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Through the Eye of the Needle, Part 5: Putting it into Practice

Through the Eye of the Needle

Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Annemarie Barrett finishes up a special five-part series, “Through the Eye of the Needle: Unpacking White Privilege in the Journey Towards Racial Reconciliation” on how her time in mission in Latin America is shaping her understanding of racism and privilege. 

I want to wrap up this series with a short list of concrete steps that I try to make in my own journey of living in solidarity with people of color as a white person.

Learning how to be a better listener and paying attention to when it is better not to speak as a white person. Recognizing that sometimes opening up spaces for people of color to be heard requires me to choose silence.

For example: Instead of explaining to a person of color how to talk more respectfully about issues of race, I should recognize that as a white person I am not an expert on lived experiences of racism. So I should choose to be quiet and listen to people of color and try to learn from their experiences and perspective.


Annemarie choosing not to speak at a radio interview with the women from Santa Rosa, respecting that it was more important for their voices and experiences to be shared that day.

– Learning more about our history, specifically the global history of colonization, prioritizing sources and analysis from people of color. Seeking to better understand the connections between continued colonization and issues of racism and oppression today.

For example: People who have white skin like me were the first to colonize the Americas and through their destruction of native cultures and peoples, they gained enormous privileges. Those privileges are the the root of the privileges that I continue to experience as a white person today.

– Opening my heart to other peoples’ experiences that are different from my own, especially people and communities that have been historically marginalized.

For example: As a white person, I can use this exercise from Pace e Bene as a start: Pieces of the Truth. Even just reading through this exercise can offer some tips for opening my heart and starting to change my perspective, imagining what it would be like to look at a problem from a perspective other than my own.

Planting a new garden, mother and daughter in a parish community

Planting a new garden, mother and daughter in a parish community

Analyzing, constantly, how my privilege is connected to other people’s oppression.

For example: This means asking questions like,“Why is the neighborhood I live in both safer and whiter? Why does my school have more access to resources but less racial diversity? What happens to all the former residents and business owners who are people of color when a neighborhood is gentrified and I move in?”

– Having the courage to move beyond guilt and grow in humility, willing to do the hard work to engage reconciliation.

For example: As a white person, I can start by recognizing that racial oppression is not talking about me, my experiences or my opinion. It is a systemic problem that exists whether I see it or not. This is a great opportunity to reflect on the spiritual call to grow in humility and the social sin of ignorance of and complicity in injustice.

– Paying attention to the daily news, prioritizing sources and analysis of events given by the communities of color experiencing marginalization.

For example: These are just a few of the authors and news sources that I have added into my media diet: Democracy Now!, Colorlines, Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice.

Mutual exchange between women in Santa Rosa

Mutual exchange between women in Santa Rosa

Collaborating with my local community to open spaces for the experiences of those most marginalized to be heard, respected, and honored.

For example: As a white person, this means both engaging conversations with other white people in my community and playing a supportive role when collaborating with people of color in my community. This means intentionally not assuming leadership positions, but instead choosing to support people of color in leadership positions.

– Learning to recognize when a space is not for me as a white person; choosing to sit down and listen or leave the space.

For example: Naturally it is important for people of a marginalized group to need space for dialogue and healing amongst other people who are experiencing similar marginalization. As a white person, I do not experience racial oppression and so there are times that it would be better for me not to get in the way of a space for dialogue and healing amongst people of color. Learning how to decide when a space is for me or not, is not easy, but it is a process that starts with self-reflection, trust building and dialogue with people in my community.


Women and men from Santa Rosa presenting their organic produce in a local fair

Engaging my own racism and the racism I witness/participate in around me, and choosing to respond differently.

For example: As a white person engaging racial reconciliation, it is my responsibility to unpack my own prejudices and to speak up when I witness racism. It is my responsibility to not participate in racism. These responses are formed on a case by case basis and require a lot of trial and error to learn and grow.

– Remaining open to being wrong and needing to grow to live into more just relationships of solidarity as a white person.

For example: This is another great opportunity for reflection on the spiritual value of humility, not just to recognize my own ignorance but to also recognize my own failures and be willing to change.

This is a short list, but it is a start. I hope this list will grow. Please check out additional resources below to find sources of news, analysis and movement building towards racial justice in the US and abroad.

Bolivian Documentaries for Spanish Speakers:

It has only been with humility and faith that I have begun to shed the prejudices that have kept me from participating fully in the beloved community with my sisters and brothers of color. I pray to learn more in my own process of racial reconciliation and I invite you too to join me.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies. Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she began her service in Bolivia in January 2013.