Adele Halliday. (Photo: Michael Erdelyi)

Topics: Justice | Opinion

What I need from white people right now

It’s way past time to confront anti-Black racism

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Some of you may know me — as a General Council Office staffperson, an anti-racism educator, a writer, a parent, a theologically trained layperson, or a lifelong Christian. I am all of these things, and more.

But today I write as a Black Canadian.

The events of the past few weeks have been deeply traumatizing. I have been cycling through three main emotions – intense anger, immense exhaustion and deep pain. These emotions are not new to me – they are part of what it means to live in a Black body with the reality of racial injustice.

Some of you already know that I’ve been angry and weary. And now, I’m beyond fed up. Some of us have been demanding action for a very long time. The time for subtle changes is over. It’s time for a revolution against relentless racial oppression.

Let me also be clear that I am not writing this letter to my Black colleagues. Many among us who are Black are experiencing a collective and vicarious trauma—an emotional shock that does not just go back a few days, but generations. And we have been finding our own ways to cope and act in the midst of a lifetime of oppression. No, this is directed towards those among you who are white—those who have white privilege and who have benefitted from systemic racism. 

More on Broadview: United Church minister on racism: We need action

I would first implore you — please stop saying that you are not a racist. Please stop only pointing to the overt and outrageous actions of a few individuals and demonize them, and say that you are nothing like them, without challenging systems of privilege. Instead, please acknowledge that you have benefited from a system of white supremacy in this country, and then do something to change the system. Some of us began naming white supremacy and calling out racial injustice long before it was popular. Please also be proactive and do your own work to dismantle racial injustice. It’s time to be actively anti-racist.

Some among you have asked what you can do, and what I might need from you at this time.

I can’t speak for the whole Black community in Canada, or even Black leaders in the United Church, but I can name what I need.

Some of you have asked how I’m doing. Here, I need you to be pastoral. I have been re-traumatized by the video of a modern-day lynching. I am terrified that I will be one of the Black women shot by police in their own homes. I am full of grief for parents who have had to bury their Black children. I am infuriated that the police were weaponized against a peaceful park walker through a dishonest emergency phone call. 

I’ve been reminded yet again that just having Black skin may be my cause of death. I have already had extensive conversations with my four-year-old about racism, and yet I struggle with how much to share with this child, who senses my anger. I am filled with the pain that my children will experience in life simply because of having Black bodies. 

Many among us in the Black community are carrying a range of emotions these days. But we still need to be present to do our work, to parent, or whatever else goes on in our daily lives. The everyday reality of anti-Black racism takes a toll on us and our mental health. So, please be pastoral if we are not always emotionally present these days. 

Some have wondered what you can do to support me. I need you to be prophetic. I need you to acknowledge and name the realities of anti-Black racism and white supremacy in Canada, and stop falsely postulating that we are better than the United States. I don’t want your sympathies, your guilt, or your attempts to mollify my emotions. I also don’t want you to make this about me, as an individual. Instead, don’t be silent. Say that Black Lives Matter! Interrogate the disproportionate inequities faced by Black peoples in Canada and around the world. We are part of a faith tradition where prophets name truths – I need you to do that too.

Maybe you’re tired of seeing news articles about anti-Black racism. I’m tired of living with it. And I don’t get to opt out of the reality of racial injustice. To support me, and other people in the Black community, do not opt out of action either.

Some have wondered what role churches play. I need you to please: Pray. Preach. Protest (and repeat). I heard a few people say that the only thing we can do about racial injustice is pray. Don’t get me wrong, I am a praying person, and deeply believe in the transformative power of prayer. So, while I may get down on my knees and pray to God, I also then need to get up and preach. I need to protest. I need our churches to not only pray on Sundays, but to also offer a prayer through a lifetime commitment to systemic change. 

Please keep doing this work long after the current display of anti-Black racism has faded from the news cycle and our social media feeds.

When you protest and preach and pray, please focus on racism. Too often, I’ve found that conversations about racism by white people quickly devolve into conversations about patriarchy or poverty or other inequities. I am deeply committed to working towards equity in all its forms — it is my life’s work and passion. But, sometimes, we need to get specific about racism without adding other forms of discrimination and oppression that people may feel more comfortable addressing.

And remember that this is long-term work. Please keep doing this work long after the current display of anti-Black racism has faded from the news cycle and our social media feeds. 

Some have asked where God is in the midst of this. Of course God is present, and I believe that Jesus would be among those who are rallying and calling for change. Jesus often aligned himself with people on the margins and those experiencing oppression. Plus, we have just celebrated Pentecost, when God’s Spirit is poured out to the church. I believe that God’s Spirit is moving among the privileged and comfortable and is prompting, disrupting, prodding and urging. I believe that God’s Spirit is moving among us who are wounded, and is soothing, comforting and encouraging.

The work of racial justice is ours to do along with God’s. I need you to partner with God in actively doing this work, and not to leave it for God only to do.

Please. Do something, for God’s sake. For all our sakes.

It’s a matter of life and death.

***

Adele Halliday works as the Team Leader for Discipleship and Witness at the United Church’s General Council Office; she is currently on parental leave from her position. These writings are her personal reflections, and is not written from her official capacity as a United Church employee.


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  • says:

    "It’s time for a revolution against relentless racial oppression". So do you support the violence of revolution that is going on in US cities right now? The burning and destruction of cities in the US that destroy the lives and businesses of both black and white US citizens. The mobs of young people are not demonstrating peacefully they are using the cover of the chaos to break windows and steal tvs. I am white and I am a member of the UCC. I do not support your call to revolution.

  • says:

    Thank you Adele for sharing this passionate and inspiring message with us. It a tribute to all George Floyds under the yoke of racism and can't breathe. It has lifted the knee off my neck a little bit so I can breathe a little.

    In fact, I can't breathe when I meet white folks and they persistently ask me "where are you from", but refuse to accept my response and ask again "where are you really from?" Really?

    In fact, I couldn't breathe in the wider COMMUNITY so I ran to the CHURCH to breathe. But the situation in the church not different.

    In fact, I couldn't breathe when, on a Sunday morning, a parishioner stood up in the middle of my sermon to ridicule my Ghanaian accent and teach me the correct pronunciation of the word "focus." The heckler sat down and no one in church challenged her. What happened to the Scripture which said all languages will praise the God of the nations (Rev. 7:9)?

    In fact, the slaves transported through the Middle Passage experienced racism in its worst form and were the first to moan, "I can't breathe"; their necks were under the rough knees of their captors, the slave owners. But John Wesley, the father of Methodism preached against slavery and influenced politicians like William Wilberforce to sponsor the bill that eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the British empire.

    John Wesley Prayed, Preached and Protested. My beloved sister Adele Halliday has prayed, preached and protested; she has spoken passionately. It is now the turn of our white sisters and brothers in the church. Until the church rises up to pray, preach and protest, I can't breathe. If I can't breathe, none can breathe, because "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    Replies

    • says:

      Beautiful reply. Thank you.

    • says:

      Thank you. Well said

  • says:

    Dear Adele

    Please stop telling me I'm white privileged. I get it sometimes, but when I see anger, hate, and unjust accusations against me (stereotyping) you start fueling the fire at your end. I have worked in a predominately young black environment and had to overcome being a "narc", a "whitey", and trustworthy - it does go both ways. There are a lot of us "white folks" who are not privileged, yet we may not live in as much repression as our coloured brothers and sisters, but don't race bait. When I start hating and stereotyping you, then you can point fingers. I don't hire law enforcement, I vote for whom I think will lead my city, province and country well. I try to do everything I can to stand up for injustice against anyone (except protest with a group who has an agenda). But if you pigeon hole me, you will validate an opinion that I have of you.

    Replies

    • says:

      Gary, beloved child of God, this is not helpful. Race baiting is not a real thing. People who say it give themselves away immediately. Just say you are a racist and own it. Let us move on with the conversation. I am a Black seminarian called to serve this denomination and will likely face an all white congregation in every charge I ever accept, some of whom will feel exactly like you. When I get up to preach in the light of yet another Black lynching caught on camera, they will assume my words amount to an agenda, just like you. I am called to love and shepherd them nonetheless. I am called to preach God's truth nonetheless. You have no idea how exhausting such a calling is. That is privilege. You can be considered "neutral" of race. That is a privilege. People don't relentlessly ask you where you're from or try to ingratiate themselves to you by telling you the last Black movie they watched or how their cousin married someone from a neighbouring country to your own. That is privilege. Nobody calling you whitey is ever going to equal the generational devastation racism has had on Black people, on Indigenous people, and on all people of colour. Just sit down. Pray on this and then listen to what the people of God are saying. Just listen for once. Suspend your confirmation bias and opinions and pray and listen. Rinse and repeat.

      Replies

      • says:

        I think I did admit I was racist at times, we all are. (If you reveal that you do not, I will see through you as well.)

        Already you have made a judgement call on who I am, yet you have no idea. Twice in your reply you "pigeon holed" me on different matters.
        If you are making a life choice knowing the conditions ahead, I suggest you reconsider the call, or a least find where you will feel at peace. If you don't, it will be far less than exhausting, it will be "burn-out", or worse, you will lose your faith.

        In response, if you preach James 4, I will listen. However, if you tell me that you are tired and angry then tell me that I am the reason why, you lost a congregant.

        Funny, people do ask me where I am from, and I proudly say I am from Weston. At the restaurant where I worked, the "non-whites" continually asked where each other were from. My joke was: "I was from Kingston". after a deadly silence, I stated "Ontario", which resulted in laughter.

        I couldn't care less what relationships people have with others of different ethnicity. I am interested in those who share my faith, or want to hear the Good News that I have.
        Instead of being offended, try being proud of who you are. I might want to know that you were born in Rexdale, Saint-Michel, or Cascade Southeast. For that matter Dominica, Guyana, or Ivory Coast.

        Just remember, all of us in the "Western world" are privileged. We have clothes to wear and food in our bellies, this is all God promises us outside of eternity. I pray and praise my Saviour for that. Not for those who feel sorry for themselves, Psalm 73.

        BTW thanks for noting I'm a child of God - as a brother in Christ I trust we will meet some day, magnifying the same Lord for eternity - not worrying about the matters in this "blink of an eye", here on Earth.

  • says:

    WG Nathaniel: Those are not mobs of young people. Those are brilliant, prophetic young people. I am white and I am a member of the UCC and I support the call to revolution.

    Replies

    • says:

      Check out Larry Elder, a black intellectual in the US who argues there is no systematic racism in the US. How would your respond to his argument.
      Here is the title and the utube link. I would suggest that we all hear counter arguments like this
      Are Black Americans Being Hunted by the Police? Larry Elder- https://youtu.be/CMmB6h9SAEo.
      When anyone uses a national paper like Broadview to espouse revolution for whatever reason, we need to pause and think about what that means. there is growing number of Conservative black intellectuals in the US who are pushing back against the ideological progressive narrative that systematic racism exists in the US today. Canadians need to get more educated on to what US citizens are actually debating on this issue.

  • says:

    Gary: You are not understanding what white privilege means. You need to do the work to figure that out.

    Replies

    • says:

      White Privilege - Even if everyone (white or black) has far less than what we have now in North America, we are still far better off than 3/4's of the world. My point, even the non-privileged have it made in North America. I didn't create the situation, and I can't fix the situation, but I know for sure this world will never see a "Christian Utopia" outside of Christ's return. We all have to make the best of it, some just happened to be more blessed than others. If the energy and money spent on protests were to help those who are not "privileged" perhaps it could start the ball rolling.

      Replies

      • says:

        BTW - Over 55 million dollars to clean up after the "protests" in Minneapolis.

    • says:

      check out the Black voice of reason in the US on an interview "The Dangers of Condemning All Police—Bob Woodson Talks George Floyd Protests, Riots & Racism"

    • says:

      Pam, if you are willing to listen to this entire video, it might provide you different opinion from Blacks themselves about systemic racism. Watch the whole thing. Watch the young black female standing along speaking down all those violent youth that destroyed here neighbourhood. and listen closely to what the black civil rights leader Bob Woodson has to say: the youtube video The Dangers of Condemning All Police—Bob Woodson Talks George Floyd Protests, Riots & Racism. https://youtu.be/uk0Y6woydjk

  • says:

    Adele, Thank you. Thank God for you. Bless your soul.

  • says:

    Thank you Adelle! You bring the Spirit of gentleness and call me from placidness!

  • says:

    Born in South Africa, the son of missionary parents opposed to apartheid, and as a result repatriated back to Canada by their denomination, I am writing to say how moved I was by Adele Halliday's witness to racism. By the same token, I was confused about the qualifying statement that her words were personal reflections, and not those in her official capacity as an employee of the United Church. Why was the qualification necessary?

  • says:

    This article is quite eloquent and gets to the heart of the racism issue. So many privileged white people appear to be supportive of the issue, but what concrete steps are they willing to take to demand change? People of colour are denied employment for which they are qualified when employers hide behind citing lack of Canadian experience. We read that Canada's Immigration Department seeks out highly qualified immigrants, and even though many speak English, they are under-employed, often in menial jobs because their education, skills, prior job experiences and training etc. are totally devalued. Are privileged whites concerned about the lack of diversity in their very own workplaces? I believe finding an opportunity to raise this issue with their company's Human Resources Department would be an example of taking concrete action.

    Replies

    • says:

      Your point of systemic racism is noted. You are getting to the heart of the matter. First, you're right, most of us who are the "haves" don't care about the "have nots". As long as it doesn't impede our way of life, all is well. Right now I see people cheering on Adele because they feel obligated to do so. If we really had a change of heart it would have started in (more likely well before) 1898 with the Willington "Uprising", or 1965 with the Watts Riots, or "Black Day in July" 1967 riots in Detroit, or LA riots in 1992 over Rodney King. Get it? Rioting has done nothing, and we will fall back on our own way of life in a few years, until another injustice or life is lost. I have never worked in a place where there was a lack of diversity, so I don't know how bad things are in the real world. I can guess.
      I don't know your position in your employment, but I can tell you this: if you raise a controversial issue with your HR, your correct course of action will be your demise in most companies. As Christians we are called to love people - are we perfect?, No! Thankfully, God created us differently, He wanted it that way. Try your best to love all, but never do it because you're coerced to do it. And NEVER patronize the other person, they see through it.

  • says:

    I am a racist and I want, and am trying, to change.

    I have white privilege and try to be aware of that in discussions and decision making.

    Your words, Adele, are deep, sorrowful, and sadly true.

    Black lives matter. When can Christians truly live that truth in this world that we are called to change and love, when we don't live it ourselves?

    Black lives matter.

    I am a gay Diaconal minister and I see you.

  • says:

    Adele, I have read your article and I am very proud of you my sister. I have know your fighting spirit for a long time and I can only imagine how exhausting it is. I lift you up in Prayer. I am very surprise of the dsiclamer at the end of this article. ........Adele Halliday works as the Team Leader for Discipleship and Witness at the United Church’s General Council Office; she is currently on parental leave from her position. These writings are her personal reflections, and is not written from her official capacity as a United Church employee.
    It sounds more like "If it goes well with the public we acknowledge you as a staff but it it doesn't goes over well you are on you own".

  • says:

    In response to recent events of anti-Black racism which have taken place across North America, on June 2, 2020 the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and The United Church of Canada issued a joint letter acknowledging systemic racism in Canada, especially within the our denominations. Nonetheless, acknowledging the reality of racism, in 1993 I co-chaired the United Church’s very first “Anti-Racism Taskforce”; we enjoyed the criss-cross jaunts, hotels and good meals(!); mournfully nice hunk of change in the 1990s couldn’t solve this human curse.
    The unremitting use the numpty cognomen "COLOURED" in the media is appalling. Who else is not "bleached "? All animals, social animals including humans have skin with certain degree of tinge - either too little sun or too much. The so-called "uncoloured" folks must invent a new word to describe the varieties of pigmentation. Still, I am short of breath! C'est la vie!

  • says:

    This article leaves me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, Ms. Halliday vividly expresses her views on a terrible inequality that has been integral with her life. I am deeply saddened that this has been the case. In a truly egalitarian world, such injustices as she describes should not exist. But they do! Her call to action is to be applauded. We must all join hands in getting the necessary but difficult work done. Systemic racism and other forms of injustice must be eradicated. On the other hand, however, Ms. Halliday seems to push the pendulum of equality too far the other way. She gives me the sense that I should apologize for my so-called white privilege, as though in being born white I had done something wrong. Offending me as a way of getting even will take us nowhere! Indeed, we do not achieve greatness, or equality in this case, by putting another person down. But I do acknowledge and accept that I have work to do in better understanding racism in its many forms and in discovering how I might play a role in making the world a better place in this context. And I will admit to being jolted into this work by the many sad examples that have flooded our news channels over the past few weeks. Collectively, we can all surely do better. So, in helping to jolt me into action, I accept the gist of Ms. Halliday’s article!

  • says:

    Thank you Adele for bringing this to light. Black Lives Matter, All lives matter.
    This apology comes from my heart. I am so sorry for all God's people who suffer because of intolerance and systemic racism. I definitely have benefitted from privilege. I believe that my privilege extends beyond the colour of my skin. And for anything I may have said, done or not said or done as the case may be, that may have made this situation worse I am truly sorry.
    I feel helpless most days, and your words help me a little bit to understand what it means for God's people everywhere who suffer from injustice. I cannot begin to fully understand because my skin is white. Please know I will try. We have discussed it in our homes with our children and grandchildren. And will not stop.

    Peace be with all God's children.

  • says:

    Adele, my heart goes out to you trying to explain racism to your four year old. I have an image that may help a little. Coming from London, Ontario, my middle daughter had never noticed a black person before. We were at a museum in Philadelphia, and my two year old broke away from me to run over to a black mother and child sitting on a bench. I saw the mother freeze, as I did also, because my daughter reached up her hand, and - softly, ever so gently, caressed the cheek of the black child. I said - I did not know what to say or do - "She's beautiful, isn't she?" And as my child ran back to me, I said "Thank you!" to the mother. How I wish I had had the courage to go over to her and introduce myself, and apologize for my child's boldness. I wish we had become friends, so I could tell her I'm sorry that had to be a frightening experience for her; I wish I could tell her one of my child's requested and most cherished childhood treasures was a black Cabbage Patch doll. I see now that it was a wasted opportunity which my daughter tried to lead me in to. I will not let such an opportunity slide by again because I think if black and indigenous people can forgive us our trespasses, and welcome us in friendship, we can help heal the world, so that no mother ever has to fear again the approach of a white two year old.