Engaging in a ‘racial examination of conscience’

“Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures. Our concern over racism follows, as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization…We would betray our commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel.”

—‘Brothers and Sisters to Us, USCCB’

In light of the need for our society to heal from the sin of racism, I want to offer a simple “racial examination of conscience” to help each of us reflect on how we may grow as persons and children of God in our hospitality, love, and mercy for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or religion.

This “racial examination of conscience” is not intended to implicate anyone as a racist. It is not a “test” to see how racist you are or are not. It is offered in all charity and humility as an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and how we may be unaware of the impact that our everyday decisions have on ourselves, members of our community, nation, and world. Just as an examination of conscience before going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not intended to demean or shame anyone, neither is this particular examination of conscience. When we approach the confessional it is through our honesty and our sorrow that we are offered mercy from God and help to restore not only our personal relationship with God, but to offer restoration to a world we have harmed through our actions, even those of which we are unware. Research shows that many of us act towards others based on implicit, or unknown, bias. Most of us believe in the equality of all people and assume that such a belief is enough. There are many studies done regarding implicit bias, one such study by researchers at Northwestern University show clear findings that implicit bias does shape how we act towards others especially when it comes to our perception of others as threats. This type of research shows us that even those of us who believe all people are truly equal, other factors, especially those unknown to us, can lead us to act in a way that does not truly reflect our personal beliefs. This list of questions is not exhaustive but may be a good start in discovering our biases in ourselves, bring them to the light, and then work to correct them so that our actions mirror our personal beliefs.

  • Do I interact with people who are different from me outside of work or school?
  • Do I read books or stories written by people of different ethnic or religious heritage than myself?
  • Have I taken the time to listen to the voices of others who don’t look like me or have a different background and life experience than me?
  • If in a supervisor role, have I included people of various cultural or ethnic backgrounds when developing professional guidelines and/or dress codes?
  • Have I ever said the following phrases or something similar: “she’s pretty for a black girl” or “he’d be handsome if he wasn’t so dark” or “that little girl would be cute if her mom did her hair” or other such judgments on beauty and acceptance?
  • Have I ever asked someone about their heritage or ethnicity by asking “so, what are you?”?
  • Have I ever seen someone on the street and made a judgement based on how they dress, how their hair is styled, how they walk, how they speak?
  • Have I ever participated in or laughed at jokes or comments that belittle or denigrate people who don’t look like me or practice a different faith than me?
  • Do I blame the victims who suffer poverty and/or oppression for their plight?
  • Do I try to come up with excuses for things I do or say that are perceived as racist or harmful by others?
  • Do I dismiss the concerns or observations of others as simply being “overly sensitive” or being “PC”?
  • Do I ask someone that I am an acquaintance with in social or professional settings to speak for their entire culture?
  • Do I use a friend or family member who is of a different background than my own to “prove” that I have said or done nothing wrong?
  • Have I ever said “I’m not racist, but…”?
  • Do I always speak to others from different backgrounds with respectful tone and language?
  • Do I automatically associate negative attributes to an entire group of people?
  • Do I use dehumanizing language about others, referring to people as “thugs, animals, illegals,” etc.?
  • Do I categorize other ethnicities into groups like “good” and “troublesome”?
  • When trying to show a broad ethnic representation for my community or institution, do I randomly place minorities in advertisements? Do I ask for input on how advertisements may be perceived outside of my own culture?
  • Do I take the time to learn and listen to the stories of others’ lives in order to better understand them and the challenges they may face that I do not?
  • Do I see Jesus Christ in each and every person I encounter every single time? Do I love each and every person regardless of their heritage, the choices they have made, their status in society, or the perception I may have of them?

Once you finish praying and reflecting upon these questions I invite you to read “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” a document by the US Catholic Bishops on our relationship with migrants and refugees in our midst.

Let us all seek peace and harmony in our communities and see each and every of our brothers and sisters as Jesus Christ in our midst. And let us pray to the saints to guide us and our nation towards healing.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.


Going Deeper!

Visit the USCCB Racism page for the U.S. Catholic bishops examination of conscience on racism and other materials to help you work for racial justice.

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