Breaking Through

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Many of you are aware that after the murder of George Floyd, the congregation launched an effort to condemn racism and brutality by the police, by publishing a statement from the Leadership Team and also by promoting the display of a yard sign that read: Racism is a Sin. Period.  These signs were distributed all over, to our motherhouses, ministries, private homes, and many other places around the country.

Some of them were stolen, right off the lawn, and I wondered about that. Was it because someone really wanted to display the sign, sharing our feeling that this was something that we all need to address? Or, were some of them stolen, as a way to quash the message.  I’ll never really know. I tend to think people wanted to use them.  But then that’s stealing. Maybe we needed a sign that read Stealing is a Sin. Period.J

But now that seems to have subsided and our remaining signs stand as a continuing reminder. A moral reminder of an immoral thing.

Since then, I had the opportunity to read and listen to Fr. Brian Massingale, a theologian at Fordham, who has written extensively on white privilege. Being an African American man himself, his words hold a special credibility for me, and I have felt a kind of breaking through in a way I haven’t before. I owe a debt of gratitude to him for his wisdom and his kind way of holding up to white people what we most need to hear.

He makes me uncomfortable.  And that’s his mission: to make white people feel the discomfort of being white. Because it is white privilege that holds black people captive, holds black people prisoner in a system that is working just fine. A system that is effective in maintaining economic inequality, educational inequality, and healthcare inequality.

Father Massingale reminds us that rarely– if ever– are young white men arrested or run down and murdered for jogging through a neighborhood or walking down the street, or for going into a store to buy some candy, or even for selling cigarettes illegally on the street.  This does not happen to white people.  Black people are murdered every day and the perpetrators get away with it. The list is too long.

Fr. Massingale talked about the time he went to substitute in a parish to celebrate Mass and the people there asked, “Where is the priest? You can’t be the priest, you’re black.” This is part of the breaking through for me, not that I did not know this existed before, but now I cannot blow it off as the foolishness of stupid people. “You can’t be the priest, you’re black,” rings in me in a new place now. This is what black folks hear all the time. And I don’t. Being white is not a threat to my life.

A small crack in my white armor is breaking through. I’m hoping that this is the hope that Colette Parker expressed this week in her blog. Optimism? Maybe, on some days. Hope, always. I hope that I can continue to see the experience of people of color more through their eyes and not through mine. Not possible? Maybe. But the breaking through is important for me. I hope that I can tolerate my discomfort long enough that breakthrough keeps happening and I see with new eyes.

Posted in Weekly Word

8 responses to “Breaking Through

  1. Sister Anne:
    I must admit I know one of the perpetrators who took one of the signs was a neighborhood woman who asked me for one. I was moving too slow for her so in her excitement, she plucked one of the signs from our grounds.
    Thank you for keeping the message alive and standing with me to helping to preserve my life and the lives of so many of the people I know and love. Black Lives Matter. Peace.

  2. In the mid ’90’s I was invited to a noon meal by a black priest friend whom I had known since he was a seminarian with my cousin. It was the kind of restaurant where you could choose the buffet or order from the menu. We sat in a booth opposite one another visiting and a young white male worker kept passing us up — the restaurant was in the middle of Louisiana. My friend kept quiet head lowered — but finally I could not take it. I said to the young man “Is this your table or someone else’s?” Of course it was his — and he continued looking from one of us to the other — finally taking our order.
    A real example of racism and white privilege.

  3. Anne,
    Stay with the discomfort.
    I lived and worked for over 26 years in inner-city Detroit, and received far more than I gave—including the gift of two life-changing realizations: 1) that I had been shaped by my own cultural history and could never “be Black,” fully knowing the experiences of the people; 2) that because of my time in the Black community, I could never again be white in the same way.
    So stay with the discomfort, and receive the gift of it.

    1. Anne’s blog and your reflection on it are truly gift -extremely helpful for me as I continue to identify and ponder my own “broken heart.” To confront, own and learn from all the pain and suffering of injustices over the centuries is a huge, ongoing challenge I know I must take on as a white woman. George Floyd’s death and several others in recent months have become the “tipping point” of change for me and for many others. Thanks to both of you for your reflections and ongoing commitment to effect change of mind and heart in our country, in our world.

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