Shari Seifert is a Realtor and is committed to working on racial justice in the ELCA. Jessica is passionate about all forms of injustice, especially in the church. Shari and Jessica are members of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, (EDLARJ) which is one of six ethnic associations in the ELCA. EDLARJ works in solidarity with ELCA communities through witness, partnership and by confronting racism through trainings. Our tagline is “Awaken Hearts, Inspire Transformation and Confront Injustice”.
We are writing this blog because we see how the effects of this pandemic are compounded by the effects of systemic and everyday racism. The disparities seem even more stark and clear now. Since much of our nation is highly segregated, it can be hard to see beyond what one is personally experiencing. We both have work and personal relationships with people of other races so we are acutely aware of the disparity between groups that have been systemically resourced by our societal structure, and those that have been under-resourced by those in power for generations. We hope that this blog post will help to awaken hearts, lead to transformation and more folks confronting the injustices this pandemic makes clear.
Tale of Two Pandemics by Shari Seifert and Jess Harren
We have white privilege. During this pandemic, we are living very different lives than People of Color (POC)- – it is like a tale of two pandemics. If we are outside, we are unlikely to be stopped by police. If we go to the store in a mask, we are assumed to be caring for our neighbors, not criminals. When we go grocery shopping, no one spits on us because we appear Asian. Although there are also class disparities in this pandemic, is it notable that statistically, many middle class white folks are homeowners and even if white folks and POC are in the same class, they will experience this pandemic differently.
For the first time, some of us are feeling restrictions in our movement and access to medical care. Many POC have known these restrictions for their entire lives. Many white folks are not used to having restricted movement and are now protesting en mass in public. Many POC live in food deserts. We are used to constant access to anything we want.
This doesn’t mean our lives are not extra complicated right now. Jess is having to do online school with a child who got a lot of accommodations for various medical and neurological conditions. Jess lives with disabilities and is more likely to get very sick if she gets COVID-19. Jess and her family are grieving the loss of vacations and school. And yet, for a family of color, even with similar resources, life is harder. For example, the illustration in Jess’s child’s books for online learning are mostly of white kids. The assignments are culturally relevant. When Jess goes to the store to pick up medicine, no one assumes she’s a criminal or spits on her. The police don’t stop her for being out because her neighborhood isn’t policed.
Shari is working from home, sharing workspace with her oldest son who is in college and has Autism and anxiety. This son has access to a therapist through telemedicine where he is taken seriously. Her younger son is doing high school from home. Both boys have their own computers and can easily get help with schoolwork. Days when grocery orders are finally ready are celebrated! When Shari gets tired of being inside, she can play fetch in the backyard with the family dog. Running Shari’s small business of selling real estate comes with no guarantees, except that bills and Shari’s assistant still need to be paid. Sometimes it is hard not to worry and fall into scarcity mode. The reality is that many of Shari’s clients are less affected by the pandemic and business is continuing and if her business falls on hard times, there are family members that can help. For many POC, staying home from work is not an option, there is not good access to health care, access to healthy food is harder, not every child has their own device for doing school work, there may not be family members that can help financially, housing is more dense and there is not a private back yard to play with the dog in.
We are all struggling now. People are dying alone, many funerals can’t be held, grandparents can’t hug their grandchildren, many people have lost jobs, businesses are shuttered and we all face uncertainty. These things are all true and entrenched systemic racism still gives white people of all classes advantages in this pandemic. This crisis lands on people in very different and important ways. Not all white people are rich and not all people of color are poor, but the majority of White Americans are middle class homeowners that live in stable communities. The disproportionate number of POC dying is heartbreaking. We don’t have to do anything to keep this unjust system in place. Change is stubborn and requires faithful and persistent effort like speaking up at racist jokes or memes, listening to and following people of color (we recommend reading this piece by Jeremiah Bey Ellison), shifting money to POC led organizations for racial justice and praying for the whole Body of Christ including our POC friends. If you still have an income or access to money, consider sending your stimulus check to a POC led organization in your community.
We pray the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and moves us to action.
Shari Seifert lives in Minneapolis with her wife, two sons and the cutest Golden Doodle you have ever seen. She works as a Realtor and is committed to working for racial justice in the ELCA. Shari is currently vice-president of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice (EDLARJ), a member of the Minneapolis Synod racial justice table, her congregation’s Race Equity Committee and Multi-faith Anti-Racism and Healing (MARCH) She is also on the core planning team for the Multicultural Youth Leadership Experience (MYLE).
Rev. Jessica A. Harren Pastors two congregations (Lutheran Church of Martha and Mary and Open Heart faith gathering). She provides resources, trainings, workshops, and consulting on Family Systems, Emergent Worship, Consent Culture, ableism and racism in church, as well as other topics. Pastor Jess teaches discipleship culture and coaches other church leaders through Spark Faith. She is a member of Proclaim (the professional organization for LGBTQIA+ rostered ministers and seminarians in the ELCA) and is a member of EDLARJ and Another Pebble, the Metro Chicago Synod’s Anti-Racism Team. She lives in a suburb of Chicago with her spouse, child, and two cats.