Visceral is a word you know, although you may not know its definition. Visceral is a deeply felt emotional reaction. It is to be touched in a place you weren’t aware existed. It is to be shocked, saddened, angered, frustrated, or amazed at the depths of your feelings and thoughts.
I am participating in a support group in our local church that is exploring the reality of race in our culture. We have been meeting in the more laid-back days of summer but dealing with a subject that can create both sparks and heat. Each week we do an exercise or watch a video communicating the various shades of racism in our culture and in our own minds, and follow it with discussion.
I have been wrestling with my understanding and attitude toward racism for several years and when the University of Missouri had its protest in November 2015 over racism on campus this was thrust into the forefront of our community. The headlines and news channels may have left and moved on, but I am encouraged by the effort that is being made to not let the fire burn out so we can put the past behind us.
In our group of about thirty people, our facilitator, Nathan Buxman, walks us through conversation starters. He has done an incredible job and by his own admission has felt compelled to speak out about race even though he is a part of the majority culture.
Although I have had a number of conversations not only with Nathan, but also with members of our church and pastors of other African-American churches in Columbia, I am still learning. I am still having my eyes opened. I am still amazed at how our culture perceives racism. It is America’s sin which so easily entangles as Hebrews 12:1 says.
Last week we watched a video news story. It was done a number of years ago and looks very dated, but the content is as fresh as today. The best way to express this video is visceral. It hit me in the gut. It saddened me in a profound way. It made me feel. It made me frustrated. It made me want to scream.
The video can be found under the heading ‘A Class Divided’ by Jane Elliot. It is the story of a 3rd grade class of all white students from Iowa in the 1970’s. It follows them after their 3rd grade exercise into a reunion many years later where they talk about that experience. That part of the video lasts about 28 minutes.
An additional 35 minutes shows an episode of this same exercise done with prison officials and the same 3rd grade elementary teacher. She is quite a woman.
What strikes me in the video is how quickly the teacher is able to change the behavior and attitude of each group as one becomes the minority and the other becomes the majority culture. It appears to me certain behaviors are not the result of a person’s race, but the result of oppression itself.
Watch the video. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes. Ask Him to change you, and then ask Him to help you become an agent of change. The task seems daunting, impossible, an unsolvable problem, but as followers of Jesus are we not called to make known the kingdom of God in all its righteousness?