303: Whether we want to admit it or not, we all know how race functions in America.
Day 303: Wednesday January 13th, 2021
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all know how race functions in America.
Part 1 of a 2 part interview with Father Bryan Massingale quoted from Commonweal Magazine:
Fr. Bryan Massingale is a professor of theology at Fordham University, and the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. Commonweal Assistant Editor Regina Munch recently spoke with Fr. Massingale about the racist policies and structures in the country and the Church for the Commonweal Podcast.
Drawing on his training in theology and his personal experiences of racism, Fr. Massingale highlights the necessity of moving from anger to action in order to dismantle racism wherever it's experienced. You can listen to the full episode here. A transcript of the interview follows.
Question: You wrote an article for National Catholic Reporter in which you say that Amy Cooper holds the key to understanding racism in the United States. What did you mean by this?
Fr. Bryan Massingale: Let me tell you a bit about how that essay came to be. It was Pentecost weekend, and even though people call me a progressive Catholic, I’m still old school enough in my spirituality to believe in novenas. I was in the midst of the nine days of praying before Pentecost. That Monday before Pentecost was when the incident happened in Central Park when Amy Cooper, a white woman, basically called the police on an African-American man, Christian Cooper—no relation—who asked her to comply with the posted park regulations and leash her dog.
She did indeed do so, saying that there was an African-American man who was threatening her. That same day was when the murder of George Floyd took place in Minneapolis, and the nation’s attention fixated on that horrific outrage. And so that week as I was praying, I found I just could not pray. I just couldn’t, and as I was trying, tears were falling. I knew people wanted me to say something. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what to say.
And then it occurred to me: Amy Cooper held the key to help us understand what happened in Central Park. It tells us a great deal about what we mean by white privilege, white supremacy, and why these more blatant outrages occur.
We see a white woman who exemplified all of the unspoken assumptions of whiteness.
She assumed that she would be presumed innocent.
She assumed that the black man would be presumed guilty.
She assumed that the police would back her up.
She assumed that as a white woman, her lies would hold more credibility than his truth.
She assumed that she would have the presumption of innocence.
She assumed that he, the black man, would have a presumption of guilt.
She assumed that the police would back her up.
She assumed that his race would be a burden, and that she had the upper hand in the situation. She assumed that she could exploit deeply ingrained white fears of black men, and she assumed that she could use these deeply ingrained white fears to keep a black man in his place.
It occurred to me that she knew exactly what she was doing, but also that we all know what she was doing. Every one of us could look at that situation and understand exactly what was going on, and that’s the problem. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all know how race functions in America; it functions in a way that benefits white people and burdens people of color, and especially black people.
That systemic advantage, that awareness that most white Americans have even if they don’t want to admit it, means that they would never want to be black in America. We need to be honest about the centuries-old accumulations of the benefits of whiteness that make it easier to be white than it is to be a person of color.
Until we have the courage to face that reality and to name it explicitly, then we’re always going to have these explosions and eruptions of protest, but we will never have the courage and the honesty to get to the core of the issue and to deal with the systemic ways in which inequality works in America.
Question: You’ve compared the way that racism functions to a liturgy. How does that work?
I got that insight from a sociologist named Joe Feagin, and he says that just as in a liturgy you have an officiant or presider, you have acolytes, and you have a congregation, so too does racism.
You have officiants, the people who are the obvious perpetrators of racial injustice. They’re the people who are telling awful jokes, the people who pass policies that would disadvantage persons of color—for example, policies that create an unequal distribution of educational resources.
Then you have the acolytes, who are, in a sense, the enablers. The enablers are those who carry out those policies, who give approval to the heinous actions that are going on. But then you have the congregation. The congregation are the bystanders—the people who see what’s going on, know what’s going on, but who take no action to intervene.
When I talk about the bystanders, I ask people to think about going to their family meal at Christmas or Thanksgiving. You have the family member who tells a racist joke or who says a racist thing. What bystanders or the congregation will often do during that situation is to say things like, “Well, your grandfather comes from a different generation,” or, “That’s just the way your aunt was raised,” or, “It’s a terrible thing that he said, but deep down he’s a really good person.”
Bystanders teach onlookers a very important message: doing racist things is okay because white people will let you get away with it. We create safe spaces for racism to fester and to brew, and it’s out of that toxic atmosphere in our country that more heinous actions take place—the murder of George Floyd or the brutal killing of Ahmaud Arbery simply because he was jogging in a neighborhood. We create the atmosphere that says when white people do terrible things, other white people have your back. Other white people won’t call you out.
Feagan talks about how white people act one way in public, but when they’re backstage, as it were, in the company of whites, there’s a whole different set of behaviors that come into play. Even if you don’t do anything negative, if you are not actively anti-racist, if you’re not actively challenging people when they say and do terrible things, then you’re creating the permissive atmosphere that allows these blatant things to happen.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Need for Prayers for Rosemary and Joe Silva:
Please place Joe and Rosemary in your hearts, minds, prayers, and meditations today, tomorrow, and all the days following. Both Joe and Rosemary have contracted Covid and are sheltering at home. They are in a lot of pain but have managed to stay out of the hospital. We lift them up and pray for a speedy recovery!
ANNOUNCEMENT: SAM JONES MEAL IS ON!
From Denise Dixon:
We are on for next Tues at Sam Jones, 2/19. I am proposing we do a repeat of the enchilada casserole. I need 9 people to do main course, 3 for salads and 3 for dessert. Here are a few versions of a recipe. Let me know if you can help. Thanks - Denise
CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE
Cooked chicken: Either bake chicken breasts, or just shred a rotisserie chicken.
Veggies: The recipe below uses a quick blend of onion, red bell pepper, diced green chiles and corn. But feel free to add any other favorite veggies to the sauté.
Beans: One can of black beans, one can of pinto.
Enchilada sauce: Home made or store bought
Corn tortillas: Cut them in half, in order to help them layer a bit more evenly.
Shredded cheese: Any kind of Mexican blend, Monterrey Jack or Pepperjack will do.
Toppings: Chopped fresh cilantro, diced red onion, thinly-sliced green onion, diced avocado, sour cream, extra cheese…whatever sounds good to you.
Cook your filling: Sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft. Then stir in the green chiles, beans, corn, chicken and enchilada sauce until combined. This will be your main filling.
Stack your layers: In this order: enchilada sauce, tortillas, chicken filling, cheese, tortillas, chicken filling, cheese, tortillas, chicken, enchilada sauce and cheese.
Bake: Covered for 20 minutes at 350, then uncovered for another 10 until the cheese is melted.
Garnish: Sprinkle on any of your desired toppings.
1 pound ground beef*
2 cans (4 oz. each) taco sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup
12 corn tortillas
1 cup milk
½ pound cheese, shredded
2 cans (4 oz. each) chopped green chiles
Brown meat and onions in frying pan. Add soup, milk, green Chiles, and taco sauce.
Cut tortillas into quarters. Cover bottom of casserole with sauce and alternate layers of tortillas, cheese, and sauce until all are used.
Bake in 325 degree oven for I hour.
Hallelujah by Wuauquikuna