In November, instead of their usual meeting, seven Seattle Affiliates attended the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center’s workshop by that name. It was presented by two Notre Dame Sisters who work with Pax Christi: Patricia Chappell, Executive Director, and Anne Louis Nadeau, Director of Programs. This dynamic duo presented a fast-paced exposé of racism—its history and effects. They defined racism as America’s original sin against people of color, including those of African, African-American, Caribbean, Latino, or Middle Eastern ancestry.
In groups, we discussed why talking about racism is taboo among white people and how we identify ourselves as white. Our group had a mixture of people of color and white. It came down to the belief that white people, mostly in denial of their role in racism, feel shame, fear, or pain when discussing it. White privilege is both conscious and unconscious. Racism combines personal racial prejudice and the misuse of power by systems and institutions.
The present-day consensus among biological and social scientists is that race is a social construct, not a biological (genetic) one. It is estimated that as a species, we humans share 99.9% of our DNA with each other. The few differences that do exist reflect variances in environments and external factors, not genetics.
We might assume that the advances in human genetics and the evidence of such trifling differences (0.1%) between all people would put an end to racist arguments. On the contrary, genetics has been used to further racist and ethnocentric views and, for those so inclined, offer justification for discriminations and atrocities. As we know more than ever in these times, for many in power, facts and solid evidence are of little consequence when it comes to behavior and policy. What is it about race (primary eye and skin color and height) that has so very deeply tarnished our history and our relationships with each other?
Kevin collaborated regularly with the Seattle Affiliates from 2011-2015 and currently with the Affiliates in Chicago, where he now works.
Reflecting on testimony from residents of Charlottesville following the recent racist demonstrations, I am struck by a major disconnect. While many white residents are quick to say, “This is not us,” their black neighbors point out that racism is indeed very much a part of Charlottesville: African-Americans are the targets of 80 percent of traffic stops, despite making up only 20 percent of the local population. The same white residents who showed up to protest racism also regularly reject their appeals for reforms in education, employment, and housing policies that disproportionately harm people of color.
Like you, I am trying to make sense of Charlottesville and its aftermath. But after nearly a dozen years of stepping beyond my comfort zone to see the world from different angles, I recognize how disturbingly common it is for people to live in close proximity but very different worlds. I offer some insights that may help folks respond to this moment with greater consciousness of racial injustice.