“Please stop touching my toes!” was an arresting line spoken by Dr Lisa Adjei at our Postgraduate Research Day on 17 May.
We had two superb speakers – Lisa, church relationships manager at Christian Aid and Rev Sophie Cowan, a curate in the Diocese of Peterborough. Lisa focused on her work on racial justice and Sophie on her work on estates. We then had good conversations on the intersectionality that these themes evoked.
So what about Lisa’s toes? Lisa explained to us that, as a black woman of Ghanaian descent, she is sick and tired of white people offering to or actually washing the feet of people of colour and wanting to repent. What she wants to see is repentance followed by action and changed behaviour. She exhorted white people to stop touching her feet! I found this to be a powerful and memorable image and a clarion cry to action.
Lisa is one of the co-founders of the Sankofa collective, a community of Christians committed to racial justice. Lisa told us about the four pillars of their collective: telling the whole truth about our history, repentance, lament and action. She told us that every single young black man she knows has been stopped and searched by the police in the UK. Every. Single. One. We know this but it is still shocking so truth- telling, repenting, and lamenting this particular injustice, among many other racial injustices, has to lead to action.
Harvey Kwiyani, the programme lead for our African Christian Diaspora MA led us in a time of reflection and asked us to write down one action we could take as a result of repenting. One student said they were repenting of not being angry enough!
Sophie spoke to us about estates work and entitled her talk “Wolves and Lambs”. She encouraged us to be aware of our own positionality [“how differences in social position and power shape identities and access in society” (UBC)] in our work and ministry and how that affects who we are and how we relate to others.
She told us of her life growing up on a working-class estate and what it is like now to live and work on one. She believes that the church is not training the right people in the right way to be on estates. She explained to us that many women on estates are leaders and that they tend to be completely overlooked by the Anglican church which tends to look to the incomers rather than the locals who are already there.
She spoke forcefully about the language of “edges” – language that CMS has recently adopted. If you asked the women on her estate, they would not say that they are on the edge. So who is on the edge and where are the edges? Of course, what you see depends on where you stand, so positionality is vital.
What do you see? Where do you stand?
And what will we all do in order to stop touching toes and to start taking action?