Though I am deeply honored to serve as chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Commission for Dismantling Racism and to work as a trainer for the dismantling racism workshops, it is challenging work. The workshops are required for everyone who serves in a leadership position in the Episcopal Church. This is one of the canons and we are grateful that our national church leadership made this decision.
Of course we continue to have a long journey ahead of us in terms of dismantling racism in the church and outside of the church. But we will not allow that to thwart the effort to be vigilant in our efforts. Because the conversation has to be continued as a discipline in order to keep moving toward liberation for all of us.
This past Saturday, I helped to facilitate a training in one of our churches. A church founded in the early 1800s and led by a clergyperson who spent a fair amount of time using the Bible to defend slavery. Though the 21st century members of this church are much more enlightened than their founding leader, the remnants of his legacy continue to exist, not only in their parish life but across our region and country. If that legacy did not still live across our land there would be no reason for such trainings in the first place.
Some months ago, we revised these training sessions to begin with the celebration of Holy Communion as a reminder of who we are as people called to live beyond the darkness of our culture. This has made a huge difference because it is quite difficult to move beyond some of our deeply embedded ideas about race in America. All of us have our history with race which continuously informs the way we live our lives. It takes courage to acknowledge that fact, but it takes even more courage to interrogate ourselves to see where we need to make changes. There were many folks in the audience who were ready to interrogate themselves, there were some who were not.
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This is the challenge for me. How many times have I heard these arguments. Arguments that are designed to show that racism is not a system, that white privilege does not exist because of the personal hardships that were endured or that black people are racists because of their prejudice even though there is no real system of black power that can exclude white people. Of course it is hard to work through some of these notions when one’s life has been built upon a foundation that did not really questions its basic premises.
As always there were a couple of very verbal white men in the room who were bound and determined to make sure we knew that we were on the wrong track and who seemed to think it was their job to set us straight. This is the place in the work when I am reminded again to remember that it is not about me. I am to be the best tool that I can be in allowing light to shine that can illuminate the darkness around the systems of oppression that continue to plague us. It is challenging and I am thankful for the gift of grace and the skills to do this work. I have done it for more that 40 years now and expect to continue it for some time to come.
Near the end of the day, a brother who had been noticeably uncomfortable for a good part of the day spoke up. He talked about how he had been in many conversations that were ugly and derogatory about presidential candidate Obama because of his race and that he had not found the courage to speak up. The training day helped him. I know the conversation has to continue.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.