An interview with Gail Bindley-Taylor | June 10, 2020
Gail is a long-time member of St. Paul’s and of the Race and Social Justice Coalition. This week she spoke with Jake Street about her experiences, her reactions to the past several weeks, and her message to allies, advocates, and those uncertain how they can help.
How did you come to join the Race and Social Justice Coalition?
The group started off as preparation for the Advent season with [former Assistant Rector] Peter Thompson. We read Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas, who then came for an event open to the community. As we were leaving, I turned to Rod [Davis] and said, “after all this, what are we going to do next?” and right there, in the corridor, we said we should form a group. It became part of our outreach as church members practicing Radical Welcome, but also brought in community members not related to St. Paul’s at all.
Race is not an easy thing to talk about. We moved from books to the personal over a two-year period. You cannot talk about race without trust and vulnerability, and in two years I think we built those pillars. We were able to sit and talk and exchange and argue and sometimes sit in silence just by the shock of what we were reading, and to ask questions in a really heartfelt way about things neither side understood. When we read Americanah, a lot of the white folks in the group were saying “why is hair so important?” and we were like: “what?! Why is Black hair so important, are you kidding us?” Those exchanges you can only have when you get to a level of vulnerability, and we got there.
What has been your reaction to the last few weeks?
It’s been exhausting, to be honest–it’s been emotionally exhausting. I have a Black child who is miles away from me and who does not have a job at this moment because of COVID-19, and has no health insurance. That has to concern me as a mother of a child of color. I’m also taking part in a number of discussions on race, and it can be almost despairing when you hear people that you know well, who are white, say, “I didn’t get that” or “I didn’t understand that.” It takes every ounce of your energy–and to a certain extent that’s why I pray–to say “it is not my job to teach.” But yet, it is my job as a Christian person: to not despair, to not get so weary that I give up, because if I give up, what happens?
It’s about finding strength and finding ways to connect, and to say, listen: yes, this is painful, but just as we have lived with this for 400+ years, you now have to feel that discomfort of looking at a Black man being choked to death and how that makes you feel, and do something about it. Find something that you can do that is meaningful, that makes you grow, that makes you change, because we cannot do it for you. But we certainly can meet you halfway, and that’s what I am about at this point. I am willing to meet anybody halfway. But you have to be ready to deal with me from your place of being uncomfortable, while understanding the pain that I feel as a person of color.
What do you say to the well-meaning person who hears this and feels overwhelmed, powerless, or terrified?
It is terrifying–people have come to group meetings and not come back. Sit with the discomfort; feel it; let it seep through into your very soul, how uncomfortable this feels, whatever guilty feelings you have. Don’t look away, don’t pretend you’re not feeling it. Pick up a book, read some of the books that we have read, which give you a completely different way of looking at things, a completely different sense of history. Read, and when you are finished, ask yourself: where am I in all this? What does this moment call on me to do? That’s what I have had to ask myself: what does this moment call on me to do? Because everybody needs to not stand in their corner and pretend they don’t see. I will never say it’s not painful, because it is. It’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing for some, it’s shameful for others. But move beyond and through that, to: what can I do concretely that will make a difference?
What is most exciting about what the Race and Social Justice Coalition is doing today?
To see everybody engaged at some level–to use a word we tend to use, really “woke.” We have joined with other people like CONECT and Black Lives Matter, and have been saying “I just saw this,” or “we should try to get involved with this.” We’ve recently been involved with Stacey Abrams on voter suppression and the Poor People’s Campaign, and marched together in a protest.
For me, the greatest tribute to our group is Kali’s testament [quoted in full below]. For me, that made me feel: this is worth it. This is worth it. To someone who is nervous or scared, that statement gives them the permission to feel what they’re feeling.
How can people get involved right now?
Just come. Just come. Listen; the first thing you have to do when you come into the group is listen. We are a very welcoming group. The great thing is, we welcome people wherever they are on their journey. We just ask you to come with an open mind, ready to explore with us, and to go into what we are envisioning as an antiracist future. If you come, and you listen, eventually you will be ready to act.
Read more about the Race and Social Justice Coalition at this link. Join their regular Wednesday meetings from 7-8:30pm on Zoom by clicking here. With any questions about the group, or to connect with a group member, contact the St. Paul’s main office: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Facebook post from Kali Lentz DiMarco, a white woman, member of the Race and Social Justice Coalition, and parishioner of St. Philip Church in Norwalk:
I have hesitated to write this post, but I must share. I am not good with anger or confrontation and so I am having a very hard time with Facebook and the news right now. But I want to be part of the solution so… be kind with your comments.
I have been part of an incredible group for the past 18 months or so: The Race and Social Justice Coalition at St. Paul’s on the Green. It is comprised of wonderful people – but I will not sugar coat this. It has been hard at times. Hard to hear others stories, hard to hear their pain, hard to admit my complicity… hard to hear the anger at times. But… BUT… I am a different person now and I see things in a different way. There are so many things I just didn’t know (or didn’t care to know), there are experiences that I will NEVER have that others bear ALL THE TIME, the history books that I was taught from are incomplete and actually inaccurate… the list goes on and on. My mind has been “blown”, but my eyes have been opened. I have learned to listen and be still. I have learned that maybe I don’t have all the facts. I have learned that I need to be educated before I speak. Most importantly I have learned that now that I have been educated, I need to act.
And so, I want to make a suggestion to anyone who is white (people of color know these things because they have lived them). Read, educate yourself, listen, and open yourself to difficult but truthful conversations. Before you post memes that sound cool, read the book “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo; Before you think or say you are not racist (I did), read the book “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram Kendi; before you judge another person, watch the film “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson”; before you assume you know all about history, do some research about the GI Bill.
We have to do the work before we speak or act. It’s hard – trust me – but it’s the place to start. Don’t just read these – struggle with them. Have honest conversations with your friends and family. Listen to others, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Refrain from weighing in on something you see or hear until you know. I used to want to melt down and hide when things got really ugly, now I know that just isn’t an option.
I don’t have a catchy phrase or hash tag to end this, just an honest truth. Us white people need to stop talking and do the work.