I am a racist. There, I said it. Admitting to being a racist is not something I say with pride. I am not proud. But many decades ago I learned about my racism, my prejudice. And I must confront the racism that lives within me.
I remember the first time I realized I was a racist. It was an occasion when I was the only white person in a supermarket filled with black people. For the first time in my life I was a minority. And I was afraid. Not because anyone was speaking badly to me, or yelling at me, or following me around the store. In fact, everyone else did not even notice me, because they were busy shopping.
I was afraid only because the other people around me were all black. There is no other way to put it. And while it was decades ago, that experience shaped me profoundly. It resulted in an awareness that I needed to confront my prejudice. I had to admit it existed. Prejudice was not something “out there” but rather was something within me.
And I think of this prejudice when I read about events around the world and close to home. I remind myself of this experience when I get angry at others for acting differently than I do. I remind myself of this experience when I feel helpless against events out of my control.
A couple of days ago I stumbled across a video that posed a question: What is it like to be you? The question has gotten me to think a lot. I should admit I do not know what it is like to be people that are different from me.
As I look at what is going on around the world, I realize how little I know about what it is like to be someone else. I do not know what it is like to live on a Caribbean island that might be months without power because of multiple hurricanes. I do not know what it is like to have my house completely flooded. I do not know what it is like for the land around my house, and perhaps my house too, to be destroyed by a raging forest fire I can do nothing to prevent.
I do not know what it is like to be a victim of crime. I do not know what it is like to be at war, or in war. I do not know what it is like to be a refugee, forced to flee my home because of evil ISIS, with nowhere to go. I do not know what it is like to live in a country with limited freedom, where speaking against the government might get me thrown in jail or worse.
I do not know what it is like to be pulled over by police for no reason, asked what I am doing in a neighborhood in which I do not belong. I do not know what it is like to be in jail. I do not know what it is like to be black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim or Arab.
I do not know what it is like to be a cop. I do not know what it is like to put my life on the line every single time I put on the uniform or go to work. I do not know what it is like to be homeless. I do not know what it is like to be without work. There is simply a lot I simply do not know when it comes to the lives of others.
But I wonder what my life would be like if I did. I have celebrated Mass, heard confessions and listened to those in jail. I have spent time listening and getting to know people who are homeless. I know personally those who were given hope by DACA, only to be worried now it will be taken away. I know more than a few people who have witnessed someone get shot. I heard from people who got help for a man shot right outside their door.
I do not know what to make of the last few days in Saint Louis. I have come to love living here. I am glad my Dominican priory is in the city of Saint Louis. I like Saint Louis. I can honestly call it home.
At the same time, I am not naïve. Like many major cities, and like many small towns, there is in Saint Louis and elsewhere a history of racism. And I am not naïve. Racism is still alive and well. In a small way, I make it so.
While I get angry about broken store front windows, and feel sad for the small business owners who own these small businesses, I must remember that often I am not aware of the broken windows that are part of other areas of the city in which I live. I must remember the unequal education that comes from different schools. Because I must remember I choose to live with people who are just like me. And all too often, so do you.
When I get angry about the way the police are treated, I must remember that I have never been pulled over without cause, like other people have experienced. I have never been asked why I am driving in a certain area, because I do not belong there.
When I hear about how people were treated badly by the police, I must remember the many cops I know who risk their lives daily for the safety and well-being of the communities they serve. I must remember they are people who put their lives on the line every single day. I must remember that often they are heroes.
I must remember that life is not either-or, but both-and. How often do I fail to listen to another point of view because I do not like it? If there is a sadness I feel for my city, my country, and the world, it is that all too often the other is seen only as an enemy.
I must remember that I can be both afraid of other people and see them as another Christ. I must remember that it is too easy to leap to conclusions without knowing the facts. I must remember that it is easier to disagree with someone by relegating their opinion to extreme mocking and insults. I must remember how in the short term it is easier to make enemies than friends.
But I also must remember that with the prejudices that live within me so does the Christ. That I can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and not a spirit of vengeance. I must remember to seek to understand why people get so angry they destroy. I must remember to seek to understand people who are afraid, and want greater border security to feel safe. I must remember the fundamental belief that everyone, every person, everywhere, regardless of who they are and where they live and what they look like, that everyone, regardless, is made in the image and likeness of God, and has a dignity that comes from God.
I pray I am less racist today than I was those decades ago when being a minority made me afraid. I pray that realizing how I have never really been a minority, I cannot know what so many minorities feel and experience in their lives, often every day. I pray for the grace to confront the prejudice, the racism, the evil that still resides too often in what I say and do. And I pray that others can do the same.