THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is everywhere in the news and racism is in everyone’s thoughts, it appears that a Church of England diocese in the south of England has rejected an African American applicant for a position on the grounds that he is black and the parish is “monochrome white”. The American spoke to Augustine Tanner-Ihm about the background to this travesty and how it has affected him.
Augustine, what brought you to the UK?
Work. I have worked for the Church of England since I came to England in 2013, in the community in Liverpool, East London and Poole, Dorset. It has all been unpaid, voluntary work.
In the United States you are a Reverend Seminarian? What is that?
It’s a very old term for someone who is studying to be a reverend. When I’m ordinated I will drop the ‘Seminarian’ and be a Reverend. I’m currently doing my Masters degrees at St John’s College at Durham University.
You applied for a role as a curate at a church in the south of England. Can we say where?
It was in Hertfordshire.
Did they talk to you, or write a letter?
No, it was just an email.
They said that it was “not worth pursuing a conversation” with you, which sounds rather dismissive?
I thought so too.
They then said the potential parishioners were “monochrome white working class”. How did this make you feel?
Very angry. As this is for your magazine, which is read by Americans, I guess I can talk more freely than I might to British people. Frankly, it made me pretty pissed off.
Do you think it was racist?
Yes, without a doubt.
Did you think it was just one person writing inappropriately, or is it a case of institutional racism?
I think it is institutional.
Have they been in touch since – in writing, or on the telephone?
No, just another ‘apology’ saying they were sorry that I felt angry, and another that they were sorry for the words that were used.
Would an all-white parish really have made you “feel uncomfortable”?
Not at all. And I’m sure that if I’d been a white applicant applying for a job in an all-black area, they would not have said that.
Have you talked to anyone in the parish, or visited there?
No, I didn’t think that was a good idea.
Have you had other problems with racism in the UK?
Yes, in my college.
What has been your overall experience of living in Britain?
Very good, but I feel like I’m living in a Third Culture. I’ll never be fully British. I don’t have American friends over here, partly because I wanted to immerse myself in British life, but also because of the areas I’ve lived in where there aren’t many Americans. And, as I was working voluntarily, I was living on £7,000 a year. To be honest, most Americans over here seem to be in high-paying jobs, in and around London, and white middle class.
Has this made you want to go back to the USA?
Not at all. I have always felt that I have a calling to live and work in the UK. And I last lived in the United States in 2013, so when I go back to America I have a different understanding to my family.
What is your next step?
To get a job, I guess. Since 2013 I have been working with no pay, but now I need to a make a living. Ideally it would be in education, I have a degree in teaching, but not a UK teaching qualification, but I would consider anything.
If you have a position that you can offer Augustine, please contact email@example.com