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“White Silence is Violence”

Since January, so much has happened in our world, in our country, and in our local contexts. COVID-19 disrupted our lives and demonstrated our vulnerabilities as religious communities. We were shaken to our core with the murder Breonna Taylor and the murder of George Floyd recorded for all to see. The issue of systemic racism in our country was on full display at the expense of a dying black man crying out for breath and for his mother.

As I prepare for my perpetual vows, I recognize the urgent need to pay attention and listen to the voices of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and especially our black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) sisters within religious life. Giving Voice listened to the Spirit and our BIPOC sisters and decided to have a “Diversity and Inclusion Encuentro”.

Thus far in religious life, I have been incredibly blessed to participate in an inter-community pre-novitiate, an inter-community novitiate, Giving Voice retreats/gatherings, and graduated from Catholic Theological Union. My experience of intercommunity religious life has been intercultural and diverse. I have been abundantly blessed and enriched by my BIPOC sisters and brothers. My worldview and perspective have been expanded. I have experienced Psalm 133, “How beautiful it is when people dwell together in unity” embodied in these spaces. The concept of borders and boundaries have begun to be dismantled, recognizing that they were created for those who have power to keep power and continue white privilege. In listening to my sisters and brothers, I have heard painful stories of racism, discrimination, and assimilation happening today in our communities, especially during formation.

I commend LCWR for announcing their 5-year commitment to work towards dismantling racism at the LCWR Assembly. I had the privilege of attending the virtual assembly as a guest of Giving Voice. However, I was struck by the lack of diversity and representation of BIPOC sisters in leadership, keynote speakers, responders and the “whiteness” of the prayers. The embodying of this commitment to dismantling racism was not tangible in their actions. It was a stark contrast to my previous experiences of the beauty and gift of diversity in religious life throughout formation and Giving Voice. As the Canaanite woman spoke her truth to Jesus in the Gospel about her sense of disconnect of Jesus’ words and action, I spoke the truth to the women religious leaders in my small group at LCWR about the disconnect I sensed within LCWR. As John Lewis said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

As a white woman in a predominantly white religious community, I have a lot of interior work to do to become a consistent and true ally for my BIPOC sisters. I also cannot continue to wait to have the perfect wording or best way of phrasing when in these spaces. My interior work will never be finished. As one Giving Voice sister said, “politeness is killing religious life.” Anti-racism work calls us to discard our “politeness” in order for bring forth the glory of God on earth. We are called to engage in these difficult conversations and ask the challenging questions. Where are my BIPOC sisters in leadership? Where are my African American sisters in Giving Voice? What structures in religious life are causing our BIPOC sisters to cry out for breath? What role have I played in perpetuating these systemic issues?

As LCWR made the commitment to support the future of religious life at this Assembly, attending the “Diversity and Inclusion Encuentro” is a commitment to addressing the issues of racism, inculturation, diversity, equity, and inclusion in religious life today and into the future.  Giving Voice’s purpose is to “create spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams, and challenges in religious life.” My hopes and dreams are that Giving Voice and religious life can be anti-racist organizations where equity, diversity, and inculturation are embodied by each member and each person can be truly be seen. There are many challenges facing us in religious life, however I believe racism is where we need to begin.

October’s “Diversity and Inclusion Encuentro” will be a space for our Giving Voice sisters to listen, share stories, and name our challenges with race and culture. It is critical for these conversations to happen and to be facilitated by someone who can navigate these turbulent and necessary waters. Our facilitator, Dr. Lisa Summerour will be presenting us tools to stay engaged in these difficult conversations and this long road of dismantling racism. Dr. Lisa is one who can do this for Giving Voice. Her doctoral thesis focused on mentorship and the dynamics of leadership between BIPOC women and white women. Her passion and Giving Voice’s are the same. The Spirit has led us to this moment together. May we embrace this moment and continue to be guided by the Spirit in beautiful diversity and inclusion.