We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
I recently heard a Black Deacon, Rev. Mr. Charles Williams, known as Deacon Charles, the Director of the Office for Black Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond, VA, tell a powerful story about integration and the effects of racism in the Church from his younger days.
When integration in schools began in the 1960’s, many Bishops of the Catholic Church believed that churches should be more diverse, and integration would be the answer. Now, in the Church there were predominantly Black churches and predominantly White churches. Of course, these were in neighborhoods that were not racially diverse. How to achieve integration? The diocese decided to close some of the Black churches to force the people to attend the closest predominantly White church. He was understandably enraged. Why were not the White churches closed instead? Why? It’s from what I am calling “matter-of-fact racism.” This is racism where another solution wasn’t even considered. It just “made sense” that the Black church would have to close. It “made sense” because white people were in charge. It “made sense” because white people were the primary sources of giving. It “made sense” because black neighborhoods were imagined to be less safe, in part due to the media coverage, the war on drugs which was a war on black communities. It “made sense” because no black voices were at that decision making table, no consideration of the notion of mutual sacrifice for the common good of becoming one Body in Christ. The “matter-of-fact” racism was grounded in the unexamined privilege White Church leaders assumed. And the result of that, for a time, was Deacon Charles (as a young man), and I imagine a ton of other Black people, either left the Church, or found another Black Christian denomination within which to worship because their Church left them.
In Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, she quotes Carol Anderson, author of White Rage, “who argues that ‘the trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.’”
How often are decisions made with “matter-of-fact racism” as the underlying reason, but which caused negative consequences for people of color? Many sensible, good reasons are given for the decision, but underlying it all is White fragility and fear that people of color may advance in some way that will threaten our privileged white lives.
I invite you to think of times when decisions were made in your organization that inordinately inconvenienced Blacks or harmed them. What is the motivation for the decision? Who is at the table, how are the consequences of the decision evaluated in terms of justice, racial equity and the preferential option for the poor, and to what degree are these decisions intended to protect White privilege and the income that comes from those sources?
I would suggest that the counter protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement, are Whites who fear. Unfounded fears but fear, nonetheless. Can we get past these fears? Time will tell. It will take open-minded Whites not afraid to discuss race, to seek information, to seek justice for all, that can make inroads into the systemic racism of the nation. We are created from one family by our God who loves us all equally. Are we ready to love one another as God loves us?