As a Black woman, for too many years, I have also struggled with keeping silent or speaking out regarding systemic and individual racism. I always felt that if I spoke out, I would be reprimanded, lose my job (a very good and well paid job), or not be taken seriously.
Over the years, I have encountered systematic and individual racism. For instance, 20 years ago, one week after I started to work for a specific corporation, a petition was circulated to get rid of me, even though I had not worked with 99 percent of the people whose names were on the petition. After a few months, someone approached me and asked me how did I make it this far, because Black people do not tend to stay for very long. I was shocked to hear this. I responded, “Well, I am here to stay.”
Now, as a Supervisor, I occupy a position of decision making. Some white employees believe that I should not “tell them what to do,” because they prefer someone of their own kind. The employees tend to feel more comfortable with people who talk and act like themselves.
I also find that I am monitored more by my boss than my white colleagues, which gives me the impression that I am not working hard enough. As a result, I feel that I have to work harder to prove myself, even though I am doing my job and following procedures. I also find that in a group of my peers where I am the only person of colour, my voice is overpowered. This means, if I want to be heard, I either raise my voice – which creates a double paradox, because now I am yelling, which is indicative of Black people – or I remain silent.
Enough is enough
As a Pastor, I worked at an institution that did not empower women to become pastors. Women were told that only men should preach and teach.
In spite of these challenges, I have made it my responsibility to speak out rather than keep silent regarding racism. Over the years, my motto has been to help people who are different than I to understand who I am and who Black people are through open and constructive conversation. Although this has been quite challenging, because nobody wants to be told that their actions are racist, I have made it my duty to deal with systematic and individual racism by educating individuals, one on one, who have demonstrated racism, in a loving and caring way.
I witnessed on social media what happened to George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, killed in Minneapolis during an arrest. Enough is enough, I thought. This is not acceptable. No matter what a person’s skin colour, he or she is created in God’s image, and nobody should be treated the way George Floyd was treated.
As the weeks went by, the idea of remaining silent rested heavily on my heart, and I asked myself another question. What more can I do to bring about awareness to systematic and individual racism? Mostly importantly, what would Jesus do?
When Jesus was on the Earth, he made a huge impact on people’s lives, societal values and on a hurting world. Jesus also spoke out against injustice, when it was necessary. In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan man who helped a wounded Jew. There had been tension between the Jews and Samaritans for centuries. Yet the Samaritan looked beyond the political tension and showed compassion and empathy to a Jew. The Samaritan did not let the Jew die on the road. The Samaritan stopped what he was doing, noticed the man’s pain, and went out of his way to help.
A time to act
Jesus told his followers “go and do likewise.” One way we as a society can help bring awareness to systematic and individual racism is to place ourselves in someone else’s pain. As I placed myself in George Floyd’s pain, I realized that I cannot remain silent. I can no longer stay in my comfort zone and hope that it will eventually go away. I need to continue to speak out against racism. I realized that for healing and restoration to take place, I need to act, by speaking out.
One thing that I appreciated about my journey at the Presbyterian College was that I felt included and accepted. I didn’t encounter racism there, not even as a Black woman from another denomination. I was encouraged to be me and to share who I am with the College. And for this, I will forever be grateful.
I encourage all Christian universities and colleges to continue to empower their students no matter who they are, and to always remember Whose they are. All people are children of the Most High God, created in his image. Use your voices to speak out.
In “The Problem with Silence” (July 13), Roland De Vries wrote that, “When it comes to social and political issues, I confess that my own impulse is toward public silence. Even in the face of the ongoing, widespread protests against anti-Black racism, part of me preferred silence.” He concluded by saying, “I don’t have anything to teach anyone here. Rather, I have much to learn.”
In that spirit, De Vries, a pastor as well as a professor at The Presbyterian College in Montreal, invited one of his students – Sandra Scarlett – to write his column this month.
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