I HAVE A FEW confessions. First, I’m a white woman. So you should wonder why I’m writing an article about Black History Month. If a Black person was asked to write this, there is a risk that (s)he might have felt tokenized, or chosen merely because of a particular aspect of their identity.
Another confession: I am deeply unsettled by racism in the U.S and Canada. I don’t feel that I’m doing enough to combat it. Many white people are afraid to talk about race. We are afraid of doing it “wrong” or offending someone; or we’re frustrated, so we carry notions like, “Can’t we just move on already? That was a long time ago.” I am even unsettled writing this – wondering how you will receive this: with doubt? Pessimism? Shame? I’d like to ask you to receive this with love – love for the Church and love for each other, with a desire to help make our world (including our churches) a place where we can all live in freedom and with dignity.
Most white people I know do not consider themselves to be racist at all. But the past has created and shaped our biases (the ways we perceive and scrutinize bodies that are different than ours) without our awareness or consent. So even though I was taught that being prejudiced was not okay, I did not see Black people the same way I saw white people. I scrutinized and doubted Black people, I was skeptical of the intelligence of Black intellectuals, I perceived young Black students as more dangerous than white students. I still struggle with these biases; they don’t go away just because I want them to. My white body is often given the benefit of the doubt – while walking, studying, shopping, driving – people most often assume the best about me. This is too often not the case for Black bodies.
Catholic Friar Richard Rohr taught me that we can’t have healing without humility. I suggest that we can’t fix the racial divide in this country without honestly confronting our role in the ongoing perpetuation of racism; we can’t heal the deep wounds of white supremacy without humbly admitting to them and wrestling with them, and hearing how much pain our silence and complicity have caused. Then we can begin to consider repentance.
I invite you to be deeply unsettled with me as we dig into the past, and into our own biases, while we wiggle, poorly and awkwardly, toward repentance. This will require humility and hard work, but work that can help create a world where we love each other better – where we are moved to create freedom and dignity for all people.
Dr. KIM RADERSMA
Photo above: Viola Desmond’s sister holds the new $10 commemorating the civil rights activist from Nova Scotia, where Desmond was jailed for not leaving an all-white theatre in 1946.