Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
The practice of racism burns deeply in all sections of the Black community in the United Kingdom. The effects can be devastating, and we should not tire of keeping the matter firmly before those whose influence and actions can ignite a lasting change in attitudes.
In the aftermath of the publication of the Government commissioned Report on Institutional Racism (the Sewell Report) which suggested institutional racism does not exist in the UK, BBC TV delivered a broadside that has sunk any notion that the evil of institutional racism does not exist.
In the recently aired programme titled “Is the Church of England racist?” evidence has come to light which makes a mockery of the Sewell Report.
The Anglican Church of England, as deep-seated an institution as there can be, is alleged to have paid sums of money to Black clergy members in order to buy off their silence after complaints about racism were made against the church. On all evidence, the charges have not been refuted and files on the cases have been put aside.
As the matter rumbles quietly under the carpet, the top advisor to the church on race relations, Elizabeth Henry, has resigned stating that she is disillusioned and frustrated.
In a public pronouncement, she said that the institution is unfit for purpose.
Black clergy members in the Church of England have made little progress towards filling positions of seniority. The reasons behind this state of affairs are not clear to the casual eye, but it is not a coincidence that of 42 bishops across the country only one comes from an ethnic background.
At the lower end of the ladder, only one in ten Black persons is accepted to train for the priesthood. These figures are mindboggling and disheartening.
The Archbishop of York, second in the hierarchy of the Church of England, in his response to a question about these alarmingly imbalanced figures, admitted that there is a problem regarding the under-representation of Black people at the higher levels of seniority in the church.
He said that the church most wants to redress the position and he tamely admitted that it has not yet found a way to do so. However, he did inform that a task force has been set up to look into the matter.
Perhaps the most damning contradiction of the Sewell Report inadvertently comes from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby.
The Archbishop’s recent comments make a mockery of the Sewell Report which in the Black community is now mockingly called the ‘Sewage Report’.
Archbishop Welby did not mince his words on the subject, and he should be commended for the honesty and fair-minded appraisal he displayed.
On a recent visit to Kenya, the Archbishop said the Church of England is deeply institutionally racist and that he is ashamed of its history of racism. In examining the kernel of the problem, he accused the church of enabling a hostile environment to the West Indians who came to the UK and settled as the Windrush generation.
Indeed, one can easily side with the Archbishop’s comments as one reflects that during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s West Indians were openly discouraged by Anglican vicars from attending church.
A common chant was that they were happy to receive us on that day but were told not to return in the future as it would upset their white parishioners.
Warming to his theme the Archbishop said: “I am sorry and am ashamed. I am ashamed of our history and I am ashamed of our failure.
There is no doubt when we look at our own church that we are still deeply institutionally racist.” And he then recalled: “I said it to the College of Bishops a couple of years ago and it is still true today.
“Is the Church of England racist?” is replete with evidence that would embarrass most fair-minded observers. It is very sad that an establishment saw throughout the world and throughout the ages as the bastion of all that is decent and fair in our society should be charged with denying the advancement of Black people on grounds as frivolous as cultural eccentricity and lack of clarity when speaking the English language.
One Black priest from the north of England claimed the Church of England lacked diversity and she said that the racism within the church is so subtle that you are not aware that it is happening to you.
The Black British theologian, Professor Robert Beckford from the Queen’s Foundation Birmingham seemed bemused with regard to the events at the Church of England and he called for a complete overhaul of the system which he described as archaic and not fit for purpose.
Meanwhile, a group of United Nations Human Rights experts strongly condemned the government-backed report saying the Report offered “no evidence to support its findings that the UK is not institutionally racist” and witheringly added: “In 2021 it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent.”
Not much more can be said except that maybe the Report should be withdrawn to allow the views of the Archbishop to take centre stage.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions, and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and diaspora.