This first published July 24, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.
ATLANTA — The weather here is hot and sticky. The days get long and hot here in the South. The resting place of the greatest civil rights activist in American history, Martin Luther King Jr., this is the perfect location to discuss racism in America.
This week I have the privilege of spending a week at Oglethorpe University, with not only many of the brightest minds in the area of social justice, but also people who teach and live it.
The Social Action Summer Institute brings Catholic social action leaders from around the United States together to share best practices and study advanced topics.
It is a national institute for Catholic social justice ministries to develop leadership skills in community activism and the advocacy for those living in poverty or on the margins of society.
This year’s advanced track is a symposium on racism with presentations titled “The Color-Blind Ideology: The Current Racial Order in the U.S.” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, professor of sociology at Duke University. The Rev. Bryan Massingale, doctorate of sacred theology and associate professor of theology at Marquette University, is presenting “The History of Catholic Social Teaching on Race and Racism.”
Although the intention is to build skills to prompt Catholics in the pews to take action, that action benefits all people of every race and every faith. The very basic theme is to protect human dignity of all people in the human family.
Ms. Sherry Frank of the American Jewish Committee is presenting “Building Interreligious and Interracial Justice Coalitions.” The title of this presentation exemplifies the importance of solidarity within the human family just as it is important in your or my immediate families. Individuals together with families create communities, the collective power of communities make nations and the people of those nations make up the human family. And just as there is strife, disagreement and fighting within families, it is the same with the human family. Therefore as people of faith, with all faiths working together, a change in the world is possible.
Having grown up in a family where racism was pretty much non-existent and taboo to say the least, we grew up understanding all people are created equal no matter what the color of their skin, race, nationality or gender. Our parents took every opportunity to share different cultures with us.
In my own experience, I was pretty much color-blind as a child, having a Pollyanna view of racism because I had not ever experienced it. That was until we moved to Las Vegas from Carson City and I transferred to Valley High School. It was there I got my first taste of racism — but it was a reverse racism where I mistakenly felt at the time I was the victim. At first it appeared to be just a case of bullying and intimidation, until names referring to the color of my skin were used.
Fortunately, it didn’t last long. I ended up befriending many of my African-American tormentors. Sounds odd doesn’t it? Today I can draw on the same friendships developed back then following a racially turbulent time in Las Vegas. Some of my friends are now successful businessmen and community leaders.
My parents helped me understand the racial strife and how to deal with it by example, a few good books and a couple of movies to start. But most of all, their care and love for all people was evident and made a lasting impression. Their encouragement to experience others’ cultures or the cultures of different nationalities, including language and best of all cooking, set the foundation for human understanding and compassion.
The challenge today is to get people to confront their own prejudices by first eliminating the “us and them” mentality and striving for equality among all people. It’s not only a class issue, but rather deep-seated color issues, as well as white privilege.
This year we honored the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 40 years after his assassination, and today, after 40 years, we have not come close to abolishing racism. Although we have developed tolerance in society, tolerance is not the solution, but rather a Band-Aid.
Yes, we could very well elect an African-American president this year, but does that mean we have become less racist in America?
I don’t think so, but it does indicate a shift in the scale of racial equality.
Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the Home News, can be reached at 990-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes a regular blog at tocomv.blogspot.com.