Puerto Rico is a beautiful island with lakes, rivers, mountains, rainforests and of course picturesque beaches. I received a warm welcome at the airport in San Juan: 92 degrees with 74% humidity. Despite the hot, humid weather conditions, I went with eagerness to explore the culture, history, and tradition of Puerto Rico and reflect upon theological education in light of Hispanic theology.
This beautiful island was home to 70 seminary students for two weeks as they took courses through the “Hispanic Summer Program” (June 16-29, 2012). In addition, 10 faculty and adminstrators participated in “Through Hispanic Eyes,” a four day ‘mini program’ for non-Hispanic faculty.
I was one of them.
We visited classes and spoke with the Hispanic faculty. The Hispanic faculty shared their own struggles and how this program helped them through their own studies. Our group leader was Dr. Luis Rivera-Rodriguez who is the James G.K. McClure Professor of Theological Education, Dean of the Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs at McCormick Theological Seminary. He was both informative and caring which helped us work through some of the various issues that Hispanic students and faculty face during their time in seminary. We had deep and thoughtful discussions regarding white privilege, tokenism, academic and cultural racism.
White privilege is prevalent in our society and also in our seminary classrooms. Not only do students of color have to overcome the negative aspects of white privilege, so too the professors.
As theological educators, the question of erasing white privilege within the classroom is an ongoing concern as it brings an extra layer of unwelcome dynamic within the classroom. Many seminaries do not want to tackle this difficult problem; therefore the question of white privilege is ignored or pushed to the margins. In many ways, seminaries become blind to the issue of white privilege within the classroom and in the institution.
Different countries deal with ethnic minority issues in various ways. I grew up as a Korean immigrant in Canada. Canada is a land of immigrants, where people from all over the world come to live. In Canada, the term used by governments for “people of color” is “visible minorities”. I grew up knowing and internalizing that somehow I was a ‘visible minority”. But what does it mean to be ‘visible’ and a “minority.” In some ways, this term labeled me as someone who stands ‘out’ in a crowd. My face and body became racialized by a society which did not want to accept me as ‘normal’. The irony is that even though I was labeled a ‘visible minority’, I become invisible when it came to issues of race, ethnicity and religious heritage. My visibleness becomes invisible to those in power when the status quo is challenged or provoked. When I reflect upon the colonialism of Puerto Rico, I cannot help linking the “visible minority” to Puerto Rico as viewed by the United States. It is a territory of the U.S. with Commonwealth status which eliminates much of their power and status as a nation. Puerto Ricans are allowed to vote during the U.S. primaries but not during the U.S. general elections. Puerto Rico has been used by the United States to produce cheap goods for Americans to use. Thus in many ways Puerto Rico has become an ‘invisible minority” whose real problems, struggles and dreams have been ignored and erased.
As we bring this back into our classrooms, we must not make the ‘racialized minorities’ within the classroom invisible. We cannot ignore their issues. We must move forward and tackle them. We need to work urgently towards a theological education which will be inviting and inclusive of all people. Theological education needs to identify and name ‘white privilege’ within our classrooms and seek diversity, intercultural, and multi-contextual ways of learning and teaching so that all those whom God calls are valued equally.
Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim received her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is an Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary. She is the author of two books, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology. Grace was recently ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and also blogs for 99 Brattle and at gracejisunkim.
I occasionally host guest bloggers on my blog to expand the breadth of topics I cover as well as help share the perspectives and ideas of people who I feel are particularly compelling. If you think you have a great idea or know of someone who does, please feel free to contact me and let me know.