By Erika Krett, a member of Unionville Presbyterian Church in Unionville, Ont.

In June 2020, several members of Unionville Presbyterian Church in Unionville, Ont., participated in a study group about racism. One session was based on resources by anti-racist educator, Robin DiAngelo, and concepts raised in her book, White Fragility. “White fragility” is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive responses in White people (such as discomfort when talking about racism).

The purpose of the conversation was to help people see the power, sometimes invisible power, of White privilege; to impress upon our congregation the importance of taking a stand—of not being silent; and to educate the congregation about the injustices experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) here in Canada. Systemic racism is part of our communities as well—not just a problem south of the border. Participants were exposed to some of DiAngelo’s core ideas through discussion of two short video clips.

I had listened to the video clips of Robin DiAngelo beforehand, and I thought I was personally ready for this discussion. What surprised me was how different the experience was when listening to the words of the clips in a faith-based group setting. I felt a sense of urgency to get to work as well as being flooded with emotions and competing thoughts. I felt a clear instinct to repel the challenge of systemic racism in which we are all biased, and racism is an unconscious process in most of North America.

DiAngelo talks about moral defensiveness as part of White fragility—the belief that “I am a good person and therefore not a racist.” My mind spun with defenses against the idea that I am biased. “I am mixed race myself.” “I am self-aware and politically inclusive.” “I have friends of all ethnicities.” All these thoughts were very present for me. I could see clearly how the conversation becomes about defending your position as a good person, instead of doing the heavy lifting of self-evaluation. It was very uncomfortable.

What drew me to attend these meetings was the call to support and participate in the worldwide struggle for racial justice in church and society, as advocate and activist. I chose this format within my faith community because I trusted our minister, the Rev. Marty Molengraaf, to provide an environment to begin this work. Marty said: “ I believe that this requires us to be intentional about showing our faith. It is what we say, do and live that will show to others the love of God that we have experienced and how that love has transformed our living.” My faith group was the place to do the soul searching that this study demanded.

As in worship, you gather and make time for self-reflection guided by being a Christian. This can be a transformative experience helping and nudging us to grow. To see how the spirit is alive in our lives, give us a passion for justice, and experience the warmth, the brightness and the transformative power of the Spirit.

My learnings from this faith conversation is what this will require of me and knowing it will be a continuous process throughout my life. Faith leadership can help us do this this uncomfortable work in a safer way. Leaning into discomfort is the antidote to White fragility. When this happens we can be open to different worldviews. We need to embrace the fear of being vulnerable. We need to listen to diverse voices, amplify them. We need to ask the question: “how did we get here?” and then learn the history of our country from different sources and perspectives.

This is the work: to be intentional about this every day in knowing how race shapes our lives. To accept that by swimming in racist waters, of course, we will absorb it. To understand our patterned responses. You will be struck by how you are changed. And at the same time, until we do this work, we who are White are prevented from having authentic conversations with those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.