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Am I a racist?

The Revd Sandra Faccini, Priest at Mickleham, faces the discomfort of her white privilege and explains how everyone can change the behaviours of unconscious bias.

Am I racist? I thought the answer was no, but I was shocked to realise that as a white person, who tries not to be racist, I am privileged, and I do have unconscious biases.

I have been privileged, to be a Christian and also to have had educational opportunities that none of my family had,and so many do not have, and I have held roles that previous generations of women longed for, but I had never considered the privilege of being white.

It was an uncomfortable thought. It is much easier to ignore but I cannot because I am committed to make the church a place where all are welcome and racism has no place.

White privilege can be defined as a legitimisation of entitlement to resources which I had thought was a thing of the past and we had moved on from the horrors of slavery and Apartheid. But it exists today and is more insidious than overt discrimination.

I realised that I was unaware of the relative ease for me as a white person of getting an interview/job, being treated with respect, being heard/having a voice, of how white theologians and liturgists have dominated church life and how difficult it is for those from ethnic minority groups to do the same and be treated the same.

I had never attempted to grasp the issues around hidden discrimination,although I had fully agreed with the principle of equality. I now see that I need to address things I had taken for granted in church life even if they involve significant change, for racism to be properly addressed.

Unconscious bias towards people of the samebackground and skin colour as myself is one way of protecting privilege and influencing the outcome of interviews, appointments, recognising potential etc.

Put simply we think at two speeds. Our fast and immediate responses are unconscious, intuitive, involuntary but nevertheless programmed by our background and experiences. I instinctively react to protect myself according to what I have previously learnt. Positive encounters in the past have made me instinctively feel that people like me are easier to understand while difference can cause misunderstanding or difficulty in relating.

Slow thinking is conscious, based on reason and is harder work,but is the way to counter bias. It can be helped by allowing time before reacting, by awareness of our vulnerabilities and errors with instinctive reactions. I can train myself not to prejudge anyone or their 
opinions or capabilities and to focus on listening and learning in all my encounters.

As I have begun to recognise my white privilege, I know that I cannot change the past, but I can lament it and take appropriate responsible action now. Action that I have taken include learning more through books and a course, pausing to check my reactions more and listening more carefully to others who may challenge my preconceptions.

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