Dear Fr. Joe: is Everyone a Racist?

Dear Fr. Joe: Is Everyone a Racist?

 

Things are so much better than they were; I don’t understand all the talk about racism. My priest said that everyone is racist, and I think that’s nuts. What am I supposed to do about it anyway?

Wow — things are crazy, aren’t they? The madness of our present age can be scary and worrisome, but I would love for us to think about it as an invitation for each and every person reading this to think about racism and Christianity.

One of the first things I think we need to do is to take a moment to divorce this issue from politics. As much as both parties would love to frame this in such a way as to continue to rip us apart, the actual discussion and necessary transformation should occur in each of us outside of what we want to be true, what we hope is true or what our political “leaders” tell us.

Introspection is key to this, I believe. Our lives are filled with noise, and the noise only increases our sense of helplessness and indignation. It’s important that we take time to look deep in our hearts, not for the answers that keep us comfortable or reaffirm our ideology, but for answers that will help us become more like Christ.

Here’s what I am learning in my reflections on racism, where I participate in racism and what I can do about it.

The first thing I recognized was that my standard was too low. I know for a fact I’m not in the KKK, I don’t use racist words and I try to serve everyone God gives me to serve. As I took time to contemplate, I realized that that’s a nice human standard, but not a good Christian one.

I need to be holy. I need to be like Christ. For that to happen, I can allow no room in my heart for anything but love, faith and hope. It’s not enough to not be bad, I must embrace and pursue goodness itself. Any darkness I allow in my heart will not simply stay in that one place, it will grow. Sin doesn’t stop naturally; it stops because of divine grace and a commitment in our hearts.

So, I need to let Jesus walk me through my heart and see where I have allowed anything in my heart that judges a person based on their race:


  • Do I make internal judgements about someone because they look different than me?
  • Do I sit by quietly when people make racist comments or jokes?
  • Do I believe that God created the different races intentionally?
  • Do I hold people who look like me to a different standard than people who don’t look like me?
  • Am I suspicious of people who do not look like me?

This is obviously not an exhaustive list; I only intend to offer some guiding principles. In the end, God wants each of us to open our hearts to his light so that we allow no stain of sin in there. Don’t be defensive, be open.

What if I find racism in my heart? Well, it’s actually pretty easy: repent and accept God’s mercy! This is the heart of the Christian life — we let God guide us through the process of conversion so that we become more like him. We shouldn’t be surprised to find sin in our hearts; we should be surprised and overjoyed at how effectively God uses us right in the midst of our sinfulness.

I am growing in friendship with a wonderful Christian minister who is Black. He has, in his words, offered me a place of “grace and truth.” In that space, he helps me grow without being angry that I need growth. He lets me ask questions and helps me hear his answers so that it is not I, a white person, judging whether racism exists or is “as bad as they say,” but a Christian brother, walking me through his experiences and helping me grow. Slowly, my eyes are opening and frankly, my heart is breaking sometimes. I am grateful to God for him.

Finally, let’s not let the extremists define us. Let’s not allow the agenda-oriented to define reality for us. I think most people are not at the extremes; they either think racism is not a big deal because they’ve never experienced it or believe it is omnipresent because they experience it too often.

To me, the key is this: Do my brothers and sisters who are different than me find, in me, a person who loves them as God’s children? Do I offer them a place where their appearance and/or cultural traits are known as a gift?

In the end, I invite us to remember that, when St. John the Apostle was given a vision of heaven, he saw people “of every race, tribe and tongue” there. This image is used in Scriptures often; when God speaks of the joyous future, it always involves many nations, races, tribes and tongues.

As Christians, Jesus wants us to be his presence on earth. Let’s accept that challenge and pray the Holy Spirit guide us into being men and women who reject racism, fight racism and stand for the dignity of every human being.

 

Credit: Getty Images/Dmitrii_Guzhanin