Nalini Nathan, General Secretary of the Conference of Religious and a trustee of CARJ, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, offers three thoughts to help us focus on 'Working Together' for racial justice.
On 5 February, the Catholic Church in England and Wales celebrates Racial Justice Sunday. It’s the day the Church focuses on the need to oppose racism and pursue racial justice with renewed vigour.
The theme for 2023 is “All are included in the mission of Christ and His Church. Let us walk together, pray together and work together.”
This reflection, from Nalini Nathan, General Secretary of the Conference of Religious and a trustee of CARJ, focuses on ‘Working Together’ for racial justice.
My name is Nalini, and I am the General Secretary for the Conference of Religious in England and Wales. I am also a member of the Christian Network Against Caste Discrimination and a trustee for a number of charities including CARJ, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice and the Margaret Clitherow Trust which supports Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities.
In the next few minutes, I’ll be sharing three ponderings I have about working together if every race and ethnicity are to be included in the mission of Christ and His Church.
Firstly, our unique ancestries are a gift. The world has been blessed with such a broad diversity of cultures and therefore perspectives, knowledge, skills and experiences. Working with different people to ourselves should, I think feel like being in a sweet shop. I want mine and all cultures to be seen for what they are, a gift from God!
I should be so grateful that God has blessed me with chocolate brown skin that protects me from harmful rays, from cancer, even from wrinkles! I save so much money not needing to use sunbeds or fake tan. But more seriously, so often in life, my skin colour has been a hindrance. There’s the avoidance, that change in tone when someone speaks to you, the ignorant mistaken or at times deliberate aggressive comments, the being overlooked for promotion when you’re the most qualified or experienced person for the job. There’s the scapegoating, the stepping on, the passive-aggressive behaviours and the trauma of healing from ignorant comments, isolation and oppression. As a Catholic, I find this at odds with my faith. I was taught that like everyone, that I am made not just good but very good, that we are all made very good, each called to be a jewel in God’s crown.
Secondly, I want to mention privilege. I come from more than one culture. That’s my privilege, that’s one of my blessings. I humbly embrace my cultural privilege. It helps me be a better Christian, a better Catholic as it increases me empathy, compassion and communication skills to relate to the stranger, to relate to the outsider, to relate to the person who is being treated as invisible.
Privilege has become the dirty word of our post-covid society. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being given privilege. It’s your talent, it’s your gift. There’s nothing wrong with having privilege if you are a Catholic as long as you are using it for the glory of God and as long as you are not stealing it from someone else.
I wonder, are we aware of our privileges, if so, how are we using them to work with and support others? How are we using them to help others flourish?
Finally, I want to reflect on how we might look at each other through the eyes of God. The first thing we are told in the bible is that God is a creator. ‘In the beginning he created…’ I look at the diversity of what he has created, the diversity of plants and wildlife. God is clearly a creator of diversity. We are taught that we are the Body of Christ. Are our cultures also different parts of this Body, which are meant to work together to build up the kingdom of God? If we oppress one part of the body, one culture, are we damaging ourselves?
Like those of different cultures who face rejection in their workplaces, parishes and schools, Jesus too felt rejection throughout His life, even before He was born, when there was not place at the inn. It is a natural human behaviour to feel the need to surround ourselves with people who are similar to ourselves. We want to fit in, we want to feel validated and sometimes there are opportunities to preserve things by working with people similar to ourselves. But as Catholics, like the early Christians, we are called to sometimes put away our own insecurities and need to fit it, to instead look outwards. I wonder, way back when God chose the Israelites, did he consider that the land of Christ’s birth would be the place that united the known world of that time? Israel, a land that links Africa, Asia and Europe. Quietly, Christ was born at a place that brought together the continents, and then 33 years later, again, he reached out his hands to the world.
So the three things I just reflected on were that if we wish to work together it might be helpful to remember that:
Every culture is a gift, own your privilege, look outwards.