Racism opponents urged to continue fighting

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Supporters of racial justice in the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered Oct. 14 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of “Dwell in My Love,” Cardinal George’s pastoral letter on racism, and to rededicate themselves to efforts that eradicate the sin of racism from the church and society.

The prayer service, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Racial Justice at Catholic Theological Union, included readings from Scripture and from the letter as well as prayers in several languages for the end of racism.

Cardinal George was presented with a framed print of the cover of the newly reissued letter.

He said racism is an “abiding sinfulness” that is apparent in economic difficulties, political problems and the prevalence of violence.

He also commended Daughter of the Heart of Mary Sister Anita Baird, director of the Office for Racial Justice, and all those who have been active in anti-racism workshops and trainings.

“Model statement”

Father Bryan Massingale, an associate professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, honored Cardinal George for writing the letter, which he said addressed racism with uncommon candor and humility and is “a model statement on the sin of racism.”

He also acknowledged the difficulty in continuing a conversation that many people find uncomfortable. “Why should we risk our necks for a conversation no one really wants?” Massingale asked in his reflection on the letter. After all, he said, many of the students he teaches at Marquette tell him that racism is a relic that will die out with their parents’ generation.

But racism and its effects are insidious, Massingale said.

“The teaching on the sin of racism is integral to our faith, and it cannot be ignored,” Massingale quoted from the letter. It ends with a challenge, and with hope that Catholics can overcome racism, Massingale said. “’We are empowered by the gifts of the Spirit to live the eucharistic unity we confess in our worship.’ The challenge, in other words, is the same as the one given so long ago by St. Augustine: ‘We were summoned to be what we are.’”

Beyond personal prejudice

The pastoral letter was released on April 4, 2001, the 33rd anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Cardinal George issued the letter in the wake of the beating of 13-year-old Lenard Clark, a black boy who rode his bike with a friend into the Armour Square neighborhood, near Bridgeport, where his three white attackers lived. That beating, which left Clark with brain damage, took place just before Cardinal George came to Chicago as its new archbishop.

In the letter, he called on Catholics to recognize that racism extends beyond personal prejudice. It has spatial and institutional manifestations, and it can also be internalized. He recognized the phenomenon of “white privilege,” which benefits white people over people of color — whether the white people that benefit harbor any prejudice or not.

“Racism and white privilege are not abstractions,” he said. “They have benefited people, people in this room.”

And they have led not only to a gap in income, but a much larger disparity in accumulate wealth between people of color and white people.

While some may want to ignore the issue, Massingale said, it’s impossible to discuss other social justice issues such as poverty and immigration without the lens of race.

While that’s a practical reason to keep talking about racism, the conversation is a theological and spiritual necessity as well, he said.

“We must remain committed to the struggle for the integrity of our faith,” he said. “We are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are committed to each other and to each other’s care. … Racial injustice is scandalous to our faith.”