Would you be shocked to know that before the civil rights era, people of color had to sit not only on the backs of buses, but in the back pew at church, too?
And when their parish ran short of hosts during Communion, black Catholics — the last in line — had to rush to another church to receive the Eucharist.
If that’s surprising, it may also come as a surprise that even in our church today, right here in the Archdiocese of Louisville, some people decline to receive the Blood of Christ after an African American has received it.
Racism is alive and well in the United States of America. It’s a good thing it’s getting more attention lately. It won’t be easy to face, but it must be.
And even those of us who believe we aren’t racist need to think again.
When you see a pretty, well-dressed young white woman jaywalking, perhaps getting in your way on your commute, do you feel angry? Or do you think, “Well, she must be in a hurry,” or perhaps you give a little wave of your fingers to let her know, “Don’t worry, I won’t hit you.”
Now replace this image with that of an African American man, perhaps shabbily dressed. Do you think of the possible good reasons he may have for jaywalking? Or do you find yourself irritated and feel like tapping your horn?
If your reaction changes based on the image, that’s prejudice — pure and simple, straightforward racism. And it’s ingrained in all of us.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has a name for this kind of prejudice — it’s called “everyday bigotry.” It’s the kind of bigotry we see when someone tells or laughs at a racist joke.
The center published a lengthy guide in 2015 called “Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry.” It included stories of “everyday bigotry from around the United States,” the introduction explains.
“People spoke about encounters in stores and restaurants, on streets and in schools. No matter the location or relationship, the stories echo each other,” the document says.
It goes on to offer nuanced suggestions about how to respond to racism in circumstances that make speaking up more difficult, such as family get- togethers, the workplace and social events. It’s worth a read and is available at www.splcenter.org.
Everyday bigotry sets the stage and makes possible the kind of demonstrations the world witnessed in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, when white supremacists rallied in the city carrying lit torches and racist symbols.
And that’s one reason it’s so important to curb everyday bigotry. Another reason is that such bigotry undermines the very foundation of the Catholic faith — our belief in the God-given human dignity of every person.
Annette Mandley-Turner, who leads the Office of Multicultural Ministry for the Archdiocese of Louisville, has some suggestions for white Catholics seeking to be allies with people of color.
She suggests that white Catholics seek out people who have experienced racism and listen to their stories. She also suggested parishes involve young people in liturgies that include racism in prayers of the faithful.
White people must also begin by acknowledging our biases through an honest examination of conscience. We must become self aware. As we go about our daily routines, we should notice the assumptions we make. This can be applied to gender, too.
We won’t be a healthy society living in peace until we eradicate the scourge of racism once and for all. And that won’t happen until we recognize that nearly all of us foment it, to one degree or another, intentionally or not.
MARNIE McALLISTER Record Editor