Being honest about racism
by Marion Van Driel
March is designated Anti-Racism Month in Canada. In a country as diverse as ours, and in a time when we are welcoming more new Canadians than ever, treating newcomers with respect and dignity is not an option – especially for followers of Christ. We Canadians have, to a large degree, been smug about our perceived tolerance, often shaking our heads at what goes on south of the border. But statistics show that we treat Aboriginal Peoples, new immigrants and other races no better than our neighbors do. We are reluctant to honestly face the fact that we have a very real problem – but recognition is the first step in turning the tide of racism.
Facing our biases
It’s hard for us as individuals to admit that we have racial biases, if not a downright dislike for people of a certain culture or race. Perhaps we grew up in an era when – or area where – racial stereotypes were common. Maybe as kids, we experienced fear because of comments made by parents or others about a specific people group. But growing into adulthood brings with it a responsibility to face our biases and look for ways to overcome them.
Multiculturalism and our systems
Some churches are taking anti-racism seriously, and multiculturalism has become a significant part of their identity. Al Carson, Rector at Saint John the Baptist Anglican church in Sardis has been leading anti-racism workshops for church leaders since 2012. Carson has a multi-ethnic and multigenerational family; his wife is French Metis, he is of English/German descent. They have biological children plus adoptive children from China, Korea, and Afro American heritage. They had five grown children on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, when they boarded a plane to China to pick up their baby – the oldest of their ‘second’ family.
Carson says that as Christians, we don’t want to take part in racism, but we are often blinded to the hurt caused by inequalities built into our social and educational systems. One example he’s noticed is in our educational system; the Canadian curriculum doesn’t present positive aspects of the Chinese influence in Canadian culture, and certainly doesn’t include information about the head tax. The courses are very skewed towards white colonialism. “Our system isn’t geared to be multicultural even if we’re a multicultural country,” Carson notes.
Fear of loss
Racism is often founded on fear of what we might lose – our identity, our safety, our political system, our freedom. Carson explains he understands that mindset occurring outside of Christian circles; but “our witness to the world has to be that we actually don’t lose something – we gain something by reaching out to people of different cultural backgrounds. The image in Revelation on the kingdom of Heaven is of the nations coming to the Lamb of God. It’s going to be pretty multicultural.”
Becoming more welcoming
As Christians, we tend to isolate ourselves and move among Christian circles, rather than challenging ourselves to get to know people from other cultures and faiths. When we do that, “it isn’t having an impact on the world for Christ at all,” says Carson. He also warns against homogenizing all people. There may be no differentiation of our value in God’s eyes, but we’re not all the same. He has made each culture and race unique, with differences that should be celebrated.
The impetus for the training program that Carson teaches came from a confirmation that the Anglican Church – often assumed to be comprised mostly of Caucasians (Church of England) – is actually very multicultural. The average Anglican member worldwide is “a 20-year-old male who speaks Swahili,” Carson reveals. Something was wrong; the Canadian Anglican Church was not reflecting its global composition. The church decided to take a deeper look into racism within their community. Even so, it’s not been a smooth journey – not something people willingly jump into, according to Carson.
Carson says that he always learns something new when he teaches – like the importance of listening. “When Romans says to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, it’s difficult, … we like to rejoice with those who rejoice, but it’s more of a challenge going the other way,” he adds. We need to listen, and walk with them. “Churches are not going to change unless they’re going to be intentional about it, and see it as their call.” Celebrating our diversity opens up a world of richness. It broadens our perspective of the world, and the gospel of Christ. Opening our churches to different cultures has to be intentional not only in terms of hospitality, but inviting them into leadership as well, so it raises the profile of multi-ethnicity.
Racism common to all peoples
Racism occurs within all people groups. Certainly Caucasians can be targets of racism as well, although in our home country, white supremacy is still prevalent – either overtly or subversively (perhaps even in ignorance). “Racism is almost a default within the human nature because we’re so self-centered. This is why we need a Saviour – because we default to separating ourselves and placing ourselves above the other person…,” Carson explains.
Anti-racism begins with examining ourselves first and asking how we can be part of the larger solution, even if it requires stepping out of our comfort zones to do the right thing. It means not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. It means surrendering our will and biases to Jesus, the One who came to bring unity, the One who modeled ultimate selflessness.