Familiar but Different

Removals Streatham, SW16 Moving Company, Man and Van ...

I grew up in Streatham, South London and it will always have a special place in my heart and affections. As a local I used to know my way around the area without even trying. I knew the cut throughs for bikes and shortcuts for cars, I knew the best record shops (I know!) and which shops would be the first to sell the latest comics. I knew all the safe places and places to avoid.  Last year myself and Grant Robbins attended a one-day conference in Streatham, and I was discombobulated by how much change had taken place there. Even the station I used to use every day for school and work had been redesigned, staircases and exits had changed. Everything was familiar but different.

I’ve written a letter to the RBC community today outlining our thoughts on meeting together following the announcement that churches can reopen after the 4th July. I want to argue the point that we never closed, in many positive ways our community has been more open, active, and united than ever before, with regular and better attended meetings. We just meet remotely- we certainly haven’t been closed. But when our building opens it will be familiar but different and for many of us the changes will be very disconcerting.  Rather than focus on what we can’t do…. how things used to be, we are positively concentrating on what we can do…. We can meet, we can pray, we can socialise, we can re-prioritise, we can reimagine the RBC community.  Some people won’t want or be able to physically come to the building, so we are investing our resources into developing our online presence alongside our incarnate local expression of community.  It will be familiar but different for all of us.

‘Familiar but different’ applies to the new moral awareness prevalent as we emerge from lock down. Encapsulated by the black lives matter equality demonstrations. The ‘familiar’ is that many people accept that discrimination at any level is wrong. The ‘different’ is the new awareness of systemic inequality and prejudice based on ethnicity and skin colour which runs deeply in UK society. The difference is white people like me learning about the privilege that we have been advantaged by based on our skin colour and ethnicity. This is more than a reinforced political correctness about what can no longer be said but a realisation that a change is long overdue. The encouraging difference is that this demand for awareness and change is being voiced across the boundaries of colour and ethnicity.  One of the first baby steps in this direction is to listen to the voices, opinions, stories, and experiences that have historically been subdued, quietened or just dismissed. My fear is that despite the intentions of many people arguing ‘don’t all lives matter’?  the reality is we are not really listening to what is being said.  I’m not the best voice on this issue, I suggest you read Yinka Oyekan’s Facebook posts or YouTube videos by authors like Akala

Listening is the last ‘familiar’ but ‘different’ theme to mention today. Since our 24:7 prayer week finished last Sunday the team have been engaging in listening to the reflections and feedback as it comes in. Deep in the DNA of RBC is an activist mentality, to plan, organise and keep busy. But this week we have been learning to listen. The amazing thing that God seems to be saying through the diverse voices of our community could be distilled to one powerful verse…

‘I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it’?  Isaiah 43:19

And I’m quoting from The Passion Translation which for many folks will be familiar but different.

Graham

Listening

Like you I have been appalled and horrified by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by state police. My heart goes out to his family and community over his brutal mistreatment and the flagrant disregard for his humanity. I shamefully recognise that his inhumane treatment is symptomatic of a deeper devaluing of black lives, in particular black men, and that his death has tapped into generations of anger and frustration as the result of systemic brutality and discrimination.  

As a middle aged, middle class, white man I am conscious of my privilege  and accept that there are areas of inequality even within RBC that must be addressed. I have to say that whilst I cannot personally understand the anger which many are feeling, having not experienced the routine discrimination faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic peoples, I have been silenced by the stories I’ve been hearing from members of RBC about the racism they have experienced and lived with all their lives.

It’s not my voice you should be hearing on this topic, instead this week I’m using the platform of my blog to direct you to the powerful and stirring words of the President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Yinka Oyekan. This is directly taken, with permission, from Yinka’s Facebook post on 01 June entitled, ‘We are all George Floyd’.

WE ARE ALL GEORGE FLOYD; black people can’t breathe!!!!! –
5 ongoing issues that are choking the life out of black people and people of colour!

George Floyd was a Christian who was struggling to get his life right. Before his life was mercilessly ended, it is alleged that they beat him in the police car and then dragged him out and only then did they suffocate him. The anger over George’s death is understandable. Only one police officer has been charged when four were involved in his death, two holding down his lower body whilst one knelt on his neck suffocating him slowly as he cried for his mother, pleading for his life while the fourth who had the power to stop them watched. It was cruel inhuman and in the truest sense evil.

It is a metaphor of what has happened to black people and people of colour over the last few centuries.

BUT:

Black people still face more significant challenges to success and life compared to their white counterparts living in the west, let me show you five reasons why!

1. Racism exists in the workplace!

Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that to receive the same pay and performance reviews as their white counterparts, Black workers have to work twice as hard[1]. Worse still the discrimination is shown to create a feedback loop which results in ongoing negative stereotyping. But even where the productivity of black workers is superior to their white colleagues, the research shows that discrimination persisted, which could lead to lower wages or slower promotions.

I know black kids who have had to change their name in order just to get an interview for a job because when they used their African names, they couldn’t get past the front door to secure an interview. These are graduates who have worked hard to achieve a quality degree but then find in the west (usually white middle-aged men) barring their progress or chances. What hope then for those who have little or no education?

What has the world lost because of such discrimination? Consider this; Percy Julian was a pioneering black chemist. He was not allowed to attend high school in America but went on to earn his PhD. His research led to drugs that treat glaucoma and arthritis, a brilliant mind who faced prejudice at every turn; he is regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history. What other great scientists and innovators have been lost because the challenges were just too much for them to overcome. Why should any black kid have to overcome such challenges?

Let me be clear for every successful black worker you encounter in the west be sure they have worked their socks off to get anywhere near the top of their sector.

2. Racism exists in the Church!

I’ve watched it over the years even in ministry, and I almost never comment on issues of race in case it is perceived as “playing the race card”. But I have watched black ministries being stereotyped, just ask yourself how many second generation indigenous black leaders exist in the UK church, you might be surprised. Or ask this question why is it that national black leaders come predominately from black majority churches and not indigenous ones? Leaders Like Sentamu off the Church of England are rare. Do not believe that racism exists only outside the Church. When God sent an outpouring of the Spirit in Reading, some discounted it because I was black, I have been told as much by fellow white ministers, some who later apologised to me. The assumption was it’s a black church thing, the fact is our church is predominantly white but also has different races in it.

My first memory of going to a ministers prayer meeting in Reading was to be told by a leading figure not pray too loudly as it was off-putting for others, I ignored the request, now everyone prays as they wish loudly or quietly all prayer types are accepted.


Let us be clear; Christianity has been an engine for the progression of Black people predominantly by black people, but also as a tool for oppressing them by white people [2]. Apartheid, for example, partially based on erroneous theology only ended 25 years ago in 1994. From the earliest days, Black Christian communities have helped black people make progress in an otherwise hostile west. It might seem odd now that the first African American Catholic priest had to attend seminary in Rome because no American seminary would take him. But the legacy embedded in disputes over slavery in America with the Civil War prompted the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians to split into Northern and Southern factions. Yet the truth is amongst people of colour, the words of Martin Luther King Jn is what fills the heart. Black people want to work with and live with other races, not seeking unfair advantage, but longing for an equal playing field where they can breathe, it is less prevalent now in the Church, but it still exists and manifests especially where white believers have a sense of entitlement connected with the colour of their skin.

3. Racism is in our judicial system!

I wish to applaud the attempts of the judicial system in trying to root out all forms of bigotry, but I remember when I served as a magistrate the need to explain to colleagues that when a black kid is in the doc and refuses to look you in the eye it is not because they are guilty, shifty as they may seem, but rather it is because if they have been properly brought up in a black context they will have been taught not to look an elder in the eye, they are simply trying to be respectful.

Yet I witnessed more than once as a magistrate police officers having to be reprimanded because their story was just not credible. Now let me be clear 99% of police officers are exemplary public servants, but racism does exist, and when it appears it is ugly.

4. Racism is historic

They say the victor writes history; It is only now that western history and Hollywood is highlighting the contribution of black individuals. Many of the contributions that black people made in the second world war were simply written out of the early historical narrative.

Yet some of the most significant historical achievements of humanity both scientific and heroic came from the ranks of people of colour people like Alice Ball, an African American chemist who developed the first successful treatment for those suffering from leprosy.

For young black people finding heroes who are people of colour that make contributions to life, demands a lot of research, they are not featured in academia or business news as much as they are in sports or music. Yet you only have to visit a local hospital to see the contribution they make to health, they just need the media to let them breathe.

5. Racism is in our schools!

It’s not conscious; most teachers are good and decent they are teachers because they want to help children and care about them, but let me be clear teachers carry prejudice, and the statistics show it. In 2011 research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills demonstrated the bias. Black applicants predicted grade accuracy was the lowest at only 39.1 per cent of predicted grades being accurate, while their white counterparts had the highest, at 53 per cent.

The study showed that Black students have their grades underpredicted. So if you are black, you are unfairly expected to do worse than your white counterpart [3]. This is why the decision to take predicted grades as the benchmark results because of coronavirus is an unjust one for black kids; the academic system needs to let them breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, is a phrase that black people and people of colour have to work through in the west in everyday life in a way that many white people will never have to face. George Floyd’s dying plea is a literal metaphor for the cruel injustice that continues to be inflicted on people of colour.

As Christians, we should take a stance against racial prejudice, and where we can do our bit to stand up against it, and any oppression of minorities whenever it rears its ugly head.

Yinka Oyekan
President of The Baptist Union of Great Britain

footnotes
1. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21612
2. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/…/11-1043-investig…

The Baptist Union have posted several helpful and provocative article as a response to the murder of George Floyd.which you can access through the following link https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/579501/George_Floyd_our.aspx

At RBC our 247 week of prayer starts this Sunday at 12:00 PM.  I believe we should be talking and praying about the issues Yinka raises and many of our church community have experienced. People like myself need to listen and hear the voices of the people in our community that have lived and been hurt by racial prejudice and discrimination. This may be uncomfortable and challenging for some of us, but as one of our church community said to me just today, ‘Jesus’ command to His church is that we should love one another and this should be at the heart of our relationships with each other’.

Will you join me next week in praying in repentance and hope ?