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By Sharon Taylor

I spent some of the time during Joan’s vacation to make up an “Affirming Wall” just outside the office. At the last AGM, Winfield United Church embarked on a journey of discernment to determine if we will become an Affirming church.

A few months prior to last February’s AGM, during Zoom coffee, I was very surprised to learn that we were not already an Affirming church. After all, there had previously been a gay minister, so obviously (it seemed to me) this was an accepting and open community of faith. Little did I know that there was an official process to becoming an “Affirming Church” and how important that process and label would be.

I can’t imagine going somewhere and not being welcomed because of my clothes, hair, make-up, or shoes. Anymore than I would expect to be shunned based on my beliefs or my identity or my skin colour. But that happens all the time in our society. (I separate those characteristics into two groups as things that can be changed, versus not).

You see, I am privileged.

Despite my son repeated proclaiming that there is no food in the fridge or pantry (when there is plenty), we do live quite comfortably. We have sturdy walls holding up a roof, air conditioning when it is hot and heating when it is cold. I have a father who has worked hard all his life and has a great investment advisor, so that I don’t have to worry too much about retirement years. I have a job I love and a dog who doesn’t argue with me. My daughter is growing up to be a beautiful independent young woman. The cats will complain… after all, they are cats.

Yes, we are privileged. We live comfortably. I know there are others who do not. I drive past them every day. Past their shopping carts full of detritus. Past their signs in the drive-thru asking for money. I have been to third world countries. Relative to so many, we have the privilege of wealth.

Privilege is something that we discuss in our home regularly. Katherine understands the concept of wealth privilege, though has trouble applying it. One time Stephen was complaining about wanting some electronic device that other kids had and Katherine pipped up and said: “You know, if Mom hadn’t adopted us, you’d be living in a mud hut somewhere and would be lucky if you even had electricity.” But that doesn’t stop her from wanting the latest device from Apple…. At least she works to pay for it herself (mostly) now.

The other kind of privilege that we deal with on a daily basis is White Privilege. Yes, the elephant in the room is RACISM. Systemic racism is so prevalent that most people are not even aware that they are part of the problem. Katherine often asks me to go shopping with her. She is usually dressed very well with her make-up looking like a model. Me? I am the frumpy middle aged, white lady with no make-up on. I am sure the salesperson at the make-up store is aware that I am just a walking wallet, so why ask if I need assistance when my black daughter is clearly the one who would make the purchase? And it happens in almost every store we go into.

My black son may look like a thug when his hood is up, but so do his white friends. Why does he get followed around by the security staff while his white friends are busy pocketing anything that will fit in their pants. They come home and tell me stories of their exploits.

Consider this: a black boy is driving a car, and a white woman is driving a car. Who is going to be pulled over to check their license? Change that… A white man is driving a car and a black boy is driving a car, who is going to be pulled over because of a burned-out taillight? Careful… your bias might be showing!

People say, “That doesn’t happen here?”. Oh, yes it does. It happens in law enforcement. In health care – look in the newspaper at the number of incidences around treatment of our aboriginal peoples. In academics. Look in our penal system – the percentage of white offenders is significantly, disproportionately, lower than the rest of the population.

As part of the privileged, we have a huge responsibility. We cannot be quiet allies. We cannot stand by and let people of colour be treated with less respect, less humanity. Similarly, there are many who have not had the incredible opportunities that we have had, often just because we were born WHITE and were able to work our way up or work our way through. We need to support and uplift – not just befriend but BE A FRIEND.

The responsibility of being an ALLY is big. It means stopping and thinking before you walk past. It might mean confronting police who have their knee on George Floyd’s throat. It may mean marching in a parade. It could be as simple as saying, “She was here before me.” Every step forward is a step in the right direction.

The hardest part of being an ally is examining your own pre-conceived notions. Those thoughts that were imprinted on you from you earliest years. Subliminal messages that you received through media. Children start out as curious, not biased. They learn discrimination which eventually leads to racism.

I have found that being an Ally for Black Lives Matter, being an Ally for my children, means that I can’t stop there. It comes with a realization that I need to be an Ally for All People. That everyone needs to be treated with equal respect and love regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, mental or physical ability, spiritual beliefs, ethnic or cultural background, marital status, or economic circumstance.

As Winfield United Church moves toward examining its position on becoming an Affirming church, we need to consider what it means to be an ally.

Oh, my. What a responsibility. What a privilege.

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