Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Nine Eleven

12 September 2021

“Nine Eleven” triggers many responses, even so long after the event. For some, of course, memories will never fade, and it takes so little to reawaken them. Most of us will remember precisely where we were when the attack began. I was at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches, at the beginning of a study programme. Three white American students were also there, in shock, naturally. About a dozen were from African countries.

For me, perhaps, this was the moment when I began to be conscious of otherness, of the differences between myself and those whom we call people of colour. (Is white not also a colour? And who in this so-called white group is actually white?) Sadly we have become accustomed to this distinction, and to the various atrocious actions of those who wish to emphasise the superiority of their own particular group.

But there is hope. For me, the greatest example of the denial of difference was seen in the local response to the Grenfell Tower disaster. Within a short time, the community began to offer help. No-one was mindful of racial difference. Everyone, regardless of colour, dress or language, pitched in to bring relief and hope.

Terrorism now has dark skin, it seems. But what to make of June 6th this year, when a white mob tried to take the US Capitol building by force? White supremacy at its ugliest, and it’s still around.

It is commonplace nowadays to see people of colour on our streets. Difference is all around us. Conversations overheard but in foreign languages. Shops offering different foods, different clothes. Footballers “taking the knee".

The human race, in all its variations, is one global community. All the world’s major religions agree this. Each ethnic community has developed its own response to difference. Our Christian identity has its roots in the Middle East and the ancient Hebrew nation, though it has been westernised over the centuries and bears little resemblance to its origins. Our roots are certainly not white.

We must soften our recognition of difference. We must learn to accept others for who they are, rather than seeing them as "different therefore alien". Here is a true story told to us by a friend: it’s a conversation between a small boy who has just started going to school, coming home one day, and his mum:
Boy:   "Hi mum. I’ve made a new friend."
Mum:   "That’s nice, dear. What’s his name?"
Boy:   "Ahmed."
Mum:   (slightly anxious): "Er, is he brown or maybe black?"
Boy:   "I don’t know. I’ll ask him tomorrow."
The young may yet teach us something !

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