In May, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry was appointed chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Bishop Perry succeeds Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, who served two terms as chairman. Bishop Perry also chairs the conference’s Subcommittee on African American Affairs. Bishop Perry recently spoke with editor Joyce Duriga about the work of the committee. Chicago Catholic: Before we talk about the work of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, what are your thoughts on President Joe Biden announcing the formation of national monuments to Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, one of which will be here in Chicago? Bishop Joseph Perry: Well, the news came as something of a surprise. It’s hard to figure out how much the president knows about Chicago, but nonetheless, the story of Emmett Till has lasted over the many years, especially here in Chicago. He grew up here and his ancestral home is still here in Chicago. And it’s been made into something of a museum place for people to visit. His murder was a marker of the Civil Rights Movement in this town and elsewhere, unbeknownst to the Mobley family at that time. And certainly Emmett himself became something of a martyr in that history, being just a lad of 14 years and so viciously murdered down in Mississippi. He was of an age where he probably didn’t know much about what was going on with the race question in this country, being so young. A group of us African American Catholics were in Washington, as you know, for the five-year National Black Catholic Congress recently and we took some time out to go to the African American museum there in Washington, D.C. We ran across a couple of people who were emotionally overwhelmed at seeing Emmett’s original coffin. The president’s gesture certainly opens up painful memories of that time in 1955. I was just a second grader. As markers go and monuments go, we hope these can trigger some passion to continue what we’ve done so far as a nation of people, to heal racism and any sort of bias that pushes people away, marginalizes and so on. Chicago Catholic: That takes us to the work of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Bishop Perry: The committee was established by the bishops on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s designed to be a voice of the bishops. The bishops have put out about 10 statements on racism since 1958. Then “Open Wide Our Hearts” in 2018. It was a little bit different than any of the statements they made before. Of course, in each of them there was more uniqueness about them, but “Open Wide Our Hearts” was written in the form of a letter to the church. It was like Paul’s letters in the New Testament, encouraging them, exhortation, that sort of thing. When you look at the whole Civil Rights Movement and the legislation that came from that Civil Rights Movement you can see a definite progress in race relations in this country. But the scope of the problem is, too often, I think, then framed in terms of the moral and the courts. There’s another side, because it comes from our side, which is the notion of personal conversion, societal renewal, which occasioned the bishops’ most recent work. Somehow we have to continue the work to dispel this emotional dissonance that certain people suffer when people of color of different backgrounds encroach upon our space. This particular committee is linked with other departments of the conference of bishops because essentially the ad hoc committee is the voice of the bishops. It’s not a political committee or anything like that. Chicago Catholic: What advice would you give to parishes or just the average person in the pew on what they can do to work against racism? Bishop Perry: One way to work against racism is to somehow deal with some of the myths of racism, some of the perceptions, assumptions, attitudes that issue forth as a result of racism. When we talk about racism it’s often perceived to be an ugly word and it denotes some of the worst things that issue forth from a human being toward another — that is rejection, a despising hatred, those kinds of things. One way to overcome that portion of the human condition is to work toward greater familiarity. Our present generation and the generation before it probably as well came out of a social posture that endorsed or had gotten used to separateness, separate space. Certain people lived on this part of the city, others lived on that side. People were defined by language, ethnicity, those kinds of things. It kept people apart. We weren’t so ready to explore or be interested in or be curious about the gifts of difference. That continued certain prejudgments, myths, stereotypes against people. But the more we become familiar somehow to take the courage to learn from one another and to appreciate the gifts or difference, I think it helps us overcome stereotypes that can lead to racism and bias, bigotry — all those ugly things that are an unfortunate part of the human condition. The church can be a leader in that. I think every bishop and every pastor can try to come up with creative ways of bringing people together. Our parishes today are more than likely to be a profile of pictures of diversity, communities of diversity, that did not exist one time before. We had parishes that were ethnically and linguistically defined where now you might hear several tongues, languages, dialects all in the same parish. That is to me something to be encouraged and to really emphasize.