By Bill Hurley
I have been deeply troubled these past few months. I have always been sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement, equal rights, anti-redlining, integrated neighborhoods. I even watched “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” about seven times. But recently, I felt I was missing the mark. I did not understand. Sure, no police have the right to hurt a person in custody, but I often thought “well they do have to protect themselves”. Then George Floyd was killed and his pleading voice disturbed me. His crying for his mother’s help disturbed me. Certainly, the eight minute and forty-seven second video disturbed me. I then went back and reread the accounts of Breonna Taylor’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s deaths. Then Rayshard Brooks was murdered. In none of these cases were police lives in jeopardy. What’s going on?
I have been searching to understand. Is there systemic racism in police departments across America? This answer I already know. But, was the reason because so many people of color were bad? I needed to explore. With each article or book, I read, I intellectually understood and agreed with their conclusions. I understand that taxing systems lead to education inequality. I know inequality of wages leads to housing issues. But, I needed to go deeper into my head so I could fully understand the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Laudato Si helps me understand that as a Catholic, racism is a sin. Racism is a Right-to-Life issue says Pope Francis, but certainly American Catholics “in the pew”, don’t accept this. USCCB statements helped me understand, but sometimes I think I am the only one reading them. Conversations with true believers in Catholic Social Justice and friends black and white helped.
Then, I received a synopsis of James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son”. The review was written by Stephen G. Adubato, Ph.D. Stephen is a White Italian who grew up in a very privileged and political world of Northern New Jersey. I figured he would be as confused as I was about the issue, but to my surprise he helped me to understand Black Lives Matter by getting me to look at my own life. I am now beginning to understand how lonely and hurtful it is to be Black in a White America. But, me being me, I knew my faith had to be in this internal conversation I was having. My love of Jesus has always been a preeminent part of my thought process. I was fortunate to read a recommended article in NETWORK Connection. The article, by Meghan Clark, Associate Professor at St. John’s University is titled “Voting Under the Sign of the Cross”. It centers on our participation in the political, social and economic life of our community. She tells us how important it is to vote. In reading this article, I got to thinking about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. How he suffered on the cross, both physically and with great shame. He struggled for breath for three hours. Clark refers to it as a first-century lynching. Well now we are dealing with twenty-first century lynchings. Are not the deaths of Floyd, Taylor, Arbery and Brooks comparable to the lynching of Christ? They too struggled to breath, they too died for others, and let us pray that they too are leading us to the second greatest act of forgiveness we will ever experience.
Here is where these readings took me…
We have all experienced pain, emotional and / or physical. But, when I have, I could do something about it. I could talk to others with similar issues, I could seek the help of a mental health professional. I could go to a doctor to relieve any physical issues. I could take these steps because my pain was within. No one alive was causing me pain. People of color can also seek help for their issues when the pain is within. James Baldwin experienced a great hate for his stepfather. It clearly affected his life even after he saw the man dead in a casket. Then one day, in 1948, he tried to eat dinner at a New Jersey diner. The waitress informed him, “We don’t serve Negroes here.” He lost it and flung a glass at the mirror behind the waitress. As he returned to his car he realized his real life was in danger and not from anything others might do but from the hatred he carried in his heart for his stepfather and all those who hurt him sbecause he was Black. He sought help and after struggling he could come to terms with his feelings toward his stepfather. He could also begin to forgive all those who hurt him because he was Black.
This is where I struggled. James Baldwin, to survive, had to forgive those who hate him only because he was Black. I thought about my case and realized I could forgive because the cause of my pain was gone. My father is long deceased. James Baldwin forgave even when the pain still existed. This is where I realized how much more it takes to forgive a White world when you are Black. I also realized that James Baldwin worked very hard and actively to forgive. Many Black people do not live as Baldwin did, they suffer economically because they are Black. Their health suffers because they are Black. Their self esteem suffers because they are Black. My finances, my health, my self-esteem does not suffer because I am White.
The uproars that took place in 2020, were long in coming. Blacks are now seeing that they were STILL dying only because they are Black. The incidents of George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s and Rayshard Brooks’ deaths were clearly unjustified. So many Blacks and their allies had enough. They had to act. They see America is still filled with the KKK, lynchers, death penalty advocates and even traffic stop harassers. They have to act now. They are still victims of a world that is still run by White, Christian men. A world that considers Native Americans half human, Black Americans as subhuman, Brown Americans as vegetable pickers and Asian Americans as people who should only be here to build our infra structure and then “go home”. When will White America asked for forgiveness of James Baldwin, Floyd, Taylor, Arbrey, Brooks?
Imagine living in a world where people hated you because you are Catholic, or White, or left-handed. Are we satisfied living in a world that condones all of this? We must be allies of support to change our world. We must talk to others about Black Lives Matter. We must educate others about Black Lives Matter. We must ally with those in the Black Lives Matter movement. We must vote for those who understand that Black Lives Matter.
I think I realize now how fearful it can be for Blacks in a White world. How resentful Blacks must be because people hate them only because they are Black. Systemic racism must end in America and that is why I believe Black Lives Matter!
But, in 2022 I fear the moment has passed. I do not see the outcry today. I do not see a call for a resolution to America’s racism. I fear that racism is going the way of gun violence – fifteen days of outrage and a few prayer services.
Now I must ask, where do you stand? With the marginalized and against marginalization? With the oppressed against their oppression? Answering these questions requires us to face how our lives have been aided by white privilege. You may also find answering these questions will require humility and the recognition that racism is sinful and evil.
Bill Hurley is Associate & Co-Chair, Immigration Committee