THE DICTIONARY DEFINES RACISM AS FOLLOWS:
1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
As early as 1943, and again through the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Catholic Bishops of the United States voiced the moral concerns of our Catholic people with regard to discrimination and racism. The Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission on November 3, 1988 issued the first Vatican document to deal solely with the subject of racism. The document was entitled: “The Church and Racism: Toward a More Fraternal Society.”
In their statement of November 14, 1979, entitled “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” the Bishops of the United States accurately defined racism and located the center of the issue: “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 dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus, ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’ Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the incarnation … The heart of the race question is moral and religious. It concerns the rights of man and our attitude toward our fellow man.”
Clearly, the religious consciences of the American people provided the spiritual courage necessary for the legislative and administrative changes that have occurred since the late 1950’s. To a great degree, religious leadership among Catholics, Protestants and Jews spurred the dynamic changes that began to untie the institutional prejudices that bound our land. Although discriminatory laws and institutional prejudices have, to some significant degree, been overcome, the demands of Christian conscience still require that the battle against subtler forms of racism which still continue in our society be faced.
Christians have come to recognize ever more clearly that Jesus’ enunciation of the Great Commandments admitted of no exceptions: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all of your mind … and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the teaching of Christ Jesus the Lord, the love of God is inextricably bound up with our love for our neighbor. As the Apostle John teaches us in his First Epistle, it is not possible for Christians to profess love for God whom we do not see, while at the same time ignoring, or even hating, the brother or sister whom we do see.
When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?”, He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, who came to the aid of the person in need. Despite the fact that wide ethnic and religious differences existed between the Samaritan and the “man in need” (in much the same way as wide ethnic and religious differences exist today between Israelis and Palestinians), the Samaritan responded to the demands of justice and love.
Evidently, in accord with Jesus’ own teaching and that of Christian Tradition, “my neighbor” is any and every person who needs, deserves and can rightly expect my care, my concern and my love. “My neighbor” may be male, female, Protestant or atheist, African, South American, Australian, Asian, already born into the world, or still in the protective care of a mother’s womb. No distinguishing fact of race, country of origin, or stage of biological development alters the fundamental call of Jesus.
No super-imposed criterion of “usefulness” nor any human judgment about who is “wanted” or “unwanted” in this world can be used to make exceptions to Jesus’ explicit teaching about “my neighbor.” All are “neighbor to me.” Our love of God, therefore, will be as wide and as deep and as extensive as our willingness to call each and every member of the human family “neighbor to me.”
One of the most consistent paradoxes of our contemporary political and social life has been the willingness of liberals to play the race card in the ‘game’ of life. Very few conservatives ever mention a person’s race when debating some burning issue before the American people. Yet, liberals, who were in the forefront of the battle to abolish slavery and who were so vocal in blaming Jim Crow on the Republican party, when in reality it was Southern Democrats who opposed the abolition of discriminatory laws, are now the only ones who play the race card. The recent diatribe by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in which he accused conservatives of being racist is only one of many examples.
Now, we have the Tiger Woods tragedy. Here is Jeff Jacoby’s commentary on the racist aspects of the story:
Throw out the race card
by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
December 12, 2009
WHATEVER ELSE might be said about Tiger Woods, he has never confused his ethnic and racial makeup — he is part Asian, part black, part American Indian, and part white — with his identity. “My parents have taught me to always be proud of my ethnic background,” he said as a 19-year-old U.S. Amateur champion in 1995, but “the critical and fundamental point is that ethnic background and/or composition should not make a difference. It does not make a difference to me. The bottom line is that I am an American.”
Race didn’t turn Tiger Woods into a great golfer any more than it made him a serial philanderer, and it is hard to imagine anything less relevant to his current marital turmoil than skin color. Yet from the Associated Press comes a report headlined “Tiger’s troubles widen his distance from blacks” — an entire news story devoted to “the race of the women linked with the world’s greatest golfer.” Apparently they have all been white. Apparently some people think that matters.
It isn’t just the AP. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggested last week that “the most interesting aspect” of Woods’s humiliating fall is “the whole Barbie thing.” Robinson disavows any desire “to pronounce judgment on Woods’s moral fiber” — he would rather dwell instead on “how much the women who’ve been linked to Wood resemble one another” and why none of them have “yellow or brown skin.”
Is that really what matters in the Tiger Woods drama — the racial diversity of the women he has allegedly slept with? Must everything be turned into a matter of race?
Few cultural ideas are more pernicious than the race fetish — the regard for skin color or ethnicity as the most significant factor in human behavior. Few falsehoods have caused more misery. If anything ennobled 20th-century liberalism, it was the conviction that human beings ought to be treated without regard to the hue of their skin or the shape of their eye. As Thurgood Marshall argued in a 1948 brief for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, “Classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society.”
America’s greatest modern domestic achievement was to transform itself from a society in which invidious racial classifications were entrenched in law and custom — a society in which the “wrong” skin color was a bar to everything from decent schooling to political power — to one in which blacks can be anything: judges and entrepreneurs, journalists and lawmakers, billionaire golfers and four-star generals — and president of the United States.
Over the past two generations, in a blink of history’s eye, America was transformed from a nation in which the race card trumped nearly everything to one in which it trumps nearly nothing.
So why do so many people keep trying to play it?
When US Representative Artur Davis, an Alabama Democrat, voted against the House leadership’s health care bill last month, he was denounced in racial terms by members of his own party. “You can’t vote against health care,” Jesse Jackson told a Congressional Black Caucus reception, “and call yourself a black man.”
When posters appeared in which President Obama’s face was Photoshopped to resemble Heath Ledger’s creepy Joker from the Batman movie The Dark Knight, it was promptly slammed as racist. “All that’s missing is a noose,” wrote LA Weekly’s Steven Mikulan — despite the fact that Ledger was white, the Joker is white, and the poster’s one-word message — “Socialism” — had nothing to do with race.
Or is “socialism,” too, a racial issue? In an essay the Christian Science Monitor published in October, University of North Carolina professor Christopher Lee insisted that Obama’s critics use the S-word to disguise their true “xenophobic, hypernationalistic, and, yes, racist” views.
It is so odious, this impulse to make everything a racial matter. Whether it comes from right or left, whether the context is congressional legislation or celebrity gossip, the race card invariably diminishes and divides us.
“There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America,” declared Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “There’s the United States of America.” True, we may not be there yet. But isn’t the surest way to an America in which race makes no difference to stop speaking and acting as if it does?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)
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