We moved a lot when I was a child. I was born in Boston, but we quickly moved to Marblehead, Mass. When I was three, we moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., and when I was six we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. Looking back on my life, I was incredibly fortunate to have been in an environment of a mixture of diverse peoples that is Hawaii at such a formative age.
I do remember moving to Virginia when I was nine-years-old and being confused by the antipathy shown to African-Americans there.
The Northern Virginia to which we moved in 1963 had raw, blatant, state-sponsored discrimination. It was still against the law for whites and blacks to marry one another! (The supreme court case which forever ended anti-miscegenation laws, Loving v. Virginia, wasn’t handed down until 1967.)
Childhood can be a confusing time. Those who attended grade school in the states will recall the confusing taunt of “You’ve got cooties.” We didn’t have any idea about what cooties were, but we knew that we didn’t want them.
In my grade school, I remember a similar taunt, “You’re a n*igger lover.” I can remember being as confused with this taunt as I was with the cooties one. As an adult, I now know that racism has to be learned. This taunt was simply how racism was being taught to and reinforced among the young, the next would-be generation of racists.
Racism is a sin, as the US bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Brothers and Sisters to Us, in 1979:
Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.
Unfortunately, almost 40 years later, we haven’t moved very far. The march in Charlottesville, the flood of YouTube videos showing the oppression in which people of color suffer daily, the remarks by the president about “sh*thole countries,” the exclusion of people from Muslim countries (recalling the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act), the suffering inflicted upon those fleeing violence and seeking asylum are all reminders that America’s original sin, racism, is still alive and growing stronger.
I urge you to reflect on how the bishops ended of their pastoral letter:
There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first, when blessed are they who serve Christ the Lord in all His brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice.
And, finally, just because we need to laugh, a Friday piece of humor:
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