The tapestry: My anti-racism story
Seeing a gap in the way racial issues are categorized
by Anita Coleman
My eyes opened to another perfect California day. The usual cool, foggy marine layer that coastal California tends to get in June was missing but my day soon turned cloudy anyway. That was the morning, Thursday June 18, 2015 many of us in the United States woke up to the news of a shooting the previous evening at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were killed because a stranger, who said he was a Christian, had been welcomed into their Bible study. He had returned death for the love he received.
I became frustrated when friends, some from the same Christian faith as the killer claimed to be, couldn’t empathize. They rationalized: “He was just a crazy person, Anita, not racist. The African American church did the right thing to forgive him so quickly.”
The inability to empathize triggered my intellectual curiosity. These were good people who loved and followed Jesus. Where was Christian belief in action negating, invalidating, and transforming racist systems?
I searched library catalogs, electronic databases in academic disciplines, news, and other popular information resources on the web. In the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), I found answers. There was only one subject heading for Anti-racism but hundreds of sub-headings for Race, Race discrimination, Race relations, Racism, and more. Similarly, most people I spoke to did not know what anti-racism meant. They equated it with color-blindness and often said: “I don’t see race. I treat all people alike.”
I began to study, teach, talk about anti-racism, and to develop the Anti-racism Digital Library and Thesaurus, an open access clearinghouse for online materials about anti-racism and related ideas.
On Friday June 17, 2016, one year after the shooting, I presented my paper on “Theology, Race and Libraries” at the Annual Conference of the American Theological Librarians Association, and described the communities behind the Anti-racism Digital Library / Thesaurus. It is a tapestry.
The tapestry traces my inter-lacings with people locally, regionally, and globally. Engaged in anti-racism for decades, they are striving to see with Christ’s eyes, give life with a new language, and shape a fair society for all people created “imago dei” (God’s image).
My professional expertise is being used to curate visions and experiences, tools and a vocabulary in the Anti-racism Digital Library. Collections such as A Mote in Minerva’s Eye, Comfort Women, Presbyterian Women, Progressive Christians Uniting, The Intercultural Community (PC(USA)), and OC Cities for CEDAW showcase people, places, and groups. When completed these will be a microcosm of our larger world representing different geographical origins and culture, language and faith traditions. Thematic collections such as the Anti-racist Identity, Racial Imagination, American Identity, Christian Imagination, and Intersectional Invisibility are meant to fuel our imagination and end racism.
Racism is not just about individual bias or prejudice. Racism is a failure to grasp the essential nature of the Trinity – God in community, hoarding nothing, sharing power, serving all. Anti-racism is the Spirit’s remedy, tandem knitting us, transcending nativism/tribalism, the fears that color, and other differences, invoke.
Anti-racism is a form of focused and sustained action, which includes inter-cultural, inter-faith, multi-lingual and inter-abled (i.e. differently abled) communities with the intent to change a system or an institutional policy, practice, or procedure which has racist effects.
The extravagant, enigmatic tapestry teaches me that an identity in Christ is an anti-racist one: Seeing and loving God in everyone means freedom and fairness for all.
“I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.” Colossians 2: 2 (The Message)
What is your anti-racism story? Or perhaps you have an anti-racism image?
Anita Coleman is a wife, mother, writer, and independent scholar who lives in southern California and enjoys electronics, gardens, and books. She is the recipient of a 2006 award from the Library of Congress for her pioneering work with metadata education and a 2007 Library Journal Movers & Shakers award, given to those shaping the future of libraries. Anita’s passion for intellectual access and freedom of information found new life when she began to follow Jesus 24/7. She has published many books and blogs about this. Path of Grace, her first children’s book, was published in 2015. Anita serves on the board of the Presbyterian Writers Guild and is active in Presbyterian Women.