Running from the past is no way to dismantle racism

Julia Morris
November 23, 2021

Did you know that the Catholic Church was one of the largest slave holders in North America? Me neither.

I have spent over a decade in the church and in countless hours of schooling, Mass, and service projects no one mentioned this to me once. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, 5th grade through college, but it was not until my post-grad Catholic year of service that I learned that the Catholic Church played a role in American slavery.

The private Catholic education system did not just forget to teach me and countless other, predominantly white students about this history. The Catholic Church is and was, running from an uncomfortable past.

The church’s history runs parallel, overlapping, and intertwined with white supremacy United States. The Catholic Church was a major player in the transatlantic slave trade, and the effects of white supremacy are still felt today, as researcher Robert P. Jones reports that white Christians who regularly attend church on Sundays are more likely to hold racial bias.

While the church did not teach me about racism, it did teach me about sins of omission, or leaving out parts of the truth to manipulate your listener. Leaving out parts of our history is lying. If the public education system in the United States was to do the same, it would not only be immoral but contribute to the increasing distrust our citizens have towards our own institutions.

What kind of effects could excluding teaching students about racism have on the American public? Take a look at Catholic politicians.

President Biden was Catholic educated yet he upholds Title 42. A Trump era immigration policy instated under the guise of containing the spread of COVID, which former CDC officials reveal they found no evidence that it would have any control to slow the spread of COVID were “forced to do it”, by the Trump administration. Biden’s choice to uphold Title 42 shows his either lack of care for or his inability to see the policy’s xenophobia.

Senator Joe Manchin is Catholic, in spite of foundational Catholic teachings that uphold the family and caring for children, he still pushed for work requirements for the Child Tax Credit that would benefit 400,000 children in West Virginia. Work requirements are a well-known dog whistle aimed at demonizing Black and Brown folks living in poverty.

Lets face it: This is a lose, lose, lose situation. Pandering to racists doesn’t help advance good policy. Refusing to reconcile is hurting the church’s numbers. People of color, as usual, are paying the price with food insecurity, facing bigotry, and their lives.

If the Catholic Church is actually serious when it says that racism is an intrinsic evil, then Catholic educators, politicians, and voters are going to need to start acting like it. So take it from me and the 87% of Americans who want this to be taught in schools -– not teaching about racism helps no one.