In my experience, invoking the meekness and humility of our founder St. Francis, through the lens of a privileged dominant group, have advertently or inadvertently undermined the struggles of people of color in reconciling conflicts with our White brothers (and sisters) in religious life.
Three decades have passed since Peggy McIntosh wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through the Work in Women’s Studies” in 1988. Salient among her insights is the conflict ignited by the dissonance she describes among White people where a White Supremacist can be nice and kind and yet embody a belief system where only White people make knowledge.
This is a dilemma for us people of color. Often I am asked, “Do you really think that White friars are evil for being ‘clumsy’ in their language or micro-aggressions?” This is a wrong question to which people of color in the Church are under no obligation to respond. This locates me in a place of deficiency because it privileges white sensitivity over my experience of marginalization, which is already micro-aggression. How can there be reconciliation in such questioning when it structurally falsifies what truly creates the language of “us-versus-them”?
This is why McIntosh asserts that a White person can be both nice and oppressive (Rothman, 2014).
Rather, a person of color must ask, “Who am I to reject my dignity and bend to such questioning as if my experience of exclusion never mattered from the very beginning?” This is where I often face resistance, defensiveness and a demand for an apology, which I cannot honestly offer. More importantly, this is where I intentionally heighten my consciousness so that I do not internalize this manner of oppression towards others and myself. When I do, I usually shame those who shame me. It is self-sabotage and wrong.
The meekness and humility of our Brother Francis cannot negate the experience and dignity of those who are marginalized. We must restore what they truly mean to Francis — nakedness before God, in which all that we are is illumined by the indiscriminate, relentless, and merciful love of God. It is but just that our contemplation according to Thomas Keating yields to an “awareness of our own biases, prejudices, and self-centered programs for happiness, especially when they trample on other people’s rights and needs”.
For further reading
Keating, T. (1999). The human condition: contemplation and transformation. New York, NY: Paulist Press
McIntosh, P. (1988). “White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through the work in women’s studies.” (Working Paper No. 189).
Rothman, J. (2014). “The origins of ‘privilege’”. The New Yorker.