Council looks at privilege of race

Published January 1, 2006

Donna Bomberry, an aboriginal woman, (left) prepares to release the hand of Rev. James Robinson during the Race to the Wall exercise.

Mississauga, Ont.
“If you have seen your culture accurately portrayed in church books and resources take a step forward,” Clarence Randell of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador told members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) who had been instructed to stand in line and hold hands outside the session hall of the Queen of the Apostles Renewal Centre.
By the time Mr. Randell finished his set of questions dealing mostly with how one felt treated on the basis of one’s race, a majority of the members of CoGS – all of them white – had advanced. Left behind were a few, all aboriginal people.
The Race to the Wall exercise was a component of a one-day anti-racism workshop offered by General Synod’s anti-racism working group during CoGS’ fall meeting here Nov. 17-20.
Mr. Randell, a member of the anti-racism working group, then asked CoGS members how they felt about the exercise, which illustrated how race plays a role in the granting or withholding of privilege in Canada.
“I felt awful about leaving her and guilty knowing that I am more privileged,” said Rev. James Robinson of Calgary, who began the exercise alongside Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries co-ordinator of the church’s partnerships department, but had left her behind as he kept taking steps forward.
Deputy prolocutor Peter Irish of the diocese of Fredericton, who had also initially stood near Ms. Bomberry, added, “My question is why am I here and why is my friend Donna back there?”
CoGS members also viewed a powerful video, Indecently Exposed, which documented an anti-racism exercise that American race activist Jane Elliot ran in Regina. The Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise, adapted from a similar one that Ms. Elliot had done with her third grade students in 1968, involved dividing participants based on their eye colour.
Ms. Elliot said the exercise was about “walking a mile in their (native peoples’) moccasins.” Those with blue eyes were told that they were lazy and stupid; those with brown eyes were told to denigrate those with blue eyes and to make them feel powerless. Participants then discussed how they felt about the reversal of their roles.
After watching the video, CoGS members discussed what racism looks like in the church.
Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, bishop of Moosonee, said he believes that the Canadian church has “not done much by way of making the church transformational; it’s largely symbolic.” He said that while some churches may be welcoming of other people of colour, some attitudes prevail that while “they don’t look like us, we want them to act like us.”
Two other members of the anti-racism group – Elizabeth Beardy and Canon Yves-Eugene Joseph – read aloud accounts from non-white Anglicans who suffered racism in present-day churches in Canada. A new African immigrant talked about how she had excitedly attended an Anglican church in her neighbourhood only to be told that, “your church is down the corner.” She was directed to a largely black parish from another denomination.
There was also a spirited discussion about the difference between racism and prejudice. “Within a minority group there is discrimination and prejudice. Minorities have stereotypes against other minorities and even whites,” said Mr. Joseph. “The difference is that they (minorities) don’t have the power to carry it out or to make it hurtful.”
Racism, he explained, is the belief that some races are inherently superior to others and therefore have a right to dominate them and to create structures and systems to make these possible. Racism, he added, involves power and domination.
The council later passed a resolution stating that an anti-racism workshop would be held at CoGS each triennium.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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