I feel at times I want to run to my bed, bury myself in the covers, and never come out. First, pandemics, then financial challenges, and now protesting the unjust treatment of African Americans. It is overwhelming. Regardless of our being overwhelmed, we can’t bury our heads. My friend, Fr. Mark Soehner, is a Provincial in the Franciscan order. He shared with me a letter he sent to all of the Friars, which helped me compose this article.
The May 25th killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis forces us to address the fact that one more person of color has been killed. Racism clearly needs to be addressed. While the destruction and looting by a few is not appropriate nor should be condoned, the protests are appropriate. We need to respond. As followers of Jesus, there are no bystanders. As his disciples, we cannot remain silent regarding the issue of racism.
Our Church’s leaders are challenging us. The US Bishops have recently renewed their public condemnation of the sin of racism – as they have over the last 40 years. Pope Francis connects this moment with the Right to Life movement by saying that as Catholics we must recognize racism as a life issue: “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Up until a year ago, I was pastor of a predominantly Black parish. I tried to be as sensitive as possible in my behaviors and reactions, but as a white person, something became painfully clear to me. While most of us don’t practice overt racial behavior, we are not always cognizant that we benefit from being privileged as white people. Fr. Richard Rohr in an interview from 2016 described white privilege as “the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us.” It can cause us to discount the experience of people of color regarding brutality and discrimination, because it is not our experience. Because of the people of the parish, I recognized some of my own unconscious biases and more clearly understand the benefits that have been given me as a white person.
While in our Archdiocese, Fr. Clarence Williams, wrote his doctoral dissertation and book called Recovery from Racism. He uses the metaphor of racism as a disease—much like alcoholism—that creates a dysfunctional American family. He believes that everyone, people of color and people of the dominant culture, just like with alcoholism, need to be in some form of recovery. Therapists have said about alcoholism that, “you aren’t responsible for the disease, but you are responsible for the cure.”
So, what are we to do? I invite you to consider how each one of us can be responsible for our cure and add to productive change. I am listing some of the suggestions made by Fr. Charles Fox in his article: “Standing up for our African-American brothers and sisters: the pro-life thing to do” in this month’s Detroit Catholic: Give this cause some of your time; Acknowledge the reality of racism and unjust violence; Renounce any racism in your own heart; Reach out to people around you, including both African-Americans and police officers; Think ahead about what you might do; Share your resources; Avoid generalizations or slogans; Do not make this issue about other issues; Be humble; and pray. He fleshes out each suggestion and I encourage you to read it.
Our Lord Jesus said: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Dr. Cornell West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Let us continue to pray for one another and publicly walk with all of our sisters and brothers.