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Anti-Racism: A journey in progress

One of the sections of the Sisters of Providence Litany of Nonviolence reads: “Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion …”

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., recognize that racism is one of those difficult areas to navigate because in a mostly white community, we can be unaware of the systemic subtleties of white privilege. We often don’t recognize how people of color in our midst can feel so pressured to deny their culture in order to have a sense of belonging.

It is hard on both sides to bridge the gap. Sometimes, it is easier to identify racism in our society than it is within ourselves.

While the Sisters of Providence and their Anti-Racism team work to educate others regarding racial injustice, they also strive to become the change they want to see in the world. For those who facilitated in the sisters’ recent anti-racism session on July 1, training began in June.

On June 6-7, the Sisters of Providence Anti-Racism Team met for its annual retreat. Part of the retreat was to prepare team members to work as facilitators for the July 1, training session, which took place during the sisters’ annual meetings.

The meeting took place in the O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall. The sisters and some Providence Associates took part in the training.

Dorothy Burge and Bonita Kelly, both from the Chicago area, led the training session.

The facilitators’ job was simple: Generate discussion among the table they were assigned. During the training session, Burge and Kelly gave all participants plenty of time to discuss the topics on hand, including their hopes and fears of what they may take away from the session; the definition of racism; the results from a white privilege questionnaire; and more.

Discussion also took place regarding a handful of video presentations Burge and Kelly peppered into the session.

During the discussion, some sisters openly walked up to microphones and shared stories from their pasts. Some were painful and others were inspiring regarding the many topics hovering around the room.

Sister Judith Birgen, for example, told everyone about an experiment she conducted on her own – an experiment she started after attending the Anti-Racism Retreat in June.

During the Anti-Racism training session, Sister Judith said she conducted a public transportation experiment. Her findings revealed the bus would stop near her every time, even if she wasn’t at the bus stop.

During the June retreat, Burge told everyone about one of her students who conducted the same experiment – involving bus transportation – while in Chicago.

The student, according to Burge, was waiting at a bus stop when a black woman stated, “I’m going to stand next to Goldilocks,” referring to the student, who did not have blonde hair.

Burge said the student was quite distraught following the encounter. However, Burge explained the black woman knew if she was standing next to the student, the bus would stop in front of her and both would get a good seat.

Burge said the experiment is a glaring example of white privilege, which is defined as a set of privileges existing in predominant white societies; that benefit white people.

Those interested in learning more about the Sisters of Providence Anti-Racism Committee are encouraged to do so by contacting either Sister Mary Beth Klingel at mklingel@spsmw.org or Sister Patty Fillenwarth at pattyfillenwarth@sbcglobal.net.

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Sisters of Providence Anti-Racism Team

The Congregation of the Sisters of Providence is striving to become an anti-racist institution. Racially and culturally diverse, our lives witness to an anti-racist stance in our structures, relationships and practices. We are a vibrant, thriving community, rooted in our faith in a Provident God. This spirituality calls us to accountability and solidarity with oppressed people and to collaborating with others to challenge and change unjust power structures.

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1 Comment

  1. Ann Clem on July 29, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Well, guess what? Racism is alive and well here in Clarksville, TN. We had a cross burned in front of a primarily black community church a couple of weeks ago. This Thursday there is to be a rally to support this community. I plan to go and have encouraged many others to do likewise. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of white faces in the crowd.

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