The following continues our series of reflections on our Parish Statement on Racism:
“We strive to recognize that the sin of racism can saturated areas of our culture and our systems. When Black men get longer sentences than white men for similar crimes, that is systemic racism. When schools resegregate, that’s racism. When Black girls are suspended from school at a higher rate than white girls for the same infractions, that’s systemic racism. Indeed, once one starts to notice the ways the sin of systemic racism has settled into housing, health, transportation, banking, education and policing systems, it is hard to identify any system not affected by it.” (from St. Margaret of Scotland Parish Statement on Racism)
Do we really strive? Some years ago as St. Margaret’s principal, I allowed the 8th graders to perform before the entire school and their families, a play in which the “poor children in need of food donations” were depicted as Black (indicated by language and style). The perpetuation of all-too-common racial stereotypes couldn’t be missed. I had not missed it; nonetheless, I had allowed it. Some parents had not missed it and called me on it–for which I remain grateful. In that moment so many years ago, I recognized the issue but didn’t know how to fix it. There didn’t seem to be enough time. The kids had already learned their lines. How could I step in at that late date? Needy, poorly dressed, somewhat illiterate Black kids were “saved” by the ever-generous white kids. Perpetuating this stereotype, I allowed the system to do its thing.
Before that experience and since then, on most days I often feel as if the system is winning. It is overpowering my strong belief that all humans are created in God’s own image, that all persons are deserving of respect simply because God cared enough to bless each of us at birth. So how do we change the system?
Step One: Admit that when one person benefits at the cost of another, it is against the will of God–it is sinful. From school discipline to prison sentences to segregated neighborhoods to denigrating language, those systems designed to benefit some must be recognized as sinful. Step Two: See those systems through the eyes of Jesus and empathize with those who are diminished by systematic racism. Step Three: Invite the Holy Spirit to inspire your prayer, words, and actions on behalf of those who are denied by systematic racism.
Julie Hesed is the chair of the SMOS Living Justice Ministry and is the former principal of St. Margaret of Scotland School.
Over the course of nine weeks, the SMOS Living Justice Ministry – Racial Equity Team will present reflections from various parishioners on the Parish Statement on Racism. To read more about the Statement, please go to the front page of the Parish website at stmargaretstl.org.