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Gaping wound of racism must be healed

21 April 2023

It’s time to turn the corner on racism, Guy Hewitt argues, for Stephen Lawrence Day

Alamy

Floral tributes on the Stephen Lawrence memorial in Well Hall Road, Eltham, in London, at the time of the 25th anniversary of his murder

Floral tributes on the Stephen Lawrence memorial in Well Hall Road, Eltham, in London, at the time of the 25th anniversary of his murder

THIS year is significant for the UK in many ways, and particularly for our communities of global-majority heritage (GMH). There is the Coronation of our King, who has proclaimed that the nation’s diversity is its greatest strength. Further, there is the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Most poignantly, 22 April is the 30th anniversary of the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence.

We live in an increasingly diverse society. We have an Indian-British Hindu Prime Minister, and a Pakistani-Scottish Muslim First Minister of Scotland. London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and is becoming even more diverse: more than 300 languages are spoken there.

The Church of England seems to be at an inflection point on these issues, moving from word to deed and from lament to action, and engaging with critical social issues to do with ethnicity. Stephen Lawrence Day holds additional significance in the Church, as it also marks the second anniversary of the publication of From Lament to Action, the landmark report by the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce on racial justice in the Church of England (News, 23 April 2021).

Notwithstanding these efforts, much remains to be done. Britain’s first Black Cabinet Minister, Lord Boateng, who chairs the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice, has said: “As I reflect on the years since Stephen’s murder, the lesson for me is how much further we as a society and Church still have to go to embed racial justice into our systems and structures. Too often we talk the talk but do not walk the walk.”


ADDRESSING the General Synod in February of last year, Lord Boateng emphasised that there was “no shortage of policy or good intentions” in the C of E, but there was a “shortage of delivery” (News, 11 February 2022). He described racism as a “gaping wound in the body of Christ” and observed: “We remain fractured and flawed to such an extent that changing laws and processes without addressing the culture in which we operate has proved to be insufficient to the scale of the challenge.”

The Dean of Manchester, who chairs the Committee for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, remains similarly cautious, as GMH/UK minority-ethnic (UKME) “clergy and laity still face resistance to full inclusion in the life and structures of the Church at the local and national levels”.

The murder of Stephen Lawrence became the catalyst for a racial awakening — not only of the racism of those who took his life, but also of the institutional variety that characterised the investigation. His Day, observed every 22 April, is a solemn occasion to honour his life and raise awareness of the work that still needs to be done to end systemic racism.

As the C of E’s first Director of Racial Justice, I am deeply disappointed that, long after the 1999 Macpherson report, which identified the “institutional racism” in policing, the recent independent Casey report has confirmed the perpetuation of “institutional homophobia, misogyny and racism in the Met”. I am optimistic, however, about the Church’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion. It cannot now, for us, be “business as usual”.

As the Church moves forward in its commitment to racial justice, dioceses, parishes, and other networks are being invited to submit applications for multi-million-pound funding to help the implementation of From Lament to Action’s recommendations.

These comprise a suite of actions aimed at bringing about equality, diversity, and inclusion in the C of E. Such change is necessary if the Church is to live up to its mandate of being a body in which all the gifts of all of its people flourish to the full, for the benefit of Church and nation, and the glory of God.

As the report highlights, without these changes the Church would risk denying and disregarding the gifts of a significant part of the nation. Failure to act would lead to an inescapable conclusion that the Church did not consider the flourishing of all of its people a priority. The Taskforce considered this to be a potential “last straw” for many people of GMH/UKME backgrounds, one that would have “devastating effects” on the future of the Church.


I HAVE dedicated my life to proclaiming a social gospel rooted in equality and inclusion, and have been involved in advocacy related to the Windrush scandal. Aware of the backtracking on commitments previously made from Windrush’s lessons learned, and individuals’ persistent struggle to obtain compensation, I am not naïve about the distance that we still have to travel to the point where skin colour is no more significant than the colour of someone’s eyes.

Nevertheless, I go on labouring to honour the legacies of Kelso Cochrane, Stephen Lawrence, Paulette Wilson, George Floyd, and other victims of racism, and press on with the struggle for justice for all in faith, hope, and love.

The Revd Sonia Barron, a co-chair of the Taskforce and a member of the Archbishops’ Commission, expressed a hope that “within the next ten years we will see a cultural shift that recognises each individual as of equal value, and given equal opportunity to use their gifts and skills to serve this Church at every level.”

She noted: “In 2007, as the Commission for Racial Equality prepared to close its doors at the end of September, they published a final report titled A Lot Done, a Lot to Do, which just about sums up the Church’s progress on racial justice.”


The Revd Guy Hewitt, a former Barbadian High Commissioner in London, is the Church of England’s Racial Justice Director.

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