Overcoming racism: Address the issue with empathy

Racism is a sad reality in our country, in our state and in our diocese.

It shows itself nationally in police brutality against African-Americans and the presence of white supremacists in the public square and online.

In the cruelest way in 2015, we found even a house of worship is not immune when nine black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston were killed by a gunman who avowed white supremacist ideas.

And it emerged this summer at school, when a student at Cardinal Newman in Columbia shared videos through social media that contained racist language and threatened violence against African-Americans. That community confronted it through discussions, prayer and a commitment to more diversity.

Kathleen Merritt, director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, said others in the state and country should follow their example in facing up to the issue.

She said empathy is the first key.

“We need to teach empathy to our children and we need to learn it ourselves,” Merritt said. “Show understanding to others and respect for others. Show the people of different races around you that you really care. If they are upset by something that has happened to them, take the time to learn their experience and why they are hurting.”

Gustavo Valdez, diocesan director of Hispanic ministry, said Hispanics statewide have told him about racist incidents ranging from discrimination in the workplace to exclusion from parish activities and bullying at school.

“We need to recognize that racism is a sin that hurts our society,” Valdez said. “It is time to have healthy and open conversation in our churches and communities about the evil of racism and the dignity of the human person. As baptized people, we do not have the option to ignore this kind of sin.”

Here are four common ways that Merritt, Valdez and others who work with diverse communities say racism emerges in daily life:

Racist language

The use of derogatory terms to describe or demean anyone in relation to their race or background.

How the diocese combats this:

Training clergy and employees in offices, parishes and schools about offensive language and terms that should not be used in describing anyone; stressing the Gospel message of human dignity.

What we can do:

Learn what kind of language is insensitive or offensive. Do not use racist language in our own lives. Teach our children, students or employees about terms that are offensive and why they must not be used. Step in when we hear someone using racist language in a social setting. If someone confronts us about language we have used, listen and understand why it is offensive.

Racist or insensitive posts on social media

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others have become a fertile ground for sharing racist images, videos and other content.

How the diocese combats this:

Offices and schools have policies against using social media to share offensive content.

What we can do:

Don’t share images, videos or texts with racist content. Report racist images or content seen on social media platforms. Parents should monitor their children’s social media activity and if a child has posted something offensive, explain why it is wrong. Report racist posts generated by others to parents, school officials, or law enforcement.


Bullying is behavior that hurts or humiliates someone physically or emotionally. It can happen in person or online, and can occur at school, in the workplace or in the community.

How the diocese combats this:

Teachers in Catholic schools educate students about why bullying is wrong. They also learn how to recognize bullying, stop it when it occurs and prevent further instances. Recent sessions have stressed the importance of reminding students to be empathetic and understanding.

What we can do:

Learn to recognize bullying behavior and step in if it is taking place in your workplace or community. Try to stop it and report it to those in authority. If a child or adult reports bullying, learn why they are upset and treat them with understanding.

Exclusion or insensitivity in the workplace

Employees or students are treated differently because of their race or ethnicity, are not included or represented in activities, and are subject to indifference to their concerns.

How the diocese combats this:

Clergy, employees and teachers work on an ongoing basis to make sure people of all races are included in activities in parishes, workplaces and schools.

What we can do:

Encourage people from a wide variety of backgrounds to become involved in activities or ministries at our parishes or schools. Converse with people from diverse backgrounds and find out their needs and expectations. “Inclusion is an important way to fight against racism in the parish,” said Michael Tran, assistant director of the diocesan office of Ethnic Ministries. “People of all races should be included in all roles at the parish level, especially leadership roles and social justice activities.”

What the Church says about racism

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Created in the image of one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity” (1934).

“The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (1935).

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love”:

“Racism occurs because a person ignores the fundamental truth that, because all humans share a common origin, they are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God … Every racist act — every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity or place of origin — is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister.”

Read the entire text of the letter here.

Perspectives from Bishop Braxton

A letter from Bishop Braxton:

Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, wrote a 2015 pastoral letter about racism, “The Racial Divide in the United States.”

In one section, he offers ideas on how to work for an end to racism through prayer:

  • Go to Mass and Communion on one weekday a week; pray for ways to end racism.
  • Read the Gospels, focus on passages that show how God reveals love for every human being through Christ.
  • Pray the rosary once a week with your family for the intention of the end to racial conflict.

Read the bishop’s letter here.