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Testimony of Terri Marks, June 28, 2020

Good morning, my name Terri Marks and I’m a member of this congregation. The testimony you are about to hear is not the original one I intended to write. But it is one I needed to write and needed to speak, in light of recent events. To be honest, you might be a bit uncomfortable. I certainly will be, but I hope we’ll all be okay. Afterwards, you might even see me differently, and, in fact, I hope you see me differently. For those of you who are curious, I come from a mixed background. My father is a white Scottish Canadian and my mother is black and from Guyana. I have to say that although my skin colour is light brown, I’ve never really identified as being a person of colour. Reflecting on this, I realize that I’ve largely identified with the white side of me. That may be hard to believe considering I am so obviously a women of colour…but there it is.

It’s not been easy for me to say this publicly, but still, it is an important first step in learning what it means to be an anti-racist. I can no longer deny the shade of my skin. I am a woman of colour. This is now who I am, and I am not hiding from it anymore. You might ask, what does it matter if I identify as a person of colour? Well, it matters a whole lot, especially these days.

As you know, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet—are just a few of the names of people of colour who have been killed in recent weeks. I want to say these names over and over. I want to remember their faces and who they were as people. So many people of colour, so many deaths. I can’t be silent anymore. I want to wake up.

I want to wake up to the corrosive role that racism plays in our world. I want to wake myself up to the racism happening in our very own society. You might think that since I come from a mixed background, I’d already be woken up, but truthfully, I don’t think I am. Intellectually, I understand racism exists. Our country was founded on racist acts, I know this. But I haven’t felt the sting of racism directly in a very long time. Sure, I was called the n-word when I was a kid, and often I’m the only person of colour in the room, but in the big scheme of things, I’ve been okay. Of course I know that just because I haven’t felt racism in a deep way, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I know it exists. The murders of these people and others, most of them at the hands of the police–who are sworn to serve and protect–are clear evidence that systemic racism exists. But I have been complacent…coasting for too long.

To be candid, I believe that my lighter skin colour has afforded me some advantages, where other people with a darker skin colour had none. Since the time of slavery, it has been an unwritten rule that the lighter one’s skin tone, the more opportunities one was given. This should not be the case in our society now, but I know this “shadism” or “colourism” still exists. I suppose on one level I’ve been able to pass—not as a white person—but as an “acceptable” woman of colour. I am just brown enough to be seen as a woman of colour, but just white enough to be accepted in the white world…the polite, articulate, and educated “acceptable” woman of colour. I hope that’s not how you see me.

I know I’ve been lucky, and I am grateful. But I want to wake up now because I have been largely asleep to the racial bias that people of colour have experienced on a day to day basis. I’ve asked myself why I haven’t been a better advocate for people of colour. The truth is I’ve enjoyed my privilege and have been neglectful of helping others, partly because I’ve been caught up in doing “life,” and partly because I haven’t been doing the very deep work that is necessary. And to be very honest, it’s uncomfortable—really uncomfortable. Recognizing my privilege and talking about race is hard for me. This, of course, is no excuse and so this is my growing edge. I am now committing to doing more anti-racist work—even if it is uncomfortable. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and of the countless others are my wake-up call to do something different. There is much work to do. There is much work I have to do.

When I first arrived at First Unitarian, I was asked that dreaded question, “Where are you from?” “Canada.” “No, where are you really from?” Some people at First may not think this is a racist question, but it is. It assumes that I’m are not from Canada—that I’m different somehow—that I am separate from you. Sure, the intention of the question may be to be nice and welcoming. But in that question lies a subtle reminder that I am not one of you. And just because you intended to be nice, doesn’t mean it wasn’t racist. I mention this because it bothers me, and I don’t want us to ask this question anymore.

Luckily, this was just a small “blip” in our introduction. Yes, there is still the occasional off-putting question, but you have changed, and I realize you are growing, just like I am. We are on this journey together. For example, it gladdens my heart that so many congregants read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and want to continue to do their own personal work on white supremacy. I want you to know, that I too, am doing my own personal work on how I can be a better ally to all people of colour. I am doing the reading and the introspective work that is necessary, and when I’m ready, I will take action. Our work needs to be done, to be not just an accepting congregation, but one that is in alliance with people of colour. Another way to be an ally? Please don’t ask me or other people of colour to explain “it.” And “it” means anything having to do with race or racism. When you ask us to explain why something is happening or why your question is not okay, it’s emotional labour and it’s not really fair. Instead of asking, do the heavy lifting. Continue to read, discuss, and act. And as I have promised to do, walk through your feelings of discomfort, fear, disbelief, and defensiveness. You will make mistakes–I will make mistakes. Let’s agree to apologize to each other, and also to keep working.

What initially attracted me Unitarian Universalism and First were the 7 principles—they really resonated with me. I even got married by a UU minister. But First is more than that, and it has grown on me. The strength of your acceptance over the years of my daughter Enna and I won us over. This is key because it has meant that we have built some amazing relationships. You’ve turned out to be a dynamic community of loving and sometimes like-minded individuals. We’re growing and changing in important ways. In addition, the religious education experience, for Enna, was first-class. She has told me on more than one occasion that she’s glad she’s a Unitarian and I am very happy about that because it means that she has a strong set of core values that will guide her.

It’s been 15 years and I keep coming back, because First is a safe place to grow in so many ways. Over the years, I have had many volunteer positions. I’ve been a service leader, a member of various committees and more recently, over the past 3 years, I’ve been a Board member. Being a Board member has been especially interesting and challenging, and totally worth it. If you ever get the chance to be a Board member, take it. I highly recommend it because it gives you an opportunity to see the inner workings of this wonderful community. I can’t say enough positive things about Karen Dunk-Green’s leadership and Susan Phillips before her. The ministers, the services, the sermons, the music, the rich volunteer opportunities, the retreats, the community of friends, have all impacted me very deeply. I think I would be a vastly different person without First, so thank-you. I look forward to our continued and wakeful journey together.