Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts writes that the fight against racism and injustice must be continued and fought from both within and outside major institutions that tolerate and harbour it
It gave me great delight to read the most recent comments made by Baroness Lawrence. She was spot on; the continued marginalisation of Black youngsters does not appear to be getting better. Under-representation of people of colour in education and politics is reason for continued concern; she rightly bemoaned her contribution to the debate on race issues, and raised some interesting concerns.
Now that Doreen Lawrence is a Baroness, a part of the institution, is it still possible for her to condemn racial injustice with the same rigour and determination as before? Her critics argue No, she is now part of the establishment. The House of Lords will do more than curtail her voice; it might even silence it. No longer will she be able to speak to the issues that wage war on the Black and ethnic minority communities with the same authority as before. How can she possibly speak truth to the power that has elected her? The second concern, which is similar to the first, is this: Is it possible for a prophetess and pioneer of the order of Baroness Lawrence to be prophetic in the House of Lords? Or might she unwittingly lose her prophetic edge, and begin to gradually collude, stop calling for reform and justice for the marginalised; silenced by the monolithic and homogenous nature of The House (as we call the Lords)?
Frankly, I was surprised and disappointed to hear her critics, some senior Black leaders, condemn Baroness Lawrence’s appointment to the House of Lords for the reasons mentioned. Dare I say it, their arguments are a little simplistic. They fail to appreciate the impact that some people of colour continue to have in White-led institutions. The question is this: How can people of colour continue to speak truth to power and bring about some concrete change to mainly White-led institutions? 1 Corinthians 12:4 onwards reads: ‘Now there are diversities of gifts, and the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, and it is the same God. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same and Spirit, to another the gift of healing by that same Spirit.’ This text* sheds some light on the question which ought to be explored within its social and political context.
At this stage in Paul’s writing, Corinth had become a Roman colony. Shaped by the rules of Empire and forced to live by Roman standards, the church in Corinth was under pressure to abandon justice-telling, and reflect some, if not all, of the values of Rome. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian saints, a minority in number, was: the Spirit is concerned about injustice in the body. Such truth should not absolve people of colour from working towards a more justice-centred organisation, that much is obvious, but recognise that the centrality of the Spirit in the text confirms the Spirit’s commitment to justice and His quest to create an institution that echoes the justice of God.
But, too, institutional justice will only progress if done collaboratively, both with the Spirit of God and those within and outside the body of Christ. For the church at Corinth, this meant those with the gifts of wisdom working strategically with those with the gifts of healing, knowledge and the range of other gifted people in the church. The hope is that this collaborative approach will yield some concrete results that are able to inform and shape the the Corinthian body, and help it deliver on justice matters. In short, then, a close working relationship with the Spirit of God and others is a vital ingredient for reform from within. Notwithstanding that few people appear to know where Mandela stood with Christ, I am sure that much of his leadership success – the dissolving of legal apartheid in South Africa – was due to the activity of the Spirit silently challenging and reforming unethical spaces within the higher echelons of political power, as well as Mandela’s ability to effectively work with and empower the gifts of others.
“How can people of colour continue to speak truth to power and bring about some concrete change to mainly White-led institutions?”
Working within White-led institutions is not easy. The goal for a genuine playing field for all is a herculean challenge, requiring people of colour to work towards reforming the organisation. Lasting change is infrequently quick, but it does require the Black prophet to work with the Black politician, Black politician with the Black strategist, Black strategist with the Black teacher, Black teacher with the Black pioneer, Black pioneer with the Black apostle and Black apostle with the Black pastor.
(* taken from YLT and NIV versions)