I am writing this introduction on Good Friday, a day which for Christians vividly conflicts pain with the possibility with hope and with loss. I realize I can never understand these words as much as those among us who have been crucified with both the great and tiny cuts of racism.
During Black History Month this year, The Pastoral Report invited our members to contribute to our discussion of race in the context of the professional field of pastoral care. Our colleague, the Rev. Andrew Harriott, responded, and I asked if he would write his thoughts for us at this time. He graciously responded with these very personal reflections on his coming to America and building his career in ministry.
–Bill Scar, Editor
The Pastoral Report
Until today, I have passively sat aside and chosen not to raise any eyebrows or cause any waves in whatever environment I am in. This past February, especially, I became aware of my ancestors as I watched a television show on a black museum opening in Atlanta, Georgia. In the preview for this museum, there was an exhibition of well-to-do families, and it made me sit up and pay attention a little closer, as I had never seen turn-of-the-century photographs (the 1900s) of affluent African American families. I was impressed because the photos I’d seen of African American families, usually depicted dirt poor families in a state of poverty. So, this began to pique my interest.
Typically, on Black History Month, the achievements of African Americans played in the background of my mind, while on the periphery. The gains and achievements are highlighted together and with African Americans who have broken through the bindings of racism to achieve great heights in their respective careers. I have always acknowledged it, but soon after Black History Month is over, I have gone on to the status quo of everyday living.
Today, I described myself as an outsider to the African American experience because I am a European black man of Caribbean descent. I had always been alerted to prejudice and since coming to the U.S., I have experienced racism. When I was at school in the U.K., there was extreme discrimination against Asian cultures, primarily because of cultural differences, the way they looked, what they ate, and how they dressed.
The racism I experienced in the U.S. was from individuals confronting me using expletives about the color of my skin and telling me where I can live based on the color of my skin; denied opportunities for relationships based on the color of my skin; denied jobs based on the color of my skin and insulted and humiliated me in the workplace due to the color of my skin.
When I first arrived in the U.S., I went looking for a job and went from store to store, when I finally got hired, it was explained to me that the only reason, I would be hired was because of the way I spoke. I was the only black man hired in that area, in any store, who would have direct interaction with the public. Being an outsider has had its privilege because it opened doors because of my British accent and has closed doors because of my skin color. Both have put me in a position to witness systemic racism and have been victimized by systemic racism. However, these experiences have been difficult to contain.
Now, since becoming a chaplain, I have identified some areas of systemic racism. This leads me to ask some questions, one of which was a question I put out there for an answer to the founders of clinical pastoral education/training, “Are there any African American CPE/T founders?” One of the people I reached out to for an answer was Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD, who mentioned that close to the early conception of CPSP, along with the usual white attendance, there were non-white women in attendance in those early days. Additionally, Dr. Powell gave reference to The Rt. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Y. Lartey, a theologian from Ghana, and in his Pastoral Report article, “Formation and Transformation ‘Discovery and Recovery’ of Spirit and Religion in Crisis and Custom” (Jan. 15, 2006), Powell writes:
Lartey called upon chaplains to engage critically and empathically, encouraging and empowering others to work towards creative change of community-destroying structures.
As a CPE/T supervisor and because of my color, the administration of various hospitals and hospices looks at me as a “head prayer warrior” rather than as a clinician. It is tough to control when it involves the administration that pastoral care needs to encompass to maintain existence.
I have also been in situations where I have been excluded as a viable candidate because of my skin color. The cultural preference was designed to increase more profitability for the said organization.
A few years ago, I attended a group relations process run by New York University and connected to A. K. Rice International. In this group process, we were separated into various groups, and the professional group I was in contained doctors and educators.
One of the conclusions that came out of that group was the doctors and academic educators, primarily white, admitted they were discouraged and, in some cases, apathetic in encouraging African American participation. When they looked further into why, they concluded that most of the books they were using for educating students were all written by white authors, and therefore, African Americans were less inclined to be encouraged or inspired to join their classes. Likewise, in our training as clinical chaplains and pastoral counselors, we are practicing the same types of approaches when we are complacent or apathetic about the materials we use for our training.
Systematic racism is very prevalent in our academia and education. Perhaps I’m not saying anything others haven’t said before or noted before, however, the mere fact I have put pen to paper today to express some of these feelings and experiences means that Black History Month is doing what it is intended to do, and that is to bring awareness, even to me, as an outsider, and it has inspired me to join the list to help bring awareness to a voice that often feels like the outside.
Rev. Andrew Harriott is a certified Diplomate Supervisor; Clinical Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor; and clinical fellow in Hospice and Palliative Care. He is the convener of the Spuyten Duyvil, NY Chapter. Andrew has served on the CPSP Certification Committee, and he is the former Convener of the Chapter of Chapters. Andrew's clinical pastoral education training center, International Chaplain Foundation, is in New York, NY.
Top photo credit: Andrew Harriott