Where Are the Institutional Voices?

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

As a high school freshman attending a lily-white public high school in Danville, Kentucky, I learned soon that what I learned in the classroom was a small part of education for life.  Soon after beginning my freshman year, an associate pastor from my parish church issued a challenge to members of “Young Christian Students,” an association specifically geared toward Catholic students attending public schools.  He challenged us to meet with managers of local restaurants and ask why they did not serve Black customers.  With some nervousness, I accepted the challenge and met with three restaurant managers.  The answer was not a surprise:  “We do not want to lose our white customers.”  This was the beginning of a long journey for me to face the sin of racism.  I remain grateful to that priest for challenging me to face the reality of racism in this small town.  The challenge of personal responsibility remains in my actions.

Years later I was a graduate student in the School of Social Work at Barry College (now Barry University) and took a course in Institutional Racism.  The professor, Gil Raiford, an African American, challenged students to examine racism through the lens of our institutions, specifically educational, economic, religious, and political.  People of color rarely have a voice in the decision-making process within those institutions. How can change happen to remove racism from our institutions without the active participation of African Americans on all levels of decision making?  The questions and challenges remain.

We find few African Americans serving as Presidents or department heads in predominately white colleges.  It is only in recent years that courses in African American studies are offered.  College boards of trustees, high school boards and school boards in general too often have an inadequate representation of African Americans in any given location.

In our political arena, suppression of the “Black vote” is obvious and ongoing.  Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona, and in many other areas continue to reduce the number of voting sites, require a photo ID and engage in gerrymandering to discourage voting.  The challenges to the outcome of the most recent presidential election centered largely on Atlanta, Detroit, and Philadelphia, all with large African American populations.  Another troubling reality is that Congress has failed to extend the John Lewis bill on voting rights.

Without African American voices in education and politics, we often find inequitable funding for schools in poor neighborhoods.  According to the Center for American Progress, predominately Black schools receive $23 billion less in funding each year.  Schools in Black, indigenous, and Hispanic areas often have outdated materials, are under-resourced, and in many cases, are in buildings that are hazardous to their health.  Resources need to be updated or replaced.  Money matters in education!

Have our religious institutions played a role as moral leaders in addressing racism?  When was the last time you heard a homily on racism?  Or on any justice issue period?  Where were the religious voices of leaders after Charlottesville, after the murder of Black parishioners in Charleston?

Where are the black voices in your parish or your diocese – or are they, like my high school in Kentucky, lily-white and unaware of the issues facing our sisters and brothers of color?

From the parish and school board to colleges and Congress, our institutions are failing in our struggle to remove racism from our current reality.  It is always the right time to ask the hard questions of institutional leaders and demand that all voices be heard.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Racism: A Conversation and Commitment that must Continue

Blog by Rosie Blackburn, OPA and Marybeth Irvine, OPA
Blog by Marybeth Irvine, OPA and Rosie Blackburn, OPA

Recently, I was listening to an interview on the radio. One guest commented he was tired of everything being about race.

I immediately thought – that is simply a white privilege statement.  I ask myself where a statement of that nature might originate, especially, in light of the very visible and troubling events of this past year.

A few ideas come to mind: fear of losing the power and many privileges that are bestowed to white folks; lack of awareness of or indifference to the enormous prejudices and challenges to which people of color have been subjected since our country’s formation; wanting peace at all costs; being swept up by extremist ideologies; “racism fatigue”… the list could go on.

Everyone in this country, as well as around the world, is aware of the vicious attack on our Capitol on January 6, 2021. It was a glaring example of the deep-seated racial bias in our country. Yes, as reported all over our country, had those rioters and intruders been black or brown-skinned, we would have witnessed a massacre on our Capitol steps.  In the year 2021.  A massacre.  In the land of the free.

The young man in the interview said he just wanted us all to be Americans and not focus on white or black or brown.  It’s really not that simple.  How do we live with our persecuted brothers and sisters as equal Americans, as members of one family of God?    Racial injustice is a systemic problem, but addressing its roots begins with each individual.  Positive changes are possible when we place our energies into reading and listening and engaging in honest conversations, into educating ourselves, into challenging ourselves. It will take much “unlearning,” much soul-searching, a deep openness and commitment, and a willingness to stay in the uncomfortableness that will arise from our explorations and work.

This is our work to do.  It is hard work, but it is necessary work for the survival of us all, our country, our world.  To shift our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters of color is to step right back into our houses of white privilege.

There are so many important questions to take on this journey of enlightenment:

Will we stay focused?

Will we look at our own bias, privilege, and judgements through the lens of truth?

What might I be able to see, now that I know?

Will we show up, go deeper, and choose peace and equality for all life?

Honestly, I also tire of the focus on racism. I want to put on my rose-colored glasses and hope for a miracle.

I am tired of being uncomfortable.  I want to sing Kumbaya, numb my senses, and pretend.

And then I hear that Divine voice that says, ‘Take care of what is yours to do, take care of your small part of Mother Earth, keep listening, keep studying, keep your eyes open, keep looking into your heart and soul, keep having hard conversations, keep working for peace and justice.’

We are called to live love, to be peace, for every human being.  Our commitment must continue.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Implicit Bias-What Is It? Do We Have It?

Blog by Associate Conni Dubick, OPA
Blog by Associate Conni Dubick, OPA

I recently participated in a small group discussion at the Dominican Sisters Conference Convocation focused on the topic of racism. The conversation began with the question “Have you ever felt rejected as a person of color?” The conversation continued with several women giving examples of experiences when they either felt inferior or superior in a situation. It was a frank discussion on how people with different racial identities interact with each other and bring to the situation a socialized or learned attitude or behavior. Continue reading →

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog