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How then shall we live? Vulnerable Spaces of Racism.

From Dottie Baumgarten.

Vulnerability is a current theme for me. Brene Brown’s work on living in vulnerable spaces is informing and stretching, perhaps transforming. Sitting in vulnerable spaces allows for new ways of seeing things:

Personal relationships? Check.

Work? Check.

Faith? Check.


I grew up in the South Bronx as a blond-haired, blue-eyed pastor’s daughter, a little girl in a community of poor black and Puerto Rican families. I lived the unspoken privilege of color, cuteness, and class (Pastor’s daughter).

When I was going into 5th grade, we moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, a Mennonite Mecca of education. There I no longer lived with the status of color (almost everyone was white) or class. My father was a student, not an esteemed pastor. I was in puberty, so my sense of cuteness vanished. I had an identity crisis. I was one of a sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed children, who were expected to be silent, docile, and nice. I did not understand this culture.

In a nutshell, these two cultures - and having moved from one to the other - were formative for me. There are multiple and consistent decisions that I’m happy to have made in my life which place me in multi-cultural settings. I’m more comfortable at this interface of two or more cultures than when I’m in a segregated, predominantly white culture.

Jonathan asked me how racism has evolved at GMC over time. I’m not sure what to say. My church membership came to Germantown Mennonite Church in 1976, when my parents moved to Philadelphia and I went to Eastern Mennonite College. After college and a year in Mennonite Voluntary Service in Birmingham, Alabama, I moved to Philadelphia in 1981 and started attending GMC regularly. Phil joined me in membership in 1983, the same year that we were married.

GMC has not lived anti-racism as our defining issue, but many people at GMC work very hard in every aspect of their lives to make choices that bring change, that fight racism. Sometimes anti-racism activity is clearly visible.

There are times that I see things from eyes that feel more aware of class, culture, and racism than some of my white counterparts. In today’s climate of exposing and changing racism, I see miss-steps by well-meaning white folk who have some information, but are still making blatant mistakes: Classifying people of color as “the other." Speaking “we” (white folk) when in an integrated group. Being the savior of a social or racial ill.

I include myself as one of the folks who consistently make mistakes. I also see that I try to control my sense of vulnerability by trying to move towards “correctness."

Uncomfortable, vulnerable space is hard, but it is a way through ignorance towards better understanding.

My thoughts are that GMC, along with other predominantly white churches, needs to look at what it means for white people to live white privilege. Lay the groundwork of understanding that informs the decisions that are made within the organization. We are already in this uncharted, vulnerable, changing interracial space. We need to live in this transforming time with knowledge and understanding.


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