Justice Perspective: Racism - America's original sin

Tue, Aug 30th 2016 12:00 pm
Catholic Charities of Buffalo
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

We had not even finished drying our tears and saying prayers for the families of the victims of the Orlando shooting in June when a horrific week of events confronted us in July. Within a period of 72 hours, we were witness to white police officers killing African-American suspects in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., followed by the shooting deaths of five white police officers by an African-American sniper in Dallas, Texas.

Incidents of racial tension continue to pile up - from Ferguson to Baltimore, to New York to Charleston; and now these most recent events are challenging even the most optimistic and hopeful folks on whether we will ever be able to flourish, or even coexist, as a diverse and pluralistic society.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners once observed, "Racism is America's original sin". And how true it is - from the beginning of our history, non-white, non-European peoples have been treated unfairly and have been the object of prejudice, bias, violence and even slavery.

The U.S. bishops have consistently taught on the sin of racism, and have spoken forcefully in a document called "Brothers and Sisters to Us," written in 1979 - 37 years ago. It is a document that every U.S. Catholic should read. (The document is available on the bishops' website)

Here, in part, is what they had to say: "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father...It mocks the words of Jesus: 'Treat others the way you would have them treat you.' Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation."

More recently, the bishops have called the sin of racism an "intrinsic evil" in their document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship". It is clear that, as Catholics, there can be no room in our hearts or in our actions for racism. Each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible for its continuation. As the bishops have said, "All of us, in some measure, are accomplices".

We must look inward in prayer to discover the roots of racism in ourselves. We might not, as an individual, be a racist, but the source of racism lies in each of our hearts, and we must begin our own conversion with examining how racism affects our own personal attitudes and judgments.

Have we allowed ourselves to be prisoners to fear and prejudice? Do we permit talk from our family or co-workers about building walls, banning Muslims or how lazy black people are without objecting? Do we post and tweet comments that are hateful, mocking or demeaning to those who are different from us?

It is our obligation as Catholics to examine our conscience and then to act, individually and as a faith community, to eradicate racism in our personal lives and in our society.

As the bishops have said: "Therefore, let the Church proclaim to all that the sin of racism defiles the image of God and degrades the sacred dignity of humankind which has been revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation. Let all know that it is a terrible sin that mocks the cross of Christ and ridicules the Incarnation. "For the brother and sister of our Brother Jesus Christ are brother and sister to us."  

Related Articles