by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 05.08.2022
Yesterday I was talking with one of our Sisters about racism. She was an Irish Sister, talking about the anti-English behaviour of her father during her formative years, but we all know the prejudices and stereotypes that can exist amongst us. When I hear my Dutch sister-in-law talk about Germans, it reminded me of the prejudices that Brazilian have against Argentinians, the English have against the French.
I began thinking about my own racism. Growing up white in a mostly white city, I came across few people who were different from me. I was an avid reader as a child, so Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and other literature from the American South would have been my first glimpse into a world that was different from my own. Even entering MMM did not change things much. In those days a few African Sisters came to Ireland, but they were mostly students and would soon be returning to their own countries. Even going to Brazil did not alter things for me. Yes, they were different, a whole mix of differences, descendants of European migrants, indigenous people, Afro-Brazilians and all the intermingling of those people together. But we got on well together, didn’t we? “I am not a racist”, I would comfortably say to myself.
I ‘woke up’ to my own racism when I was in my mid-thirties. I was in a workshop when the facilitator asked the group to split into two groups, black and white. “How silly”, I thought, “I am the only white person here.” To my surprise, one of the other participants stood up and joined me. My shock was that I had always, in my mind, called her ‘coloured’. And here she was calling herself white. I immediately understood the unworked racism within me. I knew I had work to do on myself and my attitudes. Unworked racism, I believe, is often what causes the problems in relationships. Am I better? Probably not, but I try. I try to grow in understanding, of putting myself in the other person’s shoes. I try to wait and think before blurting out something. I watch those hidden emotions rise up and ask myself “what is going on here?”
I am less arrogant now, more unsure, and I hope more open to the on-going work of dealing with my hidden prejudices.