Many of you know this but I am the oldest of 8 children. Until I was 11 we lived in government housing (“the projects”.) When we moved from there, a 2 bedroom, 1 bath home with no garage or basement, there were 7 of us, 5 children and my parents. Crammed as we were, I loved living there but when I first heard the term “white privilege” I certainly didn't think anyone was talking about me! Slowly my thinking on that has changed.
It was sometime in the 1980's that a long time parishioner, Audrey Swann, told me something that stunned me. She said that when she and her family moved to the neighborhood, she went to Nativity to register and the priest told her where “the Negro Catholic Church” was located and that's where she should go register. I was sad and it got me thinking but I now know this was not an isolated incident.
You may wonder what my young life, white privilege and being told to go to a different church because of the color of your skin have in common. For me it is a continued awakening to the fact that, while I may not see or want to see myself as privileged, the reality is that I have had opportunities because of the color of my skin that people of color have not had. People of color are often targeted for no reason except the color of their skin. An African American friend of mine told me of a recent traffic stop as he and his son were driving home from a funeral in an affluent neighborhood. They were never accused of anything and detained for 10 minutes or more while their paperwork was electronically checked. My friend was not given a ticket or an explanation for the stop, even though he asked. Sad to say, it appears the reason for the stop was that they were two African American males in, what was considered for them, “the wrong place.” A current parishioner told me of a similar stop when she was looking for a house, also apparently in the “wrong neighborhood” for a person of color. I ask myself “how does this happen today?” Yet, sadly, I know it does every day, probably many times.
I know that just opening my eyes to injustice and racial discrimination is not enough and that I need to speak out for injustices I see or hear about. I'm ashamed to say that in my lifetime, I know I have walked away or kept silent in some situations rather than take a stand for justice. I continue to try not to be that cowardly anymore.
If you think you may have some eye opening to do or just want to read a good book or hear a good speaker, I have two suggestions. The first is a book by Bryan Stevenson called “Just Mercy” and I would highly recommend reading it. Bryan was in Harvard Law School on an internship when he became involved in a case of a man on death row who was wrongly convicted, a great book with an eye opening message of the injustices in our criminal justice system for people of color and the poor.
I also hope you will consider coming to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale speak on Thursday, October 27 at 6:30 at U of D Jesuit High School on Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. He is a Catholic priest and a well known speaker. You can get tickets this weekend from Fran Carnaghi or me or see the What's Happening section of the bulletin. Please don't let the $10 ticket price stop you because we do have some free tickets available.