Racism is defined as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races; prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior; poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.
Racism results in an unequal distribution of power on the basis of race.
1 John 2:11 states, “Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
On Nov. 14, 1979, our African American Catholic bishops addressed racism in a pastoral letter entitled, “Brothers and Sisters to Us”. In this letter, the bishops wrote that racism is a sin — a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of God’s family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be the children of the same Father.
My story is born out of the deep south, and is no different than that of many African Americans in this country. Racism has been and continues to be a part of my daily lived experience.
My mom is from Birmingham, Ala., and shared some of her experiences of racism with my sisters and me as we grew up.
She had to come here — to Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Nursing School — because there were no nursing schools in Alabama that accepted African American applicants. Her sister joined the religious order of the cloistered Dominicans because they were accepting African Americans when others were not, including the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who educated my aunt, uncle and mom at Holy Family School.
Racism can be subtle or overt. It can present itself in a statement, joke or action.
One of my earliest memories of being treated differently because of my race was 41 years ago in 1975 during the start of the forced-busing era here in Jefferson County. The program was designed to desegregate our local public schools.
I was going to an elementary school and my older sister attended a junior high, both located out Dixie Highway in the heart of Valley Station in southwest Jefferson County.
As an 11-year-old, I remember the immense fear that I experienced while riding the bus to my new school, far from my neighborhood and out of my comfort zone. During our ride, as we crossed the threshold of Valley Station and approached our different schools, we experienced mobs of mean, angry, caucasian adults.
They held up hateful signs, screamed and shouted racial epithets at us (including the “N” word) while throwing rocks at our buses as we passed. There were also instances when they rocked the buses.
I certainly was not interested in being driven to a school on an almost 60-minute bus ride into the lion’s den. One thing that I knew was that these types of displays of anger and hatred were not occurring in my neighborhood, as buses filled with children from other parts of Jefferson County arrived there.
Several years ago I was shopping with a friend in a boutique of fine women’s apparel when I noticed one of the sales clerks (a young, caucasian female) seemed to move in every area of the store that I moved.
She never uttered a word to me, including a welcome or an offer to assist me with anything. She just continued to stalk me as I shopped. It was obvious that she didn’t care whether or not I noticed her; we made eye contact several times.
I certainly didn’t give her any reason to think that I would illegally remove anything from the store. I was certainly dressed appropriately, the same as the caucasian patrons. The only difference was the color of my skin.
Whether she was trained by the establishment and management to pay closer attention to African American patrons or the notion of racial profiling was a natural part of her personality, it was still unacceptable. The act of racial profiling was clearly a part of the store’s culture.
Those who have never experienced racial profiling might think that the victims are being hypersensitive, but until you have been treated unfairly simply because of your race you will never quite understand the frustration and anguish that accompanies the experience.
Racism is a cancer that permeates every aspect of our lives. Racial divisions continue to be a significant issue in this country. The past election has further polarized our communities with its negativity, hate mongering, immense discord and divisiveness.
The Bible has often been used to justify mistreatment of people, with Scripture twisted and misused to defend deplorable behavior and racist acts.
The value of a person comes from our Creator, not from man. God tells us to treat others with respect and dignity. The Bible tells us to love our neighbors. So how did we mess this up?
In this tumultuous climate in our country, we must ask ourselves if we have in any way perpetuated racism by either ignoring it, encouraging it or not standing up to combat it? If we choose to remain silent or turn our heads, refusing to acknowledge racism, we are contributing to it.
We have to face some hard truths about race relations today. Many think that racism no longer exists in this country because we are no longer seeing some of the same images that we saw before and during the era of the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1968. The conversation about racism and race relations must be had, no matter how uncomfortable.
The Black Lives Matter Movement and anything pro black doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter and their struggles aren’t relevant, it simply means that black lives matter also; that all lives matter equally.
The movement is a rallying cry for social change. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice to one is injustice to all.
So, how does one NOT get so filled with anger and hatred when you’ve experienced injustice? MERCY!
Mercy is defined as a kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.
As I reflect on God’s awesome mercy, I am mindful of how I must be merciful, even when encountering injustice, with the hope that I am a true reflection of God. I must show forgiveness to those who have treated me unfairly and unkindly because of the color of my skin. Mercy is true love that seeks to forgive and should be given without the expectation of anything in return.
We must all work to build a better cultural awareness among our brothers and sisters, supporting the life and dignity of the human person, and the gift of every person’s life. The role of destroying racism is not the sole responsibility of a few, but of all, the perpetrators and the victims.
Charmein Weathers is a member of Christ the King Church and serves in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry as the multicultural special projects and communications coordinator.