by Jim and Susan Vogt
We were walking down the street when some children approached us to ask
a question. Pretty normal, huh? This is not unusual unless you know the context: We were
visiting Mali in West Africa and were the only white people in the village.
People in ethnic and racial minorities frequently have this experience
when they venture out of our largely segregated neighborhoods. So what does being in
a majority or minority have to do with one's faith? Generally it has to do with being
privileged or oppressed. Jesus was always on the side of the underdog or, to be more
scriptural, the undersheep: “If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them
has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search
of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). Or, as Mary says in her Magnificat, “[God]
has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; he has
filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).
Discrimination is immoral because it is grounded in inequities. “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” (Brothers and Sisters to Us).
Although being part of an oppressed minority is often based on race or
ethnicity, it also applies to other realities such as class, education or disability.
The common denominator is that the majority has privilege and power while the minority
is disadvantaged from the start. This usually means inferior schools, rougher neighborhoods,
health problems and families caught in the cycle of poverty. “[A]ny kind of social
or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color,
social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible
with God's design” (The Church in the Modern World, #29).
Those in the dominant culture may agree that these social problems are
unfortunate and may even volunteer to help in their spare time, but it probably doesn't
impact their everyday lives. Most of us live in neighborhoods where people look and act
like us. That's why we moved there. Our friendship circles feel comfortable. Is there
anything wrong with that? Not really, but it can be a narrow experience of life. Living
with only like-minded people can stunt our vision of the world and keep us from investing
in the lives of those who don't look like us.
Most Catholics are not overtly racist. But, just as there are degrees of
skin color, there are degrees of accepting those of a different race or socioeconomic
background. If you are part of the majority culture, it's often hard to recognize
subtle prejudice like locking your car doors when driving through “bad” neighborhoods
or preferring merchants of your own race.
Christianity calls us to more than just not being racist or prejudiced;
we must take positive steps to create an environment in which all people are valued and
respected. You don't have to sell your home and move to a low-income neighborhood
to prove you're broad-minded. There are other proactive ways to build bridges to minority
■ What's on your walls, stovetop or in your CD player? Bring
other cultures into your home by displaying art that depicts other races and cultures.
Experiment with listening to music from different ethnicities so that your family develops
an ear for different languages and rhythms. Serve greens, empa—adas or fry bread.
■ When have you had a person of a different culture to dinner? If
you don't know anyone well enough to invite to dinner, then that's the first
step. Make it a goal to get to know at least one person from a different cultural group.
We were impressed to learn that one local Promise Keepers group has a policy to hold
only integrated meetings. If the group convenes and is all of one color, the members
quickly recruit others or disband until another date.
■ Have all your friends gone to college? People tend to connect
with others who have similar educational backgrounds. This is natural since it's
more likely we'll have similar interests. Sometimes, however, we need to broaden
ourselves by seeking the wisdom of those who work with their hands, care for young children
and fix our cars. As valuable as education can be as a tool for equality, don't let
education prejudice blind you to the quality of another person. Try engaging your mechanic
in more than just car talk or speak for a moment with the maid who cleans your hotel
■ Have you ever been in the minority—racial, ethnic, educational,
income, gender, etc.? Why is it good to spend time with people who are different
from us? Can't we be just as moral sitting in our comfortable cocoons of commonality?
After all, we're not hurting anybody. But how do we know? Sometimes it's valuable
to put oneself in the shoes of a person in the minority to see how it feels to be on
the outside, the powerless side, the underdog side. You can't change the color
of your skin or your cultural heritage, but you can get a glimpse of what life looks
like from another perspective. Would you stick with a black-and-white TV once
you discovered color? It makes the world so much more interesting and true to life.
Don't be colorblind, but, rather, look at all the colors in God's
dazzling rainbow. It can make us more understanding and help us see our fellow men and
women as God sees us—children made in the image of God. As Fr. Brian Massingale says, “The
Kingdom of God includes people of all backgrounds and colors, and most of them are not
white. Most will be black or brown.”
Permission to Publish received for this article, “Discrimination—Not
Just a Black-and-White Issue,” by Jim and Susan Vogt, from Rev. Joseph
R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 4-21-2008.
What is your experience of being in the majority? the minority?
How do prejudicial attitudes you were exposed to in your youth still
affect your response to those who are different from you? How well have you worked
to overcome these attitudes?
Accept this challenge: Speak up with a message of Christian charity
the next time you are in the company of someone who makes a prejudicial or racist
To Kill a Mockingbird
There's a moment when attorney Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) stands
in an empty courtroom after failing to win the acquittal of a falsely accused black defendant.
A courtroom empty, that is, except for the black observers, who have been relegated to
the balcony, and Finch's young daughter, Scout (Mary Badham), who has joined them
there. As Atticus leaves, those in the balcony stand out of respect, and one man admonishes
Scout, “Stand up. Your father's passing.”
The respect these people accord Atticus Finch is a reflection of the respect
he has shown them by accepting the task of defending the accused.
This story is Scout's memories of the life lessons her father taught
her—by his words and by the way he treated others. This is manifest from the first scene,
when Atticus protects the dignity of a poor white man, through the core action of the
film when he stands up to the evils of deadly racism, to the final scene in which he
shelters the dignity of a mocked recluse. Finch consistently respects the inherent humanity
of everyone he deals with. “You never know someone,” Atticus tells Scout, “until
you step inside their skin and walk around a little.”
This 1962 film of Harper Lee's award-winning novel portrays racism
and prejudice as we knew them in the Deep South a generation or more ago. While today's
racism and its expressions look different, discrimination and prejudice persist. The
antidote, it says, is both universal and timeless: respect for the dignity of others
as human beings and children of God.
Next time you watch To Kill a Mockingbird, ASK YOURSELF:
■ As in Scout's experience, what actions of Atticus Finch
teach me lessons I will remember for life?
■ List scenes in which Atticus makes a deliberate effort to
respect the dignity of others, including the “bad guys.”
■ What social interactions in my own life can profit from respecting
the inherent dignity of others?
by Joan McKamey
Some might think it odd to find a white man involved in fighting racism.
Others may see it as prophetic. For Michael Rabbitt, a member of the predominantly white
community of St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Chicago, his involvement in this effort
on the parish, community and diocesan levels is a natural and vital expression of his
In a recent interview with Every Day Catholic, Michael explained, “Being
passionate about this subject is taking the ‘road less traveled,’ particularly
for me as a white person. Too many people are resistant to acknowledging racism—sometimes
even afraid of using the word—and refuse to believe that discrimination is still a problem
in America. Racism is too often defined as individual acts of prejudice instead of something
that is really much more complex and systemic. Many whites don’t consider the critical
issues of white privilege and institutional racism. We must continue working hard to
make sure that racism is eliminated.”
What drew Michael—husband, father of two and insurance company IT director—to
promoting racial justice and ethnic sensitivity? His parents and teachers taught him “the
importance of human dignity and treating everyone with respect.” He also cites
growing up in a racially diverse neighborhood and attending a racially mixed Catholic
elementary school as contributors to his convictions. Michael views his involvement in
this cause as a legacy to his children. He hopes that they will grow up with open hearts
and the desire to make a difference for good.
Michael refers to the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on racism that
says, “Racism is a sin” (Brothers and Sisters to Us). He says, “Our
response as Catholics must be to love each other unconditionally as Jesus taught us, whatever
our racial, ethnic, social, religious or economic differences may be. It’s
also important to understand that the work for change has to occur in our institutions,
and our churches are a good place to start. The goal should be to transform our churches,
communities and society into anti-racist, multicultural institutions.”
Cardinal George of Chicago issued his own pastoral letter on racism, Dwell
in My Love, in 2001. He wrote: “Ethnic, cultural and racial diversities are
gifts from God to the human race—.Others may be different from us in every aspect except
one: each man, woman, or child we encounter is a child of God, a brother or sister
in the Lord, whom we should welcome as our neighbor.”
Cardinal George’s initiative for addressing racial and systemic injustice
within the Archdiocese of Chicago gave Michael an outlet for his concerns about racial
injustice. His involvement includes Workshop on Racism and Ethnic Sensitivity, Catholics
United for Racial Justice and chairing his parish’s Racial & Social Justice Ministry.
He says, “It’s a constant learning process. I spend a lot of time reading
on this subject, but just as importantly, I try to spend time with people of color, listening
to the powerful and moving stories that they have to share.”
by Jeanne Hunt
When I served a suburban parish, the school principal asked for help. A
lone, African-American first-grader was being shunned by her classmates. Elise
was deeply hurt by this. These children had rejected her because she was different.
The intervention meeting was remarkable, for it was Elise who shared God's
wisdom: “My daddy took me to buy a puppy. Each puppy looked different: brown, black,
spotted and plain. But they were all still puppies! We're like that too. I'm
a brown girl and you're sort of peach-colored, but inside we're the same.” It
was a teaching moment for us all, but especially for those girls who remain close friends
We each assume the attitudes we witness at home. For better or worse, we
inherit our parents' values. Psychologists tell us that the behavior pattern is in
place by the age of two. Therefore, we must live family lives grounded in accepting and
valuing diversity from the start.
The choices parents make to either embrace those who are different or reject
them imprint on their children for life. It's a conscious decision to integrate diversity
of race, religion and financial status into our children's experiences. A parent's
role is to guide young souls to see every difference in light of the gospel, which tells
us to integrate and never segregate because of the great commandment of love.
The challenge to expose our children to diversity while also protecting
them and supporting good moral development is difficult today. The media and our culture
often stand in direct conflict with the teaching of our Church. Parents must be alert: “Put
on the whole armor of God....” (Ephesians 6:11). We cannot let down our guard.
It's essential that we know who our children spend time with and what messages they're
hearing. Besides protecting our children from a discriminatory attitude, it's valuable
to be proactive. This means seeking out those who are different and inviting them into
our family circle. We must deliberately choose to live, work, educate and worship in
communities that respect diversity. It's a pearl of great price that parents can
give their children.
Elise and her girlfriends began a graced journey that day in first grade.
Our little prophet wanted everyone to hear what she already knew without being told:
Hearts and souls cannot be distinguished by race, culture, wealth or any other characteristic.
We are invited to see everyone with God's eyes.
by Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place a sign that reads, “Create in me a clean heart,
O God,” a pen, an open Bible and a lighted candle on a central prayer table.
Suggestions: “City of God” by Dan Schutte, “They’ll
Know We Are Christians by Our Love” by Peter Scholtes or “One Bread, One
Body” by John Foley, S.J.
“Jesus, free us from the sins of prejudice, discrimination and racism
that have infected our hearts and our world. Grace us with your vision so that we may
always see clearly the ways that others are denied privileges and basic human rights.
Give us the courage to use our power to influence our families, schools, parishes and
communities to respect all those who are different from us. Amen.”
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit
within me—.” (Psalm 51:10-12).
Response: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
“Think of a person you prefer to avoid—”
“Think of a situation of war or interpersonal conflict—”
“Think of situations of poverty or injustice—”
“Think of ways you are selfish or unwilling to bend—”
“What step can you take to remove prejudice, discrimination and racism
from your own heart?”
Listen to a recording of “If Everyone Cared” by Nickelback.
“Please come to the prayer table to put your name on the sign as
a pledge to take steps toward growing ‘a clean heart—a new and right spirit.’”
“Come, Holy Spirit, and make a world of love and acceptance a reality.
Fill us with a new spirit of courage, a new desire to make peace and a new love for all