How might practical Catholics respond to the current state of race relations in America? Often the topic only comes up when accompanied by controversy and incident-driven tension. Navigating such a delicate conversation, if you even dare such a thing, is risky business that can backfire with hurt feelings, hurt egos, misunderstandings and damaged friendships. Trying to “win” the argument is as fruitless as grasping water.
Still, we cannot and should not intentionally avoid the topic altogether. It is important that we understand what is happening and form the basis of a response. Here are a few steps, respectfully submitted.
1. Follow Church teaching on the dignity of every human being, regardless of race and many other factors. Christians are called to be role models of human solidarity. Understand that the moral plight of black Americans is a bellwether for all of us, since the same agents of secular materialism that grind down the black family are truly color blind. After all, the statistics for family life and economics for Hispanic and Indian Native Americans are often as bad or worse, than for blacks; and the white out of wedlock birth rate has risen in the same proportion (3x) as the black rate since 1965, albeit having started at an lower absolute number. In all we do, Catholics should be as color blind as our Enemy.
“Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it.” Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1930
“…with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.” Gaudium et Spes 29
2. Admit there was, and still is, racism in our society and by members of the Church; condemn it. In America, we have a unique, sordid history beginning with a brutal form of human slavery that cannot be denied. Study a bit about our history and the repeated failure to assimilate blacks into the full experience of the American ideal, including the hope of the civil rights acts of the 1960’s that, in my opinion, has been defaced into a destructive political trap for blacks. This history doesn’t excuse deplorable individual actions in the present timeframe, but knowing it provides empathy that can lead to charitable understanding.
“Indeed, your activities foster the hope in us that you will be a great force, gathering strength with the years, to break down customs and practices, born of selfish individualism and arrogant false assumptions, which have placed on our colored brothers the ugly burden of crushing social injustices.” Letter to Dr. Thomas W. Turner, President, The Federated Colored Catholics of the United States, from the Administrative Board, National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1939
“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church. Despite apparent advances and even significant changes in the last two decades, the reality of racism remains. In large part it is only external appearances which have changed.” Brothers and Sisters To Us (U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on Racism), 1979
3. Use facts and reason when discussing race and racism. You can love someone, but still disagree with them. See the references in Part 2 or find additional source material. Of course, in the charged arena of race in America, be prepared to have facts hit the wall of stubbornness and fall like undercooked spaghetti. In our everyday conversation, emotion often trumps logic. Nevertheless, better to have facts than fanaticism, and better to be reasonable than radical.
4. Reject all forms of agitation; hustlers and news agencies alike have something to gain from street violence and outrage. Despite the necessary empathy and charity called for in the points above, we need not tolerate looting and destruction by mobs. Don’t support or participate in the cable news prompted scream-fests.
“But there are not a few who are imbued with evil principles and eager for revolutionary change, whose main purpose is to stir up disorder and incite their fellows to acts of violence. The authority of the law should intervene to put restraint upon such firebrands, to save the working classes from being led astray by their maneuvers, and to protect lawful owners from spoliation.” Rerum Novarum 38
5. Work to restore private charity in place of the impersonal and oppressive materialism of the nanny state. Follow the Junto’s example of philanthropy. Encourage your fellow Catholics to support those institutions which build the family and uphold orthodox moral positions, and renounce those that are self-aggrandizing and destructive to the same. Practice and encourage subsidiarity, including in our minority communities. The wisdom of the American hierarchy calls to us from the days of old.
“The press, the home, the school, and the Church have no greater enemy at the present time than the paternalistic and bureaucratic government which certain self-seeking elements are attempting to foist upon us.” Paternalism in Government (Statement of the Administrative Committee N.C.W.C.), 1922
Of course, above all pray for authentic brotherhood that fosters at once charity, fraternal correction when necessary, and manly responsibility to the family.