I don’t exactly have a green thumb. If potted plants could file charges, I’d likely be serving a prison sentence right now for forced dehydration.
But I’ve learned enough recently in preparing a patch in my backyard for a new vegetable garden that you need to till and clear the land, which underneath can often be a tangled, layered mess of old hardened roots. If you live in a city, chances are you might also find “urban fill” – demolition debris, asphalt, wood ash, coal – not too far below the surface.
When doing the work to get rid of that all dug-in rot and junk, I’m reminded of what my old U.S. Army squad leader used to say, with his trademark South Carolina accent, when referring to the kind of hard physical labor you needed to move something big: “You gotta put some ASS into it, son.”
That’s kind of what the work of undoing systemic racism in the United States is like: difficult, tedious labor to dig up decades worth of ugly and hardened attitudes, biases, assumptions and habits; removing stubborn roots and unsightly concrete debris that supported the foundations and lifeblood of a society built in part on the subjugation and marginalization of people of color.
Thanks be to God, we have no shortage of people of good will – from all racial and ethnic backgrounds – who are putting in the work to clear our nation’s landscape of the ugly legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, white supremacy and institutional racism. They are taking to the streets, speaking out, calling their elected officials, writing letters to the editor, and demanding action.
Sadly, they are running into networks of resistance, deeply embedded in the soil of American culture, that are not keen to be dug up and exposed to the light of day. These old lifeless but rigid and interconnected roots manifest themselves in outright denials that systemic racism exists, in whataboutisms, deflections, calumnies and detraction against those who dare call racism out for what it is.
Working through that all muck, you even find still-active embers of the once more-common and nastier overt forms of racism.
In 2020, it’s easy to see that ugliness – left undisturbed for too long – being brought to the surface on social media. People who are trying to honestly talk about our national reckoning with racism are often on the receiving end of some intellectually-dishonest responses, disingenuous talking points and straw man arguments, not to mention hostility and ad hominem attacks.
To illustrate the point, I’m posting screenshots below of some ignorant comments – all from white people as far as I could tell- that I’ve been seeing on Catholic social media pages and underneath news articles and blogs. Though what they wrote was public, my intention here is not to shame individuals, so I won’t be including their names or social media profile pictures.
If anything, the whataboutisms, deflections, disingenuous comments and blatant outright racist statements that follow below should all show us that racial bigotry is still very much alive in the United States, and that dealing with it is not going to be easy, even within the Church.