Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
-1 John 2:9-11
Today I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.”
I was recently discussing this weekend’s events in Charlottesville with a fellow Catholic whom I love and respect a great deal. This person expressed to me that s(he) believes the proper method of dealing with people like David Duke is to take away their power by ignoring them. In regards to the protest/anti-protest this weekend they said “I wish no one had shown up.” While I understand the viewpoint, and in many ways wish it were true, I fundamentally disagree. Here’s why:
For too long, many of us with the power to speak have chosen not to on the mistaken belief that not actively part taking in racism and discrimination leaves us morally exempt from any discussion of race. I am ashamed to admit that growing up I felt this way. I didn’t think about race, and in doing so I believed I had achieved a sort of racial neutrality that was the same as being “not racist.” This was a false belief, a belief symptomatic of the privilege that I did not understand myself to have, that I could not comprehend. I was inactive in the conversation about race, and I thought that meant I had no effect on it. In reality, by not talking about race I was moving aside and creating an open space for racists to step into. And now they have the spotlight.
So let’s be explicitly clear. Racism is real, alive, and well in the United States. It is part the continuation of a legacy of racial violence that began with the founding of this country and is just as integral to the American story as freedom, bravery, and moving west. As a White person, I have a special responsibility to articulate to these men who claim to represent me that I reject their entire ideology. Because, unfortunately, White opinions are the only ones that matter to them.
I am saddened that I have not observed a more overt stance on this issue within the Catholic community. A traditionally conservative group, I believe many parish priests are afraid of alienating their congregation by appearing to preach in favor of one political party over another. But the Church’s stance is clear and uncompromising on this issue, so there should be no fear of offense. We as Catholics need to stop pretending that racism isn’t a moral issue. Racism is a sin. And, just as there are both venial and mortal sins, there are both overt and subtle forms of racism. As with all sins, racism must be stamped out within ourselves and actively combated in society. I should no more deny my tendency to make racial judgments than I should deny my tendency to lie. What I should do, instead, is try to stop lying- stop making racial judgments. Racism, like the devil, thrives best when we deny it’s existence. The fact that it makes us feel better to believe it doesn’t exist cannot make it so. It it best that we confront it directly and with force.
Let us also never forget that we too have a history of oppression in this country. Along with Jews and people of color, laws existed to suppress and control us. Laws were also written prevent our immigration into the US on the basis of our alleged desire to overthrow the government and place the pope in power. Basically, people thought we were terrorists. Groups like the KKK still include Catholics on their lists of undesirables, but in general society our status has elevated dramatically. We are, in fact, a group with a great deal of power both politically and economically. How disappointing that, rather than using that power to fight for others experiencing discrimination, we have become safe and complacent. We shut our doors and mind our own business.
On the rare occasion when I do hear a Catholic speak about our history of discrimination, it’s often, disturbingly, used as an excuse for inaction. The “Well, we were discriminated against too.” is usually a stand in for “We can’t be the bad guys” or “It’s not our job.” But it is our job. And, yes, we can be the bad guys. By promoting hatred against Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community, we have actively contributed to the problem. By doing nothing we have passively contributed to the problem. (Remember, we confess both what we have done and what we have failed to do.)
Now is the time to do the right thing, to take a moral stand on the side of good. It’s what Pope Francis is asking of us. More importantly, it’s what Christ asks of us.