Every journey begins with a single step. Sharing the journey prompted by events in the US.
Sermon for Adel Parish Church June 14th 2020
Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
‘Preachers are at their best when preaching about something they’re bad at – because then they know the struggle.’ So said Fr Timothy Radcliffe – Dominican friar, author of many books and wonderful preacher himself.
I offer his wisdom to you today, perhaps as an excuse, as I share the journey I’ve embarked on after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th.
We’ve just heard Jesus send out his disciples to ’cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons’. I suspect none of us take that as a literal instruction for today. In Jesus’ time, the sick and lepers represented the margins of society…so perhaps we hear it as a call to be healers and restorers on the margins of our society. But what does that mean in 21st century Britain?
I’ve known for years that in Britain, BAME people are marginalised by the system. Growing up in Middlesbrough and working in East Leeds mean that Adel is the most racially mixed place I’ve ever lived. But still, I knew…
…I knew about the over representation of BAME people in prison,
…their under representation in positions of power,
…their under representation as clergy in the Church of England
…the scandal of Windrush deportations…
I knew but I suppose it felt too big to be my problem. ‘The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.’ What could I do? I focused on easier targets…speaking out at the rise of the BNP…criticising the US. So what’s different this time?
Like everyone I was shocked by that almost casual killing in America – but what really jolted me was a 2018 video that resurfaced on Facebook. A video of a white American woman quietly challenging an audience of white Americans.
“Stand up”, she said, “if you would be happy to be treated the way black people are treated in this country.” No one stood –but their expressions suggested they knew how black Americans are treated – and certainly wouldn’t be happy to be treated that way.
I might have moved on, with prayers for America, and relief that I’m British. But her words stayed with me…made me uncomfortable. Not because I knew and did nothing, but when I realised I’ve never bothered to find out.
I’ve never studied, read more widely…but worse – I’ve never even asked my friends what it’s like to live with the everyday racism that’s part of our society. So last week I did. I asked two of my friends about their daily experiences of living as educated, successful, black women in Britain.
Of course some of you live this every day; others may be way ahead of me; but just in case I’m not the only one struggling, I’m going to share a little of what they said.
“On TV, in work, schools, institutions that govern our lives, we’re not represented. Black role models and history aren’t mainstream. Messages about black people relate to immigration, poverty in Africa, underperforming schools in BAME areas…all negative.
I struggle to find shows, films and dolls where my children can see people that look like them. Another issue is the beauty industry – as a woman I feel marginalised because I can’t find a hairdresser or hair products in a mainstream shop. For black girls growing up…all their friends talk about hair appointments, makeup they’ve bought…but they remain silent because they’re embarrassed at having to go to Harehills to get those things.
I don’t frequently speak about the issue myself as we are either dismissed or people say things that water down the issue, bringing up other forms of discrimination as if to prove that what we’re highlighting really isn’t that important. I’m made to feel I have a chip on my shoulder.
As in the argument of ‘Black lives matter’ vs. ‘All lives matter’, people just don’t want to stay with what you’ve raised, they must point to something else. So eventually you just keep quiet.
Underlying all this is the deep hurt caused by the enslavement of Africans that led to loss of African heritage, black people having no wealth, continued explicit racism and covert messages that black people are not as good. Whilst England remembers the Holocaust every year, it doesn’t give black people the healing that would be brought by remembering their suffering through slavery.
The tragedy of what happened to George Floyd personally brings to the fore all the challenges that I and people with my skin colour face every day – explicit and covert messages from society throughout our whole lives that we are not as intelligent, beautiful, hard working, worthy, as ‘white’ people.
Just two people’s everyday experiences…shocking. Now I have stories rather than statistics, and as Jesus knew so well – stories are what change us.
And I still feel overwhelmed – the harvest seems even more plentiful, what can my tiny bit of labour do? But I do know that when Jesus told his disciples to pray for more labourers – they found they were themselves the answer to that prayer. They were sent out to heal and restore. They were sent out with message that God’s love is for everyone.
Humanity has never found it easy to accept that we cannot love God and hate our neighbour – but that is the message we are given.
So what does Jesus’ commission look like for me today? Well Jesus didn’t just value everyone equally, he challenged a system that didn’t…and I believe he calls me to do the same. And I’m starting with this definition of anti-racism…‘the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it – even in yourself.’
So I’ve listened to my friends – acknowledging that although there are other forms of discrimination and hardship – this is their story, and I’m not qualified to speak only to listen and lament.
I’ve found black voices to listen to – and heeded their advice to educate myself…to listen and read. And if you find yourself on a similar journey – perhaps we can share resources and encourage one another.