The Now Moment for America: A Conversation about Racism

By Joanne Halt, M.A.

Racism is one of those topics that can immediately put us on edge. We fear examining our beliefs because to do so could open a Pandora’s Box and we might be judged. The violent outcome of the march in Charlottesville V.A. illustrates that we are at a decision point in America about racial beliefs. People of conscience could not allow the coalition of white supremacists to march there without a counter march of protest since such hate groups such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis pose a direct challenge to the dignity of human life. To be supportive in any way to such activity is to foster racism. What many folks might feel is a “Where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been developing as the demographics of our country are changing and fear predominates. White supremacy group membership is at an all time high and increasingly vocal. White privilege, which fueled the march in Charlottesville, is a concept waiting to be unpacked for many of us. Concurrently, the issue of color determining one person’s response to another has been festering individually and collectively for the lifetime of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today. Ask any man of color what it feels like to see the kneejerk reaction of a white woman clutching her purse in fear as he walks toward her. For African Americans skin color is the barrier they face to assimilation, unlike other minority groups who have assimilated much more easily in our culture.

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To deny the racial divide in our country is not possible. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently announced the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism which is addressing the sin of racism in our society and Church, and the urgent need to come together to find solutions. Almost 40 years ago, the USCCB wrote a Pastoral Letter on Racism which stated that “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

Prejudice can lurk unnoticed in our unconscious beliefs. Without prayerful reflection, it can feed on the fear of what is different and grow into overt racism. Self-reflection is a beginning that must then lead to action. Our bishops are calling us to this moment of self-inquiry and conversion.

To help us with this beginning step of self-inquiry, The Respect for Life Committee is hosting a presentation by Dr. Martha R. Bireda, PhD. on October 17th. She is Director of the Blanchard House Museum of African History and Culture, located in Punta Gorda, Florida. For over 30 years, Dr. Bireda has consulted, lectured, and written about social issues related to race, gender, class, power, and culture. She has contributed many magazine articles that explore critical issues past and present impacting our global society. She believes that awareness and recognition of the universality of social issues can contribute to the resolution of problems that affect all societies, and confirm our human connectivity. She is the author of twelve books.

When asked to describe her presentation, Dr. Bireda responded that we need the opportunity to explore our beliefs in a safe place. Our beliefs often operate on an unconscious level. Examining the beliefs on race that have been operative historically in America is a first step. Identifying those authority figures, educational systems and important others who contributed to our individual belief system is also important. Dr. Bireda’s presentation invites us to ask ourselves these questions: why do I believe what I do about my group and about other groups? Where did this come from and why do I believe it now? If I don’t believe what I was taught as a youth now, how do I express my present beliefs? Finally, she says, “The ultimate question is- how can I demonstrate with my actions what are my ‘now’ beliefs?” Ultimately we take responsibility for solving and not perpetuating the problem,
Dr. Bireda’s interest in raising consciousness began when she was 10 years old in 1955 and heard about Emmet Till being killed. Emmet was a 14 year old tortured and murdered in Mississippi by two Caucasian men. “Emmet was a child and I thought, so am I, …am I going to be killed too?” This question and feeling of vulnerability by virtue of skin color became the foundation for her life’s work.

According to Fr. George Murry, S.J., the Head of the USCCB Committee on Racism: “Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I’m hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society.”

TUESDAY, October 17th
The Now Moment for America:
A Conversation about Racism
6:30pm-8:00pm – In the Community Room
Guest Speaker: Dr. Martha Bireda

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