“I have recognized that I am racist. I am a white, privileged Canadian who is enmeshed in the cultural expectations and assumptions of the society in which I was raised. I have benefitted because I was born into the class and colour of those who have systemic power.” These are the words of none other than our primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls. This quotation appeared in the Anglican Journal in June of 2020. These words resonated with me and they are words that sadly, I can say: I am a racist.
When I joined the Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG), I believed that I wasn’t racist, that I loved all people and treated everyone equally. As time progressed I heard stories of racism from members of the group that have been devastatingly hurtful to my clergy and lay brothers and sisters. Stories that play out in their lives and ours today in our churches, our diocese, and in our towns and in cities. They were stories that reflected on my past actions and thinking. And so, where do we go from here? It is a bad news, good news story.
The bad news is that we have a way to go, a long way to go. As a member of the ARWG, I have learned a new word: microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional, and oftentimes unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups. There is a difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination: people who commit microaggressions may not be aware of them. This is why we have a long way to go. An example of microaggressive behaviour is when we comment on how well a person from a visible minority speaks English; it presumes they were not born here. When we pull away from someone who looks different from us in the elevator (COVID-19 aside), we are displaying microaggressive behaviour.
We may be saying to ourselves that now we can’t say anything or do anything for fear of being racist. This is not the case. There are things that we can do and say. This is the good news.
A “Made in Niagara” anti-racism program for parishes will be forthcoming. We will update our human resource policies and establish a “Train the Facilitators” program for leadership development in anti-racist work. My hope is that we can overcome the challenges of racism when we admit it is around us and in us. My hope for the work of anti-racism in our churches is that we can start by listening to each other and hear the stories of racism. My hope is that I can say, I was racist. There is also hope found in Scripture. When we look in Genesis (1:26) where God created humankind in God’s image, it means everyone. In Revelation (7:9) we read that all the nations will stand before God. Everything in between in Scripture speaks to those realities of all being created in the image of God in the beginning, and all standing before God in the end. And I can say “amen” to that.