Oped: York must become better on race
York keeps finding its way into national news for all the wrong reasons. The now former mayor of West York makes headlines for racially charged social media posts. This week, a local school was forced to investigate a video that showed white students carrying Trump-Pence signs while shouting, “white power.”
The optimist in me wants to write a piece that declares, “York is Better Than This on Race,” but are we? Far be it from me to be the kind of false prophet the Scriptures decry who “dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
When I first moved to York, my mentor and Pastor drove me to a county church that had stained glass windows that proudly displayed that the KKK had donated them
My own integrity as a young pastor was tested years ago when an older white member called black people the “N” word and spoke ill of Hispanic people. I never knew how hard it would be in that moment to correct him, but I am glad I did.
Are these local incidents isolated or do they reveal a deeply disturbing racial bias underneath the surface of York?
In order to answer that question, we are going to have to be honest and self-reflective. Let’s be honest, no one wakes up one day and decides, without provocation, to be biased toward any particular group of people. Bias is learned behavior. Bias flows out of fear of the unknown.
Each of us has bias if we are honest about it. The question is whether we will become self-critical enough to see bias in our own hearts and daily behavior.
A few years ago, I attended the York Fair with my family and we invited some of my kid’s friends from school. Two of those kids, David and Barbara, are Mexican, and exemplary students at Logos Academy. Our relationship with their family is precious. As we walked through the Fairgrounds, I saw a group of Mexican kids walking our direction. Though I myself am of partial Mexican heritage, my body began to tense as I began to believe that these kids looked like potential trouble. As this group of “thugs” approached, I saw David and Barbara smiling and breaking off to greet them. In that moment, I realized how foolish my thoughts had been, how subtle the implicit bias was that controlled me. This group of kids was not a gang of thugs. They were just a group of kids like David, Barbara, and my kids, out for a fun night at the Fair. I had judged them in my heart based on their race and their clothing style. The bias was subtle. I was wrong and glad I discovered it.
York is not an isolated community. We are a microcosm of a country that is rocked by racial and political division. Our country has just endured one of the most ugly and divisive political campaigns in my memory. My own soul has been calmed by the more conciliatory tone of the speeches and meetings that have followed the election. A friend lamented how he wished the campaigns were run like the acceptance and concession speeches.
Last Sunday, a variety of ethnically diverse churches met for a service of repentance. One participant publicly repented of how our nation has tolerated the divisive campaign. It was a powerful prayer.
On Wednesday morning of this week, I wrote an email to my staff at Logos Academy, asking them to show Christian charity to each other, to not judge one another by how they voted, to be sensitive to our student body. One young Hispanic student showed up to school crying, fearing that her family was going to be deported to Mexico. My heart broke for her. I asked my staff to remind our students that there is a King named Jesus who sits on Heaven’s throne, presiding over this world’s chaos, who loves them, gave his life for them, and is committed to justice for them.
Throughout our school building, we have signs displayed that represent the Logos Academy code of conduct. They declare three personal imperatives we expect of everyone in the Logos community: I show respect. I take responsibility. I seek to repair.
York cannot be a thriving place for everyone, especially for people of color, if we don’t learn to show respect to each other. The Scriptures teach us that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God; that heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. I am always troubled by the statement that people claim they don’t see color. I understand the intent is to claim a lack of racial bias, but it undermines the beautiful, created diversity that God built into our world. I see your skin tones, and I give thanks to the artistic Creator who made you. You reflect His glory and I respect you.
York cannot be a thriving place for everyone, especially for people of color, if we refuse to take responsibility for how we are raising the next generation. I was so deeply troubled that it was young people shouting “white power” in the halls of a county school. What kind of bias are we passing on to our children? How would you feel if your kids didn’t feel safe at school because of their skin color? York must take responsibility for the racial bias that is subtle and easily hidden.
York cannot be a thriving place for everyone, especially for people of color, if we refuse to commit ourselves to repairing what is broken. Nothing is more precious than watching quarreling students find reconciliation. Imagine if York became known as a community of repair; a place that made national headlines for racial reconciliation and healing.
York shows respect. York takes responsibility. York seeks to repair.
York can become better on race. We must. Our future depends on it.
Standing firm together for a better York,
— Rev. Aaron J. Anderson is CEO/Head of School Logos Academy. Pastor Bill Kerney is president, Black Ministers Association of York County and pastor, Covenant Life Ministries. Rev. Ramona Kinard is vice president, Black Ministers Association of York County and pastor, Wheatfield Church of the Living God.