Christian women detail racism they face in workplace

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Racism goes beyond the black and white narrative seen on television, said a group of minority Christian women.

When Jenny Yang, who is Asian American and vice president of Policy & Advocacy on Refugee Resettlement at World Relief, attended a Congress briefing recently, a man began using hand sanitizer. At that moment, a woman behind her made a joke, saying, “He needs it, he’s the one next to an Asian.”

Yang said she knows colleagues who have experienced other harmful words and stereotypes. Asian Americans have been facing increased racism due to the coronavirus’ origin in the Wuhan Province in China.

She and other women spoke about racial issues they face in the workplace and abroad during COVID-19 as part of Women at Work's online event this week.

“The racist biases and tendencies are exposed because of the pandemic. A lot of my friends who are Asian American had personal issues of racism because of COVID,” Yang said. “It goes to show that even at the highest levels of government, racism doesn’t hide its head.”

At the Congress briefing, Yang said she had a friend who spoke up to the woman who made the joke. Once the woman realized how hurtful the words were, she apologized. The ignorance of a person’s bias was a key issue highlighted during the Women at Work discussion because racism can infect culture through comments as simple as a joke, according to Yang.

She said she was thankful that her friend was able to speak up in her defense because if he was not there, Yang would be forced to respond herself. Witnesses also play a role in curbing racism, she noted.

“It starts at a personal level, when racial stereotypes go unchecked, if casual comments go unchecked, it creates a culture of dehumanization and leads to greater issues that go unchecked,” Yang stated. “We can’t continue to let them go.”

Sunni Harris, a litigation and law expert, addressed workplace discrimination that black women have faced.

Harris said that 67% of black women are left out of networking opportunities in the legal field. While the exclusion is personally hurtful, it can make socially-active jobs very difficult.

“It hurts to be excluded but more importantly you need relationships to do your job,” Harris said. “If I’m not invited, then it hinders my ability to do my job well.”

Karen Ellis, a black woman and director of the Center for the Study of the Bible and Ethnicity in Atlanta, said that division and stereotyping have been in human nature since creation. Genesis 1-3 makes it clear though that God is deeply saddened when humans practice division, she noted.

In agreement, Trillia Newbell, a black woman and Ellis’ colleague, stressed that the Bible makes it clear that division is wrong.

But, she said, Scripture can oftentimes be manipulated or taken out of context to be used in support of racism. She experienced this while speaking about human dignity at a program in Jackson, Tennessee.

“This man was taught that black women were a curse, they were subhuman and tried to use pieces of Scripture to support it,” Newbell recalled. “People who’ve engaged with me have been taught similarly.

“That’s why we need to look at all of Scripture and not just pick it apart. That’s what causes misapplication.”

While the panel agreed that racism is noticeable during the pandemic, the U.S. is moving in the right direction in some cases. One example provided by Harris is that seven states no longer have hair laws for workplaces, a rule that would often force black women to change their appearance just to be employed.

“Too often these conversations are had without hope,” Newbell said. “But that’s the whole reason I’m here. There is hope. We can continue to persevere because every woman has hope. That hope has a name and that name is Jesus.”

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