My fellow parishioners in the St. Thomas Aquinas Racial Equity Discussion Group (REDG) showed immediately how open and welcoming they are when I offered as part of my rationale for joining how difficult things are for white people in conversations about racism. On the one hand, a discussion about racial equity ought not devote much time or attention to the sensitivities of white people. On the other hand, since white people are the problem, focusing on what will or will not keep white people in the conversation is relevant. My introduction of my challenges in connecting in an authentic way with a discussion of racial equity was that white people have an option to step away from the work of repairing racial relationships in America. White people do not have to live with the immediate pressure and costs of racism. My choice to begin by talking about white people’s concerns was shaped by a fellow participant’s earlier description of his constant awareness and wariness about living in American as a Black man in America, a pressure that is constant and painful. My takeaway from his very moving introduction was that my job was to stay engaged in the work of improving my awareness of and the readiness to do the work to engage white people, starting with myself, in the project of making my community a better place for all its citizens.
That project was advanced significantly early in the REDG’s discussion of a series of topics such as environmental racism and recognition of the inspiring successes of Black people in our lives. Also, a sub-group of the REDG decided to read and discuss Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste in six sessions over about ten months. Caste offers an engaging and convincing argument about the systemic and aggressive practices that have institutionalized racism in so many places throughout history, but exemplified most clearly in the Indian caste system, the Nazi genocide, and American racism. Reading and discussing Caste was especially useful for me, and I would argue for all white people, as a way to recognize, understand, accept the systemic racism that daily and deeply carries out the oppressive policies and practices of the dominant group and enforces the white privilege that benefits white people in so many ways historically and in contemporary America. Wilkerson is a powerful writer and the momentum she builds embraces her reader in a rich and compelling connection with the systemic racism that so seriously damages the lives of all people in America.
Another exercise in engagement and commitment for the REDG was a morning spent under the tutelage of the staff from the Indianapolis Peace Learning Center focused on implicit bias, something that is at once very personal and very important for connecting with others in more public contexts to ensure that all members of any community feel welcomed and respected.
I am better for my time with the Racial Equity Discussion Group and indebted to the Race and Culture Committee of St. Thomas Aquinas. I am more engaged and aware than I was last year at this time. I am more at ease with entering into the difficult conversations that changing racial relations requires and I am glad for the wonderful company I have found in the STA Racial Equity Discussion Group.