We continue our series on Racism in America with four short articles this time. I hope you had a chance to dig into Bishop Mark Sykes’ courageous pastoral on racism and white supremacy that I published in Tuesday. If not, you can find it on the right side of my site at the top of the archive column.
The first one today is from Archbishop Wilton Gregory, of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.,who is black. The middle two are the New York Times 1619 Project, a large research project on slavery and its effects on America life and our economy since its the first slave ship came to our shores. And the last one is from the Sierra Club about how the Trump administration has made our air pollution worse especially on our black communities.
(The images on this page are taken from the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate the lives of lynched and murdered black folk.) Hundreds of there names are memorialized on huge upside down bronze blocks and some of their ashes are there as well.
First, we hear from Archbishop Wilton Gregory . . . .
Our nation is in pain and in crisis, with angry, peaceful protesters demanding justice; with some lawless attacks on places and people; and with leaders who are failing us. At the same time, a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that touches all of us has exposed pervasive injustices which leave people and communities of color far more likely to suffer and die, lose work and wages, and risk their health and lives in essential jobs.
For Catholics and all believers, racism is more than a moral and national failure; it is a sin and a test of faith. Racism is America’s original sin, enduring legacy, and current crisis. Racist attitudes and actions, along with white supremacy and privilege, destroy the lives and diminish the dignity of African-Americans and so many other Americans. Racism also threatens the humanity of all of us and the common good. Racism divides us, reveals our lack of moral integrity, limits our capacity to act together, denies the talents and contributions of so many, and convicts us of violating the religious principles and the national values we proclaim.
~ Archbishop Wilton Gregory ~ Racism in our Streets and Structures.
The next two articles are from the New York Times 1692 Project.
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.
A story of one black soldier coming back from war . . .
The day of days for America and her allies. Crowds before the White House await the announcement.
I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan.
Reporters rush out to relay the news to an anxious world and touch off celebrations throughout the country. Joy is unconfined.
It’s February of 1946, and a young black man is sitting on a bus watching the Georgia pines fly past the windows. He’s on his way to see his wife, and he’s probably very excited, because he’s been away at war, and he hasn’t seen her in a very long time. He’d been fighting for this country in World War II, and just that day, he’d been honorably discharged for his service. But he is a black man who is returning to the Jim Crow South.
“You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate..
“But to tell me that I don’t even have the right to fight to protect the white race —
“We are going to maintain segregated schools down in Dixie.
“Well, I think their aim is mixed marriages and becoming equal with the whites.
“You’ve got to keep your white and the black separate.”
What happened on that day is a story that will be told across the country.
Good morning. This is Orson Welles speaking. I’d like to read to you an affidavit.
It was a story that would actually change the course of history.
I, Isaac Woodard Jr., being duly sworn to depose and state as follows, that I am 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1942.
He’s riding the bus through Georgia.
At one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drugstore.
He wants to get off and use the restroom.
He stopped. I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to —
The bus driver gets upset with him. They have a little bit of an argument. Woodard doesn’t think much of it. He goes to the bathroom, runs back to the bus, and the bus keeps going. But then, a few miles down the road, the bus stops, and the bus driver gets off the bus, and then calls and tells Woodard that he needs to get off the bus as well. So Woodard gets off the bus, and before he can even utter a word —
When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up.
He’s struck in the head by a police officer.
— by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, was I discharged, and I told him yes. When I said yes, that is when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me.
And the blows keep coming, and they keep coming, to the point that Woodard loses consciousness.
Woodard is still wearing his crisp Army uniform. He’s been discharged just a few hours earlier. When he comes to, he’s in a jail.
I woke up next morning and could not see.
So Woodard’s beating was not at all unusual. World War II had done exactly what many white people had feared, that once black people were allowed to fight in the military, and when they traveled abroad and they experienced what it was like not to live under a system of racial apartheid, that it would be much harder to control them when they came back. Black men in their uniforms were seen as being unduly proud.
So these men who had served their country, who had come home proudly wearing the uniform to show their service for their country, would find that this actually made them a target of some of the most severe violence.
But what was unusual was what happened after. Woodard’s case was picked up by the N.A.A.C.P., and they take him on a bit of a tour. They take photographs of him. Those photographs are sent out to newspapers and to fundraising efforts, where they’re saying, look what happened to this man who served his country. It’s that spark that finally determines among millions of black people that enough is enough.
And that’s largely seen as one of the sparks of the modern civil rights movement.
We have people coming in from all over the country. I suspect that we will have — (garbled and unfinished sentence.)
The second sustained movement of black people trying to secure equal rights before the law and an equal place in this democracy.
During the early weeks of February 1960, the demonstrations that came to be called the sit-in movement exploded across the South.
Negro youngsters paraded with placards, handed out literature, and tried to sit in at lunch counters.
I think, honestly, many of us didn’t realize just how important our movement would grow to be.
Official reaction was both swift and severe.
Don’t blame a cracker in Georgia for your injustices. The government is responsible for the injustices. The government can bring these injustices to halt.
How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah!
And in 1968, 350 years after the introduction of the first enslaved Africans into the colonies.
This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us.
— Congress passes the last of the great civil rights legislation.
— to go work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts —
It ends legal discrimination on the basis of race from all aspects of American life.
— to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.
We often think of the civil rights movement as being about black rights, but the civil rights movement was never just about the rights of black people. It was about making the ideals of the Constitution whole. And so when you look at the laws born out of black resistance, these laws are guaranteeing rights for all Americans.
This experience, which black Americans were having, did not go unnoticed by the rest of America.
I mean, basically every other rights struggle that we have seen . . .
Now we fought the public accommodations fight 10 years ago with the blacks. Are we going to have to start all over again with women?
Disability rights, gay rights, women’s rights —
That people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination.
— all come from the efforts of the black civil rights struggles.
Equal rights. Equals rights to have a job, to have respect, to not be viewed as a piece of meat.
No Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Celebrations erupted on the steps of the Supreme Court.
One of its most momentous civil rights decisions. The Supreme Court found gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutional right to marry. The majority found its justification in the 14th Amendment, written after the Civil War to extend equal protection under law to freed slaves.
So we are raised to think about 1776 as the beginning of our democracy, but when that ship arrives on the horizon at Point Comfort in 1619, that decision made by the colonists to purchase that group of 20 to 30 human beings, that was a beginning too. And it would actually be those very people who were denied citizenship in their own country, who were denied the protections of our founding documents, who would fight the hardest and most successfully to make those ideals real, not just for themselves but for all Americans. It is black people who have been the perfectors of this democracy.
When I was a kid — it must have been in fifth or sixth grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment. It was a social studies class, and we were learning about different places that people came from, and this was her way of kind of telling the story of the great American melting pot. So she told us all to research our ancestral land and to write a small report about it, and then to draw a flag. I remember kind of looking up and making eye contact with the other black girl who was in the class, because we didn’t really have an ancestral land that we knew of. Slavery had made it so that we didn’t know where we came from in Africa. We didn’t have a specific country. And we could say that we were from the whole continent, but even so, there’s no such thing as an African flag. And so I remember going to the globe by my teacher’s desk — it was on the windowpane along the left side of the classroom — and spinning it to the continent of Africa and just picking a random African country.
So I went back to my desk, and I drew that random African country’s flag, and I wrote a report about it. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed, one, because I was lying, but I also felt ashamed because I felt like I should have some other country, and that all the other kids could trace their roots elsewhere, and I could only trace my roots to the country that had enslaved us.
I wish now that I could go back and talk to my younger self and tell her that she should not be ashamed, that this is her ancestral home, that she should be as proud to be an American as her dad was, and that she should boldly and proudly draw those stars and stripes and claim this country as her own.
0 ~ Unattributed
What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot.
By Kevin M. Kruse / August 14, 2019
Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Drivers there average two hours each week mired in gridlock, hung up at countless spots, from the constantly clogged Georgia 400 to a complicated cluster of overpasses at Tom Moreland Interchange, better known as “Spaghetti Junction.” The Downtown Connector — a 12-to-14-lane mega-highway that in theory connects the city’s north to its south — regularly has three-mile-long traffic jams that last four hours or more. Commuters might assume they’re stuck there because some city planner made a mistake, but the heavy congestion actually stems from a great success.
In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities across America, daily congestion is a direct consequence of a century-long effort to segregate the races.
For much of the nation’s history, the campaign to keep African-Americans “in their place” socially and politically manifested itself in an effort to keep them quite literally in one place or another. Before the Civil War, white masters kept enslaved African-Americans close at hand to coerce their labor and guard against revolts. But with the abolition of slavery, the spatial relationship was reversed. Once they had no need to keep constant watch over African-Americans, whites wanted them out of sight.Civic planners pushed them into ghettos, and the segregation we know today became the rule.
At first the rule was overt, as Southern cities like Baltimore and Louisville enacted laws that mandated residential racial segregation. Such laws were eventually invalidated by the Supreme Court, but later measures achieved the same effect by more subtle means. During the New Deal, federal agencies like the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration encouraged redlining practices that explicitly marked minority neighborhoods as risky investments and therefore discouraged bank loans, mortgages and insurance there. (President Trump just today was subtly encourage this again to his base.)Other policies simply targeted black communities for isolation and demolition. The postwar programs for urban renewal, for instance, destroyed black neighborhoods and displaced their residents with such regularity that African-Americans came to believe, in James Baldwin’s memorable phrase, that “urban renewal means Negro removal.”
This intertwined history of infrastructure and racial inequality extended into the 1950s and 1960s with the creation of the Interstate highway system.. The federal government shouldered nine-tenths of the cost of the new Interstate highways, but local officials often had a say in selecting the path. As in most American cities in the decades after the Second World War, the new highways in Atlanta — local expressways at first, then Interstates — were steered along routes that bulldozed “blighted” neighborhoods that housed its poorest residents, almost always racial minorities.
This was a common practice not just in Southern cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond and Tampa, but in countless metropolises across the country, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Syracuse and Washington.
While Interstates were regularly used to destroy black neighborhoods, they were also used to keep black and white neighborhoods apart. Today, major roads and highways serve as stark dividing lines between black and white sections in cities like Buffalo, Hartford, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. In Atlanta, the intent to segregate was crystal clear. Interstate 20, the east-west corridor that connects with I-75 and I-85 in Atlanta’s center, was deliberately plotted along a winding route in the late 1950s to serve, in the words of Mayor Bill Hartsfield, as “the boundary between the white and Negro communities” on the west side of town. Black neighborhoods, he hoped, would be hemmed in on one side of the new expressway, while white neighborhoods on the other side of it would be protected. Racial residential patterns have long since changed, of course, but the awkward path of I-20 remains in place.
By razing impoverished areas downtown and segregating the races in the western section, Atlanta’s leaders hoped to keep downtown and its surroundings a desirable locale for middle-class whites. Articulating a civic vision of racial peace and economic progress, Hartsfield bragged that Atlanta was the “City Too Busy to Hate.” But the so-called urban renewal and the new Interstates only helped speed white flight from Atlanta.
Over the 1960s, roughly 60,000 whites left the city, with many of them relocating in the suburbs along the northern rim. When another 100,000 whites left the city in the 1970s, it became a local joke that Atlanta had become “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.”
As the new suburbs ballooned in size, traffic along the poorly placed highways became worse and worse. The obvious solution was mass transit — buses, light rail and trains that would more efficiently link the suburbs and the city — but that, too, faced opposition, largely for racial reasons. The white suburbanites had purposefully left the problems of the central city behind and worried that mass transit would bring them back.
Accordingly, suburbanites waged a sustained campaign against the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) from its inception. Residents of the nearly all-white Cobb County resoundingly rejected the system in a 1965 vote. In 1971, Gwinnett and Clayton Counties, which were then also overwhelmingly white, followed suit, voting down a proposal to join MARTA by nearly 4-1 margins, and keeping MARTA out became the default position of many local politicians. (Emmett Burton, a Cobb County commissioner, won praise for promising to “stock the Chattahoochee with piranha” if that were needed to keep MARTA away.) David Chesnut, the white chairman of MARTA, insisted in 1987 that suburban opposition to mass transit had been “90 percent a racial issue.” Because of that resistance, MARTA became a city-only service that did little to relieve commuter traffic. By the mid-1980s, white racists were joking that MARTA, with its heavily black ridership, stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Even as the suburbs became more racially diverse, they remained opposed to MARTA. After Gwinnett voted the system down again in 1990, a former Republican legislator later marveled at the arguments given by opponents. “They will come up with 12 different ways of saying they are not racist in public,” he told a reporter. “But you get them alone, behind a closed door, and you see this old blatant racism that we have had here for quite some time.”
African-American and white passengers on an Atlanta Transit Company trolley on April 23, 1956, shortly after the outlawing of segregation on all public buses. Horace Cort, via Associated Press.
Earlier this year, Gwinnett County voted MARTA down for a third time. Proponents had hoped that changes in the county’s racial composition, which was becoming less white, might make a difference. But the March initiative still failed by an eight-point margin. Officials discovered that some nonwhite suburbanites shared the isolationist instincts of earlier white suburbanites. One white property manager in her late 50s told a reporter that she voted against mass transit because it was used by poorer residents and immigrants, whom she called “illegals.” “Why should we pay for it?” she asked. “Why subsidize people who can’t manage their money and save up a dime to buy a car?”
In the end, Atlanta’s traffic is at a standstill because its attitude about transit is at a standstill, too. Fifty years after its Interstates were set down with an eye to segregation and its rapid-transit system was stunted by white flight, the city is still stalled in the past.
Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.
“I Can’t Breathe”
What air pollution and police violence have in common
By Kendra Pierre Louis | July 15 2020
Published in Sierra the online magazine of the Sierra Club
Even in nonpandemic times, air pollution is deadly.
Each year, it kills more than 100,000 people in the United States and 5 million worldwide. Most deadly are the tiny particles that are byproducts of the fuels we burn to power our cars, generate electricity, and create the panoply of chemicals that make up modern life. Like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, they lodge deep in a person’s lungs, triggering a deadly cascade of health problems.
But mortality from air pollution is not evenly distributed: “Communities of color, and in particular poor communities of color, are more likely to live in places with poor air quality than their white, wealthier counterparts,” said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. A pair of studies from the University of Michigan and the University of Montana published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the high concentration of polluting industries in Black and Latino communities was the deliberate consequence of racist policies.
These same communities struggling to breathe are disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the research and analysis group APM Research Lab, Black Americans are especially susceptible to the disease, with a mortality rate that as of June 23 was 2.3 times higher than the rate for white Americans. Based on the race and ethnicity data of 93 percent of the 120,000 people who had died of COVID-19 in the United States, the researchers found that “if they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as white Americans, at least 16,000 Black Americans, 2,200 Latino Americans, and 400 Indigenous Americans would still be alive.”
Some of these deaths can be attributed to broader social inequities. Black and Latino people, for example, are more likely to hold jobs—including many in health care—that have been declared essential services, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the disease. And because of systemic racism within health care, they’re less likely to be given adequate treatment when they become sick. Rana Zoe Mungin, a Black public school teacher in Brooklyn, was twice denied a COVID-19 test at a local hospital despite exhibiting symptoms. At one point, according to her family, she was told that she was merely having a panic attack. Mungin eventually died of COVID-19.
A growing body of research suggests that air pollution itself is an important factor in these deaths.
“We looked at whether counties that historically have higher levels of air pollution have a higher mortality rate for COVID-19,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard University. “We found a statistically significant association.” Dominici was the senior author on a study on the subject that is currently out for peer review. Similar studies are being conducted in Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK, she said, “looking at the relationship between exposure to particulate matter and COVID mortality.” That the association seems to exist across different populations strengthens the likelihood that pollution is a factor.
To understand why, it helps to understand what air pollution does to the body—especially the fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5, which is created from burning oil, coal, and fracked gas. Over the long term, breathing in these particles can permanently damage the lungs, making it harder to breathe. COVID-19 also damages the lungs. Air pollution can damage the heart. COVID-19 also damages the heart. Breathing polluted air makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a disease that makes you more likely to die from COVID-19.
“You have almost these kinds of feedback loops where the health outcomes that are associated with poor air quality are also the same outcomes that can make populations susceptible to more severe symptoms and mortality risks from COVID-19,” Morello-Frosch said.
If air pollution is the bullet, systemic racism loaded the gun. Research by Morello-Frosch and others shows that while communities of color suffer higher overall levels of air pollution compared with predominantly white communities, it also matters where those communities are located. Segregated cities, such as Memphis and Chicago, have higher levels of air pollution overall than more integrated ones.
In the face of evidence that air pollution is harmful and air pollution during a pandemic is especially so, the Trump administration is making it easier for companies to pollute. Even as the number of COVID-19 deaths was beginning to rise, Trump’s EPA rejected recommendations to raise the national air quality standard for particulate matter and told polluters that it wouldn’t expect routine pollution monitoring and compliance because of the pandemic. Given what we know about how air pollution affects the lungs, Dominici said, “it’s not really the time to relax air pollution regulation and give license to pollute the air.”
The movement that was sparked by George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” is now addressing air pollution as well as police violence. In Louisville, Kentucky, which has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, demands for environmental justice merged with demands for racial justice in the upstart senatorial campaign of state representative Charles Booker. Jamell Henderson, a professor at Brooklyn College and an activist with New York Communities for Change, said in a late-June press briefing, “It’s not just about police reform. It’s about educational reform, mental health reform, social service reform. It’s about health care reform and environmental justice reform.”
Now before you go, here’s a song from the black churches Click here.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, kneels at El Paso’s Memorial Park holding a Black Lives Matter sign June 1. Seitz and other clergy from the diocese prayed and kneeled for eight minutes, the time George Floyd, an unarmed black man, spent under a police officer’s knee before dying May 25. (CNS/Courtesy of El Paso Diocese / Fernie Ceniceros
We continue with this series on Racism in America. I’m devoting this entire post to the prayerful thoughts and words of Bishop Mark Seitz who has been Bishop of El Paso, Texas, since 2013. Before that he was a priest, then an auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Dallas, having been born in Milwaukee in 1954. We’ll begin with this startling image of a bishop “taking a knee” for eight minutes along with some of his priests on June 1st, just days after the death of George Floyd along with his accompanying statement. The image went viral and Pope Francis picked it up and called him to express his solidarity in prayer for caring for racial justice in America.
Think about that for a moment: a bishop “taking the knee”! How refreshing is that in the church in the US that for the most part has no courage at all.
I think that sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that Christianity is a dead letter religion. That it’s about things that happened a long time ago or about words on a page.
But every day at Mass, when I kneel before Jesus in the Eucharist, I’m reminded that he is alive and present. That Christianity is an event happening right now. The drama of salvation is something playing out every day. And we all have a role to play.
I taught liturgy in seminary. In good liturgy, our faith is brought to life. I think what we’ve seen play out over the last couple days is maybe a little bit like liturgy.
The other day I saw a video of a young white woman at a protest near the White House who put her body in front of a young kneeling black teenager as police officers in riot gear approached. As Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
It’s a scene of solidarity and self-giving that has played out across the country so many times in the last week. In El Paso, Texas, there were two young police officers who knelt down with protesters during a demonstration here and it helped defuse some tension.
There is something profoundly eucharistic about these moments and I’m so inspired by our young people. They are teaching us something.
When religion becomes stagnant, we can forget that the Word always comes to us crucified and powerless. As James Cone put it, in America, the Word comes tortured, black and lynched. Today, we meet Jesus in those tear-gassed, tased, strangled and snuffed out. That’s the reason why the church teaches a preferential option for the poor. And why the church stands up for life wherever and whenever it is devalued and threatened.
To say, as all who eat from the table of the Eucharist should be able to say, that black lives matter is just another way of repeating something we in the United States seem to so often forget, that God has a special love for the forgotten and oppressed.
Many are understandably upset by the destruction and looting. It’s true, none of us should crave the thrill of violence or revenge. That’s wrong. We also need to recognize that we are seeing the effects of centuries of sin and violence and rights denied playing themselves out. And frankly, civil rights are not enough. That’s the minimum and clearly, we’re not there yet. We also need to be building a society with housing, and education and health care and just wages for all as well as the right to migrate. And then we can begin to heal.
[ . . .]
I think leaders in the church today, and leaders everywhere really, should perhaps say a little less right now. Instead, we should stand with and give the microphone and listen to those who have been unheard for too long. To those who have suffered our shameful history of discrimination and racial profiling and police brutality. To those who are putting their bodies on the line in protest and in defense of others.
Let’s look at the grace in all of this. Look at the witness of those who are bravely taking up their parts in the drama of salvation unfolding in front of us. If we look past the static, they’re pointing the way to redemptive transformation. They are showing us what the reign of God looks like and what our country can look like when we all have a place at the table. Let’s encourage them. And pray with them. And thank them.
With grace, they are joining the living ranks of a long faith tradition of laborers for greater justice, like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Earl Chaney, Oscar Romero, Thea Bowman and so many others. Thank God. Thank God.
In August 3, 2019 there was a horrifying massacre at a Walmart in El Paso in which 22 people were gunned down by a white supremacist. As a result of that, Bishop Seitz wrote a pastoral letter for his people on both sides of the Rio Grande entitled Night will be No More. It’s long because it includes the history of the the colonial times to the present and the church’s role in white supremacism as well. For those of you who just want to read the highlights, I’ll denote those in the margins in color for you. But this is important stuff for us to know.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
(The Revelation to John 22, 5)
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2, 5-8
Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us
¡Lo que no nos deja dormir
es que nos han amenazado de Resurrección!
¡Porque en cada anochecer …
todavía seguimos amando la vida
y no aceptamos su muerte!
Julia Esquivel, Threatened with Resurrection
Jordan /Andre /Arturo /Jorge / Leo / Maribel / Adolfo / Sara
Angelina / Raul / Maria / Alexander / David / Luis
Maria / Ivan / Gloria / Elsa / Margie / Javier / Teresa
Juan de Dios
Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
(The Revelation to John 22, 5)
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
August 3rd, 2019: Matanza (massacre) en El Paso
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
Psalm 22, 2
On August 3rd, 2019, El Paso was the scene of a massacre or matanza that left 22 dead, injured dozens and traumatized a binational community. Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy.
Dear reader, I would like to note here that this is a bishop using the word WHITE SUPREMACY. He’s not afraid to name what the issue is right up front.
The killing became part of a growing litany of deadly shootings in the United States. It is a list so long that each mass murder competes for our attention and memory. What happened was swallowed up in a spectacle of debate on gun control that holds our children and families hostage. It made our community cannon fodder in a political battle rending the soul of our nation. Yet once the country’s attention moves on, who will remember the names of the dead?
Faith assures us that because of the Resurrection of Jesus, death cannot have the last word, for ‘death no longer has power over him’ (Romans 6, 9). But to encounter meaning in the matanza (massacre) of August 3rd with integrity, we must brace ourselves for the task of naming truths which are uncomfortable and perhaps buried inside all of us.
4.After prayer and speaking with the People of God in the Church of El Paso, I have decided to write this letter on the theme of racism and white supremacy to reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives. God can only be calling our community to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern the new paths of justice and mercy required of us and to rediscover our reasons for hope (cf. 1 Peter 3, 5).
This letter comes shortly after the recent pastoral letter against racism by the bishops in the United States, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, which I recommend to our priests and community. My brothers in the episcopate have also published penetrating reflections on the intersection of race and violence, especially Bishop Edward Braxton.1This letter is an attempt to complement those efforts and to reflect on these issues from the perspective of the border.
In the first part of this letter, I hope to bear some of the weight of the reality of racism that has been part of the experience of many here on our border. In the second part, we will shoulder this reality in the light of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Finally, we will ask how grace can heal the shared wounds of our borderland community and transform the awful events of this summer into something meaningful.
This may be hard. I know it will be difficult at times for me. Words like racism and white supremacy make us uncomfortable and anxious and I don’t use these labels lightly. We live in a brutally unforgiving culture where these words are tossed about like weapons. But perhaps we are also aware that these conversations may require changes to the way we think and live. Challenging racism and white supremacy, whether in our hearts or in society, is a Christian imperative and the cost of not facing these issues head on, weighs much more heavily on those who live the reality of discrimination.
Perhaps we thought that prejudice and intolerance were a cancer of years past. Maybe we felt that El Paso was immune from the xenophobia ravaging the United States. On August 3rd, we were robbed of that innocence. But do not be afraid. The Lord Jesus can lead us through this dark moment into something bright and unexpected. For even if a whole army of hate should threaten us, if we are faithful to Jesus and hold on to love, in the words of the poet Julia Esquivel, what can they do but threaten us with Resurrection?
This is Racism
Do not stay far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.
Psalm 22, 12
How do we begin to understand the El Paso matanza (massacre)? How should we think about racism and white supremacy?
The never-ending mass shootings leave us feeling dazed, wounded, fearful and helpless. Causes and solutions seem evasive and our nation’s political life is broken. The Catholic Church in the United States supports the ban on assault weapons that lawmakers senselessly let expire in 2004 and our Church continues to advocate for reasonable regulations on firearms that Congress still won’t pass. The constant pressures on families and the embarrassing lack of access to mental healthcare in this country surely also play a role.
But the mystery of evil motivating attacks like the El Paso matanza goes deeper than these. It is something more complex than laws and policies alone can fix. What else explains the perversity of attacks on African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other communities?
This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color. This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.
In other words, racism.
Racism can make a home in our hearts, distort our imagination and will, and express itself in individual actions of hatred and discrimination. Racism is one’s failure to give others the respect they are due on account of being created in the image and likeness of God. And it is more than that.
If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color.When this system begins to shape our public choices, structure our common life together and becomes a tool of class, this is rightly called institutionalized racism. Action to build this system of hate and inaction to oppose its dismantling are what we rightly call white supremacy. This is the evil one and the ‘father of lies’ (John 8, 44) incarnate in our everyday choices and lifestyles, and our laws and institutions.
The theologian Father Bryan Massingale has aptly named all of this soul sickness.Truly we suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart. In a day when we prefer to think that prejudice and intolerance are problems of the past, we still find acceptable groups to treat as less than human, to look down upon and to fear.
A series of shootings — Roseburg, Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Oak Creek, just to name a few — now undeniably demonstrates that our unwillingness to stamp out racism continues to accrue debts being paid for in blood, the blood of people of color and those we deem different. Abraham Lincoln’s anxious premonition about the terrible consequences of slavery seems to ring true — ‘if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
The matanza in El Paso focused our attention on the grave racism directed at Latinos today, which has reached a dangerous fever pitch. Latinos now tell me that for the first time in their lives they feel unsafe, even in El Paso. They feel that they have targets on their backs because of their skin color and language. They feel that they are being made to live in their own home as a ‘stranger in a foreign land’ (Exodus 2, 22).
Our highest elected officials have used the word ‘invasion’ and ‘killer’ over 500 times to refer to migrants treated migrant children as pawns on a crass political chessboard, insinuated that judges and legislators of color are un-American, and have made wall-building a core political project. In Pope Francis’ words, these ‘signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of the other.
The same deadly pool of sin that motivates the attack on migrants seeking safety and refuge in our border community motivated the killing of our neighbors on August 3rd. Sin unites people around fear and hate.
We must name and oppose the racism that has reared its head at the center of our public life and emboldened forces of darkness.
This hatred of Latinos is not new. Ancient demons have been reawakened and old wounds opened. One of my brother bishops has rightly called racism ‘the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness never fully healed. The El Paso matanza is reminiscent of a long history of importation of hate here in this community, killings, matanzas and racism directed at Latinos, Asians, Blacks, Indigenous, mulattoes and mestizos in the southwest that goes back centuries. El Paso historian Dr. Yolanda Leyva has observed that the El Paso matanza ‘is the predictable outcome of 200 years of a White supremacist idea’s growth.’ It is a story often forcibly pushed underground.
In the next section I will attempt to summarize some of the history of white supremacy in our borderland community, though it is not exhaustive. A sincere reckoning with our past and lamentation over it are essential for transformation. We need spaces in our churches and community to do that. As Bishop Mario Enrique Ríos noted when publishing the definitive account of the racially motivated massacres of the Guatemalan conflict, ‘The recovery of memory is irreplaceable in the work of winning peace So the first step for all of us in El Paso is to recover a buried memory that lives in each of us. It is a story of race, deeply embedded in our society, yet deeply counter to Jesus’ life and teaching.
‘Heart-Sick’: The Legacy of Hate and White Supremacy on the Border
They open their mouths against me,
lions that rend and roar.
Psalm 22, 14
Tú no vales. You don’t count.
We in the borderlands understand in our bones the reality of hate directed at Mexicans and how people can be ‘othered’. Our faith community was born in the fraught encounter between Indigenous communities and Spanish colonists, a ‘choque de culturas’. In that encounter, an insidious message was sent like the report of cannon fire throughout the American continent which reverberates to the present day:Tú no vales. You don’t count.
A sober reading of the history of colonization can discern both the presence of a genuine Christian missionary impulse as well as the deployment of white supremacy and cultural oppression as tools of economic ambition, imperial adventurism and political expansion.
The Spanish colonists who brought faith to the Americas also brought with them their own human circumstances intertwined with the ‘tricks and powers’ of the world. They came from the experience of a nation newly united just as much around Catholicism as a nationalism built on the violent subordination and expulsion of Jews and Muslims. They brought these exclusionary attitudes with them to the New World. It was in the encounter between the Spanish colonists and Indigenous communities that fateful identities were co-produced and sinful notions of civilizedversus uncivilizedand the invention of the savage were born. Such notions began a new era of a ‘heart-sick’ world. It was Pope Benedict XVI who told us that ‘it is not possible to forget the suffering and injustice inflicted by colonizers on the Indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled upon’
Few things were more important in the story of race and the community in El Paso than Popé’s Pueblo Revolt in 1680. The successful revolution resulted in the expulsion of colonists from New Mexico to Paso del Norte where the provisional capital of the royal province was established. At this time, Paso del Norte also became home to the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, who have shaped the history of the borderlands ever since. The suffering, exploitation and divestment of culture, language, religious tradition and memory experienced by the Pueblo peoples at the hands of colonists and, yes, members and leaders of the Church, must be acknowledged. The pain and experience of estrangement is still experienced by some communities today.
Rooted in our history, many here can rightly say that we did not cross the border but that the border crossed us. Even the Church in El Paso fell at different times under different national flags and under the jurisdiction of the Mexican dioceses of Guadalajara, Durango and then under Texas dioceses only after the Mexican-American War. ‘Manifest Destiny’ as well as shifting colonial, nationalistic and expansionist winds led to constantly shifting borders.
In Latin America there has been more fluidity between races through inter-marriage and more blending of cultures and religions when compared to the experience of Native Americans and African Americans. Yet the attitudes of the Spanish colonizers included the erroneous notion of racial purity based on light skin, a belief which in some places continues today, even in internalized fashion. This type of racism collided in the borderlands with the more overt racism of the United States. This was the racism of the ‘one-drop theory’ (whereby one drop of African blood renders all descendants the members of a slave class) used to justify the criminal practice of chattel slavery. Both the racism that privileges lighter skin over Indigenous, Ladinos, Mulattoes and Mestizos as well as the racism based on hypo-descent used to subjugate African Americans linger troublingly on the border today.
Prior to 1835, the area known as Texas was part of Mexico. American immigrants settled in the Mexican territory and brought with them Black slaves. By 1825 one out of five American immigrants living in Texas was an enslaved African.10Historians acknowledge that the most significant factor in determining the economic development and ideological orientation of Texas at the time was slavery.11The 1835 Texas Revolt and the establishment of the Republic of Texas in 1836, were driven, among other factors, by the will to protect the institution of Black slavery after its abolishment by Mexico in 1829.
During this time, many Irish, too, arrived to escape the stifling racism they were subject to in the eastern United States. Many Irish felt more solidarity with Mexicans on account of their shared Catholic faith and shared experience of racial discrimination; the famous San Patricios battalion fought on the side of Mexico during the Mexican-American War. The coming of the railroad not long after the entrance of Texas into the United States in 1850 brought more Irish as well a large number of Chinese laborers into our region as part of the project to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These workers were paid much less than their White counterparts and received the most dangerous and even deadly assignments. After the railroad was completed, the Chinese workers quickly became the target of racist anti-immigrant legislation and policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 one of the first examples of anti-immigrant legislation in US history.
After its entry into the United States, Texas saw dramatic mass migration into the state from White settlers from other parts of the country. These settlers brought new industrial farming practices which cleared desert brush and cacti as well as the expansion of the railroad network and impressive economic growth. But they also brought with them harsh, prejudicial attitudes towards Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Indigenous in the region as well as legalized discrimination against African Americans. In their wake came ‘Juan Crow’ laws of segregation, the prohibition of then-common interracial marriage, new racial hierarchies, the dispossession of tribal communities, efforts to disenfranchise Mexican residents and a true campaign of terror. This campaign included the lynching and murder of likely thousands of Latinos, terror undertaken just as much by vigilantes as by official state actors like the Texas Rangers, and often in concert. What was it that they feared?
Just one example of this campaign of terror was the Porvenir matanza, which took place only hours from El Paso in Presidio County. 15 men and boys of Mexican descent were murdered, with impunity, by vigilantes, army soldiers and Texas Rangers. In that moment of horror, did not Jesus look through the eyes of those young children at their victimizers and ask, ‘What do you fear?’ Their families, petrified, took their bodies across the river into Mexico for burial. This experience of persecution at the hands of state authorities was the experience of many families in this region. Their stories were brutally suppressed and their pain has been passed down in intergenerational trauma. The ripple effects of this campaign shape perceptions of law enforcement and immigration enforcement to this day in our region.
We can see uncomfortable parallels in the treatment of asylum seekers from Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s and in current policies like the deployment of troops to the border, the punitive Remain in Mexico policy and the forced detention of families. Then as now, fears were callously whipped up and there was talk of ‘invasion’ which led to brutal actions against refugees. In 1913, ‘Texas governor Oscar Colquitt dispatched over 1,000 state militiamen and the Texas National Guard to appease residents of Brownsville and El Paso. These soldiers transformed the border into a militarized zone, replete with ‘barbed wire, spotlights, tanks, machine guns and airplanes used to surveil Mexican residents A prison camp was constructed for refugees across 48 acres at Fort Bliss, which included electrically charged barbed wire16. Deployments like these would happen again and again.
The legacy of hate towards Latinos is not just part of the distant past. Many in our community are the proud children and grandchildren of braceros, Mexican workers who supplied agricultural labor needs from 1942 to 1964, including the time of the Second World War. Just as the Chinese were greeted with harsh repressive measures after the completion of the railroad, many braceros were forcibly deported back to Mexico after laying down roots here in the United States as part of the infamous Operation Wetback, the largest mass deportation in American history.
Older generations of El Pasoans still talk about entrenched attitudes against Latinos and how the system was stacked against them growing up. Latinos were excluded from political life by a closed network dominated by White, wealthy men. Latino children at school didn’t see themselves, not in the faces of their teachers or school leadership, but only custodial and cafeteria staff. It was expected that they would be confined to schools and neighborhoods south of the I-10 highway. It was forbidden to speak Spanish outside the home or at least highly discouraged. Names were frequently anglicized and many were denied opportunities for higher education and pigeonholed for low-wage jobs. Many Native Americans felt even more homeless, doubly discriminated against, and sometimes still feel impelled to hide their roots.
The wall is a powerful symbol in the story of race. It has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects. Wall building at the border didn’t start in 2016. El Pasoans have watched its growth in fits and starts. We saw steel barriers go up at the time of NAFTA; at the very moment when NAFTA ensured the right of wealth to cross the border freely we limited and criminalized human mobility.
Some cannot understand the visceral reaction of many in the borderlands to the wall. It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia. It is an open wound through the middle of our sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an ‘invasion’. It perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs. The wall is a physical reminder of the failure of two friendly nations to resolve their internal and bi-national issues in just and peaceful way. It validates James Baldwin’s fear that Americans are addicted to innocence. It is a destructive force on the environment. The wall kills families and children. There will be a day when after this wall has come crumbling down we will look back and remember the wall as a monument to hate.
Everyday in El Paso there are subtle ways that the voice of the poor is removed from them. Our biases prevent us from seeing that the slow erosion through active neglect of our communities south of the I-10 highway, as well as the loss of schools, housing, and culture to gentrification, are really an attack on the right to a good and dignified life. Our bias won’t let us feel within our bellies the injustice of the environmental contamination in the Chamizal and its effects on their children. Those communities, too, have every right to be, as Pope Saint Paul VI said, ‘artisans of their destiny.
The Mexican farmworkers who pick our pecans, pistachios, onions, tomatillos and chiles often sleep on our streets downtown. Invisible to many of us on the street and in the fields, they labor to exhaustion to produce abundance on our tables but are still paid little more than slave wages, without adequate health, disability or retirement benefits. Why don’t we reward their efforts and their skills when the work they do is so essential for our life and health?
After 9-11, our people felt the interrogating stares of authorities and fellow citizens, questioning whether they belonged. Today, darker skinned residents and citizens are routinely asked to show identity cards by border enforcement agents when crossing in the middle of the international bridge while lighter skinned individuals pass by unimpeded. Recently we saw the frightening presence of armed militia from outside our community herding migrants like cattle. Even some of our seminarians have talked about experiences in seminaries in different parts of the country where it was presumed that their academic preparation was inferior and when they were the butt of jokes suggesting that their families must know something about drug trafficking.
This is a history of racism and its deadly effects. Why is there greater poverty, less access to education and health care and lower wages in our border community? Not because anyone is inherently inferior, criminal or lazy. But because on these criminal pretexts people on the border have had less opportunity. This is institutional racism.
And yet the people of the borderlands are not victims. Resilience and dignity are the jewels in the crown of this long and ongoing struggle and are the mark of our people. The people of the borderlands have built a real community. Against walls and inequality and fear, we have maintained our vital connection with Ciudad Juárez (the city in Mexico just opposite El Paso on the other side of the Rio Grande). In spite of this story of oppression, railroads and highways are built, food is grown in abundance, our sons and daughters battle and die with valor in the armed services, our people build wind turbines and airplane consoles, we paint murals of beauty, we speak many languages, our young people are passionate about justice and the environment, we thrive in the desert.
Great progress has been made in recent years, with the passage of civil rights legislation, victories in the courts, and hard won wins of civically engaged communities, genuine public servants and organizers in the workplace. Latinos have worked hard to build a more just society. Our schools and universities are more reflective of our population and are more bilingual. Our children have graduated from distinguished academic institutions to become fine theologians, teachers, doctors and lawyers. Our community has demonstrated remarkable hospitality to migrants and refugees. Borderland culture is more and more seen as an asset to celebrate rather than a deficit of which to be ashamed. Our Church has also made progress; Patrick Flores was named bishop of El Paso in 1978, the first Mexican American bishop in the United States. Latino/a theologians have long offered inspired insights on these matters. In my pastoral reflections here I stand upon their shoulders. Those in leadership in our diocesan church increasingly reflect our population. Our liturgies, with diverse language and song, more fully anticipate the diversity and unity of the Reign of God.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo talk about how by the 1970s their people had dwindled in number to only around 400 members. Today, the community numbers around 2,000 and they have created worthy spaces to develop their economy and promote their cultural heritage. They have invested generously in renewing and restoring their mission church, where they were not even permitted to enter through the front door in the nineteenth century. Now during Mass they can proclaim the Scriptures and pray the Our Father in their native language. They can invoke the intercession of the canonized Kateri Tekakwitha through song and dance.
In the aftermath of the matanza, we immediately saw the unique spirit of El Paso in an overwhelming community response, a people united in prayer and service, regardless of race, age, nationality, gender, religion or political belief. Yet August 3rd also reminded us that our achievements are to be defended and deepened, not taken for granted.
Purification of Memory
Pope Saint John Paul II set an example for us all during the Jubilee Year 2000 when he asked pardon for the violation of ‘the rights of ethnic groups and peoples and ‘contempt for their cultures and tradition. On many occasions leaders in the Church did little to disrupt patterns of sin that demonized those who thought differently. looked different and prayed differently. We often took the European experience of Christianity to be normative and failed to appreciate the ways that God was already at work, and still at work today, in indigenous peoples and cultures. We perpetuated damaging notions of power and the desire to dominate and so contributed to the exploitation of peoples and the environment. There are some who still feel estranged from the Church on account of those actions and omissions which diminished the credibility of the Gospel.
I am grieved as I reflect upon this and I realize that and nothing I can say will undo that harm. Nor do I have the answers as to how we can move forward together. But I extend my hand in humility and friendship to those individuals and communities who feel estranged from the Church. I want you to know that the Church is with you and stands beside you in your work to build a more just world. I stand beside you and am ready to learn from you.
The example and lives of the martyrs also shows us what genuine Christian witness is. We see this example in the lives of Saint Oscar Romero; Blessed Father Stanley Rother; the four Maryknoll women missionaries killed in El Salvador in 1980; the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter killed in El Salvador in 1989; our own San Pedro de Jesus Maldonado. In the spirit of these examples which make the Gospel credible I wish to build a bridge. They show us that true evangelization is ‘to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15, 13). Like them I pray that I may speak without fear when it is called for and help to give voice to those who have not been heard.
He Took the Form of a Slave
But you, LORD, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.
Psalm 22, 20
Year after year, after fall winds bring cooler weather into our desert valley, the ground beneath us in El Paso literally begins to hum in the evenings. Throughout the land, danzantes and matachines are rehearsing their ritual dance in preparation for the explosion of rhythm, chant, theatre, light and color that will take place on the 12th of December. It is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The origins of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe are veiled in mystery. But to generation after generation she reveals the solidarity and closeness of God.
Why do they dance?
Perhaps like nowhere else, the people of our border community identify with Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is in shopping malls, restaurants, Ubers, hair salons and family altares. There is a beautiful Virgin in the Chamizal special to the women there who lost their manufacturing jobs, whom they lovingly call Nuestra Señora de los Desplazados, Our Lady of the Displaced.
Despite everything others tell us, we in the borderlands know that this valley between the Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains is home to one binational cultural reality. We live in a state of in-betweenness, neither here nor there, ni de aquí ni de allá. The weight of a violent history, gross nationalisms, politics, walls, passports, the global economy and the legacy of race compete to define our people, to define us. To make our people feel like foreigners in a foreign land. Truly we are suffering from a heart sickness ‘that says we are able to be only one or the other.
The dehumanization of Indigenous and Blacks, and the displacement of the American Indian meant that these communities were deprived of the narratives, land and religious traditions that gave their life consistency and meaning. New racialized narratives for self-understanding were forced upon them and they were forced to see themselves through the eyes of their masters. In order words, tú no vales. But no one has the right to impose that type of identity.
Against that dehumanization, as once she said to San Juan Diego, who represented a people dehumanized and disenfranchised, Guadalupe says to our people today, ‘you count’, tú vales.
To the refugee turned away at the border, she says ‘tú vales’ ~ you count. To the worker displaced by free trade, she says ‘tú vales’. To the border agent who envisioned giving your life in service to a just cause but now struggle in confusion, and to your family, she says ‘tú vales’. To the family with mixed immigration status, she says, ‘ustedes valen.’ To the millennial who left family and culture and tradition in search of success and the American dream but now feel empty inside, she says ‘tú vales’. To those at home in neither English or Spanish or who feel awkward at not knowing enough of either, she says ‘ustedes valen.’ To the family that bears the weight of intergenerational trauma expressed in depression, abuse and divorce, she says ‘ustedes valen’.
Her simple message persuades us, as it did that day on Tepeyac, that she is the God-bearer, Theotokos. Only a woman such as this young, brown, mestiza empress, born on the edges of empire and who revealed herself anew on the edges of empire, could have convinced our people of the nearness and tenderness of God. She who shares in our in-betweenness. She is the Mestiza, who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation. She takes on our people’s pain and trauma and she transforms it to give birth to hope and redemption.
Guadalupe teaches us how we might go about repairing the sin of racism. She shows us that our deepest identity is not given to us by empire, or politics or the economy or the colonist, but is a gift of God.
Our identity is formed in the grace-filled relationships we freely pursue with God, others and Creation. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself On our border we have seen that racism radically undermines those relationships.
The story of Guadalupe is the story of Jesus, who divested himself of the privileges of divinity, ‘taking the form of a slave’, to become flesh like us. His was a Jewish body that embodied Israel’s universal vocation to be a blessing for all the nations (cf. Genesis 28, 14). If after the Resurrection, the Church continues Jesus’ mission of restoring the ‘unity of the whole human race, then to speak of the Church and the Reign of God is to speak of inclusion and diversity. This is the very opposite of the racist obsession with whiteness and purity and the false promises of resurgent ethno-nationalisms. Understood in this way, racism is a sign of the anti-reign and baptism and the Eucharist are the graced gateway to a fully reconciled humanity.
Every race and color and tribe and people and language and culture are threads in the vibrant and diverse tapestry of the Reign of God. Our suffering and pain and dispossession are transfigured in the Jesus who died on the Cross and who invites us to relocate our broken history, our imperfect lives, our desires and aspirations and our work for justice in the drama of His Reign which is unfolding all around us through the power of His Resurrection.
That is the drama unfolding in the dance of the matachines each year. That is why they dance.
With her knee raised in dance, Guadalupe invites us to leave behind fear and join her in the work of advancing justice in America with joy. We are called to die to an attitude of fear and rise with a will to encounter others in vulnerability, to appreciate the gifts of every culture and people, with a willingness to be changed for the better by right relationships with God, others and the earth. In the Resurrection of Our Lord, now ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4, 18).
They Threatened Us with Resurrection
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
Psalm 22, 28
Our Responsibility to Build the Temple of Justice
The validation that comes from Our Lady of Guadalupe is not static acceptance. Our Lady affirmed Juan Diego against dehumanization. And that affirmation came with a divine charge to make persistent petition before the authorities and build a temple. Guadalupe validates our desire to do good, our longing for transformation and our agency to enact good in the world. And she entrusts us with a mission. To those who know the pain of racism and injustice and live in that place neither here nor there, ni de aquí ni de allá, Our Lady of Guadalupe hands on a sacred petition from her Son, to be builders of a new Temple of Justice in the Americas, a Temple of a New Humanity.
But as builders of the Temple of Justice here in the Americas, it is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it well when he said, ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. The same thing is said in the Mayan tradition, ‘In Lak’ech’, tú eres mi otro yo, or ‘you are my other self’. Guadalupe, the Mestiza, teaches us that our destinies are bound up with one another. We must take active steps to defend the human rights of everyone in our border community and their dignity against dehumanization as we work to forge a new humanity. What racism has divided, with the help of God, we can work to restore.
The burden of the history of injustice on the border is heavy. We must wrestle deeply with this legacy, lament over it passionately, confront our own biases candidly and repudiate racism completely. God offers us the chance to build a new history where racism does not prevail. The ‘manifesto’ of hate and exclusion that entered our community can be countered with a manifesto of radical love and inclusion. I want to see an El Paso that addresses both the legacy of racism and one which builds more just structures to eradicate and overcome that history. A new history of respect for human rights, inclusion and bridge building. The Reign of God is reflected in a community that brings together the best of all cultures, where the aspirations of all find a home and where the needs of the poor are put first. If we do this, we can make a vitally needed contribution to the nation from our border, here on the edges of empire, towards turning the page on injustice and hate and white supremacy definitively.
‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone. We must work to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person. This is how we write a new chapter in our history of solidarity and friendship that future generations can remember with pride. This work of undoing racism and building a just society is holy, for it ‘contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. It anticipates that day when ‘night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.’
The Need for New Leadership
This historical moment also requires a new kind of leadership to which I believe our border community can make a real contribution. In all fields, Latinos have risen to the heights of power. We should not fear power. Power has been given to us as stewards by our God, who asks of us to be co-creators in bringing about His Reign. But we must learn the use of power in new, creative and grace-filled ways, not reproducing the tactics and methods of domination and division that belong to the oppressor. This will require us to stand beside the poor as they find their voice and to take a supportive role in their work for justice. We must build each other up rather than seeking to outsmart and outflank; that is not the way of true leadership or of love. Love is spontaneous, unselfish, full of surprise, life-giving and forgiving. If we are to move our borderlands towards a reconciled community beyond faction and resentment, we must commit ourselves to a love which is not merely self-directed, a love which we must learn at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth.
This new type of leadership must restore agency to those communities and individuals who have been victimized and also center their voices, memories and hopes in discerning the path ahead. In the coming months, I commit to engaging these voices more intentionally in hopes that together we can turn back the tide of racism in our border community.
Our Catholic Community, An Oasis of Justice
The Catholic Church in El Paso must be on permanent mission, an ongoing conversion to the Lord, so that we might be salt and leaven in the work of justice in the borderlands. Charity and justice must be the work of each of our parishes, flowing from the Word of God, our baptismal commitment and our Communion at the Eucharistic table.
Our pastors should take care in the celebration of Baptism, especially baptisms during the Eucharist on Sundays, to allow the profound symbols of the sacrament to shine with clarity. In the purifying waters we celebrate the radical transformation and equality that comes from renewal in Christ. In the anointing with holy oils we proclaim a reverence for human life without distinction. The strength of these symbols should flow into our daily parish life and work for justice.
Likewise, in our celebration of Mass, pastors can lead our people to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite. We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar. In our preaching and celebration, we should lead our people to greater awareness of the connection between the love of God celebrated in our temples, and the love of God to be practiced outside their doors, including work to end prejudice and discrimination.
Faithfulness to Our Identity
I would like to thank our priests who showed tenderness in ministering to the dead and wounded on August 3rd. Some arrived to the scene before it was even secure. I thank the courageous first responders. I thank the leaders of the interfaith community who organized prayer and vigils and a space for our people to expose their pain to the healing power of grace. I am grateful to the community organizations that organized financial support and provided legal assistance. I thank our NGOs and public leaders who have deepened their work for justice. I thank the churches and organizations which refused to give into fear and continued to receive migrants. I thank the journalists who continue to work tirelessly to witness to what is occurring at the border with compassion and truthfulness. I thank our teachers and therapists and doctors for accompanying us on the road to healing. I thank our people for their resilient spirit. I thank God for His constant presence and faithfulness to us.
I know God will never allow the hate that visited our community on August 3rd to have the last word. We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound. What can they do but threaten us with Resurrection?
If there is anyone who feels so alone, so isolated and so tortured that you feel your only way out is to succumb to the darkness of racism and violence and pick up a gun, I say to you today: there is a place for you in our community and our church. Lay aside your weapons of hate. Put away your fear. Here there is a teacher, a sister, a deacon, a priest, a counselor … a bishop, waiting to welcome you home and greet you with love. Tú vales.
I also make a direct appeal to my brothers and sisters in Texas and those in positions of authority to spare Patrick Crusius from execution. Justice is certainly required. But the cycle of hate, blood and vengeance on the border must meet its end. While the scales of justice may seem to tilt in favor of the necessity of lethal retribution, God offers us yet another chance to choose life. Choose in a manner worthy of your humanity.
In the absence of immigration reform, I also renew my appeal to the President of the United States, to the Members of Congress and to the jurists of our highest Courts. I beg you to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.
Given this day, the 13th of October, the XXVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time and the vigil of Indigenous People’s Day, in the year of our Lord 2019.
Your servant in Christ,
Mark Joseph Seitz
Bishop of El Paso
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe
O Mary of Guadalupe, our Mother,
Consolation of our frail humanity,
We need you in this moment of pain,
Be with us here in El Paso.
You who accompany us on the journey of life,
Guiding us in joyful dance,
Be a bridge between heaven and earth,
Between us your sons and daughters.
Defend us from what would devour us,
And take away the promise of new life,
With arms of war and words that kill,
With racism personal and structural,
With massacres against innocents.
All of us are daughters and sons of the Most High,
Equal in dignity, deserving of respect,
Worthy of a place on this earth,
Worthy of the call to build your Temple of Justice.
With your protection and inspiration,
We will write the next chapter of our history,
Weaving together a new beautiful tapestry,
Across these great borderlands.
Ask your beloved Son, dear Mother,
To bring the dawn of a new day,
To drive away the night,
A day when sorrow and mourning will flee,
Because they can only threaten us with Resurrection.
We place all this in your loving hands,
To bring to Christ, your Son and our Savior.
And now before you go, here’s a great Latino song De Colores that expresses the inclusivity that we’re looking for. Click here.
Edward K. Braxton, How to come together in response to the gun violence epidemic, America (11 September 2019),
United States Conference of Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (2000).
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865),
Pope Francis, Message for 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2019),
Charles J. Chaput, Statement of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap Regarding Racial Violence in Charlottesville, Virginia (2017),
Yolanda Leyva, The El Paso Shooting Is a Reminder of an Ugly Side of Texas History, Time (8 August 2019),
Arzobispado de Guatemala, Oficina de Derechos Humanos, Guatemala Nunca Más, Volumen I (Guatemala: ODHAG, 1998), p. XIV.
Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 23 May 2007,
Randolph Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas,1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1991).
Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project,
Monica Muñoz Martinez,The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in the Southwest (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018).
Pope Saint Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum progressio (1967), 65.
Day of Pardon, Universal Prayer: Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness, 12 March 2000,.
The Holy See’s Commission For Religious Relations With the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, 1998: ‘Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one’s enemies, the prevailing mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way different.’
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands La Frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), p. 41.
Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato si’ (2015), 66.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ‘Lumen gentium’ (1964), 1.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Commencement Address for Oberlin College, ‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution’ (1965),
Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus (1991), 31,
Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate (2009), 7.
See Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), p. 122-125.
Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright holders of material reproduced in this publication, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the Publishers would be glad to hear from them.
This is the fourth in my series in Racism in America. But we’ll take a darker turn here as we look at slavery, lynchings and beatings and some of the brutal things that we white people have done to black folk or should I say continue to do to black people. I began these few articles with the humble hope of making an effort at learning and sharing. Will you read with me again today.?
This is vitally important for our country. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, predicting it’s devastation. I’ve been imploring my readers since the inception of this blog in 2006 to enter into personal transformation for the sake of the transformation of our country. The images on this page are taken from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to the memory of enslaved Black people. (Some will find the images disturbing ~ if you got beyond the cover image, that is, you probably will be alright. There are three articles here. I will post three more on next Tuesday/
2016: The year racism and fear make a comeback
by Rhina Guidos , Catholic News Service Dec. 23, 2016
National Catholic Reporter
WASHINGTON — It began with the fatal shootings of unarmed black men and women by police. It was exacerbated in the summer when, on July 7, a gunman in Dallas opened fire on police during a march, killing five officers in a presumed act of retaliation.
Catholic church leaders such as Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta (presently the Archbishop of Washington, D. C.) in August called on others “to resolve to address the issues that lie beneath these acts of violence.” But no one imagined then that frustrations about race and racism in the United States, which began with the police shootings, were about to get worse in the later part of 2016.
At a news conference during the U.S. bishops’ general assembly in Baltimore in November, Gregory said the reaction to the presidential election had added to an existing tension this year over matters of race in the country.
Those who work with multicultural communities, such as Jordan Denari Duffner, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which studies Islamophobia, said comments made during the campaign led to “a general kind of anti-otherness that has emerged.” When it comes Islamophobia, she said, anyone who “looks Muslim,” be it because of the color of the skin or what they may wear, can evoke a reaction from others that can lead to attacks, she said.
This kind of “anti-otherness” in the air, some say, has resulted in a rise of hate and racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center said that 10 days after the election, almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation were recorded. Many took place in public places or places of worship, at work, at schools and even in grocery stores.
In a recent column for Catholic News Service, Gregory said “the belief that one group is superior to another due to race — is a grave moral disease whose recurrence, aggressiveness and persistence should frighten every one of us.” Racism has “clearly not been cured in our nation,” he said.
He warned that “whenever one can play on the fears of some people and depend upon the ignorance of others, racism flourishes. As a political strategy, such taunting may win votes, but it destroys national unity and our future.”
Economic inequality, which plagues different communities, he said, has been used to pit one group of people against another and “when one group is made to feel that its economic situation results from the coddling of another, the reaction is often a racist response,” Gregory said.
That’s when a country starts seeing attitudes such as “immigrants are taking our jobs” and “public aid only rewards laziness,” and “poor and struggling white people have been forgotten,” he said.
He added that “conditions necessary for the transmission of racism were thoroughly mixed with such attitudes during the recent election process. Left untreated, the prognosis is bleak.”
Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said this election “showed the racial but also economic polarization that our country is in the midst of” and which had become apparent earlier in the year.
Chappell, who is black and is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, said she has never seen the level of violence and hatred against so many groups — Muslims, immigrants and others — as she saw during the election and which has caused much concern.
The Trump campaign, she said, has to acknowledge comments made that played into the fears of others and that helped propel some in the white supremacist movement. During his campaign, he called for a pause on admitting Muslim refugees into this country until, as he described it, a system was in place for “extreme vetting” of them. He talked about deporting immigrants who are in this country without legal permission.
President-elect Donald Trump has on several occasions said he is not racist and his transition team released a statement Nov. 29 saying he denounces racism in all its forms.
“To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds,” the statement said. “For anyone to conclude these senseless acts are the result of the election is disappointing and gives an excuse for their appalling behavior.”
But just to look at his Cabinet and administration picks, and one doesn’t get the sense that Trump or his picks are allies of people who are marginalized and oppressed, Chappell said.
“I don’t see signs of him reaching out to those communities that traditionally continue to suffer from oppression,” she said. “I hope he will. I am hopeful … I want to hold him at his word and so for me right now, we have to wait and see.”
“I question his motives,” she continued. “But on the other hand, I have faith, and I have to trust and wait and see how he responds in terms of really moving toward unifying America. I think we have to find a way as a country to again embrace that all are welcome, all have place and we just have to find a way to pull together because we are all brothers and sisters.”
Gregory said the new administration “must recognize and address the deadly impact that racism and racist behavior continues to inflict upon our nation and its people. Racist words and slogans can inflame violence and do great harm to the fabric of our country.”
A black man accused of rape, a white officer in the Klan, and a 1936 lynching that went unpunished
By Michael S. Rosenwald / July 19, 2020 The Washington Post
The lynching began with a knock on the door.
It was 3 a.m. on Sept. 12, 1936, a steamy late summer morning in Atlanta.
Thomas Finch and his family were sound asleep. Then, the knocking. When Finch’s father opened the front door, he found five white men standing there: two police officers and three other burly men the family had never seen before.
“We want your son Tom,” an officer said.
Finch got dressed and went with the officers. An hour later, he was dumped outside Grady Hospital, where he worked as an orderly. His face was pummeled. He was shot multiple times.
“Oh Lord,” he said, as nurses placed him on an operating table. “Oh Lord.”
Those were his last words. He was 28.
Authorities never investigated Finch’s death or charged anyone for it, and it was clear why. The horrific killing was orchestrated by one of the men on Finch’s doorstep — Samuel Roper, a pold then, upon retirement, Georgia’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.police officer who went on to lead the Georgia Bureau of Investigation an
As part of her investigation, Aranda examined an unpublished investigation into Finch’s death conducted by the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, a race reform organization founded in segregated Atlanta in 1919. She also tracked down Finch’s last known surviving relative: his niece, Joyce Finch-Morris. Now 71, she still lives in Atlanta, which became an epicenter of Black Lives Matter protests following the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in June.
A Wendy’s in Atlanta burns June 13 after demonstrators protesting the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks set it on fire.
Finch also died in police custody. His niece knew little about his death until Aranda shared her findings. Now Finch-Morris finds herself wishing her parents and other relatives were around not just to learn what really happened that night in 1936, but to see the police brutality protests sweeping the country.
“As painful as his death was, they died knowing that their son, their brother, their uncle died with no recourse, with no justice whatsoever,” she said. “The difference now is that society is outraged. People are just tired of it. These things won’t just be swept under the rug like what happened to my uncle. We need justice.”
One of seven children, Finch was a descendant of sharecroppers. In his early 20s, while his father supported the family as a haberdasher, Finch got a job as an orderly at Grady Hospital, which had two buildings — one for black patients, the other for whites. Finch worked in the white building.
Thomas Finch was killed in Atlanta police custody on Sept. 12, 1936.
Back in the 1930s, police officers in Atlanta openly lived double lives. When they weren’t in uniform, many wore the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan. The police department’s own history acknowledges that the “Klan-dominated police union” wasn’t officially abolished until 1947, though historians and criminologists say connections with white supremacy lasted even longer.
“This was not unusual and limited to Georgia,” said Taimi Castle, a professor of justice studies at James Madison University and the author of an academic paper titled “Cops and the Klan.” “During the same period of time, in some jurisdictions all local officials were members, including the sheriff.”
When Finch was accused of rape, Roper caught the case.
Roper joined the Klan in the early 1920s, according to “A Measure of Freedom,” a 1950 Anti-Defamation League investigation of KKK involvement in anti-Semitism and white supremacy in America. While Roper served as a police officer and later the head of Georgia’s prestigious Bureau of Investigation, his local Klan titles included Exalted Cyclops and Imperial Nighthawk.
In 1949, 13 years after Finch’s lynching, Roper became Imperial Wizard of Georgia’s Klan organizations. The appointment was widely covered in Atlanta’s newspapers, which referred to him as Wizard Roper. “Roper has a reputation,” the Anti-Defamation League investigation said, “for planning his moves with calculated force.”
When Roper came to the Finch family’s home that September night, Finch asked why he was being arrested. All the officers would say was that there was an investigation underway. Finch was placed in a car and driven away. His wife, nervous about the strange 3 a.m. arrival of officers and several other unidentified men, called police headquarters and the county jail trying to find him.
Nobody knew where he had been taken.
‘It was very painful’
When Finch-Morris was growing up, her mother had told her that her uncle had been accused of raping a white woman and that he was lynched. But Finch-Morris’s father, even if he knew the whole story, didn’t talk much about his brother’s death.
“My father was a forthright person, but when I asked about this it was very painful for him, and he didn’t want to talk about it,” she said. “I knew he was going out with a white woman, and he was lynched. That’s it.”
Joyce Finch-Morris at her home in Atlanta. Her uncle Thomas Finch was lynched in Atlanta in 1936. Then a few years ago, Finch-Morris received a phone call from Aranda, the Northeastern University law school student.
Aranda had grown up in the South with dreams of becoming a civil rights attorney. Northeastern, with its renowned Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, was an ideal place. The clinic has investigated hundreds of lynchings, bringing closure to scores of families whose loved ones were killed without any justice at all.
In the papers, Aranda found a document titled, in part, “Concerning the Death of Tom Finch.” The author was Arthur F. Raper, a white sociologist who studied lynching and investigated them for the commission. (There are other investigative reports in the commission files, though it is not clear whether Raper is also the author.)
One of the reports begins with an account of Finch being awakened by Roper and another officer.
“Where they had taken him,” the report says, “for what purpose, and by what authority, and why had they had found it necessary to beat him and shoot him to death are questions that invite investigation.”
Raper and the commission’s investigation was a thorough inquiry, the sort of investigation Atlanta police would have conducted had the murder victim been white. The idea that Finch raped Smith was dismissed by his supervisors, including white nurses and doctors who comforted the family and a sent floral wreath to his funeral.
The office where the alleged attack occurred was near a busy reception area.
“Everybody interviewed at the hospital,” one of the commission reports said, “were unanimous in their conviction that the alleged was not and could not have been committed. It is unbelievable that the woman would have submitted silently to such an attack when the slightest outcry would have brought a dozen people to her rescue.”
If Smith made up the attack, why did she do it? Raper’s report doesn’t pinpoint an exact motive, but Aranda, in her own report, wrote that Smith “and the Atlanta police detectives insisted on painting Finch as the stereotypical black rapist, a false image used by the press and law enforcement authorities to excuse of justify ‘vigilante’ lynchings.”
In the commission report, Raper noted that Smith “tends to desire publicity” and, on other visits to the hospital, was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as being “mentally subnormal and irresponsible” and unable to adequately state her name and address.
The day Smith alleged the attack to police, cars began to circle Finch’s home, honking their horns. Somewhere between his house and his arrival at Grady Hospital on the verge of death, Finch was beaten and shot.
In a newspaper article later that week, police told reporters that Finch attacked Roper and attempted to escape, prompting police to defend themselves and kill him.
Raper found that story nearly impossible to believe, because Roper had brought civilians to the house and especially because Finch was never taken to the police station, which was only a few blocks from Finch’s home. All of that, plus the allegation of rape by a white woman, suggested the “probability” that police and friends of the girl murdered Finch.
“It seems obvious,” Raper concluded, “that Finch was lynched.”
The lynching, of course. But also the role of the police.
“As far as I could tell, the KKK and the police were one and the same,” Finch-Morris said. “That’s just the way it was. There was no way for anybody to get any recourse.”
Nowadays, there is at least some chance. Officers are wearing body cameras. And citizens are wielding an important technological weapon against police brutality — cellphones that have recorded black Americans being beaten and killed by police, from George Floyd in Minneapolis to Brooks in Atlanta.
But something else important has changed, Finch-Morris added.
“It’s not just black people who are making their voices heard,” she said. “Now everyone is speaking out. That definitely didn’t happen back in 1936. That is progress.”
This moment calls for a new consciousness: become an anti-racist
By Sister Nancy Sylvester SSIHM
The Global Sisters Report
It is hard to believe that we are entering the sixth month living with COVID19 and all of its unanticipated consequences. By basically stopping all of our usual ways of relating, working, shopping and traveling, a space opened for the eruption of systemic racism into the public consciousness. The brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers was shared around the world through social media and could not be dismissed or justified. It released centuries of anger and frustration due to the systemic oppression of people of color, caused by racist policies, programs and consciousness.
Suddenly protests peppered the country, asserting that Black Lives Matter and demanding that police brutality be addressed. Soon, statues of Confederate soldiers were being forcibly removed. Names of streets, buildings and military bases were being changed because they enshrined men who were held in esteem defending the South and its institution of slavery.
The response is as divided as we are as a country. Our president — seeing a campaign opportunity to run as the “law and order” candidate in a country under siege — is exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and recasting the participants as those who would tear down our history, who are soft on crime.
However, the majority of our citizens see the long effects of slavery and are sympathetic to Black Lives Matter and support changes to racist policies, especially within the culture of police departments.
For me, I sense this is a rare opportunity to awaken, to transform our collective consciousness in ways that are more anti-racist. And this means each of us must do our own individual work.
Moving forward demands a new perspective, a new set of lenses, a new way of looking at what we thought we knew. It demands a new consciousness. Our hearts must become our organs of perception. The work will be different for those of us who benefitted from the legacy of white supremacy and those who suffered because of it. But all of us have to find the place within us where racism in its multiple forms exists, shapes us and persists.
Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist, helps to get in touch with how racism permeates how we see the world, and it offers ways to uproot racism and inequality in our society — and in ourselves. Kendi’s basic theory is “that racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value that extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types.”
This shift of consciousness being asked of us is truly the work of contemplation.
Over these years of contemplative practice, I have become more aware of my own biases, my own assumptions about things. This awareness is never ending, as we are human, but it does soften how I take in new information that challenges me. Although I have through the years addressed white privilege in our society and in myself, I was caught off guard as I read Kendi’s book. I could feel the discomfort in me. I saw myself reacting and then opening up to understand how these various racist hierarchies lived within me. I realized I do not have to keep affirming this or that racist belief in myself. I felt a loosening of the hold it had on me.
If I had not been opening myself to the working of the Divine within me these years, I’m sure I would be responding differently — more defensively, trying to justify my way of thinking or simply dismissing Kendi’s theory as exaggerated and too simplistic.
Coming to my own realization, I, in turn, had a heightened awareness of how challenging and difficult this will be for those in the white community who are just coming to an awareness of white privilege. The letting go of being dominant and knowing that who I am and how I do things will no longer be normative will be gut wrenching. In addition, because this is coming in the middle of the pandemic, some will feel that this is the last straw — we have to deal with the pandemic, we are all hurting, we can’t address these issues as well!
I believe that the shift of consciousness to an antiracist one is the call of our time … a long overdue one … but one that will be difficult at best. But we can prepare for it.
Take time this summer and learn about the history of slavery and how systemic racism operates. Both Kendi’s book and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, are excellent resources.
When you feel resistance:
Name the feeling.
Explore why you are feeling that way.
Open yourself to seeing the reality of racism in yourself.
In the spirit of the Welcoming Prayer, allow yourself to be with that feeling until you can let it go.
After your contemplative sitting, be attentive during the day and gently observe how the shift of consciousness begins to settle into your body and into your behavior.
As discussion of issues of systemic racism become more prominent among your family and friends and more central to our political discourse, you might find yourself willing to engage with people who are still resisting seeing this as an issue. By consciously observing yourself face into your own experience of racism, you can better understand and offer insights to those who are just beginning the struggle.
Addressing how racism is woven into the fabric of our society and within ourselves from a contemplative heart is not an easy task. We will have to face into our fears.
Psalm 49 offers a more poetic way of doing just that.
Yes, even the wise are not immune to fear; yet, unlike the ignorant, the wise face their fears with resolve. Not running away, nor projecting them onto others. They trace them to the source, rooting them out as weeds from a rose garden. Thus, they do not trust in the riches of the world, but in the Treasure hidden in the heart.
[Nancy Sylvester is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
Now, before you go, here’s the African spiritual Amazing Grace for you by an African children’s choir. Click here.
The assumptions of white privilege and what we can do about it
Amy Cooper knew exactly what she was doing. We all do. And that’s the problem.
by Bryan N. Massingale
I’ve shared two posts so far on the subject of Racism in America. The first one began with an essay that a friend of mine wrote during the early morning hours on the Fourth of July saying that as a person of color, he wanted to share a different point of view of our nation’s founding. That essay was followed by Frederic Douglas’ searing speech on the Fifth of July from a slave’s point of view.
The second post offered two articles, the first of which was about a woman, Jane Elliott, who spent 52 years teaching people about their prejudices in a famous “Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes ” experiment. The second one was about a Bishop in LittleRock, Arkansas and a priest in Atlanta both of whom had considerable experience teaching Catholics to get out of their comfort zones about racism. I promised three blogs on this subject (this is the third.) But there is more to be done and I will publish at least one more next week.
Today let’s take some time to educate ourselves about our own role as white people in perpetuating racism in our country. This is an article that appeared in The National Catholic Reporter on June 1st, 2020, just after the Labor Day tragic murder of George Floyd. It’s written by Fr. Bryan N. Massingale is a theology professor at Fordham University in New York. He is the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. So let’s dig into this. Some of this may be uncomfortable to some of you, but this is important for the good of our country and for you and all of us. So hang in there and do a bit of studying with us please!
“Every white person in this country — I do not care what he says or what she says — knows one thing. … They know that they would not like to be black here. If they know that, they know everything they need to know. And whatever else they may say is a lie.” — James Baldwin, “Speech at the University of California Berkeley,” 1979
It has never been easy to be black in America. Still, the past few months have pushed me to depths of outrage, pain and despondency that are unmatched in my 63 years of life. Look at what has transpired:
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that while all might be vulnerable, we are not equally vulnerable. Blacks, Latinos and Native peoples are the vast majority of those infected and killed by this virus. In some places, the levels of “disparity” (such a sanitizing word!) are catastrophic. But as tragic as this is, it was entirely predictable and even expected. The contributing factors for this vulnerability have been documented for decades: lack of insurance, less access to healthcare, negligent treatment from and by healthcare professionals, overcrowded housing, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. All of this compounded by how the least paid and protected workers are now considered “essential” and must be exposed to the virus’ hazards. As a young black grocery clerk told me, “Essential is just a nice word for sacrificial.” Sacrificed for the comfort of those who can isolate and work from home, who are disproportionately white.
Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man, who was executed on Feb. 23 as three white men stalked him while he was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. One of the killers had ties to local law enforcement. Only after public protests and the passing of 74 days were any arrests made and charges filed over this death.
Breonna Taylor,a 26-year-old African American woman, who was killed by Louisville police officers on March 13 after they kicked in the door of her apartment unannounced and without identifying themselves. Fearful for their lives, her boyfriend fired his lawfully possessed gun. Breonna was killed with eight bullets fired by three officers, under circumstances that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.
Christian Cooper,a young black man — a birdwatcher — who was reported to the police May 25 by Amy Cooper (no relation), a young white woman, who called 911 to say that “an African American man” was threatening her in New York’s Central Park merely because he had the gall to ask her to comply with the park’s posted regulations to leash her dog.
George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old African American man, who was brutally killed on May 25 in Minneapolis by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, despite being restrained, despite the urgent requests of onlookers, despite his repeated desperate pleas: “I can’t breathe.”
Omar Jimenez, a black Latino CNN reporter, who was arrested on May 29 in the middle of doing live reports on events in Minneapolis, while a white CNN reporter doing the same thing, at the same time in the same neighborhood, was not only not arrested but was treated with “consummate politeness” by the authorities. The stark contrast was so jarring that Jimenez’s white colleagues noted that the only possible difference was the race of the reporters.
All of this weighs on my spirit. I try to pray, but inner quiet eludes me. I simply sit in silence on Pentecost weekend before a lit candle praying, “Come, Holy Spirit” as tears fall. Words fail me. I ponder the futility of speaking out, yet again, trying to think of how to say what has been said, what I have said, so often before.
Then it occurred to me. Amy Cooper holds the key.
The event in Central Park is not the most heinous listed above. The black man didn’t die — thankfully. Compared to the others, it has received little attention. But if you understand Amy Cooper, then all the rest, and much more, makes sense. And points the way forward.
Let’s recall what Amy Cooper did. After a black man tells her to obey the posted signs that require her to leash her dog in a public park, she tells him she’s going to call the police “and I’m going to tell them that there’s an African American man threatening my life.” Then she does just that, calling 911 and saying, “There’s a man, an African American, he has a bicycle helmet. He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” She continues, in a breathless voice, “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble [a wooded area of Central Park]. Please send the cops immediately!” This despite the fact that Christian Cooper’s camera records the events and shows that he made no threatening moves toward her, spoke to her calmly and without insult, and kept his distance from her the whole time.
In short, she decided to call the police on a black man for nothing more than politely asking her to obey the park’s rules. And made up a lie to put him in danger.
She knew what she was doing. And so do we. The situation is completely “legible” as my academic colleagues would say. What did she and rest of us know? Why did she act as she did?
She assumed that her lies would be more credible than his truth.
She assumed that she would have the presumption of innocence.
She assumed that he, the black man, would have a presumption of guilt.
She assumed that the police would back her up.
She assumed that her race would be an advantage, that she would be believed because she is white. (By the way, this is what we mean by white privilege).
She assumed that she had the upper hand in this situation.
She assumed that she could use these deeply ingrained white fears to keep a black man in his place.
She assumed that if he protested his innocence against her, he would be seen as “playing the race card.”
She assumed that no one would accuse her of “playing the race card,” because no one accuses white people of playing the race card when using race to their advantage.
She assumed that he knew that any confrontation with the police would not go well for him.
She assumed that the frame of “black rapist” versus “white damsel in distress” would be clearly understood by everyone: the police, the press and the public.
She assumed that her knowledge of how white people view the world, and especially black men, would help her.
She assumed that a black man had no right to tell her what to do.
She assumed that the police officers would agree.
She assumed that even if the police made no arrest, that a lot of white people would take her side and believe her anyway.
She assumed that Christian Cooper could and would understand all of the above.
(And she was right. He clearly knew what was at stake, which is why he had the presence of mind to record what happened).
All of this was the almost instantaneous reasoning behind her actions. By her own admission, she acted out of reflex. No one taught Amy Cooper all of this. Likely, no one gave her an explicit class on how whiteness works in America. But she knew what she was doing.
And so do we. We understand her behavior. We know how our culture frames whiteness and folks of color. We know how race works in America.
The fundamental assumption behind all the others is that white people matter, or should matter, more than people of color. Certainly more than black people. That black lives don’t matter, or at least not as much as white lives. That’s the basic assumption behind Amy Cooper’s decisions, actions and words. That’s the basic assumption that links Christian Cooper with COVID-19, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Omar Jimenez.
Amy Cooper knew that. We all know that. So who taught her? Who taught us?
The Ways of Whiteness
This is where things may get uncomfortable for most of you, who I assume (and hope) will be white. Because just as no one gave her an explicit class on the ways of whiteness and how it works in society — and for her — most likely you never received a formal class or explanation either. It’s just something that you know, or better, that you realize on some distant yet real part of your brain. At some early age, you realized that no matter how bad things got for you, at least you would never be black. And it dawned on you, though you rarely consciously say it, that you would never want to be black. Because you realized, even without being explicitly told, that being white makes life easier. Even if you have to do some hard work along the way, at least you don’t have to carry the burden of blackness as a hindrance.
How did you, how did I, how did we all learn this? No one taught you. No one had to. It’s something that you absorbed just by living. Just by taking in subtle clues such as what the people in charge look like. Whose history you learned in school. What the bad guys look like on TV. The kind of jokes you heard. How your parents, grandparents and friends talked about people that didn’t look like you.
I can hear some of you protesting. You don’t want to admit this, especially your ability to make life rough for people of color. You don’t want to face it. But Amy Cooper made the truth plain and obvious. She knew deep in her soul that she lived in a country where things should work in the favor of white people. She knew the real deal. We all do.
That’s the reason for the grief, outrage, lament, anger, pain and fury that have been pouring into our nation’s streets. Because folks are tired. Not only of the individual outrages. But of the fundamental assumption that ties them all together: that black lives don’t matter and should not matter — at least not as much as white ones.
We struggle to admit that Amy Cooper reveals what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “the souls of white folks.” Because, to quote James Baldwin again, facing the truth “would reveal more about America to Americans than Americans want to know.” Or admit that they know.
What don’t we want to admit? That Amy Cooper is not simply a rogue white person or a mean-spirited white woman who did an odious thing. Yes, we should and must condemn her words and actions. But we don’t want to admit that there is a lot more to this story. That she knew, we all know, that she had the support of an unseen yet very real apparatus of collective thoughts, fears, beliefs, practices and history.
This is what we mean by systemic racism. I could call it white supremacy, although I know that white people find that term even more of a stumbling block than white privilege. Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates gives the best short description of this complex reality called white supremacy. He describes it as “an age-old system in America which holds that whites should always be ensured that they will not sink to a certain level. And that level is the level occupied by black people.” Amy Cooper knew that. And so do we.
We don’t want to admit that Amy Cooper is not simply a bad white woman. We don’t want to face the truth about America that her words and actions betray. We don’t want to admit that present in Central Park that morning was the scaffolding of centuries-long accumulations of the benefits of whiteness. Benefits that burden people of color. Benefits that kill black and brown people.
Without facing this truth, Amy Cooper’s actions make no sense. She knew what she was doing. And so do we. Even if we do not want to admit it.
Where do we begin?
I understand the feelings of helplessness, confusion and even despondency that can afflict us. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, by the immense weight of centuries of accumulated fear, resentment, privilege and righteous anger. It can be shocking to confront the vastness of this nation’s commitment to white benefit and advantage. Where do we begin?
Let me be more specific: what are white people to do now that they know that they know what Amy Cooper knows — assuming they want to do anything? (The reason for the specificity will become clear).
First, understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened.There is no way to tell the truth about race in this country without white people becoming uncomfortable. Because the plain truth is that if it were up to people of color, racism would have been resolved, over and done, a long time ago. The only reason for racism’s persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it.
Repeat that last sentence. Make it your mantra. Because until the country accepts that truth, we will never move beyond superficial words and ineffective half-measures.
Systemic racism benefits white people. That’s the truth that Amy Cooper knew and that we all know. That truth supports all the assumptions that sustain the racial craziness and insanity in which we live. I know that bluntly stating that systemic racism benefits white people makes people — especially white people — uncomfortable. I also feel a pang of discomfort in being so direct. (I know the kinds of online comments and emails that are sure to follow.)
But avoiding and sugarcoating this truth is killing people of color. Silence for the sake of making white people comfortable is a luxury we can no longer afford.
If white people are unwilling to face very uncomfortable truths, then the country is doomed to remain what Abraham Lincoln called “a house divided.” And he warned that such a house cannot stand.
What to do next? Nothing. Sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings. Let it become agonizing. Let it move you to tears, to anger, to guilt, to shame, to embarrassment. Over what? Over your ignorance. Over the times you went along with something you knew was wrong. Or when you told a racist joke because you could. Because you knew that your white friends and family would let you get away with it, or even join in. Because you thought it was “just a joke.” Or the times you wouldn’t hire the person of color because you knew your white employees would have a problem with it and you didn’t want the hassle. Or when you knew the person of color was in the right, but it was easier not to upset your white friends. Or wealthy donors, who are almost always white. (By the way, the wealth disparity didn’t just happen nor is it due to black and brown folks’ laziness. Look at the complexions of our “essential workers” for proof.) Most of all, feel the guilt, the pain, the embarrassment over doing nothing and saying nothing when you witnessed obvious racism.
Stay in the discomfort, the anxiety, the guilt, the shame, the anger. Because only when a critical mass of white folks are outraged, grieved and pained over the status quo — only when white people become upset enough to declare, “This cannot and will not be!” — only then will real change begin to become a possibility.
Third, admit your ignorance and do something about it. Understand that there is a lot about our history and about life that we’re going to have to unlearn. And learn over. Malcolm X said that the two factors responsible for American racism are greed and skillful miseducation. We have all been taught a sanitized version of America that masks our terrible racial history.
For example, most of my white students — and students of color, too — know nothing of the terror of lynching. They don’t know that for a 30-year period from 1885-1915, on average every third day a black person was brutally and savagely and publicly murdered by white mobs. This wasn’t taught, or it was taught to mean only that, in the words of a white student, “some people got beat up real bad.” (Note the passive voice, which obscures who did these beatings and why).
Yet without knowing this history, the Civil Rights Movement only becomes a feel-good story about desegregation and bringing races together — sharing schools, drinking fountains and (maybe) neighborhoods. The brutal, savage and sadistic violence that whites inflicted with impunity upon black — and brown and Asian — people in order to defend “white supremacy” (their words, not mine) is never faced. Nor do we have to face the truth that most racial violence in our history has been and continues to be inflicted by whites against people of color.
To create a different world, we must learn how this one came to be. And unlearn what we previously took for granted. This means that we have to read. And learn from the perspectives of people of color. (Not to toot my own horn, but my book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church is a good place to start).
Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends. I tell my white students that they will see and hear more naked racial bigotry than I do. Because when I am in the room, everyone knows how to act. Sociologist Joe Feagin documents how white people behave one way when on the “front stage,” that is, in public. But “backstage,” in the company of fellow whites, a different code of behavior prevails. Here racist acts and words are excused: “That’s just the way your father was raised.” “Your grandmother is of a different generation.” “It’s just a joke.” “But deep down, he’s really a good person.” “But if you ignore all that, he’s a really fun person to be with.” “You can’t choose your family, but you gotta love them anyway.” “It’s only once a year.” “I wish he wouldn’t talk that way. But you can’t change how people feel.”
I understand the desire to have peaceful or at least conflict-free relationships with family and friends. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King said so well, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Silence means consent. Or at least, complicity.
Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester. And people like Amy Cooper will continue to assume that white people will always have their backs, no matter what. And they won’t be wrong. And black people will continue to die.
Fifth, be “unconditionally pro-life.” These are the words of St. Pope John Paul II from his final pastoral visit to the United States. He summoned Catholics to “eradicate every form of racism” as part of their wholehearted and essential commitment to life.
This has a very serious consequence: You cannot vote for or support a president who is blatantly racist, mocks people of color, separates Latino families and consigns brown children into concentration camps, and still call yourself “pro-life.” We need to face, finally and at long last, the uncomfortable yet real overlap between the so-called “pro-life” movement and the advocates of racial intolerance.
In the name of our commitment to life, we must challenge not only these social policies, but also the attitude that cloaks support for racism under the guise of being “pro-life.” John Paul declared that racism is a life issue. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the many black and brown victims of COVID-19 prove it. It is way past time for Catholics to become “unconditionally pro-life.”
Finally, pray. Yes, racism is a political issue and a social divide. But at its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, white supremacy is a disturbing interior disease, a malformed consciousness that enables white people to not care for those who don’t look like them. As historian Paul Wachtel succinctly declares in his book Race in the Mind of America, “The real meaning of race comes down largely to this: Is this someone I should care about?“
This soul sickness can only be healed by deep prayer. Yes, we need social reforms. We need equal educational opportunities, changed police practices, equitable access to health care, an end to employment and housing discrimination. But only an invasion of divine love will shatter the small images of God that enable us to live undisturbed by the racism that benefits some and terrorizes so many.
In her essay, “The Desire for God and the Transformative Power of Contemplation ,” Baltimore Carmelite Sr. Constance FitzGerald writes, “The time will come when God’s light will invade our lives and show us everything we have avoided seeing. Then will be manifest the confinement of our carefully constructed meanings, the limitations of our life projects, the fragility of the support systems or infrastructures on which we depend … [and] the darkness in our own heart.”
God’s love is subversive and destructive. It exposes self-serving political ideologies as shortsighted and corrosive.
And yet FitzGerald and the Carmelite tradition insist that God subverts our plans and projects for the sake of new life. FitzGerald relates how, through unmasking the shallowness of our “achievements,” God leads us to “new minds, as well as new intuitions, new wills, and passionate new desires.”
Perhaps, then, the grace of this dark time in our nation is that it reveals how racially toxic our politics, society and culture have truly become, in order to spur us to build a new culture based not on the exploitation of fear but on solidarity with and for the least among us.
We need to pray for a new infusion of the Spirit and for the courage to let this Spirit transform our hearts. Come, Holy Spirit!
(Do we dare to really make that our prayer?)
Is this enough?
I can hear some of you saying, “But is this enough?” I am under no illusion that these actions, by themselves, can erase the accumulated debris of centuries of commitment to white preference and black detriment. None of us can do all that is required at this moment.
But just because we cannot do everything doesn’t mean we should not do something. We are not as helpless as we fear. Moreover, helplessness is an emotion that we cannot afford to indulge. As James Baldwin believed, despair is an option that only the comfortable can afford to entertain.
We can create a new society, one where more and more people will challenge the assumptions of white racial privilege that sustain Amy Cooper’s universe. Our universe. One built on a different set of assumptions, one where all lives truly do matter because black lives finally will matter.
I end with the final words of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church:
Social life is made by human beings. The society we live in is the outcome of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What humans break, divide, and separate, we can — with God’s help — also heal, unite, and restore.
What is now does not have to be. Therein lies the hope. And the challenge.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle within us the fire of your love. Come, Holy Spirit! Breathe into us a fiery passion for justice. Especially for those who have the breath of life crushed from them. Amen.
And before you go, do you remember the scene in Rogers and Hammerstein’s movie South Pacific when Ledie tells Emile that she cannot marry him? She says it’s not because of his island children (it is.) But she says she doesn’t know why. Then the young Navy Captain Joe sings “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear”
Click here for the entire scene. Be sure to enter fullscreen and turn up your speakers!