Escaping the Cycle of Individual Racism


A Small Group Resource

Since well before Donald Trump was elected as the United States’ 45th President, his demeaning and harmful comments about people of color, women, and anyone he deemed inferior have been well reported and debated. Rather than an instance of “private talk” caught on a hot mic, racist and abusive language became part of national presidential debates and frenzied campaign rallies. Publicized debates (like in the media) and private debates happening across the country tried to discern possible options for this behavior. Some argued that Trump was “saying in public what others were saying around their kitchen tables.” Some argued that his language was motivated solely by the goal of winning an election. Others argued his racist language stemmed from racist ideology; in other words, candidate Trump said racist things because he is a racist.

While only one of these options explicitly interrogates, now U.S. President, Trump’s actions as part of his individual beliefs and values, each of the above options is caught in the cycle of determining individual motivation of racist comments. This is because most of the conversations about racism are replicating another lie of racism – believing that it is only individual expressions of racism that must be addressed for the sin of racism to be eradicated. By focusing on individual actions – words or otherwise – we fail to recognize the insidious reality of racism. Racism is not individual words or acts based in racial prejudice.

Racism is an interconnected system of policies, practices, and norms which sustains a racial hierarchy benefiting people racialized as white to the detriment of people of color.

For the sin of racism to be eradicated, and for the harmful, even fatal consequences, of racism to be eliminated from people’s lives, we must resist racism not at the level of our own hearts but at the heart of racism itself – the systems. Each individual expression of racism is fueled or protected by the system of racism. Each racist comment made is the consequence of learning that the system of racism is true and acceptable. For us to truly escape the cycle of individual racism – we must be willing and capable of interrogating and dismantling racism at its core – the system itself.

For Group Discussion

In response to U.S. President Trump’s racist rhetoric, GCORR President Bledsoe and General Secretary Hawkins said, in part, the following:

While the comments made by the (U.S.) President are horrendous and a demonstration of the very ugly racial bias that he holds personally, what makes the sin of racism deeply harmful is the accompaniment of power to codify such bias into laws and policies. The negative impact of such bias shows up in immigration, education, justice, health, and humanitarian policies and erodes the fabric of communities around the world by denying them access and opportunity and by undermining the provision of basic human rights.

  1. Many of the conversations around Donald Trump’s racist comments – both before and after being elected U.S. President – have focused on his “intent.” The quote above references “the negative impact” of the racial bias behind the comments. Discuss how shifting the conversation from “intent” to “impact” shifts our perspective about how the church should resist racism. (Remember to include how power/authority functions here)
  2. Referencing the quote above, in your own words, how would you explain GCORR’s description of the consequences of President’s comments to someone who describes racist comments in terms of individual racism?
  3. While maintaining the importance and power of prayer, how does the shift from individual expressions of racism to systemic racism (racism definition above) challenge the church to resist racism? How does it challenge your church?
GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.