Monday, April 2, 2018

Sacred Conversations on Race and Action Sister Phyllis Tierney, SSJ , Rochester Justice and Peace Coordinator

How does race define who we are and what aspirations can we achieve? This question was one of many that 14 Sisters and three SSJ Associates were invited to ponder during a workshop held on February 24 at the Motherhouse. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the deep divides that are present in our society. Wilma Campbell and Bob Insull, members of Roc/ACTS (Rochester Alliance of Communities Transforming Society), facilitated the conversation, which ultimately led to a call for action. 
Among the discussions was how racism includes prejudice and power, which are both at the root of discrimination. This can lead to a culture that accepts the creation of policies that block a person of color from buying a home, moving into a particular neighborhood, or being hired for a job despite being qualified. The term is known as “otherism.”
To illustrate this practice, we were shown a map of the City of Rochester highlighting districts that are “redlined.” These areas have high poverty rates and are primarily home to black residents who have difficulty receiving bank loans either for home improvement or purchase of a home. However, as some of these areas open up for improvement, persons of means who move into areas with high-end development are able to get affordable loans. As a result, the tax levels on the property increases, meaning those who have lived there can no longer afford to stay. 
As part of the workshop, we were challenged to create a response that addresses this issue. The strategies included ways we could influence local decision-makers, banks, real estate developers, and policymakers to enact new equitable policies that consider the needs of low-income people and people of color. These suggestions will be presented to our Mapping Committee that is focusing on social services in hopes of following up with action.
Overall, the workshop moved us from a personal level to an institutional level. We came away with a deeper understanding of racism and how it operates in both our conscious and unconscious levels.