We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
I have read through about 1/3 of Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Anti-racist. So you might look at this post as a “semi book review” and glimpse into what I’ve learned from his insights so far.
If you are unfamiliar with Kendi, he is one of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist voices. He is a National Book Award-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. Kendi is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News correspondent. To learn more of his history and his work, access his website at https://www.ibramxkendi.com/
Kendi begins the book describing historical writings about the enslaved Africans and how white writers, preachers, and sociologists talked and wrote about them. My overriding impression from this section of the book is that the dominant race, White, has spent centuries constructing racial hierarchies. He calls this “racializing,” and describes this process as one that includes labeling the black skinned Africans as one race and ethnic group – Black, and attributing characteristics to the different ethnic groups from Africa as either lazy, born to serve, or used to hard work in the fields. And, of course, racializing includes the notion that Black people are inferior to the White race. Racializing goes so far as to include Whites teaching African Americans to be fearful of their Black neighbors.
What I find astounding is the power of one race to totally control the way the minority race thinks of their own bodies, culture, language, and way of life. This way of thinking is so deeply embedded in both Whites and minorities that it will take intentional, deeply intentional work to free both Whites and Blacks from these racist beliefs.
Since this blog is intended to serve church leaders, and since Roman Catholic Church leaders are overwhelmingly white, these are the questions Kendi invites us all to consider: What does Jesus offer ecclesial leaders as they help their congregants face the sin of racism? What do Scripture and Tradition offer ecclesial leaders committed to leading their people closer to Jesus through repentance? What leadership skills do all pastoral leaders need to embrace in order to lead others on the journey to becoming an antiracist? One avenue priests and deacons have available to them to begin to confront the sin of racism is preaching. One of the deacons in my own parish used this avenue to confront those who say they are not racist by drawing the parallel between having biases and being a racist. He challenged the largely white congregation to not let themselves off the hook by saying everyone has biases and so dismissing the need to call racism what it is and then to confront it with the power of the Gospel.
I think, based on what I’ve read so far in Kendi, that he is saying that for Whites, racism is part of the water we swim in…the culture we have created and so, until someone takes us out of that water so that we can notice this, we are blind and deaf. The current events, no longer unseen thanks to the prevalence of cameras, are removing blinders. We are coming to see how deeply engrained our racist views are. We are coming to understand life from the perspectives of black men, women, and children. We are seeing the violence and injustice firsthand. Kendi says the goal for us is to become an antiracist…. for we are all imbued with racism. Antiracism is the commitment to see this truth, and rather than to accept it, to commit to fighting against it within and without…to examining our own thoughts and behaviors, and our emotions around them, and to vowing to speak up and out when we see these things happening around us. It’s not an easy work, but it can be made easier if those entrusted with forming and leading the Body of Christ will do just that and help us on the way to living the redeemed life Jesus is even now creating here on the earth. But we need leaders who are humble, courageous and committed to antiracism as the work of rejecting this evil in this time.
“BEING AN ANTIRACIST REQUIRES PERSISTENT SELF-AWARENESS, CONSTANT SELF-CRITICISM, AND REGULAR SELF-EXAMINATION.”
Ibram X Kendi