I wasn’t operating in the other context, where I was the “only one.”

Primary Media
Portrait of Adele Halliday
Adele Halliday
Credit: The United Church of Canada
Published On: October 26, 2023


I grew up in the church. I was always interested in the life of the church, and so started participating in church meetings and gatherings in my early teens. As a teenager, I was often considerably younger than most people in the room.

There was another unique aspect to my participation. At the time, I was living in the Greater Toronto Area—one of the most racially diverse areas of the country—and yet the broader church gatherings were usually stubbornly and predominantly composed of White people. In some church spaces, I also found myself in a mix of mostly men. So I found myself as an engaged church member who was often in spaces where I was one of the only young Black women and also one of the only laypeople.

Sometimes, this meant that people treated me in a paternalistic or condescending way. They talked down to me. Or treated me as a token. Or ignored my contributions. Sometimes, their interventions were racist and sexist. But I was passionate and keen and had ideas to share, so I learned to speak louder and stronger and to be more adamant in making my views known. I was clear about my identity as a young Black woman, so I learned to be firm and speak with some insistence until I was heard.

A few years later, in my early 20s, soon after finishing university, I started volunteering with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. I lived in rural Kenya for one year teaching schoolchildren with disabilities. It was an amazing time of learning and growth for me. Even though I was changing, I was still myself—and still operating out of my sense of being a racialized woman who felt pushed to the sidelines too often.

Sometime after I arrived in rural Kenya, there was a meeting in the village related to the school where I worked. I felt that I now knew how to conduct myself in meetings. And so, when I needed to speak, I spoke loudly, clearly, strongly, and passionately. In my head, I was saying, “I am a young Black woman! I have a voice! Listen to me!!”

After I spoke, there was silence. The dynamic of the room had changed dramatically. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on at first, but with the help of some good friends in the community I figured it out later on.

Almost everyone else at that meeting was also a young Black woman. I wasn’t operating in the other context, where I was the “only one.” I was now surrounded by people who shared those intersectional aspects of my identity.

I was also a university-educated, fluently English-speaking, able-bodied Canadian who was also a schoolteacher. It wasn’t that my racial and gender identities disappeared; it was that these other aspects of my identity were more noticeable. In a context where schoolteachers are highly respected, I didn’t need to speak louder—people were already listening. In a context where a university graduate is highly valued, I didn’t need to speak with force—people were already willing to give me respect and attention.

I had spent many years being deeply aware of the oppression related to some of my identities. But I also needed to be more keenly aware of the places where I hold power and privilege.

I learned a valuable lesson that I continue to carry through to this day: more than one thing can be true at the same time. I can live at the intersection of my racial and gender identities and experience profound systemic racism and sexism. And I can also hold tremendous power because of the many other identities that I hold.

For those among us who are racialized, this does not diminish our experiences of racism. Rather, it invites us to consider other aspects of our identities in relation to the contexts we find ourselves in. And sometimes to change how we speak and act as a result.

Faith Reflection

One of my favourite biblical stories is that of the Canaanite or Syrophoenician woman whose story is told in Mark 7:24‒30 and Matthew 15:21‒28. She is also a racialized woman who is pushed to the sidelines. She shouts to have her voice be heard and to have Jesus, in particular, listen to her. She is insulted by Jesus and is also pushed aside by the disciples—and yet she persists in her faith and demands to be heard.

When you read this story, who do you align with or resonate with the most? Is it:

  • the oppressed woman, who is unnamed, marginalized, and demanding to be listened to?
  • the disciples, who want to send away the seemingly annoying and persistent person?
  • the crowd, who are many in number and whose thoughts are not known or told?
  • Jesus (in the Mark version of the text), who just needed space away from everyone?
  • Jesus (in the Matthew version of the text), who was silent at first but eventually willing to change and be changed?

Personally, when I first read this story, I immediately and definitely identified with the woman. But later, as I reflected more carefully and more honestly, I realized that I actually identified with all of the different people in this story—depending on the particular time and context.

Who do you would identify with? When, and why? Are there circumstances when these identifications change? What might this mean for the way that you live your life and faith?

Living It Out

Consider your racial identity, as well as all of the other identities that you hold. Write them down. Which ones do you think about and reflect on? Do you emphasize a few aspects of your identity?

Reflect on the power analysis worksheet, which is found on the Ways of Becoming an Intercultural Church page (right at the bottom under Downloads). Work through it. What does this mean for you and your identities?

Consider inviting people from your community of faith to work through the power analysis worksheet individually while at a meeting together. Discuss your results. Are there new insights that you might share with one another?

Adele Halliday (she/her) is the Anti-Racism and Equity Lead for the General Council Office of The United Church of Canada. She is staff resource for the United Church’s Anti-Racism Common Table, and has also served as the moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Advisory Group on Overcoming Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia. An experienced anti-racism educator, workshop leader, and award-winning writer, Adele has offered leadership for anti-racism and anti-oppression work with churches in Canada, ecumenically, and globally for many years. She is passionate about working toward dismantling systemic racism as well as working toward equity for people of all identities. As part of her staff role, she coordinates and leads the 40 Days of Engagement on Anti-Racism. In her spare time, she is studying for her doctorate in education. Adele lives in Toronto, and she loves to laugh.