The Rt. Reverend Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Indianapolis, gave this address to canons and bishops of the Episcopal Church on June 8: “A Reflection of Personal Experience, Hope and Challenge for the Church on Dismantling White Supremacy and Racism.”
“The part of my story that is fairly public knowledge is that I was born and raised in New York City—the granddaughter of Shinnecock Indians on one side and sharecropping descendants of slaves on the other. The first ten years we lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn—and I attended a diverse elementary school with black, white and Latina teachers and black, white, Puerto Rican and Jewish classmates. We had next to no money but a lively neighborhood where the owners of the mom and pop stores knew the name of every kid.
“When I was ten, we moved to Staten Island, and I’ve never gotten over it. We were now living in a segregated space. White kids took the yellow school buses to our junior high school, and black and brown kids mostly took the city bus or walked the seven blocks to school. Many days, as I walked home alone, there were older white kids and adults who would spit at me and call me the n-word. Each Friday there would be reports of the “race riots’” at one of the local high schools—meaning, blacks and whites fighting after school, every week. I figured out by seventh grade that testing out and getting to a specialized school in Manhattan would be a better choice because I didn’t want to deal with that kind of racism. So I commuted an hour and half each way taking a bus, ferry and subway train to midtown Manhattan for high school where the diverse world opened back up for me.
“For whatever reason, talking about race, building bridges, having friendship groups that looked the like Benetton ads of the 1980s has been my lot for over 40 years. And I’m tired because I’ve spent my life pushing away and unlearning the messages that whites and black can’t be real family and friends, but too many white folks won’t do the work of unlearning those same messages. I’m tired of the burden white supremacy places on me and the black and brown people I love. I’m tired of black folks bearing the symptoms of white sickness. This exhaustion is not two weeks old or global pandemic old. Black and brown people spend our lives learning to live with the exhaustion of white supremacy as a survival mechanism…
“Now is the time for acting. For doing the work of unlearning bias against black and brown people. Our everyday choices from where we buy groceries, to what we read, to how we adorn our sanctuaries, to where our money goes, to how we vote all add up. It all adds up to a world where people and systems are activated to value and support all of God’s children no matter what they look like or where they come from and every choice moves us a little closer to God’s dream. Not just the American dream—God’s dream. So let’s get to work, church. The time is now. Thank you.
The entire address can be read here.