June 9, 2020
I am a 60-year-old white man with my fair share of personal baggage. Over the last 15 years, thanks to my formation as a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, I have evolved. My perception of the world and how God intends for me to interact with it has evolved as well: I am much more reflective and introspective than I used to be. I have a much better idea of who I am and who I am called to be. I am more in-tune with my gifts and am humbled by new insights into my personal weaknesses. I am more inclined to see the world as it really is, although I am not as cynical as I used to be. I am more compassionate and empathetic. I am more accepting of the viewpoints of others. I have a genuine desire to be a good and loving person, and to help others in their efforts to do the same.
I share all of this as a backdrop to my processing of recent events in our country. Since George Floyd was killed on May 25th, I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my own attitude toward race, considering what I have done or not done to contribute to the systemic racism that exists in America.
I have watched and read many powerful and heartfelt reactions to George Floyd’s death and have come to understand that it is not about this one event; his death has opened a deep wound and has highlighted the injustice that continues to exist in our country. The powerful and heartfelt reactions I referred to helped me to gain a better understanding of the real issues.
First, from the USCCB: “Racism is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy — a transformation of the human heart — that impels us to act.” This ties in well with what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us – Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person. (1706)
It begs the question, how can I be a faithful, moral Christian and not believe in my heart that black lives matter? Racism and Christianity are incompatible. We can’t say we are a Christian and act in a racist manner.
Second, from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles: “We should all understand that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin.
We should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain. We need to finally root out the racial injustice that still infects too many areas of American society.”
Finally, from a professional athlete (I wrote it down when I heard it, but failed to write down who said it – my apologies): “Until you are black in America, you won’t truly understand what it is to be black in America…and that’s fine. But don’t act like this doesn’t exist or isn’t real.”
These and other thought-provoking responses to the current situation, combined with my personal prayer and reflection, have brought me to the following understandings and self-realizations (listed in no particular order):
- I haven’t used racial slurs, but I haven’t spoken up when I’ve heard racial slurs either.
- Racism is a pro-life issue.
- I believe in my heart that every life is precious and meaningful; I believe all lives matter. However, to say, “All lives matter” as a way to counteract “Black Lives Matter” is naïve and dismissive since it does not address the emotional concerns being expressed by the black community.
- I understand that by not being a part of the solution, I have contributed to the problem.
- I have never been wealthy and have worked two jobs for most of my adult life to make ends meet. However, I understand that I have been a beneficiary of white privilege.
- I won’t say, “I don’t see color” because that’s not true. However, I won’t allow the color I see to influence how I treat you.
- I haven’t held black Americans down with my knee, but I haven’t extended a hand to help you up either.
To all of the black students I’ve taught, black athletes I’ve coached, black co-workers, and black friends with whom I’ve socialized: I hope that I have never said anything to you or treated you in a way that made you feel marginalized in any way. If I have, I am sorry.
To black Americans everywhere: I am sorry for what you have endured. I am sorry that you have to march for and demand the things I take for granted. I offer you the same assurance we offer our students at school: You are loved. You have value. You are not alone.
Personally, I commit to doing better. It has taken me 60 years to get to where I am right now, so please be patient with me during my ongoing transformation. I promise to keep working on it and pray to improve with each new day.
May God bless us all in our efforts to re-build and beautify His kingdom on earth.