By Graham Kings
In preparing for our retirement move to Cambridge later this summer, I rediscovered a paper I had written 37 years ago.
I prepared it for a workshop which I was leading on “Combating Racism in Britain” for the “Eclectics” conference of 1983. This group of evangelical Anglican clergy, under the age of 40, was founded originally by John Stott.
In the light of Black Lives Matter, I shared it for discussion with various friends and family in London. My daughter’s friend said, “I was born in that year. Nothing has changed in my lifetime. Please type it up again and get it published. Then I can share it with my church.”
I have kept the text exactly as originally typed on my Smith Corona typewriter.
Combating Racism in Britain in 1983
By Graham Kings, Curate at St Mark’s Church, Harlesden, London
A preparatory paper for a workshop at the Eclectics Conference 1983
One of the fundamental problems for race relations in Britain today is the inability of white people to hear what black people are saying. During the first half hour of our workshop the sound strip, ‘The Enemy Within’, will be shown: this contains interviews with black people in Britain who talk about their personal experiences of prejudice and convey a vivid picture of the frustrations they suffer in day to day life. The rest of the workshop will involve discussion on the sound strip, the sharing of our own experiences and a look at various resources. This paper aims to give some background material for our thinking on this issue, and considers the questions ‘What?’, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
A. What is Racism?
Racism is the theory and practice of treating people of different skin colour or physical features as basically inferior. It operates at different levels:
- Overt and Intentional – the National Front and British Movement. A National Front leader has said: ‘We have not invented racial hatred, we are organising it.’
- Covert but Intentional – ‘one of the Saturday boys came up to the office and said to the manager that they had got two girls waiting, asking about a job. And the first thing the manager said was, “Are they black?” And the boy said “Yes.” And the manager said, “Well, tell them that we haven’t got any vacancies here.”’
- Legalised – the Nationality Act that came into operation in January this year. The three different classes of citizenship incorporate into nationality law the arrangements that have been built into immigration law for the past 20 years. The primary motivation for doing this has been to keep black people, with British passports, from coming to this country.
- Institutionalised – 79% of white men with a degree hold professional or managerial posts compared to only 31% of black men with similar qualifications (British Institute of Management, 1981).
- Unconscious – many history and geography school books give a biased ‘white’ view of the British Empire and modern world.
- Liberal – patronising, self-congratulating, but well-meaning help that nevertheless keeps strings attached and continues dependence.
- Church – ‘…and the Vicar said to me, “I’m sorry, but it would be better if you go to another church because my congregation will leave if you continue here.’
B. Why Combat Racism?
God is against injustice and he calls us to imitate him.
- Creation – men and women are created in the image of God. This daring (for a Jewish writer) and evocative phrase in Genesis 1 is echoed elsewhere (Proverbs 14 and James 3) and reminds us that if you insult the image you also affront the Original. In Iran, the revolutionaries daubed and smashed the massive statue of the Shah and, in doing so, were attacking the Shah himself.
- Law – the protection of the stranger and sojourner. This theme is mentioned in various books eg. Leviticus 19.33: ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’
- Prophets – God’s concern for tsedeq (justice/righteousness). Isaiah, Amos, Micah and Jeremiah all spoke of God’s justice which topples over in favour of those in dire need.
- Kingdom – Jesus’ attitude to the Samaritans. The Jews considered the Samaritans an impure race and would have no dealings with them, but Jesus broke this barrier (John 4, the Samaritan woman, Luke 9, when Jesus refuses to call down thunder and Luke 10, the parable of the good Samaritan which is more about race than ‘good turns’ and certainly than monetarist policies!)
- Reconciliation – the cross removed the Jewish/Gentile barrier. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith involves the inclusion of the Gentiles as well as the Jews in God’s family. He argues this in both directions – justification is by faith therefore the Gentiles are included; also the Gentiles are included therefore it must be that justification is by faith, there being no other way for them (Romans passim especially 3.27ff, Galatians 2 and 3 especially 3.23ff, Ephesians 2 and 3 especially 2.11ff and the ‘mystery’; see also multiracial leadership in Acts 13.1).
- Consummation – John’s vision of heaven. In Revelation, John sees a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and tongue (Revelation 7).
C. How to Combat Racism?
There are various possible practical responses which need to be combined for effective action:
- Repent and Confess – turning from our own sin and present acceptance of injustice must be our first response.
- Pray – for God’s justice to be reflected in our society (not only for ‘harmony’, for ‘harmony’ without ‘justice’ is a false peace and not God’s wholesome shalom, but for ‘justice’ as well). Activism, however Christian, without prayer is atheism.
- Recognise – that Britain is now a multiracial society and the variety of God’s creation is good. There needs to be a concentration on the potential rather than the problems of life.
- Learn – about the issues so that lies can be countered. Join the Evangelical Race Relations Group, or similar group (see below), study their materials and preach and teach these things.
- Protest – against unjust legislation; lobby for the repeal of the Nationality Act (Church leaders were united in their opposition to the Bill but it still was passed). Protest also against unjust policing (opposition to the ‘Sus’ laws led to their repeal but ‘Stop and Search’ powers are still being abused).
- Oppose – racist groups and attitudes. Speak out against prejudice and discrimination when encountered, rather than remain silent.
- Be Careful – with language and stereotypes. Avoid ‘black as sin’ etc (in Isaiah and Revelation sin is pictured as red: the Bible does not equate ‘sin’ with ‘black’ – the metaphors in relation to good and evil are light and darkness, taken from day and night). Avoid also assuming all West Indians are bouncy and athletic etc.
- Make Friends – with people of other cultures. The twinning of inner city and suburban churches may help to raise awareness of God’s multi-coloured family, as well as of some of the frustrations his people face.
- Act Positively – for the advancement of black people in our society. Affirmative action (a better emphasis than ‘positive discrimination’) could include helping fund self-help projects, recruiting black teachers in urban church schools etc.
There seems to be four possible ways of reacting to black people in Britain today:
- Repatriation – in effect, not a real possibility for 40% were born in Britain!
- Apartheid – patently unjust from the experience of South Africa.
- Laissez-faire – the easiest option but which continues, and contributes to, the disadvantages and disorder of the status quo.
- Action to create a more just society – tough work involving suffering and misunderstanding, as well as joy, but ultimately the only biblical response.
Evangelical Race Relations Group, 8 Oxford Street, Nottingham NG1 5BH 0602 40876
Community Race Relations Unit of the BCC, 2 Eaton Gate, London SW1W 9BL, 01 730 9611
Catholic Commission for Racial Justice, 1 Amwell St, London EC1R 1UL, 01 278 5880
Christians Against Racism and Fascism, 119 East India Dock Rd, London E14 6DE.
Zebra Project, 1 Merchant St, London E3 4LY, 01 980 3745
Commission for Racial Equality, Elliot House, 10/12 Allington St, London SW1E 5EH, 01 828 7022.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Kings is honorary assistant bishop and world mission adviser in the Diocese of Southwark, England.