[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” -Saint John Paul II, On Social Concern no. 38
My family and I were on the way to mass on Christmas day when a stranger, a white man, leaned out of a building window to say Merry Christmas to my father…while calling him the N-word. I remember the look on his face, a look that I still can’t describe, as he quickly herded my mom and I into the car.
I remember as a kid, I was called the N-word by white kids, while joyfully bouncing in a bouncy house at a local church garage sale.
I remember in the early 2000s, as a student at Miami University of Ohio, when there were KKK rallies on campus, hate emails sent to homosexual students by the KKK, a cross that was burned in a Black faculty member’s front yard, ghetto parties hosted by white students and being called the N-word myself by peers.
I remember an occasion as the only Black in the class; I was asked to speak about the life of Black people.
I remember the time I was stirred from my sleep by the sound and sight of a young Black man being chased by a mob of white male students while being called the N-word, and the entire year when bricks were thrown through Black students’ apartment windows. There’s even the time when a brick was thrown through the window when I was working as a crisis hotline counselor because I would not support KKK propaganda while taking a hotline call.
I lived in fear as a student there.
There were many other experiences I have had in my community, and in the work place, but the ones that hurt the most were those in the Catholic community.
I love being Catholic. I love that Catholic means universal and that there is a global family that follows Christ. And yet, my first experiences of racism were in the Catholic Church and community.
I remember the first incident in 3rd grade when I was introduced to the terms “Oreo” and “Wigger” by white classmates, basically meaning I was Black on the outside by my skin color, but I “acted white” by the things that I liked and the way that I talked. Even at seven years old it was clear to me that first year of Catholic school; my race would be an issue in my predominantly white school. Taunts and bullying would continue for the next 5 years. I would even be spit on by a white boy, and get in trouble when I spat back. As much as I loved learning, school was a painful place. One year I would come home every day and lock myself in the bathroom and cry. I would receive hurtful comments from the kids in my class and the adults that were supposed to look after my education.
My school was silent and nothing was done.
I would move on to Catholic high school were I was told “students like you” don’t go to Miami University, so don’t bother applying. I was young, but I knew that my guidance counselor meant “Black like me”, and was neglecting the fact that I was heavily involved in school activities, community service, and was consistently on the honor roll. Over the next four years, I would experience and witness other encounters of racially motivated aggressions. Occasionally I would voice my concerns.
My school was silent and nothing was done.
And so, my mom became my guidance counselor and helped me apply to college.
One may say my experiences were due to the immaturity of youth and were unique occurrences. As I embraced my Catholic faith as an adult, I thought things would be different. As I witnessed Black men and Black boys being killed by the police in my city and across this nation, my priest spoke in his homily about the need of prayer and racial healing. But my Catholic Church was silent and nothing was done.
A couple of years ago, I heard of issues in my city about Catholic students hurling racial taunts to other Catholic students during a basketball game. This was just months after a local recreational team was investigated for letting kids wear basketball jerseys with racial slurs on them. There was a press release from the Catholic schools involved. There was talk about more talking to address the underlying issues of how when Catholic youth demonstrate, they betray their faith.
But mostly, my church was silent and nothing was done.
I painfully remembered the silence from my youth. And yet, more incidents arise. The year after, another nearby Archdiocese was in the news regarding a school field trip to Washington D.C. involving students in a racially charged viral video. My non-Catholic peers ask me, what is your Archdiocese doing? How will these issues be addressed? Tears well in my eyes, as I tell them my heartbreaks. I tell them that the Church acknowledges racism as a sin and then I go quiet. I know that my Archdiocese will say that drug addiction is a crisis and will urge every parish in the diocese to address this valid concern. I know that the racial intolerance that I have experienced and witnessed, within the walls of the Catholic Church and within the larger community, will be frowned on, but not considered an epidemic for every parish to address.
I know that my God loves me without a doubt. I know that I have Catholic friends that love me without a doubt. But, I also know that my church will be silent and do nothing.
After 38 years of being a Catholic, and decades of silence, I wonder if my church loves me enough to do something and not be silent.Tweet
James Baldwin said this about America:
I love American more than any other country in the world, and for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
“Perhaps many of us feel similarly about the church –we’re desperate to see it live out its truest potential” – Kat Armas.
Esperanza Gallón is a professional counselor with a teacher’s heart and most importantly a lover of God. She is a proud godmother, aunt, great aunt, sister and friend of many amazing people big and small. She is heavily involved in community work addressing social justice issues and building hope in darkness. She enjoys helping others find their true power and hope in difficult situations. She also loves Michael Jackson, traveling, music, film, writing for fun and eating ice cream.