Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism from 1979 and be dismayed at the lack of change in our society in addressing the sin of racism. Here’s a snippet from the 38-year-old letter:
“Racism is apparent when we note that the population in our prisons consists disproportionately of minorities; that violent crime is the daily companion of a life of poverty and deprivation; and that the victims of such crimes are also disproportionately nonwhite and poor. Racism is also apparent in the attitudes and behavior of some law enforcement officials and in the unequal availability of legal assistance.” (www.usccb.org)
The pastoral letter also provided timeless advice: commit to personal conversion of mind and heart, encourage dialogue in the church and nation, reject racial stereotypes, ensure justice for workers and respect for their rights. But it took a tragedy — the Aug. 11-12 white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. — for renewed attention to confronting and extinguishing racism once and for all.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced last week the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, making it a priority that must be addressed, now! Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, heads the ad hoc committee. This isn’t something the bishops established on a whim. The last two ad hoc committees were formed on marriage (2008) and religious liberty (2011).
Charlottesville laid bare a social sin that has festered for decades. “There have been other instances of discrimination and lack of caring, of outright hate for people who are African-American or other people of color, immigrants, newcomers,” Bishop Murry said (Catholic News Service, Aug. 23). “What the bishops are saying is we need to look at this in a concerted organized way because this is having a negative effect on the life of our country.”
“Many of our Catholic brothers and sisters swear by the misinformation spewed many times by various news outlets. They miss the chance to support noble protests for justice and end up giving a bit of a pass to groups engaged in hate,” says Chris Whitt, PhD., associate professor of Political Science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. As an African American who is Catholic, he witnesses institutional racism on a regular basis. People of color tend to face greater rejection as job applicants. As prospective home buyers, they may be steered away from prime neighborhoods or told they don’t qualify for a certain home loan. As customers, they are more likely to be followed by a store employee.
In the Davenport Diocese, Bishop Thomas Zinkula is calling people of faith to prayer (see his column on Page 3) as a first, concrete step in responding to racism and violence. Prayer is powerful but, as the bishop says, it needs to be followed by a willingness to learn about racism, reflect on racism and take action against racism. The diocesan Social Action Office, led by Kent Ferris, has resources to assist this effort. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (563) 888-4211.
Even as we pray, learn and reflect we ought to take some simple, doable actions:
• During Mass intercessions: pray for victims of racism and for an end to racism.
• Step up for racial justice on the job and in community gatherings.
• Speak up against racism in your neighborhoods, civic organizations and parishes.
• Speak up when your company is interviewing job candidates so that people of color have a fair chance.
• Encourage your circle of influence — workplace, parish, school, civic, religious and recreational organizations — to examine what part of their programs work for justice and against racism. “Big change happens in small increments by individuals,” Whitt said, using the Montgomery bus boycott as an example.
• Reach out in friendship. Get involved with or touch base with organizations such as LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and the NAACP (National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People). Be willing to go outside your comfort zone to reach out to someone different from yourself.
Express love, justice and respect for each person’s humanity. “There’s nothing more Catholic!” Whitt says.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor