By The Reverend Naomi Kabugi
As someone who was not born in this land, I am humbled to walk with those who have been in this longer than myself. The people of African descent have carried deep wounds and emotional traumas resulting from racism, based on the colour of their skin, their language, or place of origin. I respect the tenacity, hope, and resilience built over centuries of struggle.
The thing is, racism and discrimination is a pervasive behaviour that finds its way to negatively influence human beings against others in a numbered way, making racism the most dehumanizing behaviour worlds over. It makes cowards out of all of us, and confronting it requires a fair degree of courage and honesty.
Welcome to the diocese of Niagara anti-racism working group. As a member of this working group, I am really proud, and so should you, of our diocesan approach, attention and the urgency that speak of our diocese’s commitment against racism, especially anti-black racism.
Already both clergy and lay people working in the diocese, took part in an anti-racism training in November. There are no words strong enough to describe both the process and outcome of that training, but it surely was training that was needed. There was honesty, openness, and yes pain, discomfort and even brokenness but everyone present treated each person’s experiences, feelings or story with dignity.
And this is what the anti-racism working group, hopefully, can help local churches engage in a process that would lead to such outcomes.
Starting in small steps: racism and discrimination are a cultural behavior and like any culture, they are learned. Some of these steps might require working on one’s attitude on racism. And truth be told, sometimes this might be uncomfortable to process. Some of this might even make you furious. But if it does, it means you are moving forward to becoming aware and doing something about it.
What not to do? Do not ask a victim of racism to retell their experiences. It does not help! It only makes them feel revictimized, and helpless. Maybe by telling you of my own experience, I might help to demonstrate.
The first time I vividly experienced racism, I was already ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada. I was in someone’s office. The treatment was horrifying. I first felt confused. So, I tried to explain the issue. I thought of saving the person from of the embarrassing situation we both found ourselves in. Then it dawned on me … I realized what I was dealing with. My feeling shifted to unexplainable sadness, which redshifted to an immediate reaction of shame, total shame, and embarrassment that this was actually happening. Then I felt very confused; confused about who I am, confused about what to say, confused about what to do. The worst was still to come.
As I write this, I feel it all over again: helpless, desperate, and other feelings that I can neither explain or put in this space.
Overcome by helplessness, I started to shake with fear. I just sat there, unable to stand or walk away. By the time I went through what I call “stages of racism experience,” I felt robbed of my human dignity. For a moment I did not know who I was — like I was no longer human.
That is what racism does, it dehumanizes, and that is why, unless a victim of racism volunteers to tell his or her own story, they should not be asked to retell their experiences. By being asked to tell it, it is inviting him or her to take part in their own victimization.
Lastly, like any hard work, for it to yield a good outcome, anti-racism work must be done in freedom of the spirit, and above all, hope.
Ending with words from Bishop Susan in her charge to the diocese, the bishop had this to say about hope, “hope is not always comforting or comfortable … It asks us to open ourselves to what we don’t know, to imagine what is beyond our imagination, and to bear what seems unbearable. That hope calls us to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away.”
Every February, Canadians are invited to participate in Black History Month to honour the legacy of black Canadians, past and present. Learn more about black history here:
Black History Month
Black Anglicans of Canada
Black History Society
Being Black in Canada
Guelph Black Heritage Society: Resource List