I was wondering if you might be available to write a Bible study for Black History Month?
“There’s no way I can do this,” was my first thought when asked by those at the United Church General Council Office to contribute a Bible study for Black History Month. Me, a White guy, from England?
What do I know about Black History? I ought to be taking a course, not writing a resource. And even if I did, this is the sort of thing that I hear bitter jokes about — a White person posing as an expert on another culture. I don’t want those jokes being made about me!
At best, I would be exposing myself to criticism for accepting the assignment; looking for cookies and kudos for being a “good ally” while taking up space intended for Black people. At worst, I might make mistakes, misrepresenting or obscuring the Black realities that the month is meant to explore.
“Why would they ask me?” I wondered. I had to consider it seriously, laying aside my fears and re-reading this request from people I trusted.
...we wanted to include worship resources this year written from the perspective of being an ally...
The first thing I know about trying to be an ally is that I need to be willing to show up when asked. That can be hard, because I like to get things right first time, and I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake. But if I’m not going to show up when I am asked, my solidarity is abstract and absent. In this case, asked to write from my “ally perspective,” my own discomfort was no excuse.
...since you are part of the working group on the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent, and since you already have some good experience with anti-racism work...
In studying the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent, I’ve read of the generations-deep roots of Black communities in Canada, which are nevertheless perceived as newcomer or transient compared to the white majority. Portraying people of African descent as “without history” is an old dehumanization tactic of imperialism and the slave trade, and explains the significance of Black History Month.
Today, anti-Black racism and Afrophobia in North America are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There is no legal or ethical justification for racism, and yet oppression and dismissal of Black bodies, psyches, and communities continues, in fields as diverse as housing, healthcare, policing, and sports.
What can I meaningfully offer? My own experience of learning, of recognizing the implicit racism in the societies (and the church) that I call home, and committing to change.
Saul was a man who followed the rules of his society — to a fault. He approved of the violence meted out on the scattered members of the bizarre sect. Then, in a blaze of light outside of Damascus he was transformed into Paul, Persecutor-No-More, a leader in the church and a champion of Christ!
Except it’s never that simple. Our personal experiences of transformation may have moments that feel like a Damascus conversion, but there is always a deeper reality, a history, proceeding without our awareness. Acts 9 draws back the curtain somewhat to show us the courage and care of Ananias in reaching out to the stricken Saul. The Bible study invites us to consider what it was like for Ananias, and acknowledge the patient work of those who experience oppression, and still hold the door open.
In my life, the truth-telling of Indigenous people first opened my eyes to the ways colonialism has shaped my national history and culture. It was the challenge of Jewish people that helped me see the antisemitism in parts of my faith tradition. It has only been through the patient work and witness of people of African descent that I have been able to see the ways that racism has benefitted me, and the ways that I am complicit.
With each lesson I have been urged to continue on, to understand more how racism persists and perpetuates, and pass this challenge and knowledge on to others, working with them to dismantle systems of oppression. I understand this to be part of the work of God’s people on earth. So, I aim to show up.
— Peter Haresnape is a White, cis man from the United Kingdom, and a permanent resident (Settler) in Canada. His work with the Indigenous Solidarity project of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) brought him to Turtle Island in 2010. CPT operates at the invitation of communities who welcome accompaniment in their nonviolent struggles against injustice, violence, and fear. CPT’s work in Turtle Island largely focuses on supporting Indigenous Nations taking nonviolent direct action to assert their rights to land, livelihood, and liberty. Peter is a member of Toronto United Mennonite Church, and since 2016 has worked with the Student Christian Movement of Canada. See the Bible study, "The Conversion of Saul: A Bible Study for Talking about Allyship and Race," Peter wrote for Black History Month.