The Denver Province recently held a Province-wide webinar on Racism: America’s Original Sin.
Dozens of confreres participated in the Secretariat of Apostolic Life’s Webinar on Racism, a thought-provoking presentation by Kathy McGinnis, executive director of the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis. The presentation sparked discussions about racism in communities throughout the Denver Province, and made it clear that racism must be addressed before we can begin to heal our wounded world.
Kathy introduced herself by sharing a few powerful personal experiences. She grew up in all-white, Catholic St. Louis. She married and moved to Memphis with her husband, Jim. She was teaching middle school and Jim was serving in the National Guard in 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated. When Jim wrote a letter to-the-editor praising King, the result was his prompt dismissal, death threats, and a real awakening to the depth and cost of racism in the USA.
Racism became an everyday issue when they adopted their youngest – a biracial child of black and Native American descent. The couple joined the St. Alphonsus “Rock” Parish in the 1990s. They were impressed with the extraordinary preaching and overwhelmed by how they were embraced by the parish community.
“This is a time of extraordinary peril and opportunity,” Kathy explained. “As white people, we have to admit that racism is a sin. We must pray and act out our command to love in a new way. We need to ‘Get into Good Trouble’ and focus on justice for all people.”
She said that the Church was complicit in the Original Sin of America – Racism. Those beliefs destroyed the Native Americans, instituted slavery, bred prejudice and sustained a system of oppression that denies the truth of the dignity of every human being.
Kathy also addressed white privilege – unearned advantages because of skin color. “Discussions about racism often lead to discomfort, anger and alienation. White fragility when confronted about racism is a defensive reaction that serves to maintain power. We have to live with those uncomfortable feelings and pray for God to move us beyond them. Silence is a legacy we can no longer afford,” she said.
She noted issues that must be addressed, like the wage gap. Blacks earn only 62% of what whites earn. Black household wealth remains stagnant, while white household wealth has increased by five times. School districts spend $226 more on each white student. And today, incarceration is the modern form of slavery. Other races are much more likely to be imprisoned than whites: blacks are six times more likely; Latinos are three times as likely; and Native Americans are two times as likely to be incarcerated.
Kathy believes that the Church can address racism by teaching about it in Catholic schools, parishes, and seminaries. Parishes can make statements about racism and host events that honor different ethnic groups, as well as their community elders. People must be educated about Black Catholic history and saints like St. Peter Claver and Sr. Thea Bowman, FSPA. She believes that the Church also should be connected to community activists.
Kathy recommended reading The Water Dancer and watching movies like Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman and Just Mercy. And the power of prayer, she said, is enormous.
The Apostolic Life Secretariat plans to host more online discussions about racism. Meanwhile, confreres are encouraged to take the time to connect with their brothers and engage in meaningful discussions about racism.
(Submitted by Kristine Stremel)
The Apostolic Life Secretariat would like to thank the OPC, EPC, and all the confreres for their support and presence at the webinar on racism. Members of the Secretariat were moved to see some the communities gather to participate in the webinar. The Secretariat hopes that this communal effort continues in the discussions that may have come out of the webinar. The Secretariat also hopes that the webinar is a springboard to introspection, deeper self-reflections on how racism has affected us as individuals, and where within our hearts we may need the Spirit of conversion to move us to love others more as God has loved us.
The Apostolic Life Secretariat will be sending out in the near future a bibliography of reading material that may be fruitful for a greater understanding of racism as well as the date for the Zoom discussion on racism, which will also feature the webinar’s presenter, Kathy McGinnis.
Fr. Quy Duong, C.Ss.R.