What Racism Looks Like

Every week Richmond Hill distributes a prayer guide called Metropolitan Richmond at Prayer. This week’s reads:

We pray to overcome in Christ’s name the heritage of racism: To proclaim in word and deed the Beloved Community; to experience the victory of Jesus’ resurrection over all personal and institutional results of racism and racial inequality in this metropolitan city.

Racism was on my mind before I received it. I saw 12 Years a Slave, I re-watched Lincoln, then there was all the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death, much of it focusing on apartheid.

While reflecting on racism, I recalled a conference I attended two decades ago.

“What is your definition of racism?” Ken Sehested asked 25 Richmond pastors.


Racism is a word that everybody in RVA knows. We’ve seen it, experienced it, tasted and smelled it. But when Ken asked for a definition, this room full of black and white pastors— who I knew to be articulate and never shy about sharing their opinions—was silent.

Ken let the silence linger until it was squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable. Then he went to the board and wrote this formula:

       Racism = Power + Prejudice

Turns out this is a classic academic definition. Suddenly the word that everybody knew but no one could define was reframed, and the floodgates of discussion were opened.

       Power + Prejudice

Think about it. And while you’re thinking, here’s a picture of racism in RVA today.

A few weeks ago, Lynn Williams from Crossover Healthcare Ministry dropped by to talk with Northminster’s staff about the Christlike, gap-filling medical ministries of Crossover. During her presentation she commented off-handedly:

A single mother with two children who makes $6,000 per year does not qualify for medicaid in Virginia. She is considered too well-off for assistance.

       Power + Prejudice

The overwhelming majority of single mothers in Richmond are black. The state legislature Virginia_Legislature_024a0that wields the power to decide who qualifies for assistance is mostly white and male, and they are all privileged.

Sadly, Power + prejudice is still at work today just as it has been throughout Virginia’s history.

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One Response to What Racism Looks Like

  1. Jo Lord says:

    Wow. That is the perfect definition of racism. Very powerful message from Sammy about a very sad reality.

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