I read recently that the city of Lincoln and Lancaster County in Nebraska made it official that racism is a health hazard. So, I really had to think about how the plague and pandemic of racism truly does affect our community and our lives. Spiritually, emotionally, socially, financially, mentally, just all around it’s a health hazard. It is so very important in this time and place to use all approaches to try and help educate people who truly do not recognize its effects.
In 2012, when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed, I happened to be in a convenience store not far away from my church. The two young men who worked there wanted to discuss the case. We were all angry, and at the end of the conversation, we shared a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. We honored Trayvon as a human being, who by fear and racism had been killed. A lot of people get it, but so many refuse to see how so many factors are hurting all of us.
Overcoming racism and the need to focus attention on the life and dignity of its victims has been a major concern for some time. I remember being in Rome in 2008 when Pope Benedict expounded on the church’s responsibility to society to overcome racism and intolerance, “noting one of humanity’s greatest challenges today is to end racism.”
Systemic racism — What is it? Today, as in any other time, racism exists in our communities and in our parishes. Racism makes us look at others with suspicion or attribute negative features to an entire group of people. This sin manifests itself in individuals and in the workings of our society itself. All the inequalities in employment, education, housing, wealth, medicine, health, as well as a voice in leadership positions are firmly rooted in our history of slavery and flawed attempts at equality.
We certainly see once again that America remains divided in so many areas of life. Truly racism is a health hazard. As a result, many social and economic problems are linked to racial discrimination. When I was studying business management at the University of Maryland, I was shocked to learn about the enormous impact of structural racism in employment, wages and minority health. Discrimination takes many forms. Yes, there has been a lot of progress in eliminating a lot of discrimination, from repealing Jim Crow laws to Brown vs. Board of Education, but we have fallen back into many of our old behaviors.
As Christians, we are constantly called to search our hearts and consciences for how we might contribute to or break down racial divisions, intolerance or discrimination. Our shared mission entrusted to us by God requires, on each of our parts, a renewed gratitude and celebration of our common humanity; a humanity that is able to be expressed. Does the language we hear in social media or in the streets truly express our common humanity? No! Our responsibility is to point to the solution which only God has revealed fully in Jesus. That is why we are called Christians. We will continue to walk with Christ as He calls us to do.
Yes, racism is a health hazard. Many have died at its hand and many are so sick and tired because of it.
Father Anthony Chandler is pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church and the director of the Vocation Office.