First Parish Hosts “A Gentle Conversation on Race and Otherness”

Submitted by Marya Dantzer

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A dozen members of First Parish in Bedford gathered at 11 am on Sunday morning, July 17, for what had been advertised as “a gentle conversation on race and otherness.” Invited first to share thoughts spontaneously, and then to reflect on questions they chose from a collection published by an intercultural consulting group, speaker after speaker in the mostly-white group expressed anguish about racial turmoil, disgust over seemingly ubiquitous political propagandizing about race, and helplessness about how they could effectively contribute to remedying racial inequalities.

Brown Pulliam, known in the congregation for his climate-change activism, spoke about learning that drinking water at Norfolk County Correctional Center is contaminated. Prisoners are charged 65 cents for a 16-ounce water bottle, he said, while their daily allowance is just one dollar. Others expressed anger about the mass incarceration of young black men.

One participant confessed that, for the first time in her life, she shrinks from reading and watching the news, a feeling others echoed. “This is trauma,” said another participant, a clinical psychologist; despite distance of place and circumstance, just by turning on the TV or logging on to the web, we become witnesses to tragic and relentless violence, thanks to saturation news coverage and the dissemination of raw footage from cell-phone video recordings. Such footage plays an increasingly crucial role in exposing the level of surveillance and often brutality to which persons of color are subject as they conduct their daily lives, Dogan-West and others acknowledged; at the same time, it compels our participation in a kind of cumulative collective horror.

In addition to action, those participating in the conversation said they would welcome a group for reading and discussion about race and otherness. Among proposed titles were Rev. Dr. William Barber II’s The Third Reconstruction and Ta-Nahisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Several members of the congregation had read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White.

Ministerial intern Joshua Leach, who facilitated the gathering, closed the session with lines by the poet Vachel Lindsay:
I am unjust, but I can strive for justice. 
My life’s unkind, but I can vote for kindness

Watch the Citizen for details of a the next Conversation on Race and Otherness at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, tentatively titled “What If…Finding Our Routes for Social Action on Race and Otherness.” Community members, young persons, and persons of color are encouraged to join in.


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