Jenny McQueen / by Michael Falco

Who is Jenny McQueen?

Jenny McQueen was born in 1984 and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, before moving to Richmond, Virginia, when she was eighteen. She attended Virginia Commonwealth University where she received her BFA in photography. She is a Christian and regularly attends an Assembly of God church. She considers herself a progressive and tends to vote liberal. Jenny is a business owner and a photographer. She is happily married to an African-American man and they plan to start a family together soon. Jenny participated in Facing Whiteness because she believes learning to talk about race is part of the key to overcoming division in the United States. 

Excerpt from interview with Jenny McQueen by Whitney Dow, 2018

Q: Okay. You’re—clearly faith is important to you. You’ve brought it up a number of times. How does that—what religion are you? What’s the church like that you’re in, what’s the congregation look like, what denomination?

McQueen: [15:55:29] So, I’m a Christian. I attend a church that belongs to the Assembly of God denomination. I’m not a member there. I am pretty involved, though. I do like the church. What’s interesting about it is that I didn’t know until I’d attended there for two years that it was an Assembly of God church. It’s very autonomous, I guess. Maybe not behind the scenes, but from my point of view, it seems like it’s a non-denominational church and, yeah, faith plays a really big role in who I am and how I live, for sure.

Q: And is the—what’s the congregation look like? Is it homogenous, homogenized congregation?

McQueen: [15:56:10] The congregation at my church is pretty homogenous. I wish it was more diverse. In fact, it’s something that I frequently bring up. I email our pastor about things once in a while that we can do to improve the experience of the minorities and hopefully, you know, attract people that will make our congregation more diverse. But, no, our congregation is not diverse at all.

Q: Does your husband attend, as well?

McQueen: [15:56:34] Sporadically.

Q: (laughs) The—and is either the idea—I’ve talked to a lot of different people that church is a place that they first encountered analyzing white supremacy or, you know, white privilege. Is it part of the practice of the church to address issues of whiteness?

McQueen: [15:57:07] My church hasn’t spent a lot of time addressing anything to do with whiteness or racism until it started to happen in the media. When Charlottesville happened, they addressed it. There have been a couple of different things that have brought it up. And I think since those things that my pastor has really been making an effort. I can see, you know, that they have brought some African American pastors to speak at our church, and I think that being visible from the pulpit is a really big part of addressing equality. And so, there’s been that, and I’m really happy to see that. But, in general, I don’t think we address the race issue nearly enough.

Q: Why do you think that that hour on Sunday is so segregated still? Because the people that I speak to that are religious all talk a lot about racial issues and coming together and having the shared values of religion, why is it so intractably segregated?

McQueen: [15:58:11] Sunday morning is really segregated. I don’t completely know the answer as to why. I think part of it has to do with worship styles. I think that people like to be in their comfort zone, and so, you know, you throw in a couple of gospel songs on Sunday morning at my church and, you know, and that might be confusing. That might be out of their comfort zone. So, I think comfort has a big part to do with it. And then, unfortunately, I think a lot of white people see talking about race and talking about issues of social justice as politically left, and they don’t want that. They don’t want politics on Sunday morning. And since they see race as a political issue, you know, stuff that kind of opens the floor to that makes them really uncomfortable, and so it’s just not addressed. And if it’s never addressed, then we can’t do stuff that, you know, that’ll welcome, you know, people who don’t look like us. And so, it’s just—it just stays how it is.

Q: How is race a political issue?

McQueen: [15:59:06] I don’t think race is a political issue, at least not for me. I think it’s a life issue. I think for a lot of people, race has become part of a package deal when you factor it into politics. It’s such a talking point of the Democrats that the Republicans, since they push back on everything that the Democrats do, I think that they have felt like they need to push back, you know, as part of the package. That’s the only thing that I can think of, is it’s just, you know, it comes with the—it comes with signing up to be a Republican.

Q: And, I mean, how does it work that the church, which has been, you know, in the past like our government has been sort of involved in perpetuating structural racism and justifying it? How can that then be a tool for deconstructing it?

McQueen: [16:00:06] The church has been complicit in furthering—can you repeat the question one more time? Sorry.

Q: [Well, simply just what?] you were going to say, that the church has been complicit in perpetuating structural racism—

McQueen: Yes, okay.

Q: —in history.

McQueen: Yes.

Q: So, how can it actually be part of the deconstruction of it?

McQueen: [16:00:25] Because the church has been complicit in furthering structural racism—the way the church was complicit in furthering structural racism is by keeping quiet. They didn’t vocalize it, they didn’t stand up against it. And so, the way that they can help deconstruct it is by now, you know, talking about it, addressing it, admitting they were wrong, and basically opening the floor to say what can we do better? If they can speak up and admit the fact that they were wrong and, you know, that we had a big role in this, I think that’s how we move forward and start to dismantle any type of structural racism, whether it’s in the church or in society, whatever.

Q: You know, we talked about the comfort zone and worship styles. Is segregation, self- segregation de facto negative?

McQueen: [16:01:13] I don’t know. I really don’t know. That’s a hard question, because I have heard a lot of my friends who are people of color say that Sunday morning feels like a safe space for them. And so, if they’re—if they need that, then I can’t say that that’s a negative thing. I think that, yeah, that’s pretty much it. I really don’t know.

Interview Transcript