Under the growing strain of months of COVID-19 isolation, millions of Americans, weary and glued to televisions for news of the pandemic, instead came face to face with a terrifying vision that redefined, in minutes, the way we will speak about racism in America forever.
There were no snarling dogs and fire hoses the day George Floyd—a Black man—was murdered in Minneapolis, only the slow, methodical, seemingly casual and deliberate choking out of a man’s final breath. In an instant, the very nature, structure, tools, and consequences of racism were revealed and seared forever in our minds’ eye.
In that moment, I personally saw that “systemic racism” is a terrible network of anti-human forces that collectively degrade and separate the human family and community. I saw that systemic racism can permeate society at every level and throughout every system health, housing, education, the economy, and our justice system, and still be barely noticed by those of us who benefit from it most.
The U.S. Bishops have called racism America’s “original sin” and “a sin that divides the human family and blots out the image of God among specific members of that family.” It is so overwhelmingly evil and damaging to the human family, they conclude: “The need to condemn, and combat, the demonic ideologies of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and racism has become especially urgent at this time.”
What we saw with our eyes the night of May 25, 2020, we must now see clearly with our hearts. Suffering, and shared suffering in particular, is the way to “unseal our heart’s vision.” When we see with our hearts the tragic division of our human family that springs from unchallenged racism and the damage that years of neglect and oppression have on our shared community—and on our one human family—then we will be free to act.
At this time, Catholic Charities humbly asks each of you—our partners, collaborators, and donors—to join us in seeing with our hearts the great holiness God has hidden in every human life and God’s deep yearning that we all be one. Join us in pledging to build a community that uplifts all people and vulnerably shares each other’s burdens. Join us in seeing with our hearts the power and beauty of solidarity with all those suffering from disadvantages woven into society and in pledging to dismantle systems that continue to oppress our brothers and sisters. Our shared heart’s vision will show the way.
Deacon Richard Birkel, Ph.D.