Racism and Sin
“It is the divinely imposed task of the prophet to break down the wall of our indifference by voicing the suffering and anguish of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed of our society.” -Abraham Heschel
A wound, when it is not properly treated, will fester to the point that it will suppurate. This is not only true of our physical wounds but, also, our interior wounds. Imagine a couple who begin a relationship. Now, the couple as they go through life together will inevitably hurt each other. This hurt, if not addressed, will build up. It happens that one day, due to a lack of dialogue and treatment of the wound, one of them acts out on the other. The partner who is receiving the concrete expression of the wound might respond in shock and dismay as to where this belligerent act is coming from. In reality, it was there all along. They had just never addressed it properly.
Again, when the couple are wounded, and if they never treat the wound properly, the wound will build like a volcano about to erupt. If they never talk about their interior wounds with each other, they will manifest in a physical manner. The wife might become passive-aggressive, the boyfriend might become verbally abusive, the father might beat his children; whatever the context be, if the wound is not treated properly, it will manifest itself through destruction, decay, and ultimately it will culminate in death.
The analogy can be applied to civil unrest in the U.S. Since the U.S. has failed to treat the wound it has inflicted upon itself from the beginning, it manifests now in a physical manner: destruction, decay, and death. And just as the reaction of the partner is shock, as if this came from nothing (though in reality it has a cause), so too will the current violence, destruction, decay, and death appear to some to come from nowhere (though in reality its cause is a wound that has been festering since the time of slavery).
Racism is a complicated issue, for it stems back to the making of America. America was founded not only on many good principles but also on the subservience and submission of a group of people: Africans. Now the interesting thing when one observes slavery in America, as opposed to slavery in other parts of the world as well as throughout human history, is slaves were not always seen as inferior due to skin color. Furthermore, the system in America was built in such a way that it intentionally sought to submit a group of people who were believed to be inferior merely on the basis of skin color.
What Matters, and Why?
When we say to “black lives matter” movements that “all lives matter,” we are saying that what you experience as an individual black person does not matter. When one sweepingly remarks, “all lives matter,” what they are saying is that my individual suffering as a black person is not all that unique. Hence, my life is not worthy of attention. Consider this example: a woman approaches you and says, “My husband abused me.” And in a brash manner you reply, “Be silent. It is just your perception.” I would like to think that none of you would respond in such a manner! In the same way, you ought to listen to your black brothers and sisters. To say that “black lives matter” is on the one hand to acknowledge that my experience as a black individual is not being heard; while on the other to say “now we hear you.” So scream on.
If we want to honestly seek Truth and Justice in all human phenomena, like the death of a black man, we must buckle down with a somber and serious attitude and ask the most fundamental question: “Why do black lives matter?” To answer this properly, we must not only acknowledge the truth of the claim itself but also ask: “What makes it true?” This question is an important one for all those who truly desire Justice. Because true Justice requires Truth, otherwise this is merely an empty justice.
What grounds the truth of the claim that “black lives matter” is the fact that it has its origin in a transcendental principle: we are created in the image and likeness of God. This is the primordial and eternal truth. This does not detract from the truth that black lives matter. In fact, the claim that “we are created in the image and likeness of God” elevates the experience of the black community in America to a heavenly scope. By invoking this primordial truth, we see that the source of the problem ultimately comes from the interior life.
Inside of each one of us, there is a battle for our soul. God wants us. Satan wants us. Which side are you on? If you say God, you have chosen the path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, St. Teresa of Calcutta, The Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus. Just think—why did Martin Luther King Jr. have such a powerful way of moving people: white, black, Jew, Christian, Muslim, and so on? Well, because he saw evil as evil and he wanted to get as far away from it as he could, which can happen only by choosing God. Hence, MLK was able to protest through peace. He had a divine view of the problem. He did not have a humanistic view but a transcendental view. Isn’t that why he was able to stir people? In fact, it is wrong to say it was him, because it is the Holy Spirit who inspires all of humanity to act on behalf of Justice.
Can We Move Forward?
The only remedy to racism is to go beyond a humanistic approach, which states that “man is the measure of all things.” Why? Because human beings are broken. It is like broken fingers pointing at broken fingers. We must seek out answers in the realm of the transcendent. We must invoke God, for it is only from God that we will be able to have true justice. If we linger within the human way of “fixing” things, then we are catapulted back to the time before Christ: “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth.” We must come to acknowledge that revenge, resentment, and anger will only lead to destruction, decay, and death. To invoke God into the human condition is to give the proper recognition to the problem, which is a spiritual war. To do so, we must begin with the interior life of humanity. This means that before we try to an exterior problem, we go deep within ourselves. This means that no one is exempt from the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed and downtrodden. It makes us all responsible. In fact, I am just as much culprit as perpetrator—though I may not have committed specifics act such as murder, rape, theft, etc. Though I may not be guilty, I am responsible.
One cannot speak about this issue as a Catholic without first invoking prayer. Ask yourself, have I prayed with real genuineness that there may be eternal peace? I have not seen one person say to themselves, “I pray for the soul of Mr. Floyd that he may be bathing in the beatific vision.” Why is that? Do we think that there is no eternal life? Have we forgotten that Christ the King is Lord of Heaven and Earth? This also brings me to invoke the kingship of Christ. We must see the world through the lens of Christ’s kingship, which means “that you stand up and turn the other check.” This does not mean you succumb to brutality. Rather, you stand up to injustice. You challenge the system by showing that you will not move. You dare that the system tries to take your life. This is what we see with Christ Crucified, and in the holy martyrs whose blood was the seed of the Church.
We can only hope, through Sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition, that God permits evil because a greater good will arise from it. Otherwise one is justified in asking why is there evil? In fact, we can say by faith that if we fight like Christ, which may mean that we may be carried like a lamb to the slaughter, we will share in his Resurrection. Furthermore, Christ carries with him the wounds or the marks of his own people—all of humanity—and carries them as trophies, for they are an everlasting sign of God’s glory. Therefore, my black people take the wounds of not only your own but your ancestors and identify them with Christ crucified so you can be partakers in the Resurrected Christ. This is what you must pray for.
I will end with this story because it moves me to never give up and I pray it moves you to act: Anthony the Great, a monk and one of the early desert Fathers, was known for living an austere and aesthetic lifestyle in the desert. In his early days of a hermit’s life in the desert, he was known to be attacked by Satan. He asked God why this was happening to him. The voice responded, “I want to see my saints fight.” (Ephesians 6: 10-18)