Educating to end racism

First slide

While many in the Washington metropolitan area were enjoying one last weekend of summer, dozens of people came to Marymount University in Arlington Sept. 5 to hear speakers talk about ways to combat racism. The conference theme, "Race Relations: Educating to End Racism and Build Solidarity," brought together experts and parish social justice activists to help find a way to end racism.

The morning began with Mass celebrated in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart Chapel of Mary Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

The bishop said that racism is not something new. He said that the U.S. bishops recognized this when they released "Brothers and Sisters to Us." Their 1979 pastoral letter on racism in 1979. The letter said that while great strides have been made, much of what has been done "has only been a covering over." The bishop said that changes to laws and policies are important, but "hearts have to change too."

Bishop Loverde urged all to be like Pope Francis and embrace the poor, the marginalized and the outcast.

Participants moved to the Reinsch Auditorium for the main program.

The keynote speaker was Father Henry Sands, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He succeeds Father Wayne Paysse.

Father Sands, a Native American and member of the Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes who spoke of his youth and experience with racism.

As a child, he remembered a Native American funeral being halted when it was discovered the man was to be buried in a white cemetery.

He said that at the time, Native Americans were seen as children, needing to be taken care of, or demonized.

"We were seen as not fully human," he said.

Father Sands also talked about "white privilege," a term that means people with white skin enjoy certain rights not afforded to people of color.

"It actually exists," said Father Sands, "(although) people don't want to admit it's real."

Father Sands called racial anxiety "the elephant in the center of the room." He said that in order to solve racism, we need to talk about it. We need to "rule and transform the elephant in the room into a house pet."

There is an "in-group bias" that helps to cause prejudice, said Father Sands. The bias is the special treatment and positive feeling we afford to people who we decide are in our group.

Father Sands defined prejudice as a negative attitude toward a group of people simply because of membership in that group; stereotype, generalizing about a group by assigning identical characteristics to all members of the group regardless of reality; and discrimination, a negative or harmful action toward a member of a group simply because of membership in that group.

After the keynote address, a panel discussion on racism was held with Father Sands, Deacon Al Douglas Turner, retired director of the Office of Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Maria Hamm, director, Hispanic Life and Leadership Development of the Archdiocese of Washington. The panel was moderated by Father Gerry Creedon, chairman of the Peace and Justice Commission and pastor of Holy Family Church in Woodbridge.

Hamm talked about experiencing racism as a Hispanic youth, but overcoming it.

"If you know who you are, you can stand up to it better," she said.

Deacon Turner said that people need to confront "white privilege" and face up to the reality of racism.

Talking about racism was seen as a start in the process of respect and inclusion.

As Deacon Turner said, "racism will not be healed until we have an honest conversation. We're not there yet."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015