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Bishops’ committee report on racism

The following report on racism was issued by the Bishops’ Committee on African American Catholics during the November meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was presented by Bishop George V. Murry.

With the publication of “Brothers and Sisters To Us” in 1979, many of us, as leaders in the church, had hoped that through moral suasion, racism and its discriminatory actions would be drastically reduced and eventually eliminated from American society. Twenty years later, hope in the possibility of achieving that goal has diminished, not only in the church but also throughout society. Sadly, many people of color see the church as a white racist institution.

In terms of official statements, we, the American bishops, have been unfailing in our condemnations of racism. The problem has been and remains our failure to convince many of our people of the sin of racism and our negligence in demanding the eradication of all racist attitudes and nations from the institutions for which we are responsible.

There are many victims of racism in contemporary American Society. African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asians. African Americans, however, deserve special consideration because of the violent and brutal nature of the system of slavery utilized in the United Stats until after the war between the states. Indeed, the story of slavery in America is one of such savage cruelty that it has few parallels in recorded history. Racism has led to the bombing of African American children in churches, but it has also inspired the “removal” of Native Americans to economically famished reservations, the denial of educational opportunities from the children of undocumented Latino newcomers, and violent verbal and physical attacks against Asians. From the vantage point of experience, there can be no doubt that racism left unchallenged only grows more pervasive.

Race is the No. 1 socially defining issue in the United States. To put it differently, as much as we might hope for a color-blind society or church, in the United States race does matter. This is evidenced by the degree of racial consciousness which we Americans exhibit. Witness the patterns of racial segregation in housing, the de facto segregation in many of our parishes, and in our own network of friends and associates.

Racism is more than individual attitudes and actions. It is also the collective actions of a dominant racial group which considers itself historically, morally, socially and economically superior. Prejudices are adopted and enforced by the institutions of a society, then opportunity and access are safeguarded for those of the “right” color of skin and limited for those who are otherwise.

Dismantling racism, therefore, demands both a personal conversion and a more systemic approach. We need to look at racism’s power not only to give advantage and privilege to white Americans, but also its ability to injure people of color. Obviously, we have no control over the past, but we can make a decision today which will effect the future.

To begin to combat racism we must:

  • First, realize and acknowledge that racism is a serious problem in American society and in the church.
  • Second, be proactive in attacking it.
  • Third, admit there are no quick fixes, no one and easy way to solve this problem. There are many faces of racism, therefore we must be flexible in our response.
  • Fourth, take discernible action to promote knowledge, understanding, respect and cooperation.

Although the discussion scheduled for the November meeting will mainly focus on racism as experienced by African Americans, the committee hopes that it will open a door to more frank discussions about how racism affects all people of color and encourage each one of us to seek better ways to challenge this persistent evil.

National Catholic Reporter, December 18, 1998