Both the Task Force and the Commission are now mandated to help us implement ‘significant cultural and structural change.’ It has our support. As Arun Arora has said: ‘Apologies and lament must now be accompanied by swift actions leading to real change. And as Graham Tomlin pointed out yesterday in a blog Grace and Race, ‘It is the gospel, not a secular agenda that drives the Church’s vison for racial justice so that the Church genuinely reflects and demonstrates the varied and multi-faceted wisdom and grace of God in Christ.’
I say this to you as a white man who has been on a long journey of learning, and still has, I’m sure, some way to go. But let me finish with a little story that radicalised me. Before I went to ordination training I worked at Saint Christopher’s Hospice in South London for a year. I was a ward orderly. I was the only white man on a team of amazing black women. We became good friends. They taught me a great deal. It was the time of the Brixton riots – only a couple of miles down the road. One of the women I worked with, Grace, was my partner on the Monday after the weekend riots. One by one, throughout the day, a succession of white men stopped her in the corridor and made the same demeaning joke, asking her whether she had been throwing bricks or smashing up bus shelters. Each time, she would patiently smile at their inappropriate joke. But in the afternoon, when a senior consultant made the joke for the umpteenth time, she snapped. She told this so-called senior man what she thought of his derisive humour. She stomped off. He turned to me and said – and I quote – “What is it with these people. Can’t they take a joke?”
I took a deep breath. The deep breath that I can make as a privileged white man even though I was in a very low position compared to him, and I said that I’d been working with Grace all day and had been given the tiniest glimpse of the horrifying, persistent, degrading drip, drip of demeaning racism and how I was surprised she hadn’t snapped earlier and that he owed her an apology.
The Church of England owes some of our sisters and brothers in Christ a much greater apology than this; and for much greater wrongs. But most of all we owe it to the nation we serve and to the God we love, that in this watershed moment – the week when George Floyd’s killer was brought to justice – we will now commit ourselves to change.
The Most Rev and Right Hon Archbishop of York @CottrellStephen pictured with the 1000 year old York Gospels at a service today to install eight new Honorary Canons at York Minster. @York_Minster pic.twitter.com/qU8qKZmEyS
— Ravage Productions Photography (@ravagephoto) April 25, 2021