The Future of Anti-Racism and the Catholic Church


via the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life:

The killing of George Floyd sparked a renewed racial justice reckoning in our nation. The national response to police violence against Black Americans has affected our country and communities in a way previously unseen in a generation. These recent events have led our communities to examine more closely the impact that injustice and racism have on an individual, structural, and institutional level. As a result, more young Catholics have begun to engage in difficult conversations about the history and present reality of racism in the U.S. Catholic Church.

This Salt and Light Gathering for young adults under 40 brought together a panel of young Black Catholic leaders to engage challenging questions about the spiritual and practical actions needed to work towards a culture of anti-racism, which values the equal dignity of every human life. The panel discussed the history of racism within the U.S. Catholic Church, how racial injustice exists in our communities today, the role of white privilege, and practical ways that Church leaders and young Catholics can work towards a more anti-racist and racially just Church.

Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative, introduced the online conversation. Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for the Secretariat of Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, moderate the discussion, which featured:

—Ogechi Akalegbere is a Nigerian-American who is the host, executive editor, and content creator for the podcast Tell Me, If You Can. She also works as the Christian service coordinator at Connelly School of the Holy Child.

—Fr. Robert Boxie is the chaplain at Howard University and the priest-in- residence at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington, DC. He had been the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, Maryland, since July 2017.

—Gerald Smith, Jr. is the principal at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy in Washington, DC, where he previously taught 4th-8th grade science. He formerly taught at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.

—Shannen Dee Williams is the Albert Lepage Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University. She is the author of a forthcoming book with the working title Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle.


Love, Racism, and Alienation: James Baldwin’s ‘Conundrum of Color’ in 2020

What does it look like to be loved entirely? To give yourself, to be received, to be embraced, with all of your wounds and all of your beauty?

The desire for a love like this permeates the life and work of James Baldwin.

For a Black man born in Harlem during the Great Depression, the grandson of a slave, the stepson of a man who was part of the first generation of free men, these questions bear a unique weight and, for Baldwin, carry the urgency of  a prophet.

When you are met each day with the anger and bitterness of a father who, as Baldwin put it, was very black and beautiful, but who did not know that he was beautiful, and with a society that has conspired to teach you that you are worthless, that you are less than–a society in which  the basic freedoms taken for granted by most people in your country will have to be literally fought for, sometimes to the death—when this is the world in which one is immersed from the day of one’s birth, then the recovery of one’s “birthright” of human dignity and the necessity of grappling with what Baldwin called the “rock of ages” – that inheritance of suffering and pain that has accrued for hundreds of years, forming into the bedrock of the nation – becomes the work of a lifetime.

But for Baldwin, this work belongs to an entire people, to all of us. “The conundrum of color,” he wrote, “is the inheritance of every American.” Facing the fact that we are each created with this unimaginably deep need for love, a desire to be affirmed to the very core of our being as good, as worthy, as one who is, in the fullest sense of the word, a person, we also must face the fact that, in a unique and specific way, our world as Americans has been formed around both a denial of this love and a denial of this need.

After 244 years of brutalization and bloodshed, followed by a war that turned brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers against one another, it shouldn’t surprise us that many have felt inclined to try to forget this history—to, as they say, “move on.” And yet, if we actually listen to each other’s experiences, if we actually study what has occurred in this country since 1865, we will quickly discover that 244 years of slavery cannot be undone, that in some way our history will always shape us, and that if we truly want to be free, rather than determined by the past, we will have to grapple with this fact.

From the 1860s to the present, surges of violence and upheaval across our country have been followed by periods of relative calm and supposed stability, yet the calm hid what was just beneath the surface: the astounding reality of each person’s capacity to consistently deny the humanity of another human being—a denial that haunts us still today. In the face of this reality, we risk entering into bitterness, hatred, and nihilism, either through adopting a racist attitude ourselves, through continuing to ignore the problem at hand, or through failed attempts to resolve it. If we pretend it does not and never has existed, or repeat that mantra of complacency (“Well, I’m not a racist!”), we can live in a banal and lukewarm bath of contentment, patting ourselves on the back about “how far we’ve come as a nation.” Or, acknowledging reality, we might attempt to assemble a system that guarantees the total eradication of prejudice by eliminating those who transgress the norms imposed by the system, attempting to completely externalize evil by engaging in witch hunts and purifying our communities through violent exclusion. In the same country, even in the same city or home, we can live in a variety of parallel worlds that each respond or fail to respond to this traumatic past in different and often entirely irreconcilable ways.

According to Baldwin, none of these responses get to the root of the problem. He proposes that the origin of the slave trade was not necessarily the evilness of the traders and owners, but instead their lack of awareness of the needs of their own humanity. The trajectory of racism in the US is the result of a people alienated from who we are as beings created for relationship. This alienation from ourselves, this lack of understanding of our own need for love and unity, has often convinced us that power and hatred are more satisfying ends to pursue. In fact, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently argued, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” In other words, the concept of race itself was generated out of this supposed need to oppress the other, rather than out of any truly fundamental difference between groups of human beings. It is our blindness that allows us to think we can own another human being, deny him rights, kill him out of an irrational fear—to consider him our enemy rather than our brother or sister. Baldwin suggests that the only remedy to this evil is an encounter that can reawaken our own personhood. It is those who take the risk of allowing themselves to be loved who can begin to discover their own need, and to respect that same need in their neighbor.

As we go forward into an unknown future, I invite each of us to engage in the work of deeply and sincerely listening. This starts within our own families, schools, and places of employment, but it doesn’t end there. Depending on our age, geographical location, profession and so forth, this listening could extend in different ways. It might involve entering into a serious study of the history of African-American experience in the United States. It might involve broadening our knowledge of American literature to include voices and experiences far outside of our own. It might involve volunteering in our local communities and spending time together with people of a variety of backgrounds with whom we might normally not interact. It might also involve familiarizing ourselves with our local governments and public institutions, and participating in needed reforms. It will always involve relinquishing the fearful, dismissive attitude that so often characterizes responses to the call for greater understanding of “the conundrum of color”. There are endless creative possibilities available when we begin from a position of openness and curiosity in the face of reality. Remembering our own experience, the experience that allows us to make a judgment about the fundamental positivity of reality, we should find ourselves with a profound freedom to encounter one another, to listen to one another, and to live with one another in a new way.

Rose Tomassi teaches Philosophy, History, and Craftsmanship at Martin Saints Classical High School in Oreland, PA.


Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web on racism, racial justice, and reform:

The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus by NY Times: “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides detailed characteristics of 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.”

Toward a Catholic Understanding of the Phrase “Black Lives Matter by Fr. Matthew Hawkins: “If a person understands the history and circumstances that have given rise to this cry, then they will not misinterpret it, they will not feel threatened by it, and they will not feel excluded from it. Properly understood, “Black Lives Matter” is an expression of fundamental Catholic values of family, community, universality, life, and faith.”

Racist Litter by Randall Kennedy: “Acting strictly along party lines in states it controls, the Republican Party – which has increasingly become the white man’s party – enacts legislation that makes it more difficult for certain sectors of the population to register to vote. Asserting that such laws are required to stem fraud (a claim that has been repeatedly discredited), the Republicans impose new requirements that invariably and invidiously disqualify racial minorities in disproportionate numbers.”

Racism and resilience: An overview of Catholic African American history by Katie Scott: “Such painful experiences are echoed by generations of Black Catholics in Oregon and across the country. Some individuals have a handful of stories, others an extensive list. Each story is part of a long history of racism in the wider culture and the church.”

The real stakes in the David Shor saga by Matthew Yglesias: “People with unsound views are able to get operatives fired and render them unhirable. They’re able to shut down discussions on listservs meant for tactical discussions. And most of all, they create an environment where lots of people feel they need to watch their words very carefully. There is a genuine ongoing dialogue about whether claims made on behalf of racial justice should be subject to critical scrutiny.”

How partisanship is ‘weakening the Gospel witness’ in America by Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble: “Sadly, I can honestly say that I learned more about racism in my time as a punk rock atheist than I ever did as a Catholic. And while my personal story is unique to me, unfortunately, my experience’s broad brush strokes are far from rare among Christians in this country. In many congregations, parishes and homes around the United States, a partisan presentation of the faith is ever-present.”

Bryan Stevenson on how America can heal: “In the 250 years of enslavement in which Black people endured being kidnapped, put in chains, brutalized, mistreated, abused, raped — there was daily humiliation and degradation, the violence of slavery. That kind of abuse and mistreatment finally ends in 1865 after the Civil War, after the ratification of the 13th Amendment. And instead of seeking revenge or retribution or violence against those who had enslaved them, emancipated Black people said, We’re going to make peace here. We’re going to make community here. We’re going to commit to education. We’re going to commit to voting. We’re going to become ideal American citizens.When you think about all of the brutality and violence and abuse that Black people suffered and they still were willing to live in harmony with those who had abused them, it says something remarkable about the power of “we.” They believed in an America and they got no credit for that.”

The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility by John McWhorter: “Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.”

John Lewis’s Last Journey by Randall Kennedy: “Third, Lewis displayed a wonderful, empathetic, plainspoken cosmopolitanism. Attuned to the aspirations of African Americans, Lewis was also sensitive to the yearnings of others. A lifelong apostle of Rev. King, Lewis faithfully followed the teaching of his hero in embracing universal brotherhood and sisterhood. He eschewed tribal narcissism and embraced coalition politics. He was the most praiseworthy American activist-politician of his generation, a veritable fountain of instruction and inspiration.”

Black lives matter in the worshipping church by Kim Harris: “Black Catholic women know the view of the world from under and on the cross. It is in response to these experiences that our African traditions, our African American practices, our deep relationship with Jesus, our Black ways of being and doing manifest in cries, hums, moans, rocking, patting our feet and lifting our hands. We bring our wholly functioning, fully active and participating selves to the church as example and as gift.”

America’s Enduring Caste System by Isabel Wilkerson: “Caste is rigid and deep; race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the dominant caste in what is now the United States. While the requirements to qualify as white have changed over the centuries, the fact of a dominant caste has remained constant from its inception — whoever fit the definition of white, at whatever point in history, was granted the legal rights and privileges of the dominant caste. Perhaps more critical and tragic, at the other end of the ladder, the subordinated caste, too, has been fixed from the beginning as the psychological floor beneath which all other castes cannot fall.”


Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter by Clint Smith: “My children are both respite from all the tragedy transpiring in the world, and a reminder of how high the stakes are.”

Black Catholics: Words Not Enough as Church Decries Racism by the AP: “Black Roman Catholics are hearing their church’s leaders calling for racial justice once again after the killing of George Floyd, but this time they’re demanding not just words but action.”

Black Catholic leaders say more integration in the Church is possible — if all are willing to do the work by Brian Fraga: “Figueroa and other black Catholic leaders told Our Sunday Visitor that the Church in the United States needs to step up to the challenge of bringing about greater racial reconciliation and confronting the toxic legacy of racism against black- and brown-skinned people that still manifests itself in sinful and unjust social conditions and institutions.”

As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, to confront racism we must find the strength to love by Chloé Valdary: “This attempt to correct injustice is laudable, but the work of anti-racism must be rooted in the moral ethic of love and acknowledge the profound sacredness of human beings.”

These numbers show that black and white people live in two different Americas by Sergio Peçanha: “Numbers can help put American racism in perspective. And here is what the numbers say: The United States is a vastly different country, depending on the color of your skin. For African Americans, hardship begins before birth. The infant mortality rate for blacks, for example, is more than twice that of white Americans.”

You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument by Caroline Randall Williams: “I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South. If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.”

Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment by Somini Sengupta: “This week, amid a surge of protests over police violence against black Americans, there’s been renewed scrutiny on the links between racism and environmental degradation in the United States. To help readers understand those links, I put together a quick reading list about climate change and social inequities. These suggestions are meant to be starters, laying out a few entry points.”

Black Families Were Hit Hard by the Pandemic. The Effects on Children May Be Lasting. by Kelly Glass : “Eileen Condon, Ph.D., a nurse practitioner and postdoctoral associate at Yale University School of Nursing, and her colleagues examined the stressors related to the coronavirus pandemic, and how they disproportionately harm disadvantaged and marginalized families.Poverty, food insecurity and housing insecurity are major sources of pervasive stress, Condon said. When a child experiences toxic stress, their stress response is “essentially always activated.””

Elijah McClain’s final words haunt me as the parent of a child who is ‘different’ by Jackie Spinner: “I only knew that being different and black in America means that my son is vulnerable if stopped by police. A 2016 report, analyzing incidents from 2013 to 2015, found that nearly half the people killed by police had some sort of disability. A 2019 study of police-involved deaths found that 1 in every 1,000 black men is at risk of being killed by law enforcement.”


Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web on racial justice and reform:

Policing in America is broken and must change. But how? by NY Times: “The killing of George Floyd in police custody shows how far the country has to go; the resulting protests have pushed the Minneapolis City Council to take the previously unthinkable step of pledging to dismantle its Police Department. But what does that mean, and what should other cities do? We brought together five experts and organizers to talk about how to change policing in America in the context of broader concerns about systemic racism and inequality.”

How Black Lives Matter Reached Every Corner of America by NY Times: “Cumulative rage, despair and grief surged like a tidal wave at dawn. Protesters stormed the intersection where Mr. Floyd drew his last breath. Hastily scrawled posters, held steady by clenched fists, rose above the sea of heads. A black man killed — this time in Minneapolis, this one unambiguously captured on video — gave way to collective anguish and demands for action.”

A monumental shift by Christine Emba: “In 50 states and 18 countries, protesters have sparked a long-delayed conversation about structural racism, persistent inequality and the long history of white supremacy that has enabled injustice to persist. Statues and obelisks celebrate the questionable heroes of a racist past, and the protests have spurred reconsiderations of these memorials in Congress and in legislatures around the world. But rather than wait for official decisions to trickle down, protesters have taken action themselves. It’s a monumental shift.”

We Can Fight for Racial Justice While Tolerating Dissent by Stephen L. Carter: “We’re living at a dangerous intellectual moment. In the wake of the coldblooded police slaying of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner, people are marching for racial justice, a development that’s all to the good in our broken country. But when those demands turn to restricting the universe of permissible conversation, they cross a democratic line that’s worth defending.”

How can I explain the color of my skin—and racism—to young white students? by Alvan Amadi: “I wanted my students to see what God sees: the beauty of diversity. But I also wanted them to know another truth. The African-American poet and Pulitzer-prize winning author Maya Angelou said it beautifully when she observed that “we are more alike than unalike.” For a long time in the history of the United States, however, race has been used to divide, demean and degrade. This is the great sin of racism.”

What’s missing from the national conversation on race, violence, and lethal force? You. by Gloria Purvis: “We must, as Catholics, assert our moral view at these moments even when they may be difficult and uncomfortable. Indeed Imago Dei must be the cornerstone in our national conversations about race, violence, crime, and lethal force. Otherwise we cannot possibly address, let alone resolve, these societal problems. Without our engagement, the current division and hostilities worsen.”

How we can start systemically reforming the police by Bakari Sellers: “But to heal and create a system of policing where law enforcement officers accused of misconduct are brought to justice, we must leverage our anger and frustration to drive systemic change. For years, law enforcement has too often “stacked the deck” legally by undermining meaningful citizen oversight of police misconduct and limiting our ability to prosecute officers.”

If You Are Pro-Life, You Must Also Be Antiracist by Monique Schlichtman: “To be Pro-Life Literal and not Pro-Life Political, you have to actively fight against (through word, deed, and dare I say—your finances) any systems that have been created to demean, devalue, and destroy life at any stage.”

If racial justice and peace will ever be attained, it must begin in the church by Shannen Dee Williams: “The global protests over the long-standing plague of white supremacy, most recently manifested in the police and vigilante murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, have put our nation and church on the precipice of monumental change or devastating setback.”

The Familial Language of Black Grief by Jemar Tisby: “Police brutality feels like a problem that is both very old and freshly personal every time it happens. We feel the pain and loss of black life as if it were our very own blood that had been brutalized—because it easily could have been.”

Responding to the call to combat racism by Brian Fraga: “For 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the world watched in horror as George Floyd struggled to breathe. His neck pinned by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee, Floyd begged in vain for mercy. Before passing out, the 46-year-old Floyd called out for his “momma.” “That nearly broke me to hear a grown man call out like that in desperation,” said Gloria Purvis, a host of the EWTN radio show Morning Glory.”

I Have Only One Hope for Racial Justice: A God Who Conquered Death by Esau McCaulley: “As the protests press on, then, I pray today and every day that we remember the Resurrection, when the entire cosmos became something different. We have yet to realize the full scope of that change.”

What the Bible Has to Say About Black Anger by Esau McCaulley: “When these videos stack one upon another and are added to our personal slights, a deep unsettling anger rises in the soul of a disinherited and beleaguered people.”

Disbelieving black victims is the default position of conservatives. It’s shameful. by Michael Gerson: “One reason the president does not focus on the universality of human dignity in his rhetoric is because he systemically dehumanizes migrants and refugees as rapists, murderers and terrorists. He simply lacks the capacity to talk about our shared humanity. One reason Trump did not repudiate racist protesters in Charlottesville and Lansing, Mich., is because angry racists are his people — a valued part of his political base. In Trump’s eyes, no one who supports him can really be bad. And racists seem grateful to see their views mainstreamed.”

American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go by David French: “It’s hard even to begin to describe all the ramifications of 345 years of legalized oppression and 56 years of contentious change, but we can say two things at once—yes, we have made great strides (and we should acknowledge that fact and remember the men and women who made it possible), but the central and salient consideration of American racial politics shouldn’t center around pride in how far we’ve come, but in humble realization of how much farther we have to go.”

The Black Women Who Paved the Way for This Moment by Keisha Blain: “In cities across the United States, black activists are denouncing state-sanctioned violence and demanding radical changes to American policing. Black women leaders occupy a central role in these movements….But the prominence of black women in these protests is not a sudden development. In taking to the streets in support of their goals, they are building upon a rich tradition of black women’s organizing.”

Will it be different this time? Will we face our racism? by Michael Sean Winters: “These positive trends are the backdrop, also, for the outrage so many young people rightly feel and rightly express after watching the horrific video of the murder of George Floyd. How is it that racism, murderous racism, is still with us and still so systemic?”

Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases by David Petraeus: “The magic of the republic to which many of us dedicated our professional lives is that its definition of equality has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to broaden. And America’s military has often led social change, especially in the area of racial integration. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or Robert E. Lee can serve as an inspiration. Acknowledging this fact is imperative.”

What church leaders can learn from St. Paul about race and diversity by Ferdinand Okorie: “The poisoned relationship between men and women of different skin colors needs the elixir that is the gospel of the siblinghood of God’s children. The church must preach it to be truly a household of God.”

Listening to Robert F. Kennedy by Peter Wehner: “Words are the means by which we convey deep emotions and longings, knowledge and understanding, hopes and fears. We use them to teach, to warn, and to inspire; to promote harmony and provoke; to defend truth and attack it; to seek justice and attack injustice. Words shape our sensibilities; they are part of the civic and political fabric of a nation. This year in particular, we are seeing how the words of an American president who knows only conflict, escalation, and dehumanization—who loves to throw matches on dry kindling, to use the vivid imagery of a friend of mine—can inflict grave injury on the nation.”

Justice and Race: What We Can and Cannot Change by Matthew Loftus: “There are no easy answers to deal with the problem of police violence, although there are a lot of reforms that could focus policing to deal more exclusively with solving crimes while reducing the number of interactions that could turn fatal. While police abuses occupy a great deal of our discourse, they’re only a small part of the racial injustice that has haunted the church for centuries. The church, if it is willing to finally able to hear our brothers and sisters who are testifying to what is happening, will find strategies for battling the demonic power of white supremacy. If we are willing to listen and pray.”


Bishop McElroy: The Death of One Man Conveys the Evil of 400 Years of Racial Oppression

via Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego:

A deep and crippling sadness envelops this nation that we love so deeply. The peril and the burden of a pandemic have worn us down. We have become isolated, cut off from so many of the joys that give meaning to our lives, and in many cases cut off from the blessing of family itself. While at most moments such a trauma for our society would have created an energized sense of unity and solidarity, in this moment it has created division and alienation. Our economy has suffered a cardiac arrest, and the fear of economic free-fall duels with the peril of pandemic to blur the pathway forward. We are worn down.

And alongside this exhaustion of our entire people, the seismic fault line that is the greatest shame of our nation’s past and present – our legacy of racial prejudice, violence and silence – has erupted once again and now tears apart the fabric of our society. The death of one man – in the killing of George Floyd – conveys the evil of 400 years of racial oppression. The words of one man – “I can’t breathe” – capture the pervasive and insidious power of racial prejudice that is layered within the structures of American public life and its legal, political and economic systems.

Where lies grace in a moment such as this?

It lies in understanding that a genuine healing for our nation can only be found in a radical effort to accompany the African-American community in their weariness and rage and hope and despair that have been formed and deformed upon the anvil of racism. Ours must not be an episodic response that seeks to calm the waters of racial turmoil and then return to normalcy. The only authentic moral response to this moment in our nation’s history is a sustained conversion of heart and soul to genuinely comprehend the overwhelming evil of racism in our society, and to refuse to rest until we have rooted it out.


Pope Francis on Anti-Racism Protests in the US: We Cannot Tolerate or Turn a Blind Eye to Racism

via Vatican News:

In his greetings to the English-speaking faithful at the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis addressed the people of the United States, as protests continue throughout the nation.

“I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd,” he said. “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.”…

“At the same time, we have to recognize that ‘the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost’.”…

Pope Francis added that today he joins the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and throughout the entire US, “in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism.”