By Emma Temple
In light of the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement in the last few weeks, most of us have been taking time to learn and to listen to accounts from our Black neighbours about the pervasive racism in our society, and how we can support and enable anti-racism work. One way I have joined in this work is by listening to a talk hosted by Ben Lindsay on how white-majority churches can respond to racial inequality.
The talk highlighted two things to me. The first was a point made by Dr. Robert Beckford, who has found through his research that the church is not fit-for-purpose in its task of tackling racism in the community. He observed that we are very good at social welfare such as charity projects, fundraising and donating, Christmas boxes, things which alleviate the effects of inequality. But what we are not so well equipped for is to work towards social justice. To steal a metaphor from Bonhoeffer, we are very good at pulling people from under the wheel of oppression, but we are not prepared to put a spoke in the wheel itself.
We at All Hallows are very lucky to be a community who talk explicity about justice and seek actively to understand our calling to liberate the oppressed. But this has made me reflect on how this extends to racial justice, and what that might look like in practice.
‘Silence for fear of getting it wrong forms a very useful comfort blanket.’Dr. Elizabeth Henry, advisor on race and ethnicity to the Anglican church.
The second thing the talk highlighted to me is perfectly summed up in this quote from Dr. Elizabeth Henry, advisor on race and ethnicity to the Anglican church. She said, “Silence for fear of getting it wrong forms a very useful comfort blanket. There’s no time to think about ‘getting it wrong’. Silence is acquiescence at best and collusion at worst, regardless of the background of fear to it.”
I have definitely been guilty of this. I’ve stayed silent on these issues, and told myself it’s because I don’t want to speak over black people, or I’m not knowledgeable enough to say something, or because it’s something that doesn’t affect me it’s not my place. But Dr. Henry’s words hit home to me that these are excuses, and they’re not good enough any more. Somebody in the Q&A at the end observed that we tell ourselves that the fear we hide behind is a fear of hurting other people, but in fact it’s a fear of looking bad or being labelled a racist. We’d rather hide and stay silent than put our reputation on the line.
I’ve been reflecting on ways I can break this silence, both in my personal life, and also in my communities. Let us use this moment as a church community to ask the difficult questions about where we have been silent, and how we can equip ourselves better to speak out for social justice. Let us use our power as a church to say, boldly and clearly, that Black Lives Matter, and racism has no place in our community or in our society.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of the wisdom and insights that came out of the talk. If you’d like to listen to the whole thing, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbI3ir12W7M&t=5131s
Tomorrow (June 14th) at 2.30pm there will be a socially-distanced Black Voices Matter protest at Leeds Millennium Square: https://www.facebook.com/events/2635784023360436/