Getting Honest and Uncomfortable About Race and Discrimination

Racism exists. It still exists.

This is a nasty and humbling truth that we must face.

However, I think it would be faulty to talk about racism, politics, and systems, without talking about ourselves first. It’s easy to point at groups of people on Twitter and be too prideful to point at ourselves first.

And that’s what I want to challenge you to do. I want you and I to look at our hearts and the ways they might be filled with poison and lies. I want to unpack and combat discrimination and prejudices in our own day-to-day lives so that we can rise above the sin of racism and discrimination, on a macro and micro level, in the pursuit of authentic love.

But first, we must get uncomfortable, we have to talk about this. We have to let down our defenses and lay down our need to be right. We have to be humble enough to un-harden our hearts, even the areas we didn’t realize we’d allowed to be hardened. We have to listen with compassion and be slow speak and slow to anger (James 1:19). We have to be courageous enough to bring to light the issues many of us have been silent about, both consciously and unconsciously .

Recognize that racism is a pro-life issue.

Bishop Robert Barron calls racism “the original sin” of the United States. He goes even further to say, “it has bedeviled our nation from its inception to the present day… it’s our age-old still festering wound.”

Our society has a long, dark history of attempting to use race to define who is human and who is not. Often times, this definition relied on stereotypes and words that dehumanized and destroyed the lives of mass groups of people, as evident in the mere existence of slavery, internment camps, segregation, and labor discrimination.

Thankfully, the United States’ government has made many strides to restore the dignity of all human beings by creating laws and policies to eradicate racism and the dehumanization of people. The U.S. Catholic Bishops recognize this effort in a statement that says, on the surface, much of the “ugly external features of racism have been eliminated.” However, whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, the sin of dehumanizing people based on race still exists today and manifests itself in both obvious and obscure ways.

Recognize that we’re all accomplices.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops state, “the sinfulness of racism is often anonymous but nonetheless real. The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices.” We are all accomplices, but it goes much deeper than “racist” or “not racist.” Racism and prejudice have a long history in the U.S. and, from a psychological perspective, these tendencies are rooted farther below the surface than we may realize.

Being an accomplice doesn’t mean you’re violently yelling racial slurs or carrying a KKK flag. Being an accomplice could mean passively allowing yourself to have a bias against people that don’t look like you.

You see, our brains take in all kinds of information and categorize it, putting it in folders (more on this here). Our brains do this for people as well. When our brains puts people into categories, they characterize them with good or bad qualities. This is how stereotyping works. When we see a person, we assume certain things — consciously or subconsciously — based on past categorizations and current influences like media, school, friends, and family. For example, if I repeatedly hear the same narrative of how black people are dangerous, I’m probably going to assume that the black person in front of me is dangerous.

This reality of psychology isn’t bad. Our brain does this in order to process information efficiently. It is, however, problematic when categorization of people leads to bias towards people of color. God made us — for true communion with others of all races, walks of life, and backgrounds. We can best do this when we overcome our tendencies to develop biases, and, as a result are made free to see the whole person in front of us.

Recognize how your own race has affected you.

Really think about that. Write it all out. Recall conversations. Times where people have stereotyped you by it. Times where your race enhanced or hindered your life. What would it be like to be another race? Would you want to be another race? Answer that question.

Whether or not you’ve thought of this before, race has played an integral part of how your life has been lived.

I was in 1st grade when a boy stretched out his eyes and mockingly imitated Asian languages. I still remember precisely where I was standing on the playground because I remember how much that moment hurt. This boy wasn’t born with this idea, it was taught. It was taught to him like how all of us learn racial perceptions, prejudices, and dehumanizing humor.

As this continued to happen growing up, I remember actively deciding to act as least Asian as possible. I wanted to fit in. I went out of my way to not fit into Asian stereotypes, tried to abandon traces of my culture, and even made fun of my own race. I became insecure of the body I was born into.

I tried to brush off jokes and racial comments, though they always made me feel ugly, inferior, objectified, embarrassed, and foreign (even “positive” stereotypes like being smart). Comments like this came from strangers, close friends, and yes, Christians too.

As other people started to be more vocal with their experiences as a person of color, I learned that I wasn’t alone in how I felt. I realized that being Asian was not the issue, but instead the issue was with how Asians are treated by others. These repeated experiences of discrimination, led me to truly believe that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t white.

On the other end, I can ask the question, has being Asian ever worked towards my benefit? For example, I know people will probably never look at me and think I’m dumb or lazy. I have never been followed around a store with the assumption I might steal something. People won’t assume I’m violent or dangerous.

Have people assumed negative things about you because of your race? Do people constantly point out your race in conversation? Do people generally treat people of your race as unique individuals? Do people usually assume good things about you based on your race? You have to ask these uncomfortable questions. You have to be aware of how people interact with you because of your race. You might have trouble answering these questions, but just because it’s not something you experience, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Look at race the way God does.

When we think about how God sees us, it can be tempting to think, “Well does He even see color? We’re all children of God so our color has no importance, right?” Not quite. God, in His great artistry and grand power, could have made us all the same race. But, He didn’t.

God made us beings with both body and soul — an incredibly profound unity. Christina Mead explains in this blog, “We are one being. So just as much as your soul is you, so is your body you.” This is key when approaching race.

Our bodies are sacred. Race is a part of our bodies. So race can’t be ignored, but rather, it ought to be embraced and seen as a magnificent, sacred part of how God made us. When God looks at you, when He beholds your face, He doesn’t see a floating glowing soul. He sees your body. His creation. He sees the person that you see when you wake up and look in the mirror. And despite the lies you’ve told yourself or about someone else’s physical features, He is in awe of our beauty- including our race.

If we try to ignore race in the name of remaining politically correct, we’re missing out on God’s artistry. If we ignore race, we’re ignoring an integral part of someone’s story, family, and history–a part of who they are — part of who God intended them to be, part of who He made us to know and love.

But, race alone doesn’t reveal everything about a person. This is the fundamental issue with racism — it detaches the soul from the person and refuses to acknowledge that people can’t be reduced to the color of their skin. Discrimination fails to recognize each human as more than just a body — it fails to recognize that each human has a body and a complex soul. If we can understand how sacred each person is, as body and soul, we can start to undo the bias in our hearts and minds.

Our Father… make Earth as it is in heaven

Throughout Scripture, Jesus continually explains that the Kingdom of heaven isn’t just for one type of person. He wants everyone — all nations, all races, all languages — to come together as one to worship Him. Pope Francis reminds us, “in diversity, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the beauty of her varied face.” God created our Church to be universal, to resemble heaven. Heaven includes everyone from St. Mother Teresa to St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Agatha Lin to St. José, Sánchez del Río to St. Maria Goretti, St. Francis of Assisi to St. Kateri Tekakwitha. It overflows with people who look like you and people who look nothing like you; people who have similar cultural experiences and people who you have nothing in common with. This is God’s vision for the Church.

We must defend Jesus.

Think of all the thought you’ve had about people because of their race. Would you think, say, or joke about those thoughts about Jesus–a Jewish, Middle Eastern man. If you answered no, you shouldn’t be okay with discriminating other people, as Jesus dwells in every person.

Discrimination against one person is discrimination against Christ. We can’t brush off discrimination. It’s not something to take lightly — it’s dehumanizing, it’s offensive, it’s sinful.

Saints are saints because they defended Jesus by defending the human dignity of others. They fought unceasingly, and probably uncomfortably, against heresy, poverty, corruption, slavery, and other sins of their time. Racism isn’t a sin of the past; it’s a sin of our time and remains a battle of our age. We can’t be silent. When we’re silent, we’re not neutral — we’re making an active choice to allow people to be dehumanized and contributing to the pain caused by racism. You need to be bold enough to say in the moment, “Hey that wasn’t right.” or pull people aside and say, “Have you considered…?” or “When you said ____ it made me feel…”

This blog was not written for someone else. It was written for you. So, I challenge you to humbly reflect on your life and recognize areas where you may be contributing to the problem, whether you mean to or not.

It’s not enough to simply mask racism with flowery ideas of kindness and peace. We have to actively work against it. This means humbly listening. It means taking ownership of the fact that our words and actions have power. It means saying sorry for the times we slip up. It means being bold enough to call others to greatness. Friends, we need to be so in awe of the sacredness of another person that we’re scandalized when someone is dehumanized. We have to treat racism like it’s blasphemous… because it is.

We must first go to Him if we want to change at all so pray with me,

Come Holy Spirit, enlighten me.
Humble my eyes, so I may fully see the beauty and dignity of all people.
Open my lips, make me bold, help me to speak the truth when words or actions aim to dehumanize my brothers and sisters.
Lord replace my heart with Yours, that I may love without condition. That I may not only accept all, but celebrate Your intentionality and creativity.

(Prayer by Imani Francis)

Author’s Note: For the sake of this blog, the word “race” was used to describe one’s physical features, ethnic, and cultural background. Additionally, this blog was not exhaustive and there were many issues that could and should have addressed.