Feedback to Church Leaders From Thurrock – Reading Group ‘Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

In July 2020, a group of Thurrock church leaders discussed the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Christian principles that in Christ we are one (Gal 3:28) and that when one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Cor 12:26). In order to spend more time exploring the issues it was agreed that a reading  group would meet virtually to discuss each chapter of  “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race”, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. The reading group consisted of Thurrock church leaders from a range of denominations, with  congregations varying from majority BAME to majority white. Feedback was collected around the following questions.

What have you learned?

For most people the main learning, which could be experienced as something of an emotional shock, was about the deep rooted and insidious impact of structural racism, where the unconscious bias of people from the majority background means that those who appear different from the prevailing culture experience real barriers to success which reduce their life chances.

What were you most challenged by?

The most challenging aspect of the book for many was the idea of white privilege. This is the idea that unconscious and unearned power comes from being in the majority, from experiencing the system and culture as one’s own. As a result a white person is not aware of the barriers of structural racism, nor of how structural racism in effect bolsters the life chances of white people. This idea of being unaware of the lens through which we view the world was something that caused people to ask, ‘where do we exclude others?’ We felt challenged to work through how to raise awareness of different life experiences in order to challenge stereotyping, inaccurate political narratives around immigration and the warping of black life chances. It was also challenging to see how the history of the contribution of black people to the British narrative had been selectively omitted or brushed under carpet. Black History month in UK started in 1987 and some atrocities of racism were, until recently, never mentioned in the media. 

What are you personally doing differently?

People reported a range of personal actions; getting involved in discussions with others; engaging intellectually with these issues; listening carefully to the experiences of others; hearing  personal stories of unfairness and trying to be more attentive to one’s own assumptions.

What do you feel our churches might need to change?

People felt that the churches needed to embrace and celebrate the theological truth of the value of all people; to preach against racism and support young people to work together; to be a beacon to the wider community; to understand structural racism and educate and advocate for social justice. Churches needed to investigate their own structures and systems and change them in order to give opportunities to those who have been excluded. In addition hey should create avenues for people to share their stories. We wondered whether a start might be to listen to the life stories of Black , Asian and Minority Ethic Christians in Thurrock and maybe to record stories in time for Black History Month celebrations in February 2021.

We would welcome any comments and thoughts from the wider Thurrock church leaders network.