The importance of anti-racism training for white peace activists
By Beatrice Parwatikar, Ambassador of Peace
Pax Christi USA is a section of Pax Christi International, a Catholic-based peace and justice organization. In 1992 Pax Christi USA (PCUSA) did a survey of its membership. One disturbing result was the fact that the membership was ninety-seven percent White, which does not reflect the membership of the Catholic Church in the United States. PCUSA realized that the organization needed to reflect the diversity of the Church.
At this same time, one of PCUSA’s leaders had a conversation with a person of color that had a profound effect on him. This person asked, “How come you White peace people will go all the way to South America to work on peace, ignoring the violent neighborhoods in your own communities?” The survey and this comment were what moved this particular leader to start questioning why anti-racism was not a part of the peace and justice agenda.
In 1998 the first proposal to the PCUSA National Council regarding an anti-racism initiative happened. The proposal was to organize a two-and-a-half day workshop for the PCUSA national leadership facilitated by Crossroads Ministry (an organization dedicated to anti-racism training) and to explore establishing a relationship with Crossroads Ministry. The reason Crossroads Ministry was chosen was because of their analysis of racism. Their analysis is: Racism = Prejudice + Institutional Power. Another way to look at it is in terms of white skin privilege. Law in the U.S. protects white skin privilege because White male landowners created the laws to protect their rights, their culture and their wealth. In communities of color, White privilege has kept White men in power as gatekeepers—they control the banks for loans and home mortgages, insurance for cars and homes, schools are controlled by outsiders, and businesses owned by outsiders.
In 2000 the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team (PCART) was chosen and began to train as anti-racism trainers. The foresight of PCUSA was that this is not program to fix People of Color (POC) but a program for Whites to understand their White skin privilege. In PCUSA we needed to educate the membership to understand that you cannot have a peace and justice movement without an anti-racism agenda. One of the problems we faced is trying to create an understanding within our membership that this is not a new agenda and that we are not working on anti-racism instead of peace, but that this is indeed part of the movement for peace.
When PCART finished their initial training, the team then set out to transform PCUSA. PCART creates a 20-Year Plan with 5-year goals and 2-year objectives for PCUSA. Some of the key objectives are: To work with the National Council and Staff to offer workshops and/or seminars to introduce PCUSA members to the anti-racism analysis; Create a one-day anti-racism workshop for the National Council members and create a program for new council members to understand the analysis; To create a list of qualified People of Color (POC) to be speakers at the National Assemblies and writers for PCUSA publications. PCART also works with National Council and Staff to create an environment conducive to increasing POC membership within PCUSA. The most important application created by PCART was that PCUSA must be accountable to POC.
PCUSA National Council and Staff decided on several ways they could fulfill being accountable to POC. Our organization has a limited membership of POC; it was decided to align and do projects with POC organizations within the Church and outside the Church. PCART itself was the other source of our accountability to POC.
Originally, this anti-racism initiative was intended only to have a domestic application. PCUSA is part of a larger international organization but also initiates international projects of its own and participates in projects with other international groups. The anti-racism training becomes very valuable for White peacemakers in working with POC in other countries and with people of different cultures. The PCUSA analysis of racism (Racism = Prejudice + Institutional Power) can be applied when we look at countries in the Global South—especially in looking at institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, as well as the lasting effects of colonization on the Global South. Such institutions have created international laws to protect the wealth of the Global North.
I see how PCUSA’s analysis of racism can be applied on a global scale to see how those in the Global South are impoverished by policies that do not assist POC nor by allowing POC to control their own resources. We cannot forget that many of the countries in the North are former colonial powers still controlling the resources and becoming rich through remaining gatekeepers in the Global South. I see the same type of gatekeepers in the U.S. in low-income communities of color. We must not forget the arrogance of how U.S. government officials deal with governments in the Global South—we have observed that same arrogance when we advocate for POC and the poor in the United States. This appears to be a global two-tiered system like the one in the U.S. based on color, because the POC and the Native People always seem to suffer the abuse of international economic institutions which are protected by international laws written by the Global North.
Applying the PCART training—especially for White peace activists from the U.S.—will assist them in understanding that they must “accompany” people in the Global South. This understanding comes through applying the PCUSA racism analysis. They have to learn to be accountable to communities of color in the U.S.–this will help PCUSA members to be accountable to the communities in the Global South.
Learning to work with organizations with POC and people with different ethnicities in the Church and outside the Church has helped peace activists learn to let these communities set their own agenda. PCART training says you do not fix the POC but you must deal with White privilege. This will help them understand the privilege that is enjoyed by people of the Global North especially the United States.
I believe anti-racism training will better prepare the White peace activist to become a partner in the agenda set by people of the Global South. This action will show respect of people’s ideas and education and acknowledge their lived experience in the Global South. It is important that the peace activist from the Global North—especially those from U.S.—learn to journey with the people of the Global South just as they have to learn to journey with POC in the United States. The White peace activist is not in the Global South to set the agenda, but to join in the agenda set by the people of the Global South.