We hope you are having a restful and reflective Martin Luther King, Jr., Day today. As we remember the great social justice work of Dr. King, we should look at the barriers that still exist because of racism and inequality in our societies. If you haven’t read it, in 1979, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote an important pastoral letter on racism, Brothers And Sisters To Us, which explores the spiritual and cultural consequences of racism in our society and the many ways it contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Racism not only hurts the affected persons, but every member of the human family, as we read in the excerpt below:
Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” (4) Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation…..
To the extent that racial bias affects our personal attitudes and judgments, to the extent that we allow another’s race to influence our relationship and limit our openness, to the extent that we see yet close our hearts to our brothers and sisters in need, (22) – to that extent we are called to conversion and renewal in love and justice.
As individuals we should try to influence the attitudes of others by expressly rejecting racial stereotypes, racial slurs and racial jokes. We should influence the members of our families, especially our children, to be sensitive to the authentic human values and cultural contributions of each racial grouping in our country.
We should become more sensitive ourselves and thereby sensitize our acquaintances by learning more about how social structures inhibit the economic, educational, and social advancement of the poor. We should make a personal commitment to join with others in political efforts to bring about justice for the victims of such deprivation.
Racism still afflicts the United States in many ways, as we have seen from those protesting systematic racism and disparities in our criminal justice systems by organizing and participating in the #BlackLivesMatter events to the horrifying tragedies occurring in Charleston and more. We can all take the time to reflect on the dignity of every human person and, like Martin Luther King, Jr., the ways we are called to bring peace and justice to our own communities. Read the entire letter at the USCCB website here.