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Action is needed on racial inequality, says Bishop of Dover

16 June 2020


A Black Lives Matter protest takes place in Leeds, on Sunday

A Black Lives Matter protest takes place in Leeds, on Sunday

A COMMISSION into racial inequality in the UK, announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday, will be a waste of time, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said on Monday.

Instead of thinking that the issue would blow over, the Government should treat this as a kairos moment, she said.

The Bishop was responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement, in an article in The Sunday Telegraph this week, of “a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality — in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life”. The commission is due to report by the end of the year.

Mr Johnson wrote: “We all understand the depth of feeling that has been exposed by the killing in Minnesota of George Floyd [News, 5 June]. No one who cares about this country can ignore the many thousands of people who have joined the Black Lives Matter movement to protest peacefully, as most of them have, in the last few days.”

Referring to the debate about whether statues of slave traders, such as Edward Colston, should remain in public places (News, 12 June), Mr Johnson said: “We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past — and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view.”

The announcement of a commission into racial inequality was criticised by the Shadow Minister of Justice, David Lammy (Features, 17 April), on Monday. He called for implementation of the recommendations in five recent reviews on race equality: his own review of criminal justice (35 recommendations); the Angioloni review into deaths in police custody (110); the Windrush scandal review (30); the McGregor-Smith review into workplace discrimination, entitled “The Time to talk is over”; and the Race Disparity Audit. The last two were commissioned by Theresa May.

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin said: “What is another commission going to throw up that hasn’t been thrown up before and has not been acted on? We’re going to be wasting six months talking about it yet again, and nothing is going to happen. The reports are all pointing to the same thing. What we need now is a kind of commitment that says, enough talking, let’s have some action.”

She continued: “One of the things I heard Mr Johnson saying was, let’s forget about the past and start from now. But, frankly, you cannot forget about the past. It is because of the past that the situation is as it is today. How black people were enslaved because they thought they were not really as human as white people were, is in the psyche of our nation. It is still in our psyche. We have to own it, acknowledge it, repent, and create the change.

“Every institution must look at itself and ask the questions. Why should we wait until something more catastrophic happens in our community, in our society? Why would we not use this as a catalyst, a kairos moment, instead of thinking it will blow over and ‘They’ll get over it’. This is our problem. All of us. And so we have to fix it.”

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin addressed Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday outside Canterbury Cathedral, accompanied by the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, and the Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Ven. Jo Kelly-Moore.

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin said that she had weighed up whether or not to go out and speak. “We knew they planned to come by the cathedral. Did we just pretend they were not there? No. I want to work for change, be that change, be a symbol of that change.”

She told the protesters that politicians should be called to account, and that structural change was needed in all walks of life: the economy, policing and criminal justice, education, health, housing, and voting.

The Bishop described the horror that she had felt when watching the video clip of George Floyd pleading to be heard. “He was not heard because they did not care. They did not care because he was black and they thought he did not matter. . . We want to live in a world where all lives matter — and all lives will not matter until we accept the right for black people to be free.”

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin told the crowd why she would not “take the knee”: the replication of the eight minutes and 46 seconds in which Floyd struggled for breath. “If you don’t see me kneel, it is because I am pained that that was the very action that took his breath away . . . because I am in pain at what I saw and could not replicate it myself personally. But if it’s right for you, then, please. Let’s together, in harmony, make the change that needs to happen.”

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Bishop Hudson-Wilkin spoke about the lack of BAME people in leadership positions in the Church of England. “It is not acceptable,” she said. “I love the Church of which I am a part, but I am not going to sit here and tell you it’s all right. We must examine ourselves, and it’s not good enough for us to make pronouncements about other organisations.”

She said on Monday: “The Church, like the police, is ordinary men and women drawn from society. The only extraordinary thing about the Church is that we are meant to have the Spirit of God: a higher bar — but we are not reaching it because we are still stuck in the [mindset] that says black people couldn’t possibly lead, or can only minister to black people.”

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, and the Dean of Worcester, the Very Revd Peter Atkinson, took the knee outside Worcester Cathedral, on Saturday, to pray for all those affected by repression, discrimination, and injustice. Mr Floyd’s dying cry had captured the cry of so many black communities all over the world, Dr Inge said.

Dean Atkinson said at the start of the prayers: “The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that every person is our neighbour. Yet the Church has often oppressed, marginalised, or forgotten people. . . God breathed into all people the breath of life, but so often ours have been the knees that have squeezed the life from others. Lord have mercy for all the times when our words or actions have made others say, ‘I cannot breathe.’”

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