The reality of anti-Black racism that gripped most of the world in 2020 signalling calls for solidarity from all identity groups to dismantle anti-Black racism. George Floyd’s public murder turned the “unspeakability of race” (Dei, 2012) to an unprecedented reckoning with race and racism for our generation. Conversations about race and racism are no longer confined to lecture halls, activist meetings or grassroots workshops with mostly BIPOC individuals. Along with ‘anti-Black racism’, terms such as ‘white supremacy’, ‘white fragility’, and explicit conversations about ‘how to be an anti-racist’ have compelled Canadians from all walks of life to understand inclusion, belonging and civic identity with a more critical lens.
Where does knowledge about religion, spirituality and creed fit into the global call for allyship and activism to dismantle anti-Black racism in North America?
1. We need an intersectional approach to dismantle anti-Black racism.
Being knowledgeable about race and anti-racism requires knowing more than the toxic way power came to be associated with skin colour. This knowledge is important, but as anti-racism scholar, George Dei, has pointed out, race is not “just about skin colour”. He urges Canadians to understand that being race-conscious or anti-racist does not mean we can reject “the intersectionality of our multiple identities” (Dei 2012, p. 240). While anti-racist actions require a critical understanding of the connection between skin pigmentation and power it is equally important that the various identities, experiences and world views of racialized people are not reduced to being about colour only. This intersectional approach to understanding identity invites us to consider conceptual toolkits we need to see and understand racialized people as more fully human.
2. We need an approach and tool that can help us see the interplay between world view and race.
Knowledge of religious literacy is a critical tool in the work of anti-racism. It helps bring to life the varied and nuanced world views and histories of Black, Indigenous and other racialized Canadians. Furthermore, religious literacy helps to build connections and understanding with Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities who have often been the targets of hate crimes in Canada. A deeper understanding of the ways that religious influenced traditions and mindsets have been used by South Asian Hindu, Muslims and Sikhs in the face of racism, for instance, also demonstrates that these communities are not just passive victims of racism. The interplay between religious culture, beliefs, history and concepts of identity inform the lives of BIPOC people in Canada and globally.
3. We need a framework that helps us see the interplay at the personal, cultural, and systemic societal levels.
Dismantling anti-Black racism requires us to confront what we understand about Blackness. Religious literacy can help displace the single story of Black people constructed by society by providing a framework to understand the influence of culture, context, history, belief and practice on the millions of religious-affiliated, spiritual, and non-affiliated Black peoples globally and locally. Similarly, religious literacy is helpful in unravelling discussions of white supremacy, specifically the connection between affiliation with white evangelical churches and white supremacist values in North America. The ways that religion has been racialized, and the ways that race has been marked by religion, confirms the importance of religious literacy in furthering civic understanding of race in society today.
By: Hiren Mistry, CCRL Ontario Regional Director and Subject Matter Expert
To read other ways to use religious literacy, check out other Thought Corner contributions here: https://ccrl-clrc.ca/religious-literacy-resources/thought-corner/