USA – facing up to the “original sin of racism”


Can the two major crises currently rocking the United States – the pandemic and racism –lead to a better future? Susanne Janssen, editor of Living City Magazine, reflects.

Racism is a virus that has never been eradicated in the United States. After the Civil War (1861-1865), slavery was legally abolished, but still today people of color and white people are not treated in the same way. The death of George Floyd has shone a light on this problem. The fact that those 8 atrocious minutes of George Floyd pleading for his life were captured on video means it could no longer be blamed on the victim. This video, together with the large number of people (not only Afro-Americans) who united to protest against racism, are a sign that this time something is different. Our hope is all that has happened will not end with a wave of protests but will lead to real change.

The role of the Catholic Church
After a few days’ silence, the Catholic Church positioned itself alongside the anti-racism protestors. The Cardinal of Boston, Seán O’Malley wrote that the killing of George Floyd “is painful evidence of what is and has been at stake for African Americans – the failure of society in too many ways to protect their lives and the lives of their children. The demonstrations and protests of these days have been calls for justice and heart wrenching expressions of deep emotional pain from which we cannot turn away”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has described racism as the “original sin” of their country, persisting through the nation’s history, festering to this day. Reflection on the issue is now gaining ground in the Church and society.

The first steps
The slogan “defund the police” calls for something more than a simple restructuring of police departments. It demands a completely new start, to create a police force which is more accountable to its citizens. In recent years much has been said about the increasing militarization of the police; but to tell the truth, much of what they do, should actually be the role of social workers.

What differentiates today from the violence suffered by Afro-Americans in the past, is the way many people are striving to learn from, listen and face up to the past, focusing on those structural issues which have lingered since the time of the abolition of slavery and segregation, such as the so-called “Jim Crow laws” and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Yes, because the first step has to be facing up to those prejudices within everyone, and the social privileges generally afforded to white people. Authors Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo declare that “being a good person” is not enough in this regard. The step required is to oppose the very structures of oppression, as even now, in a routine police check, the color of your skin can make the difference between life and death.

The contribution of the Focolare Movement
Firstly, Focolare communities are looking hard at themselves for traces of discrimination and racism. The Focolare’s thinking on racial justice is an essential starting point before entering in sincere dialogue with one another and with people around us.

We create space to listen to the painful testimonies of racism endured, and also to the experience of those raised in predominantly white environments who are striving to engage in a process of recognizing their own limits. These are not easy conversations, but they are necessary in order to build relationships that are more real.

“If we’re not careful, we risk reinforcing the principles of popular rhetoric on diversity which too often support the privileged and accentuate the differences,” affirms an academic of color.  Another Focolare member now more than 80 years old, he too an academic, admits that throughout his life he has had to learn to become more open, particularly when one of his daughters married a Jamaican. “I was worried their children would suffer discrimination. But now I see they are a shining example for many”.

The role of youth
Young people are in the front line demanding a change of mentality. One young girl of mixed race said, “I want to help my brothers and sisters to be listened to more, otherwise I will regret it for the rest of my life…”

The very “Black Lives Matter” slogan which united many people, drawing them out onto the streets in huge numbers, has itself been targeted to provoke polarization. It’s not rare to come across messages which strive to discredit those campaigning for more justice. However, there are also signs of a gradual change in public opinion. In fact, many have condemned President Donald Trump’s handling of the recent crises: the pandemic and structural racism. At time of writing, the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, has a 13% lead in the polls, but it’s far too early to predict the situation come November when Americans go out to vote.

Susanne Janssen, Editor, Living City magazine

2 Comments

    • I completely agree. Everyone talks about giving space to listen and have conversations. This is all the rage. TALKING WILL NOT SOLVE ANYTHING. We have heard the stories, seen the stories, experienced the stories. WE NEED ACTION. TALK IS CHEAP. And I have not seen one idea put into place that will stop this bigotry except do away with the police. Who will keep order? The social workers? Really? That is not a social workers job. They can’t even solve the problems of the people they are serving now, much less solve a whole counties problems.
      Racism will never be abolished in any country until Planned Parenthood is abolished. It exists only to wipe the the black people from the face of the earth. Why does no one acknowledge this? Their existence is an sign to the black person that they are not wanted. There is more to the racism issue than people are willing to admit. The “communities” that Black Lives Matter have set up are existing in total chaos, with the people there killing each other, BLACKS KILLING OTHER BLACKS, and threatening anyone who attempts to offer services or help or interventions, be they black or white. Right now, all these protests are only about POWER, they are not about enabling people to rid themselves of racism.
      There are a multitude of issues that need to be addressed in our society that would help the black person. The first is lack of fathers. Our society is overcome with the notion that fathers are not needed to raise children, thus it is ok to give birth and raise a child without a father, much less being married to the father.
      This lack of a male role model has the child, boy or girl, going out to find one, resulting in them joining gangs. The family is the smallest circle from which society builds itself up on and if the smallest circle breaks, so does the whole. And our society is falling apart.
      Education is another issue. We push our teachers to advance our children in school regardless of whether they have learned the materials necessary to go to the next grade. Teachers promote children who do not deserve to be promoted simply because they do not want to deal with them the following year. We have advanced the theory that the schools should be raising our children instead of the family raising the child. Bad teachers are left teaching because the school does not want to deal with the hassles involved in firing unfit teachers. This does not help the child. All it does is leave the child feeling inadequate and stupid because he/she cannot fulfill the requirements of the next grade. They lower their expectations of themselves, which in turn, lowers the expectations others have of them. Then they attempt to apply for a job and find they do not meet the qualifications or cannot uphold the standards expected from their employer to complete the job successfully.
      Drugs are another issue. Whoever thought legalizing marijuana was a good idea? All it has done and will continue to do is dumb down our children and cause them to pursue a greater high, which means more and more dangerous drugs. And facts state that drug usage is higher in the black community than any other.
      Which leads us to another issue. WHY is crime so high in the black neighborhoods? White people are not going down and causing harm to person and property in the black community. BLACK people are committing crimes against each other. This crime rate is statistically higher than any other ethnic neighborhood. Why is this so?
      Finally, jobs. This relates back to education. The Federal government demands that their be equal hiring between races. However, if a black person is hired in a job and is unable to meet the company’s expectations, they are not fired because of the fear of the charge of “prejudice” being used against them. How do you think the co-workers of this person feel when they have to continuously cover up for this person? I acknowledge this is is not a situation which blacks are unique to, since this can happen with females also. Is this not fertile ground for resentment and prejudice to grow? This could have been solved by a child receiving a good education, which again is a vicious circle.
      Someone needs DO something. STOP talking and start taking action of the above issues. Otherwise, we will be back in this situation in 10 years, if not sooner.

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