A few decades ago two high school sophomore boys — one black, one white — were discussing their futures.
They’d just finished a basketball practice when the white student muttered his doubts about the future.
Whatever you do, his companion said, you’ll probably be more successful than I will. Why? The dark-skinned boy held up his arm. “Put yours next to mine,” he said. “See the difference? That’s why.”
That conversation occurred more than a half-century ago and yet, while some incremental progress in equality has been achieved, our nation remains largely divided. It’s the haves against the have-nots, the rich against the poor, and — still — some white people against people of color.
Racial equality remains a goal, not an achievement.
Consider the Jan. 6 riot and insurrection in the nation’s capitol building. And while you’re at it, give some thought to the COVID-19 pandemic that has illustrated, once again, differences in the resources available to caucasians and people of color.
First, the attempted coup.
If you took a prolonged gander at the crowd that tried to overthrow our government, you would find it to be largely white. Sure, there were some black and brown faces to be seen. But the vast and overwhelming majority of the thousands of rioters who invaded the capitol were white.
And many were representatives of hate-spewing groups — militias or pseudo-religious organizations filled with hate for people of color, hate for Jews, hate for anyone who doesn’t look like them.
If such a statement screams for proof, then — if you dare — visit some of the ultra-right-wing organizations’ Internet sites. Full-blown hatred is on display, and regardless of your politics, the policies advocated there — and on display Jan. 6 — should shake you to the core.
Their websites and social media postings offer proof that for a significant minority of our society, racial and ethnic equality is a goal best avoided.
When it comes to the pandemic, Pope Francis has noted the inequalities COVID-19 has put on display.
He fears, he said last year, that as the world emerges from the plague, “there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind.” He’s referring to the poor, the marginalized, and people who are victims of racial inequality.
As the world recovers, he said, the “risk is that we may be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference — a virus spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me.”
The time has come, the pope insisted, for us to “eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family.”
This brings us to Lent.
This year rather than “giving up” something for the season, why not consider “taking on” the goal of eliminating prejudice and inequality? In our nation, this goal has proven to be a marathon, not a sprint. Yet small steps taken one-on-one, person to person, during Lent can push us all toward progress.
Such steps might be nebulous — speaking up when you see an injustice, calling out a family member intent on using the “n” word, or simply lending a hand to someone who needs it. Small and incremental progress beats no progress at all.
Our faith calls us to see the face of God in everyone — regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of skin color. This Lenten season, let’s see if we can help society “give up” racism.
Record Editor Emeritus