This is a new ministry at Sacred Heart created on June 2020. In view of the recent events showing the racial fracture in our society, Sacred Heart is starting a group that will learn, dialogue, educate, and act in the area of social issues and Catholic Social Teaching. Anybody can be part of this group, but there will be certain standards—an ability to complete the learning tasks, a willingness do dialogue, an ability to educate others, and a desire to act on behalf of our parish. As we continue navigating the CoVID pandemic, part of the work of this group will be initially done virtually. If you are willing to be part of this group, you can register here.
We start by educating ourselves. We are asking members of the group to read the book White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, and to watch or re-watch Fr. Bryan Massingale's video. In the first meeting, besides logistics, we decided on a methodology. For the first discussion, the members of the group will have read White Fragility, and will select two main ideas they take from the book. One of the goals will be to produce a one-page, bullet-point summary of the book for general parish access. We will also bring to the meeting our own thoughts on what we learned about ourselves in reading it, as well as our testimony of how do we reflect about our own ethnic/cultural experience.
We started by introducing ourselves and the mission of the Task Force. To prepare for our first conversation, group members were asked to reflect on their own upbringing and think about how cultural or ethnic norms might have influenced their current views. This exercise provided a way for members to get to know one another while also illuminating aspects of our own lives that shape our beliefs. We then began our discussion of White Fragility: Why it’s So Difficult for White People to Talk About Race (Robin DiAngelo). There were a wide range of feelings expressed – embarrassment, shame, sadness, surprise, disbelief, anger and discomfort among them. Critical to the discussion was aligning on a shared understanding of key terms used throughout the book and how they might have differed from the way we have typically understood them, including but not limited to: white supremacy (a system of structures designed to keep white people on top); the good/bad binary (challenging the commonly held belief that only “bad” people can be racist and do racist things, while “good” people cannot); racism vs. prejudice (that in the United States, only whites have the strength in numbers to impose racism on others, and that while people of color might be prejudiced against whites, they do not have the power to impose racism and racist structures.) Perhaps the most challenging idea posed by the author is that all white people are racist to a degree – that because of our formation, from the time we’re little children throughout our adult lives, there is no way not to be. Many of us were encouraged by the author’s statement that she is on a continuum, where she recognizes that she is constantly trying to unlearn racism, identify and own her biases and to make changes in herself as she learns from her missteps.
Race experts tell us that once slavery was eliminated, our society started a systemic process of black incarceration. In addition to the book, we will watch the documentary "13th." We will look at that systemic process in our own city (Racine, Milwaukee.) There is a caste system in the United States that discriminates against black and brown people. After Emancipation, the system took the form of what has been called the Jim Crow laws. The Jim Crow era lasted until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making room for a new strategy based on the massive increase of the incarcerated population. In 2016, 2.3 million people were in incarcerated in the U.S.—despite having 5% of the world's population, this number represents almost 25% of the world's prison population. Almost 7 million people were under control of the correction industry (incarceration, parole, or probation.) 56% of the U.S. incarcerated population is African American or Hispanic.
For our second discussion, participants were asked to complete at least the Foreward of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander) and to watch the Netflix documentary, “13th,” about the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States. Central to both is the issue of ‘crime’ and how the various ‘wars’ that have been waged in the United States – from the War on Poverty, to the War on Crime, to the War on Drugs – have unjustly targeted people of color, in essence giving rise to a new form of slavery through the creation of a massive, profit-driven structure whose benefit is solely derived from our world-leading rate of incarceration. Some of the insights that surprised us were the jump in incarceration rates in the United States (from approximately 357,000 in 1970 to more than 2 million in 2016); how unifying the issue of criminal justice was for politicians and that the building of this system over time had full bipartisan support; the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for black men (1 in 3) compared to white men (1 in 17); and the permanent, second-class status held by convicted felons that forever impacts their ability to secure housing, employment, government assistance and much more. We agreed that understanding the statistics in our own communities – from incarceration rates to law enforcement budgets –would be a good next step so that we can begin to understand the local impact.
The last of the books we are going to read is by Milwaukee priest Fr. Bryan Massingale. As a group based in a Catholic parish, it is important to learn the issue in the framework of our Catholic Faith. This will be the last book we are going to add to the on-going bibliography for now.
For our third discussion, participants were asked to complete the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) on race, to finish reading The New Jim Crow and to begin reading Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Fr. Bryan Massingale) so that we could start our examination of the issue of racial justice in the context of our Catholic Faith. We began by discussing our individual results from the Harvard IAT. While we acknowledged that tests like these have limitations, we agreed it was one element that could be used in self-reflection about our unconscious biases. We then continued sharing insights from our reading. We learned about the power of prosecutors, 95% of whom are white, in determining charges against those accused of crimes, the virtually limitless ability of police to use “stop and frisk” tactics and to seize property, even from those who have committed no crimes and that, in spite of the statistics that would show otherwise, the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, have ruled that there is no racist intent in our justice system, showing just how daunting a challenge it will be to reform the system to one that is not prejudicial. We talked about three possible actions our group might initially take: learning more about the Supreme Court decisions specific to these issues, engaging on voting rights reforms for former prisoners and looking at the bail system in Racine to determine if there are ways we might assist.