Last week, I attended the JCWR (Justice Conference of Women Religious) Convocation called Racism Through the Prism of Social Justice. Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Patricia Chappell and Anne-Louise Nadeau led the group in a better understanding of how racism plays out in our religious communities. Racism can touch all facets of a congregation including governance and leadership, decision making, vocations, ministries, living choices, financial resources, and formation. They encouraged us to ask how our sisters of color and young women of color discerning religious life experience us.
We learned that sisters of color often have a higher incidence of illness and die younger. Is this because of the stress they feel… the exclusion? Do sisters of color leave because they feel forced to give up their cultures or traditions and replace them with Eurocentric ones? Patty and Anne-Louise challenged the justice promoters present to consider how their congregations were addressing white privilege and racial oppression….to ask ourselves what gets in the way of accepting each sister as she is and to be in right relationship with women of color.
We are often hesitant to have conversations about white privilege because of the feelings of blame and guilt that they raise up in us. We want to scream “I’m not racist!” and that may be true but those of us who are white are gifted with privilege that pervades our lives. We must become aware of how privilege influences our thinking and acting. Sr. Marcelline Koch, a Springfield Dominican and part of their Anti-racism team, shared that we must educate ourselves and others about the presence of white privilege, and learn when we need to listen more carefully to persons of color. We must have the courage to speak against racist or ignorant comments when they occur. She stressed that we must promote inclusion and think from a position of abundance not scarcity.
We have been faithful to our study of racism over the past two years and that puts us light years ahead of many congregations. But we are only at the beginning of our journey towards truly being anti-racist. We need to explore how racism undergirds our other justice areas such as immigration, trafficking, violence, and care for creation. We need to intentionally and consistently recognize our privilege and how it has impacted our sisters and associates of color. We need to take risks to have honest dialog about this issue. It’s hard. But…
Do we really love our congregation enough to be honest, vulnerable and transparent together?