Notes on Ghost Ship

Book Cover

France-Williams, A.D.A. (2020). Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. London, UK: SCM Press.

Started reading: 01/13/20

Arlington Trotman’s review of the book in the UK Church Times describes it well: This critique has many layers and lenses. Ben Fulford has posted a more thorough review of the book than what I offer below in Unfinished Theology.

France-Williams uses poetry, fiction, and mysticism to make horrible truth readable and in the end, hopefully inspire change in the circles needed. I have added this title into the Anti-racism Digital Library (Book Collection). Please visit the Anti-racism Digital Library if you’d like to find a library near you that has this book. I recommend it highly.

Who’s Who and What’s What is the cast of characters we will meet in the book. The author’s sense of humor as he introduces the characters in this true-life book promises me that this book will make me think and I am optimistic that it won’t depress me; I’m already aware of humanity’s ability to be senselessly, needlessly cruel to one another!

Prologue: Tears and Troubadours: A Tale by Ade the Griot. Beautiful but complex.

Introduction (pages 1-25) starts with the shocking story of Gus John and introduces the stage and outline for the 30 year history the book covers. The breadth is wonderful: poetry, a film Trading Places, quotes, and statistics from people living and dead, and reports, old and new to substantiate. Some of the quotes that struck me here are:

On page 5 France-Williams uses James Baldwin’s words that express the process of objectification to explain how two different people – himself, a black male pastor, and a white male pastor – had different experiences on the Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. They were sent by the same mission agency United Society, formerly the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). He even quotes Calvin! Then, there’s this:

Emotional labour is the suppression of feelings between worker and customer or client.  It is the neutral or friendly mask one wears in spite of the discomfort, displeasure, or even distress one may feel during an interaction.  It is the deployment of mental resources to keep smiling when one is internally suffering.  

A.D.A. France-Williams. Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. London, UK: SCM Press, 2020. Page 5-6.

…whiteness is not a description of skin colour, you know, whiteness doesn’t have a category, it’s not a thing, it’s not an ethnic identity, it’s not a language, or food. Whiteness is a tool of racism, whiteness is a tool of white supremacy, all kinds of whiteness are possible. … Whiteness is a claim to power, it’s a claim to rightness, it’s a racialised claim amd there is no such thing as being white and being a Christian, you have to resist that identity.

Indian Episcopalian Priest Winnie Verghese quoting Kelly Brown Douglas in A.D.A. France-Williams. Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. London, UK: SCM Press, 2020. Page 13-14.

Institutional racism could arise from overt acts of discrimination and/or hostility by individuals acting out their personal prejudices and from inflexible, “traditional” ways of doing things, especially in tight or long-standing communities.

This is first of four descriptions of institutional racism that France-Williams chose to pull out from the report by a Church of England Committee entitled Called to Act Justly which has a number of them. A.D.A. France-Williams. Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. London, UK: SCM Press, 2020. Page 20 (Chapter: Introduction).

Ultimately, this book is best described using Fr. Azariah’s own words:

I am now a black minister in the white Church of England. … it is more like we are ‘sick’ …

I am telling my version of the story of people of colour – some of whom I know and some know me. I am glad to be a member of a clergy of colour family sea, with Ugandans like John Sentanu, African Americans like Michael Curry, West-Indians like Rose Hudson-Wilkin and Eve Pitts, and Indians based in America like Winnie Verghese. or based here in the UK like Mukti Barton, and the like.

As you travel through this book, you will encounter history, biography, theology, some chapters mystical, some fictional, some polemical, and some hopefully comical…

The book’s title… is… a little-known avoidable tragedy at sea … [to] become (s) a guiding myth for much of our discussion.

A.D.A. France-Williams. Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England. London, UK: SCM Press, 2020. Page 16-22

Listen to Over the Bridge Podcast with the author.

To be continued.

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