On this Day After I commend to you the following piece by Fr. Bryan Massingale for America Magazine. Here’s the link: https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2021/01/06/us-capitol-trump-riot-racist-239662. No, Fr. Massingale is not a Jesuit. Would that he were.
Fr. Massingale notes what we all saw as we watched yesterday’s insurrection unfold: White American supporters of President Trump occupying, vandalizing and desecrating the United States Capitol, carrying the Confederate battle flag. That such a powerful symbol of treachery, racism and white supremacy would show up in a crowd of white insurrectionists is, sadly, no longer surprising. President Trump has supported, praised, uplifted, defended and allied himself with racists and white supremacists for many years.
The mortal sin of racism can neither be teased or separated from other issues of justice. Here again, Fr. Massingale:
We must address racism because of this simple fact: Almost every social justice challenge that faces us in the United States is entangled with or exacerbated by racism against persons of color, and African-Americans in particular. No matter what issue you bring to the table, whether it be health care access, immigration, mass incarceration, educational disparity, living wages, justice for women, pro-life, poverty or L.G.B.T.Q. issues, they are all entangled with and enmeshed in racism. If you want to deal with educational access, or immigration, or care for the environment, or poverty, and you do not deal with race, you are on a bridge to nowhere. You cannot get justice right if you do not get racism right.
The just-quoted article includes a term from social science that, for me, effectively captures one of the key features of systemic racism: “racially selective sympathy and indifference,” which Fr. Massingale defines as “the unconscious refusal to extend the same level of recognition and care to another that we would give to members of our own group.”
When I was a boy – back when dinosaurs ruled the earth – my little friends and I would spend hours playing Life. Not the delicious cereal called Life®, but the Milton Bradley board game more properly called The Game of Life®, the original version of which dates from 1860. The game itself belonged to my best friend John Harvey – then as now, I had neither The Game of Life® nor indeed a life, as evidence for which I note with sadness that the aforementioned John Harvey – whose family had more money than mine and whose parents actually LOVED him – was given, for his 10th birthday, a little metal steam engine that had a boiler and a piston and a flywheel and actuallyworked when you filled the little boiler with water and heated it with little hexamine fuel pellets. In mute desperation I wanted one of these little steam engines almost as much as I wanted an aluminum Christmas tree, but alas…. Anyway, the goal of Life®, as I’ve only this morning learned (after all these years of sweat and study), is to retire in wealth, although I’ve also learned that more recent versions of the game encourage doing this or that good deed along the way. Yawn. Anyway, back then every player got their own tiny plastic convertible. Each little convertible had six holes in it. These holes were the seats, into which you inserted even tinier pegs representing people, blue for boys and pink for girls. After countless games some of the little pegs had gone missing. One of the pegs had been – inexplicably, although it may have been that my friend John had used the peg to apply paint to one of his model airplanes that actually flew – in the air – splashed with black paint. When there were lots of players the odds increased that you’d end up with the black peg. Nobody wanted the black peg. You’d do everything you could to avoid getting the black peg. During one especially memorable game one of the younger players began to cry at the prospect of having to seat the black peg in his plastic convertible.
Even though we never talked about it as such, every one of us knew what the black peg and having the black peg in your plastic convertible had come to stand for. We’d have known it even if one of us – having ended up with the black peg – had not, in his distress, wailed the words, “But I don’t want to be black!”
It’s important to note that not one of us would have described himself as “prejudiced” – our word for racist. We understood that racism was a bad thing – a bad thing that bad people, most of whom were from the South, did. We weren’t bad. Neither were our parents. But you didn’t want the black peg. No, sir.
So, do you think that the insurrectionists with Confederate battle flags would describe themselves as racists? Of course not. Except perhaps for the fringiest of those on the fringes, no American would describe themselves as a racist. Heaven forbid. That’s one of the things that makes our deeply-entrenched systemic racism so insidious: It’s hard to notice unless you’re actually looking for it. It can be so easily missed, and especially so in a society that has learned that there are words that nice people don’t use and things that nice people don’t do.
Responding to Wednesday’s attack, a fair number of legislators and commentators have said, “That’s not who we are.” To which I respond, “Fiddlesticks.” It may not who we, or some of us, want to be but it is most certainly what we have become. And we can’t blame it all on our desperate and deranged president. Again, I cannot put it any better than Fr. Massingale:
But Trump is not solely responsible for this debacle. Here is where the wisdom of the Catholic moral tradition is achingly relevant. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that one shares in the evil of another “by omitting the counsel that would have hindered the wrongdoing” and by “silence, by not preventing, by not denouncing.”
What we witnessed in Washington is a direct consequence of four years of enabling complicity, cynical appeasement and cowardly silence. It is the consequence of those who knew that the president is grossly incompetent for the office, but said nothing. It is the result of those who repeated his lies about a stolen election to curry short-term favor. It is the consequence of political leaders who refused to confront his unprecedented destruction of democratic norms out of fear of a presidential tweet.
It is also the consequence of the complicit silence and active support of religious leaders who refused to confront the cancer of white nationalism that this president endorses and who excused all manner of his wrongdoing, incompetence and brutality by saying these were not the “pre-eminent evil” that should determine a Catholic’s vote.
Dear ones, things do not have to be the way they have been. We can be better. We can do better. We can work together to right the wrongs of the past. The state of things is that we are beloved, and never more so than now. With the immensity of that love comes the invitation to walk with the One of whom St. John the Baptist said: “Behold the Lamb of God.”