Mapping Systemic Racism in the Diocese of Long Island

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island will soon have a new and groundbreaking tool for helping its congregations, leaders, and people grapple with the pernicious issue of systemic racism. This public, data-grounded, map-based platform will reside on the diocesan website and be available for free to all who want to engage systemic racism in their neighborhoods.

The idea for this project was born when the diocese’s Canon for Ministry Support, the Rev. Canon Claire Woodley, attended a FaithX webinar entitled, “I Can’t Breathe: Mapping Systemic Racism in Your Community” last November. According to Canon Woodley, she immediately saw how this would fit perfectly into the diocese’s evolving approach to engaging systemic racism strategically rather than reactively and incrementally. Or as Canon Woodley put it…

“Spurred on by the death of George Floyd, the demonstrations in Brooklyn, throughout Long Island, and around the world, our diocese came to realize that unless and until we can develop a clear understanding of how systemic racism works in daily lived reality in our neighborhoods, we’ll just keep throwing money at it and trying tactical changes. 

This kind of learning, seeing the “red lines” and visually experiencing the specific impacts of underfunded schools, predatory lending, and other embedded structural problems helps us move past the divisions and into relationship. Seeing where our people live, move, and what limits their being, is powerful and can lead us into authentic transformative action as a whole Diocese moving towards wholeness.”

What makes this approach groundbreaking is the understanding that Systemic Racism is a societal behavior built upon a false, yet deeply-rooted and nearly unconscious social narrative. It is based on a “meaning-story” that is framed as US/THEM.

Which means, as the Rev. Ken Howard, executive director of FaithX likes to say…

“We don’t erase Systemic Racism – We displace it.”

We must consciously displace the false social narrative with a greater and more enduring narrative. It must take root in our own hearts so that it can take root in others’ and our behavior can spring from a “meaning-story” of WE/ALL.

According to Howard, this “displacement” approach to mitigating Systemic Racism grew out of FaithX’s experience in assisting congregations and judicatories with data-grounded strategic missional planning. On almost every occasion we explored the demographics of the communities they served, we came face to face with undeniable evidence of the reality of Systemic Racism. In each case, the maps revealed that the boundaries of literally dozens of social impacts – from Covid vulnerability to education inequality to police-involved killings – lined up almost perfectly with the boundaries of neighborhoods predominantly populated by people of color. “Statistically, the odds of that happening by chance are over a billion to one,” says Howard.

Redlining and Race:
One of many maps illustrating systemic racism

This experience led to research, presented as “Mapping Systemic Racism: How Visual Narrative Creates Meaning that Shapes Social Structures,” presented in March of this year at “Evidence in Action,” the annual conference of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Research then led to a series of webinars, presented in partnership with the Gathering of Leaders and the Episcopal Church Foundation, successively exploring Systemic Racism in urban, suburban, and rural contexts. And finally, the webinar series let to the Long Island project, which hopefully will be the first of many.

Click here to view “I Can’t Breathe: Mapping Systemic Racism in Your Community”,
the webinar which led to the Long Island Mapping Systemic Racism project

For more information on how your congregation or judicatory can engage in Mapping Systemic Racism in the communities the service, contact Ken Howard at [email protected].

[This post will be updated as the story develops]

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