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Permissive attitude toward racism inspires book club

Providence Associate Lorrie Scheidler

Deeply moved by George Floyd’s death, Sue Ellen Pabst suggested to her sister, Lorrie Scheidler, that they start a virtual book club on racism. Lorrie, a Providence Associate, agreed. They emailed invitations to more than 100 people. Approximately 45 people joined. The group read two books: “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “So you want to talk about race” by Ijeoma Oluo. Sue Ellen and her husband, Jim, made notes for the chapters ahead of discussions. They discussed each book in Zoom breakout rooms. Each breakout group had a notetaker who reported back to the larger group. They also recorded responses the groups shared.

The heightened permissive atmosphere for open, blatant racial animosity “opened our eyes.”  It motivated us to learn what we did not know, one member of the group said.

What are some things those in the book group learned?

  • The working definition of racism by Oluo — prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power
  • The history of African Americans in this country, especially after slavery was abolished
  • That racism was designed to support an economic and social system for those at the very top
  • Cultural differences
  • Becoming aware of our “white” privilege
  • The challenge of looking through a different lens
  • That loving people of color does not mean it will do anything about police brutality, racial income inequality, food deserts or the prison industrial complex
  • How we talk over black people and discount their experiences
  • Prisons are for minorities: many, not just a few, innocent people are in prison.
  • Understanding white America is the norm. You cannot be white in this country and not be racist. It is part of the culture.
Sue Ellen Pabst

Sue pointed out, “Once you learn this information you cannot un-know it.” Both sisters now have a better understanding of systemic racism. Both are motivated to pay better attention to the injustice in our legal and prison system. This experience compels them to acknowledge their own racism and what their part is in contributing to racism.

The book group will begin a new book soon and anyone is welcome to join. They meet at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings via Zoom. To join the group, contact Lorrie Scheidler at lorraineisu@gmail.com.

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Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for more than 60 years. Sister Donna has served in elementary education, parish ministry, diocesan social justice, as well as the Congregation’s liturgy office, archives department and social justice outreach. She also administered as the director of the Providence Volunteer Ministry. Sister Donna currently volunteers in outreach with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

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2 Comments

  1. RosalineSecrest, PA on February 11, 2021 at 7:15 am

    What a great accomplishment. Almost 50 people who now better understand white privilege and are committed to eliminating racism in their lives. This is so well organized, it will serve as a model for other groups wishing to address the evil of racism.
    Thank you for sharing your plan and your conclusions.

  2. Mary Montgomery on February 11, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you, Sue Ellen and Lorri for your initiative, commitment and community organizing about these critical issues of racism and white privilege.

    Thank you, S Donna Butler, for this article describing this very important work in this time.

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