Conversation on race relations is both tough and necessary

By James E. Andrews

Despite the fact that we are now in 2015, I believe that there is still much more work to be done to reach a position where we look and react to each other as members of the same human race. Over the last few months there has been an overwhelming amount of racial tension as a direct result of what happened in the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri; the choking death of Eric Garner in New York; and the most recent assassination-style killing of Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. It seems that every day the heartbreaking stories continue. I believe that all people deserve equal treatment under the law; however racial disparity remains. As we view the news we see the situation is getting increasingly more violent.

The racial justice issues being debated over these recent killings have certainly had a negative impact on race relations. We like to believe that this country has grown away from racism but the reality is that only the outward appearance has changed. Although most of us are uncomfortable talking about race issues, it is a necessary discussion. As President Obama stated in a recent news conference, we can’t cure it if we don’t talk about it. Often times uncomfortable topics are avoided, but a solution can not be reached until we acknowledge it exists. No racial or ethnic group in America has been spared from prejudice, discrimination or antagonism.

As Catholics, what should we do? If it doesn’t affect you directly, should you simply look away? Do we remain quiet and inactive? As Martin Luther King, Jr.’s said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it.”

Many have no idea why people protest, but even more, don’t understand why people protest in the recent situations. People look at the same situation and come up with different interpretations of what happened. How we see things is based on our past experiences. We like to believe that all police represent law and order, but for some of us the police have not always been our friends. It is difficult for some to understand why people pick up a sign and march for hours in all types of weather. The answer is people are frustrated, and they must express their displeasure in some way. When large groups of people want to be heard, they come together to publicly make their opinions known and to bring about change. Public protest increases the visibility of the cause. People begin to take notice; the media get involved and get people to take a closer look at the situation. Peaceful protests demonstrate power. There are many examples of positive change brought about through protest.

Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered during an August 1963 rally to promote racial equality in the United States. More than 200,000 demonstrators gathered peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., and the event is credited with pressuring President John F. Kennedy to draw up firm civil rights legislation. In more recent history, in 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437, a bill that essentially called for the deportation of 12 million undocumented immigrants and the imprisonment of anyone who might help them. A massive group of activists, predominantly, but not exclusively Latino, planned a series of rallies in response. More than 500,000 people marched in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, and millions more throughout the country. The death of H.R. 4437 in committee was pretty much a given at that point. When large numbers of people take to the streets in protest, politicians and other key decision-makers notice the cause.

The U.S. Catholic bishops wrote a pastoral letter on racism called “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” It explains the sin of racism and the church’s position. I recommend this reading for all. As we strive to be a united church, our hearts and prayers should go out to all those suffering because of racism. All lives matter!

Open conversation on race relation issues may be tough but necessary and important. Just as important is the willingness to work through our differences in a respectful manner. We need to acknowledge how our different experiences shape our different viewpoints and then work hard to promote healing and growth. We become a stronger church when we work together for the good of all. As we begin to talk, we must remember what God has said to us in Scripture: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’”(Mt 25:40).

The Diocese of Camden has a Racial Justice Commission (RJC). The mission of the RJC, which reflects the racial and cultural diversity of the diocese, is to serve as a catalyst for identifying and eradicating the personal and structural sin of racism from our diocese and society. The commission also exists to foster appreciation for the ethnic and cultural differences within our church, encouraging our church to focus on God’s love for each of us and God’s call for each of us to love one another. We are here to offer help!

James E. Andrews is Director of Black Catholic Ministries and Coordinator for the Racial Justice Commission, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: As I See It, Columns

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