Dear Friends,

I’m writing this just after hearing the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the policeman accused of killing George Floyd. He was found guilty on all charges. The death of George Floyd brought about such a reaction that throughout the world, the movement known as ‘Black Lives Matter’, took on a momentum all of its own. And whilst this particular drama has been played out in the USA, none of us should be so complacent as to believe that we in this country are immune from such criticism. Although you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the recently published Government sponsored independent enquiry into alleged institutional racism which sought to downplay its significance by identifying what it referred to as the ‘lived experience’ of many of those whom the authors of the report had spoken to as being in stark contrast to the rhetoric being espoused by a vocal minority motivated by an altogether more sinister agenda. However, the outcry that greeted the publication of the report from all quarters has somewhat undermined its findings. And then, yesterday evening (Monday 19th) a Panorama special lifting the lid on alleged institutional racism within the Church of England including forcing those who had complained to sign confidential non-disclosure agreements to prevent wider public scrutiny. It is to the credit of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he has acknowledged the extent of such racism within the C of E, banned the use of CNDAs, and pledged to personally oversee a ‘root & branch’ review of the Church’s structures in respect of actual and potential racial bias, racist attitudes, and racial abuse…The phrase, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ is often attributed to an anonymous onlooker who witnessed the Tolpuddle Martyrs being led away to be transported to Australia. It has of course taken on a wider connotation concerning events and circumstances that befall others which if we had been in the same situation, we too would have been found wanting. It may be that this is the case for many of us concerning racism. I have lived nearly all of my life almost exclusively in the company of white people. I have never had any form of ‘close’ or ‘continuing’ contact with people of colour. This meant that I found myself succumbing to what might be described as ‘arms – length racial stereotyping’. Even if I didn’t actively participate in racist abuse, I was indifferent to it when it happened around me. I can remember being at a football match when a section of the crowd began making ‘monkey noises’ whenever a black player had the ball. I didn’t join in, but neither did I respond as ‘angrily’ as I might or should have done…I like to think I’ve grown up since then. But have I? What ‘Black Lives Matter’ teaches us, teaches me, is that it is not enough not to be a racist. We, I, all of us have to do what we can to confront racism whenever it rears its ugly head. When we hear of what happened to George Floyd, it is all too easy to believe that ‘it couldn’t happen here’. Because it could. Because we have allowed even our most cherished institutions to tolerate racist attitudes, society in general becomes a seedbed for individuals to nurture within themselves a hatred until it is too late.

Indifference is not good enough