New black archbishop Sentamu receives racist hate mail
The Church of England's new Archbishop of York, Ugandan-born Dr John Sentamu, has been receiving racist hate mail since the announcement of his appointment. He is the Church's most senior black appointee.
Dr Sentamu, who has challenged the churches in Britain on their own racism, said last week that since he was chosen as the Church of England's second-in-command earlier this summer, he has received letters daubed with swastikas and containing excrement.
"I have been victim of all sorts of things," he declared in an interview at Lambeth Palace reported in the Sunday Times newspaper. "I have had a lot of terrible racist hate mail even since my appointment as archbishop."
Dr Sentamu, who has promised to speak up for social justice in his fresh role, said that he sometimes stared at people and wondered if it was they who were "writing these terrible, terrible letters".
But he added 'I also wake up every morning and I am breathing and I say, 'it's a good day; it's going to be okay'."
The Archbishop of York, formerly Bishop of Birmingham and an inner city priest in South London, recalled that he had been the victim of racist threats while sitting on the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager.
He was sent a photograph of the murdered boy. "Under it were the words, 'You are next'," said Dr Sentamu. "It was written in red ink." He passed the photograph and some hateful and menacing letters to the police, though nobody has been charged.
In 2002 the "virulent threats" turned to violence when Dr Sentamu was attacked on his way home from a service at St Paul's Cathedral.
"A young man spat on me and said 'nigger go back'," the archbishop said. "He then pushed me down an escalator. I had to go to hospital. I had just finished singing hymns and he realised where I had come from."
In the past Dr Sentamu has said that when he has been stopped by the police he has been treated less than courteously until his ordained status has been revealed, criticising the style of some stop-and-search policies directed against black people.
He played a major role in encouraging the churches to speak out against institutional racism in 1999, in the light of the Lawrence enquiry. He also chaired the Damilola Taylor review. He backs the extension of 'restorative justice' programmes.
Despite his experience of hate mail, Archbishop John Sentamu declares: "The United Kingdom compared to the rest of Europe is trying desperately hard to be a loving, inclusive societyÖ I feel at home here.'
Born and educated in Uganda, where he practised as a barrister and a judge, Dr Sentamu was an outspoken critic of Idi Amin's regime, before coming to the UK in 1974.
[Dr Sentamu has written a foreword to a new book, 'Rejection, Resistance and Resurrection: Speaking Out Against Racism in the Church' by Mukti Barton, his former adviser on black and Asian issues.]