it's work that I am loving, it’s work that I feel called to do, in addition to that I’m in school full time, to move into ministry, like it still remains to be seen what that evolves into, but I'm in seminary answering that call as well.


Wendy

Brave defender of humanity with unmerited favor. I love that. Thank you. So, I know you have a deep interest in Black liberation, antiracism, that's sort of the foundation of your work. Would you tell us a little bit more about your work in this area? And please, you know, share a little bit about how it relates to workforce development?


Clair

Sure, gosh, where do we begin? I will say that I'm on a journey, right as it relates to, to really understanding what it means to be liberated, to be free. And then what it means what it means personally, what it means to then support people in organizations to understand that and then operate from that framework. And to want to support other Black people and non-Black people of color, to their own liberation and freedom, or in support of that journey. And when you add in the Christian context, for me, my work and my authority to do this work in particular is driven directly from my faith, right? And where I see God as the God of the oppressed, right God as a liberator, and I see justice. And I see that in the scriptures that I read. And when I say to do this work, I mean, specifically, to name racism, to name injustice, to name oppression, and then to help people name it, and then identify strategies to undo the harmful practices that they are doing.


And so liberation…means I guess if I had to define it… people who have been systematically and historically and currently oppressed get to define what their lives look like, the standards they want to live by, what success, wealth, what all of that means for them, and not having to constantly prove their value, prove their worth, put their dignity, and prove how they exist in this world…that the skills they have are recognized and valued. Just as much as white people's skills are recognized and valued. And so, so that's how I would answer that, at least to begin with.


Wendy

I love that. Thank you. And so, you mentioned a little bit about your faith. And you know, I know that you are studying for the ministry. How does your ministry relate to Black liberation?


Clair

That's a great question. And again, still evolving. But I believe that my path is black liberation theology. And so I've started delving into James Cone, and reading God of the Oppressed and really trying to understand theologians like him who have really led the way in this discussion, in this thinking. And then exploring what that means for me, exploring what I'm learning I need to do, exploring the ways in which the church at large, the church as an institution, and as an organization, and then the church as an organism…the people within it have perpetuated harmful narratives, white supremacy, the culture which has upheld racism, and then figuring out what my role and responsibility is in disrupting. And so, I do a lot of disrupting at school.


Wendy

Talk about that.


Clair

Sure, I have a few professors…one professor in particular that has created space intentionally in her classes to have very intentional discussions about racism and oppression, and the role that the church has played. And so, her ability to create the space started with… she had us read Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson.


Wendy

That’s an intense book.


Clair

It was a gut punch. And so, we read, and we write, and we talk about it. And I was the only Black person in class…it was very interesting, to say the least. And I'm glad that she created the space, to at least have the conversation and make people feel uncomfortable, to sit in their discomfort. And it allowed me to use not only my personal voice, but some of my professional voice. Although that wasn't the intent of the space, I have to be really mindful of the line there. But my disruption looks like most recently naming my awareness of my responsiveness and the silence of my white peers, during a discussion about racism and injustice in class.


And if we can't have this conversation, as we're on this ministry track, how are we going to support the communities when we're pastors; when we're Christian public leaders? How will we then initiate the conversations when we're in a society where [racism has] always been prevalent? We're not post-racial, we never have been. But in a society where one year later people are still traumatized, very triggered and traumatized from Breonna Taylor, whose death we just acknowledged and recognized, and then George Floyd, soon after. So, we have the conversation, and it allowed some folks to say what their silence was about. And I mean, when I tell you my stomach was in knots, because I don't know how you're going to respond. But I can't sit in silence and if I can model at least naming how I feel, and putting things on the table, then maybe, maybe somebody else will feel comfortable to do that, too. And so those are the ways that I've tried in that context to disrupt and just put the thing on the table, you know, say the thing and then we figure out from there where to go?


Wendy

Well, you know, so you said something about the fact that you have things to unlearn. As a Christian, a Black Christian woman, what sorts of things do you have to unlearn in order to lean into Black liberation as a Christian?


Clair

Yeah, so we were having a conversation recently in my pastoral care class about resilience and hope. And I struggled and actually had this realization during class that the ways in which the framing of resilience has been used against people who have been oppressed to say, like, you can keep pushing forward and really, in some ways…I connected it to this, this notion of exceptionalism. Like, you know, you can push through…and like the whole concept around grit…it totally negates the systemic oppression that we experience. Right? It's this white, Western, middle class framework that just does not acknowledge systemic, the very real systemic racism and oppression of Black people and other non-Black people of color experience. And so, I had to sit within that class like, ‘oh my goodness, how have I contributed to this?’ How have I bought into this notion of resilience as it relates to this context, this Christian context, specifically, and how have I encouraged others to be resilient in the face without naming the structural and systemic challenges that they were facing, but couching it under Christianity and faith and love, right? It's…


Wendy

Victim blaming…


Clair

…victim blaming, right. But we are not even conscious that it's victim blaming. And thankfully, there was another sister in the class that I could like…I named it…and we were able to have a conversation that allowed me to say, ‘okay, this isn't just me, I'm not making this up.’ Sometimes I can be conscious…and I think some of this is related to just internalization. And we've done so much harm. And so, now what does it mean to undo that? I haven't gotten that far yet. I've gotten to like, oh, my goodness, this is problematic. And I'm naming it in front of my peers. And now it's like, ‘okay, what does that mean for how I offer pastoral care, particularly in a city, like New Orleans, right, where, you know, Louisiana is home for segregation, and separate but equal. And what does that mean, in a historically Black context, with a white pastor? And with gentrification all around? And like, what does that mean for how I provide pastoral care, when that day comes, and even in my ministry and context setting now?


Wendy

Well, it's the perfect lead into my next question, and you've alluded to a little bit. But so, personally, for me, I have struggled with the church, right? I'm raised as a Christian, but really have struggled, because I keep trying to find messages that talk about freedom from oppression for Black people and other non-Black people of color. But I feel like I keep hearing instead, messages about forgiveness, acceptance, waiting for our rewards in heaven turned the other cheek, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it makes me wonder, in the moments when I am most vulnerable, I wonder whether or not Jesus supported racism. That the Bible support’s racism, because when I am that my most vulnerable around issues of race, I keep looking for a message from faith, my faith community that says, but we're moving towards something different. And I'm just all I keep hearing is okay, forgive, forgive. I don't always want to forgive. Yeah, I want justice. What do you say to that?


Clair

I see and read the Bible. And God is a God of justice. And forgiveness has its place. It's funny, because I was just reading one of my textbooks today, and it talked about forgiveness…if you understand the historical context of forgiveness, to operate out of forgiveness was countercultural in Jesus's context, because to hold a grudge against someone was seen as to have power, and to offer forgiveness was seen as weak. But Jesus was saying, No, God has the power, right? And so, your forgiveness is for you. It's not about this whole notion of who has power and who doesn't. So that's an interesting way to think about when I read the Bible, and I think about like, particularly in the Old Testament, which is my favorite.


You see that God is the God of the oppressed…like free my people, and I'm sending you as a prophet, right to go and speak truth to power to go and tell the people that they are wrong. I have a book that I'm going to send to you. It's called Opening Israel's Scriptures that really digs deep into some of these prophets, the Minor Prophets, the latter prophets, who were really responsible for naming and speaking truth to power…about the injustices about oppression, about how the kingdoms were extracting labor…that is a very real thing in the Bible. I don't believe for a second that Jesus was supportive of racism, or supportive of oppression, because I don't see any proof of that. I know people try to make proof of it. They try to use the scriptures in that way. And lots of people do that. But I see God very clearly talk about justice, and wrongdoing, and the people who were operating out of wickedness, and we know oppression is of the devil…I'm real clear about that. Not everybody is clear about that. I'm clear about that…me and the Lord have talked about that. He made it real clear. Oppression is of the devil, right? And so, you understand it from that perspective… of not trying to use it to manipulate a group of people, although people have done it.


So, I'm having two conversations in my mind right. On the one hand, I want to say you cannot be a Christian for real…you can't be a Christ follower and operate out of oppressive practices because He says I came at you may have life and have it more abundantly; I came for you to be free, to set the captives free. And so, I recognize people's fallacy… people's desire to be in power. And that is what has led them to use the Bible… and the church has supported, as an institution (I want to make that distinction) has supported and continues to support white supremacy and racism. And they have not yet been able to see that they are truly the enemy. But you are right, in that the church has been problematic. The church as both an organization and as the body…and there's lots of undoing that needs to take place. And I think some people are making earnest efforts and others aren't.


Wendy

Well, how do you respond to the criticism that white people taught Black people Christianity as a means of control?


Clair

I avoid that question. I have not given it enough intentional energy. And if I'm honest, because I know that there are going to be things that I have to grapple with. I will say that they probably attempted to use Christianity to justify and pacify and to keep people enslaved. And there were folks who bought into it, and there were folks who didn't. When I think about Nat Turner, and I think about Harriet Tubman, I see that they were clear that that was not the God that they served. And that was not the gospel that was true to them. And that directed how they decided to live in the uprisings and the Underground Railroad and, and all of that, and so I don't always answer it, because I don't have a I don't feel like I have a clear answer. I hold on to what I believe is my truth, in that I think they attempted for sure. But I don't know that they that it was completely successful. And that's completely accurate. That's the best I can offer there.


Wendy

I appreciate that. And I know that I am sort of pushing you to really sort of make some take a stance and the truth is that for those of us who come from more collectivist societies, we understand the concept of both/and. So, I hear what you're saying that it could be true; that our white slave owners really were using Christianity to subdue us. But I think the other side of that is we can all think of our matriarchs, and patriarchs and ancestors and elders who were able to hold on through difficult times, because of that faith. Maybe in some ways that faith is resistance.


Clair

Yeah, I would agree with that completely. Yeah. Yeah.


Wendy

So, if the church were to move towards Black liberation, what would that look like? What would it look like for Christians to wholeheartedly adopt Christians of all races? And then what would it look like for Black Christians?


Clair

Wow. That's a great loaded question. Wendy. I mean, in some ways, using the earlier definition of liberation, Black people would be free to worship and fellowship and build community in ways that are true and authentic to them, and authentic to their roots. I think it would mean recognizing and honoring our ancestors and thinking about how to build in some of our ancestral religious practices as it relates to how we operate and live out our Christian faith and values and not see them as an opposition [to Christianity] but hold them collectively.


I think it would mean an acknowledgement that the church has been on the wrong side of history, in many instances, not all but in large part. And that repair would need to take place whether in the form of formal apologies, as well as some kind of reparations, and thinking about Adar’s interview about equity, ‘you can't have equity without repair’ has really stuck with me. And so, it would mean some level of repair for Black Christians; we have our own work to do. So, it means some intentional exploration for ourselves of what we've internalized, that has been steeped in whiteness practices, and whiteness norms and whiteness beliefs as it relates to the church context and how culture is supposed to go.


Here’s a perfect example. We're having a conversation yesterday at church, outside church and, and our Director of Music was like, you know, when I grew up, you couldn't wear short sleeves to church. There are some traditions that we are steeped in the Black church that are just like this…where do we get this from? It has to be steeped in these notions of what's right, and what's professional that's steeped in whiteness, right? And so, like doing away with all of that, and allowing ourselves to just show up as fully authentic and free, tapping into our ancestral roots. And, and not seeing it as a competition, or not having to feel the need to choose. It probably could really be a model, my God, for what it means to have a truly inclusive and welcoming community; people who actually lead with love…and what does it mean…that was the greatest commandment. What does it mean to embody that and live that and show that with one another? It really could be an example for how society could, really live the values, our Christian values in earnest. And we operated the way that Jesus did…Jesus was all about being countercultural, talking to the woman at the well – men were not supposed to be talking to women, right? Like, he was like, Listen, I'm about saving your soul, I care about you. And I'm offering you…I'm extending to you no judgment, just all love. If we really live that I think we could model what it could look like in society to have a just place; a just society, in loving a welcoming…a caring, no judgment place.


Wendy


I love the fact that you are pointing out that we should hold on to our ancestral faiths. For me, growing up there has been this feeling, this message that anything that is not of the white man's Christianity is of the devil. And I have struggled with that. Some of my journey over the last couple of years is to really understand where I learned that and what that really means and, and as I grow, I begin to understand how much that way of thinking holds up white supremacy because that's what the white man told us, the white man told us get rid of everything that was from Africa from where you came from and accept only what I give you. And so, part of my resistance has been really going back…trying to understand what did my ancestors believe? What were their ways of thinking? Thoughts about that?


Clair

Yeah, I mean, I have mixed feelings about it. But I do believe that we can learn from our ancestors, I do believe that there are practices that can be a value to us today. We're still navigating a very white dominant, white centric world that could help us resist and can help us, you know, move forward. I am at the place where I have friends who are exploring…what do ancestral altars look like? And what does it mean to have a dualistic faith? And so, I'm in a space where I want to know more. And I'm open to learning. I don't know how that will show up in my day-to-day practice, or in the ministry context. But I don't know that I can do the work of Black liberation, I don't know that I can do the work of anti-racism, without having some understanding, historical understanding of who my ancestors were on the continent and how they lived out their faith and what that look like for them. And what were the practices? I don't know that I can talk about getting to Black liberation, and not having an understanding of what that looks like whether or not I choose to embed those practices in my own faith journey. I think I have a responsibility to.


Wendy

Yeah, I'm in the same place. I just created my first ancestral altar. And I thought about it for a year and a half, and had to overcome all of my feelings of what will Auntie So and So say? What will you know, Sister So and So say? I had to overcome all of that and I still struggle.


So, another question for you is, well, two questions. Do you really believe that people of color, particularly Black people in this society, and white people can truly have multiracial, fully realized church communities where the church as a whole community as a whole is liberatory?


Clair

So, I don't think it will be without challenges. I don't think it will be without, you know, not only holding on to the values of the faith, but also holding on to the values of anti-racism and liberation. For us to exist together, there will be conflict. But I don't think conflict has to be negative or bad, I think it can be productive. I want to believe that there can truly be a faith community or Christian community where Black people and white people can operate and live out liberatory practices and liberatory faith. I believe that the pieces are there…they exist. It's a matter of our willingness to actually lean into all of the discomfort, and to the learning and unlearning that will be required, and to live this out boldly. So, I do believe, and I want to believe, and I think the pieces are there, we just have to want to do it.


Wendy

Well, then in order for that to happen, what would be the work for white Christians?


Clair

They need to acknowledge all the ways they have been complicit historically and currently. They will need to acknowledge and value Black people and that we are created in the same image of God and that repairs are needed. They need to name explicitly where the church has been harmful…the church as an organization, an institution and where the church, as the body, and white folk in the church have been harmful.


And that they commit to doing their work, not on the backs of Black people, but together. And committing to becoming co-conspirators in the journey, and honestly, you know, we have to do our work too. And I know, this is not a conversation, I say all the time publicly, but I've been thinking about it a lot, especially because in my day job, folks like to talk about Black people being in positions of leadership and authority, as if we haven't also been inculcated into racist, white practice norms. And so, there's work that we as Black people have to do in recognizing the roles that we're playing, if we're gatekeepers, or if we're truly disruptors, right? Or if we're just like, I'm just here because I need to survive and, you know, whatever space we're in, we acknowledge that, but we need to be willing to do our own unlearning, be willing to also extend an olive branch and to recognize that mistakes will happen on the journey of learning and growth.


Yeah, but white people have to acknowledge…they have to name the role that they've played both individually and collectively. And they have to figure out what repair looks like. And what their ongoing work looks like. And then, you know, wanting to build a partnership and not define it [themselves], but allow it to really be a partnership and shared power and shared decision making, etc.


Wendy

I would love to see that.


Clair

Me too. A girl could dream.


Wendy

We can dream. So then, you've talked a lot about your hopes and your dreams. For liberatory faith, liberatory Christianity. How do you find that balance between the hope and the realities of fighting racism?


Clair

I celebrate the small wins. And sometimes the small win is personal, right? Sometimes the small win is, ‘I said that thing…I said this thing to that person.’ And that was a win today. But I realized that if I don't celebrate the small wins, and I tell other people to celebrate the small wins, it becomes overwhelming because it's big. It's big work. It's heavy. It's exhausting. Sometimes it's like, are we taking 10 steps backward? Like, are we gonna talk about all these voter suppression bills?


I'm thinking about and working with organizations who are saying they want to do the work and they have a real moment that happens, and they're willing to lean in and learn from it. It's like, I'm celebrating this win, because…and I think that's the way that I hold on to hope…because I focus on the daily wins, and not just like on the mammoth of the problem, both society at large, but even in a particular group that I'm working with, and I think about, okay, where can I find the progress? And how do I celebrate that? Because otherwise I don't know that I would make it.


Wendy

Yeah, yeah, no, I definitely understand that. I love this. This is great. Are there any final words that you would love to share? I'm thinking about all of these issues we're talking about.


Clair

You know, it's funny that I think about the work of anti-racism, and when I talk about it with others, I most often compare it to a faith journey, and the steps that people need to take because it is about transformation. And your faith journey should be transformative. And in many instances, it is for lots of folks. And so likewise, the steps that you take, the missteps that you take…the process is very similar to the work of antiracism. The analogy that I use to help people really understand what's required, like the individual work that's required for them to really lean into the journey…because otherwise I find that folks want to focus on the external and they don't really want to do the internal work. And so, I tried to help them on just to connect to a similar process. So, it could be faith. It could be dieting. It’s a journey that we're all on.


This conversation has left me with homework to do. So, thank you…I continue to do my own continued exploration and learning…I'm with you in that if we could at least have conversations, right? If we can normalize some of these conversations, then I can continue to hope and dream that one day, one day, this will not be the context. One day, we will really see liberation and freedom for Black people in particular.


Wendy

Well, I will leave it with those words…someday we will. I want to thank you so much, Clair, for joining. This was a great conversation. And I'm hoping that maybe we can come back you can come back another time and talk about workforce and Black liberation, because I I'm sure there's a lot to talk about there.


Clair

Thank you for having me, Wendy.

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