Category Archives: Racism

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Honoring Melba Pattillo Beals

Mary Cunningham
February 9, 2018

“The task that remains is to cope with our interdependence – to see ourselves reflected in every other human being and to respect and honor our differences.”-Melba Pattillo Beals

Two years ago a friend and I got into a deep conversation about faith. We navigated the winding roads of what it means to believe in God, where we felt God’s presence, and how to maintain our faith when met with resistance. After our conversation my friend recommended a book to me – Warriors Don’t Cry, a memoir written by Melba Pattillo Beals about her experience integrating Little Rock High in Arkansas.

A few months later, I bought the book and was ready to delve in. As I sat down to read, Melba’s words washed heavy over me. I was pulled out of my own world of petty fears into the sharp reality of a young girl who feared for her life because of the color of her skin; at age 14, Melba was forced to grow up fast, saddened by the childhood experiences she never got to have. My friend and I talked about how to maintain faith during moments of resistance, but this was on a whole other level.

Melba Pattillo Beals was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students chosen to integrate the all-white Central High in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957 following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. Upon entering Little Rock High School on the first day of classes, a huge white mob shouting racial slurs and threats greeted Melba and the other students. Melba and her mom barely escaped. Even when the students were finally able to enter the school, they were harassed and condemned by white peers, teachers and staff members. Melba had peanut and glass smeared on her seat, she was tripped, pushed, and almost blinded by a student who threw acid into her eyes. President Eisenhower sent in members of the 101st Airborne Division to accompany the students to and from their classes just because the violence was so bad. Physically and mentally tormented, Melba’s faith and her family support remained her inner strength. Despite all the hatred around her, she continued to push forward, paving the way for women and men of color who came after her.

Warriors Don’t Cry woke me up. It made me realize how powerful it is when men and women – particularly people of color — are brave enough to go against the grain to fight for their rights and whose inner strength defies the often negative, hateful world we live in. They are the ones pushing against, resisting, and reshaping our society. I am inspired by Melba who despite all the negative energy around her, not only managed to persist, but managed to trust in God and to forgive. Even when she was stripped down to survival mode, she prevailed.

The book also forced me to identify and confront my own white privilege. Melba and other women and men of color have made sacrifices and continue to make sacrifices that I know as a white woman I will never have to face. I will never undergo racial discrimination, physical attacks, or fear for my life because of the color of my skin. Instances of racism like the ones in Melba’s story may seem less prevalent in today’s society. However, they still exist – just in varying forms. Racism is entrenched in our society, its practices, its institutions. And white privilege continues to inform our outlook and our actions. In order to truly confront these issues, we need to go beyond our comfort zones, educate ourselves, and truly confront our own white privilege if we are not men and women of color. Black History Month is a great time to start this journey. I am honored to share Melba’s story in hopes that others will take the time to learn about the amazing African American men and women who have moved our nation forward and made us more racially accountable.

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Powerful Young Voices for Justice

Emma Tacke
November 21, 2017

In early November I had the pleasure and honor of emceeing the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ).  This was a weekend where over 2,000 students from Jesuit affiliated high schools and colleges gathered in Washington D.C. to learn, celebrate, pray, and challenge one another to “row into the deep,” the theme for the conference. At a time when those in power continue to espouse prejudice, violence, and hate, the need for weekends such as these feel all the more necessary. It was restorative to spend time with such an energetic group of people who shared a common desire to build a more just world with fairer policies and a more empathetic and inclusive culture.

Let me be clear: this weekend was not reduced to a self-congratulatory party where we affirmed each other for being good socially and politically conscious people. This annual gathering was a chance for all who attended to put faith into action. It was a reminder that our commitment to God requires us to be resilient and dogged in the face of injustice.  The call of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In beckoned us to “Wake ourselves and others from dormancy” and to not “accept the status quo in either ourselves or our surrounding world . . . we will row into unfamiliar waters that will stretch and challenge us, but ultimately move us to magis, a greater, stronger, and more enduring love of justice.”

This theme of challenging ourselves to be courageous and work for justice was threaded throughout the conference’s breakout sessions. The narrative that we are powerless in the face of systemic injustices such as racism, classism, and institutionalized violence was rejected and tossed aside by dynamic and influential keynote speakers such as Father Bryan Massingale, Sister Patricia Chappell, and Dr. Maria Stephan. The weekend ended with a day of advocacy on Monday when over 1,400 IFTJ participants went to Capitol Hill to advocate for bills promoting criminal justice and immigration reform.

The students I met were engaged, smart, empathetic, and ready to talk about what they could do to be better advocates for justice. They queued up for a chance to speak with Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a celebrity in the Ignatian community. They packed crowded conference rooms to learn about the racial wealth gap, ending the death penalty, changing the civil discourse on immigration, and dozens of other topics. Hundreds of students made their way through the hall to visit the myriad of faith-based organizations that passed out information and advocacy tools.

Millennials are often dismissed as a self-absorbed, politically disengaged generation. As a millennial myself, it’s difficult for me to be objective, but what I witnessed at IFTJ and what I often see from my peers is anything but self-absorption and political apathy.  The momentum and energy generated by the 2,000 students at IFTJ wouldn’t have been possible if this group of young people were not aching to change the world. This desire to make a difference is not limited to IFTJ participants, nor should it be reduced to naiveté or foolish optimism. I am inspired by my peers to seek the truth and confront systemic and social injustice.  When working for justice, progress is often slow and pushing back against oppressive institutions is exhausting. It is not work that can be done alone. This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In was a call to action many responded to wholeheartedly.

I want to bottle the collective energy I experienced throughout the IFTJ weekend and take a swig any time I feel lacking in courage to continue challenging myself to advocate for justice. There is strength in numbers and the Igantian Family Teach-In is an example of the power collective faith in action can have in the march towards a better future.

Emma Tacke is a former NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Associate. She currently works as the Associate Director of Community Engagement at Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) in Washington D.C.

The Importance of Intentionality

The Importance of Intentionality

Jeremiah Pennebaker
November 15, 2017

What do I owe to the generations coming after me?

I was always taught to “reach back as I forge ahead” in my life and that nobody gets to where they’re going without some help and guidance from those who came before them. So I try and take that to heart, especially when I’m in a position where I can speak about my experiences and expertise.

I had an opportunity to do just that this past weekend at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ),  a conference for members of the Ignatian network  to come together to reflect and advocate for justice. Overall, it was a rewarding weekend of teaching, reflecting and discerning. My fellow NETWORK Associate Claudia Brock and I were tasked with educating various high school and college groups. We had the chance to talk to a multitude of young people who are motivated by their faith and values to engage in the political process throughout the weekend. Seeing their passion to learn about and do justice was very inspiring. At times I really felt that I was living up to that idea of helping those after me to move forward. I shared my knowledge and experience, provided them with insight on my position at NETWORK and told them how they can become NETWORK Associates one day.

What I failed to realize is that I would learn more from them than they would learn from me. The students at IFTJ taught me valuable lessons and inspired me to be a better pioneer for justice. I was particularly inspired at a session on what it means to be a feminist. I saw a big group of Black boys walk in, something I would have thought to be impossible, as it took me until my senior year of college to grasp the importance of feminism. So often I had heard and witnessed the lack of respect that men have for women — specifically in my friend circles– but to see a group of Black high school boys interested in feminism gave me some hope. I listened to a panel on immigration and heard one of the most heartbreaking stories of my life about a woman who lost her family to insidious immigration policies and procedures. I watched as the woman regained her resolve and spoke about how she continues to push forward even in the most daunting of situations.

I learned not only from hearing the experiences of others, but also by presenting at the conference. After my session on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I was critiqued by a young group of Black and brown students. Their feedback made me realize that I need to do better job of being intentional when I am attempting to “reach back as I forge ahead.” While presenting on the Racial Wealth and Income Gap, I made the mistake of only thinking about how my message impacts the white students in the audience. In my mind, I had only considered how the white students needed to learn about the horrific sins of the past and how the subject of racism is woven into our federal policies. I failed to account for the experiences of those who are too often the only person of color in the room.

I forgot about the times when I wished I wasn’t in history class surrounded by pale faces talking about how their ancestors didn’t think mine were people. I forgot what it felt like to feel singled out because slavery this and redlining that. I forgot that for the select few in the audience this was their daily experience and not just some educational exercise. I forgot maybe because I had become numb to being the token, a position I was placed so often. I realized that does not mean that I should irresponsibly place others in that position. I owed it to these students. They shouldn’t be forced to deal with both the reality of their situations and the potential condescension and or guilt of their white counterparts. I realized that it was my burden to bear as a facilitator to try and alleviate them from that difficult position in whatever way that I can. I realized that I need to hold myself more accountable to the people who look like me because I know they already have it hard enough.

I learned a lot from IFTJ. I learned what I could do to be a better example for the generations after me. I learned that as hopeless as the media may make the world look, there are too many people of all ages working for justice that I refuse to believe it.

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

LaTreviette Matthews
November 8, 2017

Historically our country has viewed women and people of color –especially those on the low end of the socio-economic scale– as second-class citizens.  Never before, however, had I experienced so many emotions for just being me than I did after the 2016 election. The first thing I felt was a tremendous amount of fear. After the election, there seemed to be a rise in hate crimes and attacks on unarmed men and women of color. I did not want to leave my house. Subsequently the fear left me and I turned to anger. I felt angry that after having an African American president for two terms, now in the year 2017, people of color were still being treated like they are less deserving of being in this country than everyone else. I felt the pain of my ancestors and was ready for war against white supremacy and white privilege.

When fighting for the right to self-determination, people of color have endured pain and resistance. I did not want to do things the old fashion way by engaging in non-violent protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. I vacillated between fight and flight, all the while determined to protect myself and my family at all costs. My emotions were beginning to change again. I was in limbo. I was still angry but now angry with a purpose. I wanted to do something. For centuries people of color have tried many forms of fighting back against racism and injustice. I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference. This presidential election was the catalyst for my ferocity. Uncertain of my future and armed with a fierce determination, I sought community support.

Before last year, I did not consider myself a political person. I did vote in the last five presidential elections; I felt it was important for my vote to be counted. However, for presidential elections held before then, I was uninterested in social political activism and did not understand the importance of having my voice heard through voting. Although I was aware that people fought very hard in this country for African Americans to vote, it did not dawn on me that my voice would make a difference today. Growing up as a young woman of color, I did not have someone like Sister Simone at my high school or college to discuss my political views, encourage me to go to a protest, or show me how joining a political group could make a difference. I thought the political stuff was best left up to the adults.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I am convinced that this backlash against Obama’s presidency happened in order to shake things up and to awaken people to the injustices happening in this country; injustices that have gone on for far too long. Aside from racism, sexual harassment and assault, just to name a few, are issues that have impacted me the most following the 2016 election. Over the past five years working at NETWORK, I have become more political in my views, more involved, and more “WOKE.”  As a woman of faith, I know that life and death are in the power of the tongue. As a woman of color, I know the double standard that comes with freedom of speech.

Today, social media and “fake news” seem to have surpassed the reach of traditional media. In spite of its limitations, social media has become a platform for getting voices heard. To that end, I commit to using my platforms to hold people accountable for their actions. I have joined racial justice groups and forums in hopes to educate myself and others about racism and the challenges that people of color face in the United States. Today I am more hopeful and more connected. Women of all races are rising up and raising their voices. This makes me proud to be a woman of color in the fight for racial justice and social justice.

Finding Beauty in Difference

Finding Beauty in Difference

Caitlin Wright
November 3, 2017

Everything is so…white, I couldn’t help but think as I emerged from the 72nd Street Broadway metro station on the Upper West Side. Not only were the people strikingly white, but the buildings, the sidewalks, everything was gleamingly ivory. The streets of Brooklyn that I had grown accustomed to were far away, both in distance and memory, as I converged with the other white women of one of the wealthiest areas of Manhattan. Though I was not sporting Givenchy or Prada, it was odd to think that superficially, I had much more in common with these people than with residents of the other boroughs. Yet I felt the most uncomfortable I had since moving to Bedford-Stuyvescent, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, as a Jesuit Volunteer a month and a half prior. I pounded the pavement — my attempts to look like a native New Yorker typically consist of me walking quickly in a distinct direction — toward the Church of the Blessed Sacrament to see a talk with a Jesuit priest that others and I admire very much: Father James Martin.

In his talk, Father Martin spoke about his most recent publication, Building a Bridge, a monumental piece of literature for the Catholic Church. In Building a Bridge, Father Martin reflects on the essential bond the Church must nurture between members of the Catholic faith and the LGBT community. After the lecture, I could not stop thinking about the discussion surrounding the concept of “the other”. Jesus calls us toward the marginalized, toward the oppressed, and toward those in need. He calls us not toward ignorance, nor denial, nor pity for those who are different, but toward solidarity; toward true empathy that we are unified as children of God. Your neighbor, whoever he/she/they may be, is inextricably bound to you through God’s love. As Father Martin said that night, “There is no ‘other’ for Jesus. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only us.”

In no way am I disregarding the essential recognition of those who are different from you or me, but we must see the beauty in these differences rather than allowing them to become divisive. It is far too easy to allow ourselves to see each person superficially, especially in this political climate. Even Jesuit juggernauts like Father Martin are facing massive backlash for efforts toward unification that are manipulated into cruelty and spite. Class consciousness only prevails in the greatest efforts toward understanding, when we ask a question and sincerely listen to the answer without malice. And it is only with this class consciousness that we can achieve a faith that does justice.

I thought about this as I exited the church back into the Upper East Side, questioning the judgements I had held about the diverse neighborhoods of the largest city in the world. On my train back to Brooklyn, I asked myself, had I been too self-righteous in thinking that I already knew it all? Was I inserting myself into a community with preconceived assumptions, allowing existence of the “other” to remain? When I arrived in Bed-Stuy, I promised myself that I would ask more of these questions, and challenge myself to see beyond. I am called to act with justice, not only as a Jesuit Volunteer, but as a child of God, and this call asks me to love and serve by being with others, side by side, in solidarity. Whether I am with my clients, my housemates, my neighbors, the people in my subway car, or even the Upper East Siders, the matter remains: there is no “us” and “them”. There is only us.

Caitlin Wright is a Jesuit Volunteer serving at Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn. She is originally from Prior Lake, MN and graduated from Creighton University in May of 2017.

Distracted

Distracted

Jeremiah Pennebaker
October 23, 2017

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” -Toni Morrison

I used to love watching football every Sunday with my parents. I remember the scene well: my mom, an avid New England Patriots fan, and my father, laying claim to both the Cowboys and the Steelers– the teams who thrived during his childhood– both screaming at the TV, the living room filled with the aroma of fried food, and the surround sound pumping the voice of Al Michaels throughout the house.

Football is a sentimental pastime for me, as I’m sure that it is for many people across the country. But like many others, football has become difficult for me to watch. Since the kneeling protests by Colin Kaepernick and a multitude of other players across the NFL have started, I have been distracted from the game that I love by something larger. I can no longer watch football without being reminded of how much my life does not matter. I can’t watch football without being reminded that as a Black man in America, I only exist as a problem that needs to be solved, an animal to be muzzled and caged, a commodity to be bought, sold, and discarded.

I can no longer plug in, turn on, and tune out of the daily distraction that is racism when I watch football. I can’t watch football without thinking that people care more about a song and a piece of cloth than they do about a 12-year-old boy being gunned down for playing in the park. It has tainted the game I love. Some in the United States would rather have me pledge allegiance to the flag than the country be a nation with liberty and justice for all. It is hard for me to stomach this and simply “stick to sports.”

Football was a distraction for me, and I’m sure for many others, from the daily struggles of life. Now, it brings my lack of humanity in our society to the forefront every Sunday when I hear about people heckling those who kneel in protest or see the overt and covert racist tweets about “ungrateful athletes.” I imagine that those people are frustrated because they are also distracted from their favorite pastime. This was something that they could retreat to when they did not want to be bothered by the distraction that is the Black man begging for change outside of the subway. The distraction that is the Black girl with the funny name and big hair who “only got the job because of affirmative action”. The distraction that is the Black kid at school who keeps complaining about the confederate flags flying in the parking lot. These distractions have infiltrated the sacred space of American football. It is no longer the noncontroversial space of hard work and meritocracy that Americans viewers are used to. They’re distracted because their once colorblind consciousness has been forced to recognize that these athletes are people too. Black people. Black athletes are Black lives and their lives should matter just as much as I want mine to.

Blog: More on SNAP – How Could They?

Blog: More on SNAP – How Could They?

Marge Clark, BVM
May 22, 2013

Today, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to accept an amendment with racially skewed outcomes. Unanimous consent means NO SENATOR OBJECTED!

Senator Vitter (LA) proposed disallowing anyone ever convicted of any of a specified list of violent crimes – at any time in his/her life to ever again receive SNAP benefits. Further, it specifies that their children or other family members would have their benefit cut. It doesn’t matter how many decades have passed since the crime, and how much time was served. A young teen caught in a violent situation could have his/her family denied sufficient nutrition for the rest of his/her life.

It is common knowledge that minorities frequently have received less fair treatment in the courts than to those of us from European origins. They are less likely to have had good counsel. Low-income African-Americans in the South often faced hostile juries and judges. Police were not always as careful with evidence.

The supposed attempt is to keep the worst of repeat offenders from getting assistance. But, no one thought to tweak the amendment to protect the innocent families. We are reminded again of what is in Scripture: Children are not to be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors.

This amendment can still be rescinded or modified. Senators, consider what you have agreed to, and make necessary changes so as to not punish those who need protection.

Blog: Smithsonian Racism Exhibit Promotes Reflection

Blog: Smithsonian Racism Exhibit Promotes Reflection

Matthew Shuster
Sep 23, 2011

This past Wednesday, the NETWORK staff ventured to the National Museum of Natural History to visit the new exhibit on racism, entitled, “Race: Are We So Different.” The exhibit, developed by the American Anthropological Association, presented race in an interesting manner as it not only provided historical and modern cultural information on race, but scientific and psychological as well. It included fascinating, but revealing interactive portions such as a game where the visitor must guess a person’s ethnicity based solely on their voice recordings – reminding the visitor that racism stems from prejudice not just based on skin color, but also from the sounds that we produce to communicate

Scientifically, the exhibit demonstrates biological proof within the study of genetics and artifacts to emphasize the point that race is a manmade, fallible classification system, most often used by wealthier, powerful groups to enact unfair and blatantly unjust policies to increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. My favorite stop of the exhibit was about the history of racism and housing in the United States in relation to the wealth gap.

We here at NETWORK aim to educate the public, as well as the business and political leaders of our country about the imperative necessity in these harsh economic times to promote policies based on love and acceptance instead of racial ignorance that will allow people without much to have a chance to increase their income based on hard work and ambition. Here is a link to the exhibit’s website:http://www.mnh.si.edu/exhibits/race/. I recommend it! Maybe some of the Super Committee members will stop by for some inspiration? We could only hope.

Measure More than GDP!

Measure More than GDP!

By Shannon Hughes
July 11, 2011

What if we cared enough about our wellness as people to run statistics about it on a ticker in Times Square? In the Philippines, governors compete for prestige by reporting on and their economic accomplishments, but also their people’s rank according to  the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Government in the US, however, doesn’t officially use this data, instead focusing on stock prices and the GDP to tell us something about the success of our country.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, co-author of The Measure of America, knows that we can’t stop there. By calculating a single number based on the three basic standards of the Human Development Index – health, education, and income –The Measure of America gives us another look at how America measures up. Not surprisingly, inequalities abound across gender, race, and geography. The good news is, we can visit and understand the places that are doing well, and strategically focus policies to decreases the “entire century of progress [that] separates New Jersey’s Asian Americans and South Dakota’s Native Americans” in terms of life expectancy. Check out this video to hear Burd-Sharps explain her work more fully. Ready for more facts? Check out http://www.measureofamerica.org/ for interactive resources including a Common Good Forecaster and a personal Well-o-Meter.

Blog: Race, Wealth, and Intergenerational Poverty

Blog: Race, Wealth, and Intergenerational Poverty

Page May
Jun 10, 2011

Blog: Race, Wealth, and Intergenerational Poverty

Article: There will never be a post-racial America if the wealth gap persists.

From The American Prospect-

“Since the election of Barack Obama, a growing belief has emerged that race is no longer a defining feature of one’s life chances. But the extraordinary overlap between wealth and race puts a lie to the notion that America is now in a post-racial era. The smallest racial wealth gap exists for families in the third quartile of the income distribution where the typical black family has only 38 percent of the wealth of the typical white family. In the bottom income quartile—the group containing the working poor—a black family has a startlingly low 2 percent of the wealth of the typical white family.

Given the importance of intergenerational transfers of wealth and past and present barriers preventing black wealth accumulation, private action and market forces alone cannot close an unjust racial wealth gap—public-sector intervention is necessary…However, wealth, given the racial disparity of its distribution, can be an effective non-race-based instrument to eliminate racial inequality. We could shift from an income-based to a wealth-based test for transfer programs. Policy eligibility based on net worth below the national median would qualify a large proportion of black households…. These changes in eligibility should be coupled with policies to promote asset building.”

Read more here.