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‘Exploring racism and equality at the core of Church’s mission’

Dublin & Glendalough’s Council for Mission hosted a thought provoking evening exploring faith and racial justice as part of the ‘Conversations about Mission’ series. You can watch the conversation at the link at the end of the article.

“There is an institution and this institution is called whiteness. Whiteness protects.” These are the words of Dr Ebun Joseph who was speaking at the ‘Faith and Racial Justice’ Conversation about Mission organised by Dublin and Glendalough Council for Mission. She said that exploring racism and equality is at the core of the church’s mission and urged people to “dig deep in to that conversation to see what the Lord needs us to do”.

Dr Ebun Joseph
Dr Ebun Joseph

Dr Ebun Joseph was the latest speaker in the Conversations about Mission online series. She is director of the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies, a race relations consultant, lecturer Black Studies and chairperson of the African Scholars Association Ireland (AFSAI). She was a Teaching Fellow at Trinity College Dublin where she taught the undergraduate module on race, ethnicity and identity on the Master’s programme and developed and taught the module on intersectionality of race and gender. She developed the first module in Black Studies and critical race theory in education at University College Dublin. The session was recorded and there is a link at the end of this article.

She outlined the types of biases people have – affinity bias, attribution bias and conformity bias and pointed to research on how biases on a range of issues, from height to skin colour to gender, affected people’s access to employment.

“Skin colour matters in Ireland and influences people’s employment outcome. The scale of their skin colour matters. Immigrants with lighter skin tone are more likely to get a job,” she explained. “I do what I do because beautiful babies, their experiences in life are going to be different because of the texture of their lips, hair and the colour of their skins. All influence how they will get on in the labour market, how they will get on in life, where they can and cannot go.”

On paper it may appear that the labour market is a level playing field and that everyone is equal, she said. But she said racism, discrimination, lack of residency permits, people not being ‘white enough to be Irish’ all worked against people. “Wherever you are, the same group of people are at the bottom of the ladder. Are they lazy or stupid or is there a system of operation that makes it inevitable that they will not succeed?” she asks. “The field is not level. Some people start higher up so they achieve their goals faster than those who start at the bottom.”

White privilege is what protects white people from not starting at the bottom of the ladder, she stated adding that she was not saying that white people do not work but that they don’t have to start at the bottom all the time.

She asked what happened to white privilege in the church: “In church do we become holy and we don’t do our white privilege thing?” She said there is a place for people of colour in the church, as seen in the Bible. “This is not just diversity. It is a core practice of your faith. You should dig deep into that conversation saying ‘oh Lord what do we need to be doing.’”

She suggested that race is about all people. “When we talk about difference, white people think about black people, travellers, etc. But we all are different. Whiteness is difference. Whiteness is put in the centre but we are all part of that difference. When we talk about race, it is all of us. It is not just black people, not just white people,” she said.

In response to a question about bias, Dr Joseph said you cannot tell people they have a bias, you have to show them. “All of us have bias. I show people a three legged chair and ask people if they would sit on it. They say no and I say they are biased towards four legged chairs,” she commented.

Another participant pointed out that everyone has bias based on history and experience and a good point to start was to reflect on ourselves. Ebun agreed and said that people should not be afraid to own their bias. “I have a lot of biases but I am aware of them. You need bias to live because if you have to check every chair before you sit down it would be endless. But there is a thin line where bias goes from survival to damaging others. You have to know where to draw that line. If your line is too close to your personal preference then your bias is going to be too high,” she explained.

Issues that came up during breakout discussions included:

–       The need to address our biases intentionally.

–       The challenge in getting all churches on board.

–       The lack of diversity in leadership roles.

–       The need to encourage churches to engage with the issues.

–       The need to create welcoming spaces.

–       The importance of modelling from the top, there needs to be leadership.

–       The need to remove whiteness from the centre of the conversation.

Bringing the conversation to a close, the chairperson of the Council for Mission, the Revd Rob Clements said that he hoped the conversation that had been started would ripple out throughout the church as its members discern and learn where God is calling them to be. He thanked Ebun for her thought provoking contribution. The evening ended with a prayer from the Take the Knee liturgy.

You can watch a recording of the session here: https://youtu.be/a3TG5aB5Glg


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