Richard Reddie, editor of new book, Race for Justice, shares the role churches can play in creating a society where racial equality is the norm
Race for Justice is a new book that I edited, which aims to capture the ‘journeys to racial justice’ that the individual British and Irish church denominations and groups have been on since the inception of Racial Justice Sunday (RJS) in 1995. RJS marked its 25th anniversary in 2020, and this book was conceived to mark that anniversary.
I believe that Race for Justice is being published at a crucial time in our history, as it explores the racial justice-related challenges facing Church and society in Britain and Ireland. The killing of George Floyd in the USA in May 2020 resulted in nearly all British church denominations and Christian groupings condemning the murder and calling for change. The braver ones also decided to act, and established taskforces and commissions to both assess the situation and address the problem. Many church leaders later spoke about the challenging, painful nature of this important task. Race for Justice not only chronicles this recent journey, but also encapsulates what took place prior to this.
It is easy to regard racial justice as an unnecessary, nebulous affair — something affecting others, which is outside of our experience. Race for Justice was published around the time of the death of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, which, among other issues, saw many African and Caribbean countries questioning their relationship with the one-time ‘Mother country’, Britain. These discussions took place after earlier Royal visits to the Caribbean by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and later the Earl and Countess of Wessex, which were meant to celebrate Britain’s historic and ongoing associations with that region but were overshadowed by calls for republicanism and slavery-related reparations.
In Britain, there are similar conversations taking place regarding enslavement, ‘freedom’ and reparations. Many Black Britons have joined with their Caribbean counterparts in calling upon the British Government to apologise for Britain’s role in African enslavement, and to effect reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans. It is instructive to note that over the last decade, conversations pertaining to reparations have gained real Transatlantic traction. In the Caribbean, the Caricom countries (the English-speaking Caribbean version of the EU) have a ten-point plan for reparations involving Britain. In the USA, African American politicians and scholars have debated the issue in the US Senate, while in Britain, there is now an All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs in Westminster exploring reparations and what they mean for the UK.
From a church perspective, virtually all the historic denominations in Britain are investigating their involvement in African enslavement, and the ways in which they may have profited from this nefarious endeavour. In recent months, the Quakers, the United Reformed Church and the World Baptist Alliance have all apologised for their roles in African enslavement and are exploring reparations.
These conversations form a wider discussion on equality, diversity and inclusion in British society that was catalysed after the aforementioned killing of George Floyd. As I write this piece, the men’s FIFA World Cup is about to take place in Qatar. Many in England want their men to replicate the success of the women’s football team at the Euros earlier this year. While the Lionesses’ success may undoubtedly inspire more young women and girls to play the sport, the notion that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ will arguably hinder some from participating. During that football tournament, the BBC spoke to young, Black and Brown British female footballers from the Football Beyond Borders education charity, who said they struggled to identify with the women currently representing the national side. These women also lamented that the team did not reflect the ethnic mix of the men’s international line-up. The English football authorities take real pride in celebrating the ethnic diversity of their squad, even though they appear reluctant to appoint a Black player as captain!
The desire for greater diversity and inclusion is very much part of the zeitgeist for our society. For some, it is linked to the culture wars, and is indicative of troublesome ‘woke’ folks who want to disrupt the status quo. For others, it is linked to the necessary attempt for greater inclusion, and the creation of opportunities for those on the margins. For the Church, this should mean that all those made in the image of God are given the opportunities to use their talents, skills and abilities to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. My book, Race for Justice explores how the churches can truly reflect God’s heart for justice and be places and spaces of equity that can show our troubled society what real justice looks like.