I am very grateful to Monica for sharing her story.
University city, full-blown racism
An experience of blatant racism which I experienced, was at university when I was looking for accommodation in the city. I was basically told at the door of the place I had found, that although they did have a room to let, purely because I was black – and bearing in mind they knew absolutely nothing else about me – there was no way they would be renting the room to me. This felt like a penetrating wound, piecing my very humanity. I cried all evening.
My working life after university to the present day has almost entirely been with the Diocese of London’s central administrative office. My longevity there – of nearly four decades – has been because over the years, and even more so in recent times, the working environment has been one in which I have been enabled to flourish. I have found my colleagues to be really good to work with. This is because I have felt that I have been regarded as ‘a whole person’; being black has not in itself been a determining factor of my working experience. The level of racial diversity among staff in the past has been low, but has been rising in recent years. As regards the boards and synods with which I have worked, there is a wind of change here that is gathering pace on the need to address issues of racial awareness and injustice. Members have shown in the past that they can maintain a firm stand on matters close to their hearts, and my hope is that they will demonstrate the full strength of their righteous indignation over the sin of racism, and show their hunger and thirst for righteousness to prevail. I am very encouraged by steps that are currently being taken, and the fresh initiatives that are underway. After many years of seeing numerous good intentions expressed at national church level, my hope is that decisions made will be brought into effect, leaving no one in any doubt as to the significance and importance to our Church of tackling racism. There are now promising signs of work being taken forward. We should all pray for God’s wisdom and the boldness of the Spirit for all involved in carrying forward this work.
Marriage and motherhood
My husband, who is a white English man has, during our marriage of nearly four decades, been a deep source of understanding, strength, and love. He has been ordained for nearly three decades as a Church of England priest. We have journeyed together with joy and thanksgiving from pre-ordination days to the present. As mother of our two children – now in their 30s – I was all too aware that the world often does not recognise a 50/50 black and white heritage in the sense of giving equal recognition to both parts. My experience is that children in these situations are often simply referred to as black or other (notably never white! – although their heritage is from both parts in equal measure). This failure to recognise and embrace the dual nature of the heritage of these children would seem to me to stem from a deep sense of whiteness as being supreme, and that any black addition extinguishes that.
Use of analogy to convey experience
I find the use of analogy useful in helping to portray my experience of being a black person in this world.
Here, I use an analogy of a seesaw on which black people are at one end and white people at the other: It is as though our blackness is a burden – which we are made to feel it is, through so often being regarded as second class and inferior. This treatment, and the injustice it represents, exhausts us and weighs us down as black people journeying through this world. Our end of the seesaw is weighed down so that it touches the ground. At the same time at the opposite end of the seesaw, seeing us from their seat on high are white people, with a demeanour of effortless superiority. From their elevated position, they ‘call the shots.’ What takes place is at their instigation. We long for the seesaw to achieve equilibrium.
I have been searching myself for answers as to how it is I live, day in day out, year in year out, as a black person in the world, in the face of what I have tried to convey. And here, I find a further analogy using ‘grief’ to be useful. My beloved father died early last year. I think this analogy using my grief goes something like this: There is a mode in which by God’s grace, I am able to live remarkably effectively from day to day, week to week, and so on, which is my ordinary and usual mode. However, there is another mode which lurks in the background and is always ready to pounce; to rear its head, perhaps because of something said or done to me or someone else, or something I have heard or seen. This mode is like a brick wall that I come up against; seemingly immovable and deeply painful.
The limitations of this analogy are that with the passage of time – as is usual for grief – the depth and intensity of the pain eases. However, this is not the case with those of us who suffer racism. This is manifested by the fact that over the last six months I have experienced a greater heaviness of heart and shedding of tears than I have done in as many years. This points to the extent of the burden of racism which weighs us down as black people, and what it does to the human spirit. For over this time it is not that I myself have had acts of racism directed towards me – which nowadays, I thank God, are infrequent – but the pain I come up against resulting from what I continue to see and hear of the suffering of others in the world around me: both close by and further afield. This causes my heart to cry inwardly, ‘How long, O Lord, how long’. I can recall my grandmother (1917-2001) expressing the pain of the racial injustices she suffered, and I hear those same expressions of pain and anguish today. A second source of my sadness is from the seeming lack of awareness on the part of some white people of the reality of racism; its damaging effects, and of the part they could play in its demise. I have a deep sadness for the sense of the loss of opportunities.
My analogies convey that being a black person in this world, is as though the shackles of slavery, although physically gone, are in a sense still there. As though key elements in the dynamic between the white masters and black slaves have somehow been transmitted down the generations, resulting in present day white people as beneficiaries, and black people with a loss in dignity and fullness of what is means to be human. Being white is like a hallmark, meaning that humanity in all its fullness is to be found there. A white person enters the world into the supreme and superior group of people who are confident of their self-worth; who have the privilege of being immediately recognised as possessing what is needed in personality, intellect and behaviour to convey the fullness of being human. I think it is hard for a white person to recognise this state which is so deeply embedded in their experience as human beings. I believe that only the grace of God can make it possible to acquire the objectivity and insight that is necessary to perceive this.
Racism feels like a primary sin, in that we find as black people – that far from being seen as equals, as God intended when he created His children – aspects of our very humanity are called into question. We even at times suffer the indignity of being likened to animals. And so, as black people, we find that we often have to strive ‘to get to first base’, to convince people that we possess the feelings, intelligence, and overall capabilities which are taken ‘as given’ in a white person. The primary forces of power and pride are at the heart of racism and give it fuel, which the seesaw analogy goes some way to convey.
The injustice of racism and its gravity as a sin are due to its directness in contradicting God who created us all in His image. Racism clearly evidences our disdain and effrontery to God in portraying that although created as equals, we do not regard each other as equals. Sheer folly! Furthermore, Jesus taught us to pray ‘Our Father’ precisely because we come to God together equally as His children. ‘We are children together of the same heavenly Father’, is what we say in the service of baptism. I do believe that if, in humility, we do not of our own free will right the injustices of racism, then God Himself may in His displeasure, step in and do so. I pray that as opportunities present themselves for us to act both as individuals and at higher levels, we will not let them go. I am astounded by the ingrained nature, the tenacity and persistence of racism both in society and in the church, that in spite of gallant efforts this evil prevails. I believe this evidences the profoundly spiritual nature of what we are dealing with and the imperative that all we do is deeply rooted and upheld in prayer.
Extract from: ‘My Story’
© Monica Bolley
27 November 2020