Today’s reading reminds us that although our collective past has shaped us, it need not define us forever.
The wickedness of slavery, the evil of racism, the anguish of dispossession of culture and lands, can be overcome. Past may be prologue, to borrow the words of the Scribe—but an intentional labor to rehabilitate our institutions, redefine our justice systems, and free ourselves from the yoke of systemic racism can lead to redemption.
However the text likewise cautions against complacency. Too often throughout our history our collective satisfaction with progress on racial justice has led us to believe that our work in favor of racial equity and fairness is finished, only to be smacked in the face with a tangible reminder that so much more is left to be done. Electing a multiracial president does not free our country from an obligation to continue to address racial disparities in our justice system, educational opportunity, wealth, and life expectancy.
Embracing the legacy of the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s, does not relieve us of a duty to interrogate and confront the ways in which people, policies and systems function to continue to rob disproportionate numbers of people of color of our lives, our voting rights, our access to clean water and good food, dignified housing and work opportunities, quality education and healthcare and our right to equality before the law.
Today’s reading exhorts good people against believing we are untainted by the evil of racism. Click to tweet
Today’s reading exhorts good people against believing we are untainted by the evil of racism just because we do not ourselves commit overt acts of bigotry. It reminds us that we are judged (and found wanting) as a community for failing to dismantle the systems of racial bigotry and injustice that impact the lives of racial and ethnic minorities in our country.
We have good reason to hope that America is not doomed forever by the sins of our past of racial oppression. However, we are also reminded that commitment to racial justice means continuing to root out the sin of racism (and other commensurate systems of privilege and marginalization), while working meaningfully to build a more inclusive and fair society.
- In what ways have we been redeemed from the sins of our nation’s racist past, and in what ways is our community still haunted by institutional and individual racism?
- What are effective ways people of faith can work to confront overt and covert racism in today’s society?
Shaina Aber is the Policy Director for the National Advocacy Office of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.