Environmental Justice Intern Reflects on Racial Justice Summit

Environmental Justice Intern Reflects on Racial Justice Summit

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I certainly wasn’t the earliest riser, or the person who had to travel the furthest to get there. Nevertheless, I arrived to the First Church of Christ Congregational of Glastonbury at 9 AM on a Saturday ready to start my day, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. I received my name tag and schedule and connected briefly with some of my fellow workshop attendees before we were shepherded into the worship hall for our opening worship.

Worship was guided by many voices, all seeking the same things. They told us the organizing assumptions that would guide our day: Racial equity is not a program. It is a way of life

They told us there would be no easy answer to the questions we were asking. There would be nothing we could easily implement in our churches to solve the problem of racial equity, yet the fact that this workshop was happening was a step. There were people filling this room who were committed to learning, listening, and growth.

White supremacy was part of our churches historically and continues to be today.
In one workshop I attended we discussed where the money of a church’s endowment came from. Where the literal resources that had been used to shape our institutions had come from. Who was the historical membership? Did all of them have a choice? Today maybe it shows itself in different ways: maybe in the unspoken rules of when we sit, stand, remain still; maybe in the music, prayers, and sermons we are comfortable listening to; maybe in who we welcome into our churches and who we place expectations on as soon as they enter our sanctuary.

To dismantle white supremacy, we must shift systems, power, and resources.
We talked about doing this monetarily, partnering with other groups to support and learn from each other. We also talked about the ways that we cannot fix ourselves but we have to acknowledge and hold the discomfort. Housing inequities and redlining, medical bias, a broken police system. White supremacy is built into the foundations of our culture; to dismantle one you must dismantle the other.

All of us carry internalized white supremacy; it’s what we do about it that matters.
We talked about education. About understanding the problems that we were working with and approaching situations with humility and curiosity. About choosing carefully the books you read, the voices you listen to, the research you do. It is so important to educate yourself continuously, using the wealth of resources available to us in this world today. People aren’t always this resource; we heard the voices of people who were tired of spending all their days forced to educate others about their own identity. But also, education is not everything. You can read as many books as you want, but this must not give us permission to put off action.

No one is disposable, but we can all be accountable.
There is a certain anxiety that came up in a space with many white people trying to learn and speak about racial equity and white supremacy. There is a desire to want to be perfect all at once, to never cause pain to anyone. As lovely as that would be, it is impossible. We will all make mistakes. The question is if our mistakes come from a good faith effort to learn and act. The question is if we keep trying to get better, staying in relationships of accountability. 

Antiracism is a project of mutual interest.
Many who went to this summit were white. This assumption said that antiracism is not a work of charity. This is not work that you can leave when you go home and say “Well, that was noble of me to go to that workshop/to read that book/to watch that video.” Antiracism is loving the society we all live in enough to try to tear it down so it can be rebuilt.

The day ended with worship. We were invited to join in communion. We ate of the body of one killed by the state. We drank of the blood that had been spilled for us. After the day of conversation and listening, the communion felt different in my mouth. It was heavier, more weighted, almost bitter in my mouth, evoking the broken bodies that lead us here. But we were all eating it together, and there is something to be said for that.
 

Author

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Lillian Steinmeyer

Lillian Steinmeyer is the environmental justice intern for the SNEUCC

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