Racism and Discrimination
Racism and discrimination are a form of social and personal disorder that adheres to the assumption that one race or social group is inherently superior to the other. This outlook is not based on any inherent biological superiority; rather, it originates from socio-cultural ideas regarding the superiority of a particular individual by the race, religion, ethnicity or social class that they originate from. One of the best historical examples of racial discrimination in action can be seen before the mid-1900s African American Civil Rights Movement when black Americans were considered second class citizens due to the color of their skin and were given fewer opportunities and rights despite the fact that they were also American citizens.
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The stance of the church in this matter is reflected in the 1989 Papal Encyclical by the late Pope John Paul II, which correlated racist and discriminatory thoughts and attitudes as a sin. From the perspective of the church, all individuals are equal in the eyes of God and should be treated as such. While attitudes related to overt racism and discrimination are no longer as prevalent as they used to be, subversive elements still do exist, this is apparent in the various discriminatory practices that continue to plague society today (Beyer 7). This can be seen in the discrimination against American Muslims, Latin Americans, and even African Americans. With racism and discrimination still prevalent in America today, one must wonder what the church is doing to counteract the ill-effects of such practices?
What Does the Church Teach Regarding this Issue?
Scriptural Basis for the Church’s Teachings
In Galatians 3:28, it is stated that “there is neither Jew or Greek or even slave or free man, male or female; rather, we are all one under Jesus Christ.” This verse implies that all of us, regardless of who were are or where we come from, are considered the same and equal under Christ (Regan 1027). This is a statement that is supported by Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 10:34 as well as Galatians 3:28, which all emphasize our equality under God.
This is a sentiment that can be summed up in a single phrase “God does not play favorites”. In other words, there is no such thing as one race being superior to the other or one group being inherently better; we are all a single people with differences that make us special and unique, yet in the end we are all the same (Valadez and Mirci 162). It is based on these passages, as well as numerous others, that the stance of the church has been one of tolerance of differences, the celebration of the unique and the acceptance that we are all brothers and sisters under God.
Summary of Teachings from one Papal Encyclical
One of the best Papal Encyclicals that relate to racism and discrimination was the encyclical of Pope John the XXIII, which was published on April 11, 1963. In it, the Pope explains that though all beings are reflections of the infinite wisdom of God, there is disunity among us, brought about by considerations related to differences in economic classes, cultural clashes, discrimination against what is different and rampant racism (Tablan 291). The encyclical states that these are artificial creations brought about by man’s hubris in his desire to control, categorize and to place order in his life. A significant emphasis is placed on maintaining such order based on the influences of individual cultures and, in so doing, creates conflict when two or more cultures or people come into contact with one another.
What must be understood though is that, as reflections of God’s divine wisdom, we are all the same and bear a small aspect of our creator. We are all human and have inalienable rights and freedoms. In essence, it is the artificial constructs of society as we have come to know them today that have caused people to lean towards discrimination and racism. Society has begun to take on a different meaning wherein it is praised on the same pedestal as the Lord Almighty where groups of people emphasize they are better than others by belonging to a particular society (Finn 136).
This is the origin of racism and discrimination since several groups have created an artificial belief in superiority based on a false idol (i.e. social groups). All of us need to understand that it is not a society that defines us, that controls who we are, or influences our freedoms. We are one body under God and is through his love and divine providence that we exist and thrive in this world. The closer we are to understanding that we are all one and the same under God, the more likely we are to turn away from discrimination and racism and focus on improving who we are as individuals for the glory of our creator.
Pastoral Letter From US Catholic Bishops or Regional Bishops
The 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference delves into the concept of the current subversive nature of racism. In the past, racism was more obvious based on biased practices, laws and attitudes that were clearly evident. These days, such practices are no longer as prevalent as they once were; however, this does not mean that they have completely disappeared from the landscape of society.
While it is currently illegal to discriminate against someone based on their race when it comes to jobs or various opportunities, discrimination still exists resulting, in particular, different ethnicities such as Latin Americans being denied potential job opportunities (Caccamo 301). This is due to the idea that Latin Americans are perceived as a source of crime within the community; however, what people fail to realize is that by denying people legitimate opportunities, they are making sure that such individuals have no choice but to turn to crime.
From the point of view of the Catholic Church, the problem lies in the way in which people learn to discriminate or be racist. Such attitudes are not inherent, instead, they come about through social influences which cause a person to think in a particular manner. The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference states that the only way in which racism and discrimination can truly be removed is if we address how social concepts and behaviors are transmitted from one generation to the next.
Putting Catholic Social Teachings Into Practice
Two interesting examples of the Catholic church putting its social teachings into practice can be seen in the support of the Australian Catholic University for the anti-racism campaign by the Australian Human Rights Commission as well as the activities of the Catholics in Alliance Organization. In the first example, the support of ACU is done not only through tacit approval of what the commission is doing but also in how it promotes the ideals of human rights, non-discrimination and equality among its students. In the case of the Catholics in Alliance organization, it promotes the creation of various public policies and programs that emphasize on bringing to light the inherent dignity found in all people with racism and discrimination being at the forefront of the issues it tackles.
Working to End or Speak Out Against It
Work towards removing the “language of racism” from the general public consciousness
Over the past few years, there have been numerous instances where celebrities and politicians have been called out for their use of what can be defined as “racist language”. Examples of this come in the form of the term “nigger or negro” for African Americans and “beaner” for Latin Americans. The fact that prominent individuals were criticized for their use of these terms is a good sign since it showcases the growing social awareness regarding the negative impact that racism has.
However, the fact remains that the use of such terms continues to be prevalent despite the fact the American Civil Rights Movement, as well as numerous instances of equal rights protests that have occurred since the 1950s. If people are aware that the use of such racist and discriminatory terms is wrong, and it is accepted that such terms should never be utilized, why is it that they continue to exist and are used extensively today despite 70 years of advocacy against their usage?
The problem lies with the public continuing to place some level of importance behind racist or discriminatory language. Words like “negro” and “beaner” are now placed under the same category as swear words and are often utilized in the same situations (Santos and Laczniak 29). Unfortunately, this ensures their continued existence since the public, in effect, maintains them through informal usage. What is needed is for the “language of racism” to be given less importance, this is not done by banning their use since this is likely to encourage it; rather, it is better to start by educating children that these words are not appropriate to be utilized under any context.
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People do not start out as racists or inherently discriminate against others; they learn these behaviors over time as a direct result of the influence of their environment. By removing racist and discriminatory elements from a child’s upbringing (i.e. racist language), this ensures that they are less likely to utilize such terms or engage in such practices (Groody 17). This can only be done by convincing parents of the need to properly raise their children in an environment that encourages love for one’s fellow man. Some of the possible ways this can be accomplished is through church sermons as well as public information campaigns that specifically target new parents.
Enhance cultural sharing
Cultural sharing involves understanding differences instead of considering them something to be avoided. The Catholic Church could attempt the same strategy that various embassies are using with their Spanish or French weeks wherein the embassies sponsor films, fairs and other activities involving their culture. Instead of sponsoring Catholicism, the church could sponsor Latin American or Muslim fairs to occur in front of or beside the church. This would allow greater interaction between people from different background resulting in a greater level of shared understanding.
Enhance sharing of religious traditions and ways of thinking
One potential strategy is to promote and share religious traditions and ways of thinking across multiple social groups. People often fear and mistrust that which they do not understand, and this often leads to discriminatory actions. By letting people understand more about different religions, it is likely that the fear will disappear, and people would become more understanding.
Promote the idea that all Christians are obligated in reforming societal awareness regarding the proper attitude towards racism and discrimination
The problem with reforming society is that people often think that it is not their problem or that it is the responsibility of someone else. All Christians need to realize that we are mandated to share the word of God with all our brothers and sisters and one aspect of it is the knowledge that we are all equal under God. We should not expect someone else to take care of society’s issues for us; instead, we need to take a stand and show what it means to be true Catholics through words, deeds, and examples. Yes, this may seem hard to do but it is possible so long as we trust in God and follow the teachings he imparted to us through Jesus Christ.
You also need to ask yourself the following question: “Was Jesus ever racist? Did he truly show preference for one social class over another?” The answer is no, his ministry included people from all walks of life, all races and backgrounds and it is this attitude that we should take when it comes to spreading the word of God. Despite differences in wealth and social standing, we are all the same, we are all God’s creations and, as such, we should not discriminate nor racially profile one another since this would be the same as doing it to ourselves.
If there is one aspect that can be taken from this paper, it should be the realization that it is useless to hate someone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, etc. All of us, no matter the country of origin, are part of the human race that has been created in the image of God. We all have similar physical characteristics with minor variances to indicate our individuality. To hate based on minor differences in skin, belief or origin is the height of folly since we are, in effect, discriminating against ourselves. God even stated in James 2:4 that we should “love our neighbors as we love ourselves”, yet people seem to discriminate more than love.
The problem, as this paper has shown, originates from the desire to showcase superiority, the desire to place ourselves above others and to show that we belong to a particular group. One of the clearest examples of this can be seen in social attitude of either being a “winner” or “loser”. We as a society have created these negative classifications to showcase our superiority over one another. In fact, some individuals derive a certain level of “happiness” from being considered “better” than others by belonging to a group and not through their accomplishments. It is attitudes like this that are at the heart of racism and discrimination in the world today.
Contributing to this problem is the way in which our current capitalist society is oriented wherein the accumulation of wealth is upheld as the primary goal that all members of society should pursue. This has resulted in additional methods of discrimination (i.e. the distinction between the rich and the poor) and has contributed towards dividing society rather than bringing it closer together. Eradicating racism and discrimination in society would necessitate more than sermons and letters indicating that discriminating against others is wrong; rather, it would be necessary to change the socio-cultural attitudes that cause people to act in a discriminatory manner in the first place.
The pursuit of wealth as the main goal of life, the desire to be superior and the belief that superiority can be attained simply by belonging to a particular group are all attitudes that need to be removed from our societal consciousness so that racism and discrimination will no longer be an issue. The problem is that priests, bishops and even the Pope himself are limited in their capacity to enact social change in the scale that is necessary to remove racism and discrimination. As seen in the various excerpts of information from the church that have been detailed thus far, numerous letters, encyclicals, and Pastoral letters have been published over the past 100 years indicating that the Church is firmly against racism and discrimination; however, the aforementioned factors continue to thrive in the present.
This is due to the innate resistance to change that all individuals and societal groups have as well as their learned behavior. No one is born a racist; they become one as a direct result of the behaviors and points of view that they internalize throughout their lives. Fortunately, learned behaviors can also be unlearned, but how is the church supposed to cause an entire society to unlearn a specific behavior. The solution is to utilize church scripture and how it explains the duty of Christians as ministers of the Word of God. The word of God not only advocates his love for all humanity but how we should all love each other as brothers and sisters under God.
Individual Christians can help society unlearn specific behaviors by showing the right behaviors to utilize. Refusing to use racist terminology, celebrating differences and protecting those that have been discriminated against are only a few of the attitudes that Christians can espouse to show to others the “proper way” in which we can treat each other. Applying this strategy is easier said than done since many Christians believe that combating racism and discrimination is someone else’s problem. Bishops and priests should explain to their respective congregations that the continued existence of racism and discrimination is a problem that affects us all which we all have a shared responsibility to remove from our society.
Racism and discrimination cannot be combated by priests and bishops alone, since they lack the reach necessary, nor can it be handled by individual Christians since a single voice among many is not effective. What is needed is a concerted effort by all members of the Church, to advocate for change in society and bring it about through the guidances of the priests and bishops and the efforts of the entire congregation.
Beyer, Gerald J. “The Meaning Of Solidarity In Catholic Social Teaching.” Political Theology 15.1 (2014): 7-25. Print.
Caccamo, James. “The Ethics Of Branding In The Age Of Ubiquitous Media: Insights From Catholic Social Teaching.” Journal Of Business Ethics 90.(2009): 301. Print.
Finn, Daniel K. “What Is A Sinful Social Structure?.” Theological Studies 77.1 (2016): 136. Print.
Groody, Daniel G. “A God Of Life, A Civilization Of Love: Justice, Mission, And Catholic Social Teaching.” International Review Of Mission 102.1 (2013): 17. Print.
Regan, Ethna. “Barely Visible: The Child In Catholic Social Teaching.” Heythrop Journal 55.6 (2014): 1021-1032. Print.
Santos, Nicholas, and Gene Laczniak. ““Just” Markets From The Perspective Of Catholic Social Teaching.” Journal Of Business Ethics 89.(2009): 29. Print.
Tablan, Ferdinand. “Catholic Social Teachings: Toward A Meaningful Work.” Journal Of Business Ethics 128.2 (2015): 291. Print.
Valadez, James R., and Philip S. Mirci. “Educating For Social Justice: Drawing From Catholic Social Teaching.” Journal Of Catholic Education 19.1 (2015): 154-177. Print.