Answering Racism

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

This past week the “water cooler” conversation across much of America has been about one of two things: the solar eclipse or the controversies following the event in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a demonstration by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists erupted into violence with counter-protesters, resulting in the death of a counter-protester.

Much of the focus now seems to be on whether to keep historical statues; in most cases, those commemorating the Civil War.  There have also been many—from politicians, to business and entertainment and sports figures, to religious leaders—making statements opposing racism and violence.  I add my name to that list, along with the need to pray for those who are victims of such hatred and violence, and for our nation, that the cords of our unity may be strengthened.  Many have noted that our society has become more fragmented and atomized.  This weakens our resolve to work together for the good of one another with all our differences and diversity.  Many wonder, what is it that unites us now as citizens?

It will also be a shame if this moment fades with only a set of strong public statements and a debate about statues.  It does the current generation little good to blame people who died over a century ago, and strong words alone do not address the current problems that many of the poor face.

As a pastor, it seems to me our main focus should be on addressing the present; specifically, the fallout from the racism of the past that endures today bringing great suffering to the poor, most frequently our brothers and sisters in African American families.  The anger that one sees in many neighborhoods is from the frustration and hopelessness that they have inherited.  In particular, three areas come to mind: opportunity, education, and family.  Each of these intersect the others.  If progress were made on the latter two—education and family, this would lead to more opportunity.

All families, but especially African American families, have been devastated by the fallout from the sexual revolution of the past 50 years.  It has been well documented how many children not only grow up in single parent households, but fatherless households.  While these families often accomplish heroic things together, they are at a disadvantage in every area, including economically.  And African American families are disproportionately affected.  Our Catholic Charities agency along with our parishes and individuals can provide social and spiritual assistance to help meet this need.

African American families have also been disproportionately targeted by the abortion industry.  Black lives do matter, which is why the legacy of abortion for the African American community is so devastating.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2007 and 2010 alone, African American babies accounted for nearly 36 percent of the abortion deaths in the United States, though they represent only 12.8 percent of the population.  And, in New York City, the city’s health department reported that in 2012 more African American babies were aborted (31,328) than were born (24,758).  Many are unaware that the majority of Planned Parenthood abortion facilities are located in or near African American and Latino neighborhoods, part of the enduring spirit of the foundress, Margaret Sanger, who saw abortion as a eugenic tool to control populations of those deemed undesirable.  Given the recent focus on statues, it’s worth noting that two years ago, a group of African American pastors petitioned to have her bust removed from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery because her initiatives were elitist and racially motivated.

I believe that strengthening families is the most important key to addressing problems, but education is essential too.  In the past, the racially motivated practice of “redlining” kept certain neighborhoods from investment dollars, turning entire sections of cities into what amounted to ghettos.  Right here in Kansas City we see the deleterious effects of redlining in the de facto segregation that arose along the corridors of Troost Avenue and Bruce Watkins Parkway.  Today, it is not uncommon to see failing schools in these same neighborhoods.  A restructuring of our educational system which gives more freedom to parents to choose where they can send their children to school would raise the bar for these schools and all schools.  Our diocese has long recognized the ladder to opportunity that education, and especially Catholic education, can play in the future of a child.  That is why we have made major investments in our Bright Futures Schools.

These are a few examples of where we might go beyond the heat of the moment and really begin to make a difference.  Racism is evil, pure and simple.  We should condemn it whenever it rears its ugly head, but these days, that’s easy to do.  No one will give you a hard time for coming out against racism.  The more difficult, long-term challenge is how to address the fallout of racism and other sin that stubbornly remains.  As with all our sufferings that result from sin, Jesus Christ is the answer—we will do it through love.

+ Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.

Catholic Key, August 25, 2017 issue

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