More than 800 people — from the St. Catherine University and Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) communities, and at least 25 Twin Cities parishes — gathered last week for a community conversation on dismantling systemic racism with Father Bryan Massingale, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York.
“We’re trying to envision an America that has never been,” said Father Massingale, within minutes of taking the podium. He stated that prejudice, discrimination or antagonism toward others based on their race or ethnicity continues because there are people in the United States who are indifferent to racism or who having mixed feelings about whether it exists.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said that part of the reason we can’t get over this impasses is we haven’t acknowledged this deep ambivalence,” said Father Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
During the two-and-a-half hour event, entitled “To Redeem the Soul of America: A Moral Vision for a Movement Against Racism,” he shared recent, historical and personal examples to describe racial tensions and inequalities. He encouraged the audience to reflect on the tragic deaths of those who inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, including Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and Sandra Bland.
“Racism can be understood in many ways — as a political issue, a sociological phenomenon [and] a cultural divide,” he said. “But at its deepest level, it’s a profound soul sickness. It’s a warping of the human spirit that enable people to not care for those who don’t look like them… all these deaths reveal a deep malady at the core of America.”
And the only way to truly eradicate racial inequality, he added, is to look — collectively as a society — beyond the visible, or the obvious.
“Without a moral transformation,” Father Massingale said, “racism would morph into a new form, a new expression.” He then offered this analogy to clarify his point: “When I was young, I was in charge of weeding our flower and vegetable garden,” he recalled. “My mom always told me to go deeper; that I had to get the roots out. I didn’t want to do it because it was dirty and too much work. But if you don’t get the roots out, they come back.”
Father Massingale praised Martin Luther King Jr. for his foresight in this regard. "He understood that the visible and ever-changing — laws, policies, customs, dress and literature, for example — “were reflections of something deeper,” said Father Massingale. A culture’s attitudes and principals, on the other hand, were more stubborn, like the roots of wild plants.
“Dr. King called [for] a ‘revolution of values’ — if we’re going to make progress, we’re going to have to go deeper, to wrestle with our soul,” noted Father Massingale.
This event was jointly sponsored by St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carodelet Justice Commission, St. Kate's Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) and the St. Kate’s Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity.
Other partners included the Archdiocesan Black Catholic Community, Building an Anti-Racist Community of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community, Coming Together Twin Cities, Twin Cities Nonviolent, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality and YWCA Minneapolis Racial Justice Department.