“Sweatbands, A Worldview”

Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey, Director of Chaplaincy for Auburn homes and member of Meeting House Church in Edina, provided the following as the Conference seeks to build internal capacity for anti-racist institutional transformation.

As you consider your own views on what you think racism looks like here in Minnesota in 2024, I would invite you to consider this poem:

SWEATBANDS, A WORLDVIEW

I remember well

The day my black son walked onto the court

With a sweatband on his forehead

(It was a particularly sweaty season).

The coaches nearly lost their minds.

Cocky, arrogant, and full of bad attitude

Is what they said. Absolutely no player

Would display that show of insolence on their court.

Sweat in his eyes will keep him humble

Is what they said.

I remember this every time

The short white kid walks on the court

With his fashion headband and more hubris

Than what will comfortably fit

through the locker room doors.

That headband holding in

His fragile but enormous ego,

As the coaches pander for his intentness.

I remember and I marvel at a world

That can use something as small as a sweatband

To crush one boy’s spirit, while simultaneously

Teaching another that he is preordained

To save the world, and his basketball team.

Many people (including me, at one point in time) believe that racism is the N-word spray painted on a garage door. Certainly that is overt racism in its most defiant form. But what I have learned through the years as I have been raising a Black-Latino son is that this form of racism rarely shows up. It would be easier if it did, because then we could name it and fight it. Racism like that has only happened a few times in my world. But that doesn’t me we aren’t still a racist people though.

For me, the most pervasive form of racism that I deal with on a daily basis comes in the little things. It is in the reaction to sweatbands, in undefined grading rubrics, in “lost” invitations and in countless emails that go unreturned. It shows up in the way coaches react to how kids wear a uniform. Racism is in the assumptions that are made about me, as a white single mother of a Black child. It is in the stereotypes that follow my son through the school systems and sports teams, despite the many times he has proven these stereotypes to not be true. And oftentimes, many of these stereotypes are held by both liberal and conservative friends alike. The systemic nature of racism is present in our lives, and overcoming the stereotypes of unconscious bias can feel at times like it consumes every minute of every day.

The more I grow into my parenting, and the older my son gets, the more I realize that I am just at the beginning of understanding unconscious bias and systemic racism. And it is so much harder to name and to fight than just removing the spray painted slur on the garage door. This is why I spend my time with the Ad-Hoc Anti-Racism Committee. Because the work is just beginning. And the church needs to lead the way. Would you consider taking on this task with me? Please cast your vote in support the creation of the permanent committee to dismantle white supremacy. And stay tuned for future opportunities to participate in the work we will be doing. Just because you don’t see the slurs spray painted on the wall anymore, doesn’t mean the bias isn’t still there.

LEARN MORE about racial justice in the MN Conference UCC and read all of the blog posts from members of the Anti-Racism Ad Hoc Committee.

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023