First of all, for those of you who weren’t sure, yes, racism is a sin. The Catechism, quoting Gaudium et Spes, states that “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” Curbed and eradicated. Not politely giggled at, not I’m-not-racist-butted, but eradicated. It’s that serious. If you are Catholic, you may not discriminate against people on the grounds of race. That’s racism, and it’s a sin.
No, racism is not specifically mentioned by name in the Seven Deadly Sins or the Ten Commandments, but neither is pornography, or missing a holy day of obligation. Racism violates the Church’s teachings on social justice– and yes, the Church does have a teaching on social justice. Social justice is not some hippie liberal concept, it’s the Catechism’s term for “the respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity and guarantee it.” There’s a whole chapter on social justice in the Catechism.
And, despite what you may have heard, the sin of racism is not mysterious or hard to define. It’s “discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of race.” If you do that, you’re committing a sin. If you call members of one race animals and buy and sell them as slaves, that’s obviously violating their rights on the basis of race and a sin. If you call the police on a black person’s cookout because you don’t want black people in the park with you, that is a sin. Everyone has a right to use the public park. If you stop Chinese immigrants from coming to this country because they are Chinese and only allow northern European immigrants so that white people don’t become a minority, that’s a sin. People have a right to migrate— and yes, countries have the right to regulate migration, but not for that reason. That reason is racist. Telling black or Asian or Latina people to go back where they came from because only white people have the right to be Americans is a sin. Humiliating a Native American because they’re Native American is a sin. Not allowing people to marry members of other races is a sin.
If you think you are entitled to something just for being human, you don’t get to deny that to other people on the basis of their race. Doing so as a sin. Things like institutional racism exist as well, and the Church refers to that as a structure of sin, but right now I’m just talking about the sin of racism that a person can commit and have to repent of.
As an added bonus, you’re not allowed to discriminate against people’s rights on the basis of sex, color, social conditions, language or religion either, and doing so is a violation of the same teaching of the Church. The Catechism understands intersectionality. Stand by for certain public Catholics to denounce the Catechism as a communist plot. Wait til they hear what the Church has to say about economics.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what if we talked about other sins the way we talk about racism?
My friend Rebecca and I were bantering about this earlier, and she came up with:
“look did I eat a whole roast boar with two gallons of mead to wash it down? No? Then don’t call it gluttony.
I swear, people call EVERYTHING gluttony these days!” stuffs nachos into mouth. “The word doesn’t even mean anything anymore!” Stuffs more nachos. “It’s just another way people attack things they don’t like.”
I wanted to play along too.
“Lust? Oh sure, call this lust. You can point to anything you don’t like and call it lust. I’ll have you know that King David whom, if you’ll just consult your Holy Bible, was a man after God’s heart, also had sex with several different women! It’s not as if I’m having sex with them all at once! I’ll have you know some of my best friends are women. And her pimp tells me she has no problem with it whatsoever.”
“Avarice? Who are you to call me avaricious? Get the plank out of your own eye first. Do I have a giant vault in my house filled with plain gold coins? Do I sometimes put on a striped Victorian bathing suit and dive into them headfirst? I’m just fiscally responsible, that’s all. I never depend on others for a handout. I’ll start donating money to the deserving poor as soon as I’ve saved up enough. And anyway, what about the unborn babies?”
“Wrath? How dare you accuse me of being wrathful? She provoked me. I had to give her a black eye. I was just standing my ground. You’re way too sensitive. Calling people wrathful is the real wrath anyway. You have a serious anger management problem.”
Those were supposed to be funny, but that last one hit a little too close to home.
Maybe we already do speak about our other sins the way we speak about racism.
And we have to stop.
Hurting people on purpose is wrong. Not caring whether you hurt people is also wrong. Hurting people because of their race is the sin known as racism. It’s as simple as that. And more complicated in practice, but that’s the gist.
(image via Pixabay)