Words (and names) Matter

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

Dan Snyder is a man of strong opinions and an inflexible resolve to stand his ground when things are not going his way.  For many years Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has made it clear that he does not intend to change the name of his team, telling USA Today in 2013, “We’ll never change the name! …It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

Enter Fed Ex, Nike and Pepsi.  Shareholders in these corporations recently voted to withdraw support for the Washington Redskins if a name change does not happen.  Now CEOs are scrambling to “get on the right side of history.”  In 1998, Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, paid $205 million for naming rights for the stadium.  Without a name change, Fed Ex will withdraw financial support.  Nike has removed Redskins’ athletic attire from its e-commerce web site, and Pepsi will withdraw its financial support.  Now Smith is saying “The word “Redskins” remains a dehumanizing word, characterizing people by skin color and as a racial slur, with hateful connotations.”  Really?  For many years activists and Native Americans have called for change.

The corporate heads of Fed Ex, Nike and Pepsi did not have an Epiphany, nor did Dan Snyder.  There have been many “Come to Jesus” virtual conversations.   It appears that money matters more than principle.

Now that culturally respectful language is front and center in the sports world, it’s time for a “sweep” to show respect for all people of color, of rejecting racist stereotypes.  Now the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins need to make a decision to whether to continue using racist mascot names or embrace respect for all cultures, races, and nationalities.  How would it feel to read, “Chicago Caucasians 14 – Washington Redskins 7 in the sports section?  Words matter.  Words hurt and words heal.  Can those with power move on from decisions based on money to decisions based on principle?

This conversation about names needs to happen in colleges, high schools, pro and semi-pro teams.  In 2013, 2,129 teams in these schools had Native American names, with 13 choosing “savages” as their team name.

What impact has demeaning sports mascot language had on Native Americans?  Michael Haney, Seminole activist, told the Chicago Tribune, “As long as white America feels that Native Americans are not quite human, that we can be construed as mascots, caricatures or cartoon figures, then they will never deal with the issues of education and economic development for our people.”

This is a time for revolution of cultural values, attitudes and norms.  And this is not a spectator sport.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

“All communities and persons across the nation should live in a safe and healthy environment…To the greatest extent practical and permitted by law…each federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental efforts programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States.”

                                                                           President William J. Clinton
1994, Executive Order

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

How do climate change, COVID-19 and racism come together?  Cities around the country are asking that question.  If we eliminate COVID-19 from consideration, we find that in cities with large numbers of African Americans and Hispanic, those people of color live in highly polluted areas of those cities.

In west Louisville, the American Synthetic Rubber Company exceeded legal emissions of a particular toxic chemical, which increased the risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness for disadvantaged communities with a large African American population.  Over the three-year period of 2017-2019, the company put nearly 4,000 pounds of 1,3-butadiene, a chemical compound used in making synthetic rubber that is associated with an increased incidence of leukemia. The company lost the resulting lawsuit and was forced to pay $135,375 to the city of Louisville.

Given that 80% of this toxic air pollution was released to west Louisville, often called “Rubbertown,” how will this support the citizens who were directly affected when the money was paid to the Air Pollution Control District of Louisville?

Systemic racism has enabled industries with toxic chemicals to locate in areas of cities with a predominance of people of color.  Cities in need of financial support court and incentivize these industries and often ignore environmental regulation, so methane-producing power plants are allowed to become part of the landscape, and methane part of the air that citizens breathe.

Neighborhoods near industries such as these are twice as likely to have either asthma or high blood pressure and four times as likely to have COPD.  Those living in an industrial area have higher rates of miscarriages, dementia, and lower birth rates.  Lower-income African Americans and Hispanic Americans have fewer choices in housing. Remember redlining? 

Environmental racism is inseparable from racial segregation, which is itself a result of individual and systemic racism, including public policy at every level of government.  For industry, non-white neighborhoods are cheaper to acquire.

Toxic air, water and soil are a fact of life in cities around the country.  In the last few years, weakened environmental laws have worsened the reality.  Many African American and Hispanic citizens find themselves in segregated neighborhoods, often located near plants expelling highly toxic chemicals.  This reality, coupled with high instances of heart, kidney and respiratory illness make African Americans a prime target of COVID-19.

In an era of multiple crises, we now face multiple layers of discrimination.  One solution available to us is to hold those in power accountable – VOTE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Time for Reparations

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

In the era of COVID 19, celebrations are hard to come by. Thousands have begun gathering in restaurants, bars, and beaches without social distancing and masks, and those careless celebrations have been dampened by spikes in cases in a number of states. With July 4th on the horizon, even more will want to forget about social distancing and gather for picnics and fireworks.  After all, we need to celebrate freedom from British rule, and freedom for all.

Really?  Correction:  freedom for white men.

Thanks to the Administration’s tone-deaf scheduling of a “come back” rally on the 19th of June, Juneteenth has become part in the vocabulary of many in the United States. Juneteenth is an important celebration of freedom, marking the end of slavery, and has, sadly, received little attention outside of the African American community until recently.

When General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, TX, and announced that slavery had ended, a second Independence Day celebration began. With Black Lives Matter, awareness of Juneteenth has spiked and calls for making it a federal holiday have increased.  Mary Elliott, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, states “Juneteenth is not simply a day for the end of slavery in the United States, but for the reflection on the history of slavery.”

Art by Ashley Apollonio-Hairston

Two significant events came together on June 19 in Tulsa.  While many celebrated Juneteenth, the Greenwood massacre of May 31, 1921, was a dark shadow in the background. During that tragic event, white citizens looted and burned 1,000 Black-owned businesses and homes, killing 300 African Americans and destroying 35 blocks of property known as Black Wall Street. The Tulsa Race Massacre demolished the hopes and dreams of a successful future for Blacks in the city. According to the Guardian, public funerals were banned to avoid explosive gatherings, and insurance companies refused to compensate the victims.

As we reflect on the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa and the Juneteenth celebration of an end to slavery, the revival of Jim Crow-like laws, lynching, income inequality and voter suppression continue to be part of the discussion.  Discussions of reparations need to be front and center, reflected in the growing movement in the United States.

Reparations could take the form of free college tuition for all African Americans, subsidized home mortgages, business start-up funds.  The list of possible support is lengthy.

For reparations to happen, Congress must create a national commission on reparations, pass a bill and the President sign the bill.

The time for action is now.  Make Juneteenth a federal holiday and pass a reparations bill that provides substantial financial support for African American citizens.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

On Laudato Si’: The Week and The Year

Blog by Associate by Jo Hendricks, a member of the Eco-Justice Committee.

Five years ago, Pope Francis signed an encyclical which represented a major step forward in the Church’s Social Doctrine and is a road map for building more just societies that are capable of safeguarding human life and all Creation.  The encyclical Laudato Si’ : On Care for Our Common Home, had its 5th Anniversary May 24th.

The document seeks to “call attention to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” On this year’s anniversary, Pope Francis has invited everyone to take part in the Laudato  Si’ Year (May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021) by caring  for our common home and our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Laudato si’ Week – and the year dedicated to the encyclical – represent a way to promote initiatives, ideas, experiences, and good practices. These various initiatives help bring out what the document has set in motion in communities throughout the world. They also help us reflect on its relevance in the here-and-now.

One of the merits of the extensive papal text, which starts from the fundamentals of the relationship between creatures and the Creator, is that it has made us understand that everything is connected. There is no environmental issue that can be separated from social issues, climate change, migration, war, poverty, and underdevelopment. These are manifestations of a single crisis which, before being ecological, is, at its heart, an ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis. This is a deeply realistic view.

For this reason, the Pope writes, “The time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society” (LS 116). The crisis that we are experiencing because of the pandemic has made all this even more evident. “We did not listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.”

Thus, He encourages everyone to pray a new prayer dedicated to the Laudato si’ Year:

Loving God,

Creator of Heaven, Earth, and all therein contained.
Open our minds and touch our hearts,
so that we can be part of Creation, your gift.

Be present to those in need in these difficult times,
especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Help us to show creative solidarity
as we confront the consequences of the global pandemic.
Make us courageous in embracing
the changes required to seek the common good.
Now more than ever, may we all feel interconnected and interdependent.

Enable us to succeed in listening and responding
to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
May their current sufferings become the birth-pangs
of a more fraternal and sustainable world.

We pray through Christ our Lord,
under the loving gaze of Mary, Help of Christians,

Amen.

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Symbols Tell Us Who We Are

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

George Printice was a man of great power and influence in the 1840s and beyond.  As editor of the Louisville Journal, a newspaper considered the “best in the west,” he wrote biting and militant editorials that fed the haters of his day. He was pro-slavery, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic. He and his followers did not like those who were “different.” He wrote about the “pestilent influence of the foreign swarms” loyal to a pope who was “an inflated despot who keeps people kissing his toes all day.”

On August 6, 1855, 22 Irish-Americans and German-Americans were killed by a mob trying to prevent them from voting. “Bloody Monday” followed numerous editorials that fed the bigoted spirits of that day.

Years later, George Printice, who was a member of the “Know Nothing” party (aptly named), was honored with a statue placed in front of the main library in Louisville. Seated in a chair, he presided over the people walking in front of the library every day. The irony of placing a renowned bigot in front of a building that represents learning and the pursuit of truth is stunning.  After numerous protests the statue was removed in 2018.

Why is this story important and why is this statue important? We find similar stories of statues being removed and confederate flags no longer flying around the country. The governor of Virginia has ordered the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Southerners revered Lee and northern generals respected him.  Many southerners are upset, saying, “This is heritage, not hatred,” or “this is history, not hatred.”

Racism comes in many forms. Many African-Americans and white citizens see the confederate flag as a symbol of slavery, lynchings, segregation, and Jim Crow. The confederate flag and these monuments are a vivid reminder of a brutal and painful history.

The Kentucky Capital, with a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in the foreground and Jefferson Davis in the background. Photo by Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press

The rotunda in the state capital of Kentucky hosts a statue of Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky, and Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, also born in Kentucky. The governor of Kentucky has ordered the statue of Davis removed.

We are reminded every day of the consequences of systemic racism. Protests will continue. Demands for changes in state and federal laws that enable abuse by police will continue. Racism is a “pandemic within a pandemic” and will continue as long as we look the other way.

The issue of offensive statues and confederate flags is not trivial. Both stand as signs that racism has a long history that continues today with those monuments as reminders. They continue to be a slap in the face of African-Americans. Our “heritage” needs to be a history of justice for all, freedom for the oppressed poor and marginalized. If we can move forward there will be no need for professional football players to kneel during the national anthem, for people to protest in our streets, or for men and women to die needlessly.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog