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PC(USA) advocacy leader hosting antiracism discussion with Austin Seminary author

Tuesday webinar will feature Dr. Carolyn B. Helsel, author of ‘Anxious to Talk About It’

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Carolyn B. Helsel

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries, will host a discussion Tuesday evening with Dr. Carolyn B. Helsel of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary about how white people can talk about racism.

The webinar at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday coincides with the publication of the second edition of Helsel’s book, “Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White People Talk Faithfully about Racism” (Chalice Press, 192 pages). The book was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with new material, including a new introduction in light of the uprising for racial justice in 2020.

“Maybe you’ve been talking about racism with people in your community for a long time, or maybe this is something that you’re just starting to feel laid on your heart that this is something you want to get better at,” Helsel says in a video promoting the second edition. “I want to help you get better at having these hard conversations, particularly if you’re a white person who doesn’t yet feel comfortable in that discomfort, or who feels like you have to be this perfect white person in order to lead conversations about race and racism.

“I’m here to tell you, as a very imperfect white person, that you don’t have to do this perfectly. You don’t have to show up already having arrived, already having all the knowledge that you need. This is a growing process. This is a learning process. And it’s a process of gifts.”

Click here to register for the ‘Anxious to Talk About It’ webinar

Hawkins said the discussion will be about “that whole conversation when you don’t just say, ‘I’m not racist,’ but you’re actually taking steps to learn about your own privilege, and to grow and how to change society.”

Part of changing society is helping to change the church, which has often played a role in establishing and perpetuating structural racism, as many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) programs and policies have detailed. In preparing for the webinar, according to Hawkins, Helsel said she wants to address the role of the church in antiracism work.

“Carolyn said she is interested in … talking about the work of the church in how the church is really challenging Presbyterians to deal with the issue of racism and white supremacy,” Hawkins said. “So, it’s not just going to be a book discussion promoting her book, but also talking about how Presbyterians are engaged in antiracism work.”

A lot of discussion in the past year has focused on centering the voices of people who are Black.  But Hawkins, who is Black, said voices such as Helsel’s are important in helping whites engage in antiracism work.

“People can share where they once were, and where they are now and talk about their own personal journey, personal learnings and how it has impacted them, their family relations, and I think, to a large degree, how it has also been very difficult and very painful,” Hawkins said. “But you come out on the other end feeling that you are growing.

“Also, it’s a part of a spiritual journey. That’s one piece that she does focus very strongly on in the book  —  that it’s not political activity, but it’s a spiritual discipline that you’re trying to develop to be able to discern the injustices that are going on around you and the role that you play in them.”

Hawkins said that in his discussions with Presbyterians around the country, he hears addressing racism is a priority.

“Racial injustice, when you look at Presbyterians, is one of the top two issues and they’re very concerned about it,” Hawkins said. “I had one conversation with the chair of a church social justice committee … and she was really driven by it, and I asked, ‘Well, what are the issues that you would say that other members of the committee are concerned about?’ And she said, ‘This is the thing we need to talk about.’”

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