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White Privilege and the Privilege of
Ministry in Gospel Perspective
University of Notre Dame
Pastoral Leadership Practicum
Duchesne Volunteer House, May 20, 2010
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Alex Mikulich, PhD, Research Fellow
The Quandary of Race in America
We don’t know what we are talking about yet many assume
we are experts.
We don’t know how to talk about it.
We, especially privileged white Americans, don’t want to
talk about racial privilege and power.
Bryan Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010).
How do we contend with this quandary in church and
The Power of Racism
Power 1: What racism does to people of color.
Concerns disproportionate negative impacts and the
deadly consequences of racism.
Power 2: What racism does for white people.
Concerns unearned, disproportionate benefits and
conferred dominance.
Power 3: Racism’s power to destroy all of us.
Whiteness: Four Themes
Language: James Baldwin on the English Language (3:14)
Terror: Cornel West’s “9/11” (3:13)
Privilege: Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible Part 1 (5:10)
Internalization: Kiri Davis’s A Girl Like Me (5:16)
Groups of two or three.
Each group develops analysis of their theme.
Develop your own questions and analysis of the theme:
what makes this theme possible? (Ten minutes).
Each group presents their analysis to the team for dialogue.
Groups present their analyses to the team.
Problem posing: Facilitator and participants will have
brief opportunity to pose problems or questions to each
Examine the themes and our analyses in historical
U.S. 17th to 20th Century
Slavery: exploitation of African slaves was integral to creation of wealth for
white slaveholding elite, and from which slaves derived no benefit.
Fundamental contradiction between claim of Declaration of Independence to
equality and practice of Founders.
Indian Removal Act of 1830: By this act of Congress, Native Americans were
forcibly removed from their lands and resettled in territory that was of little
interest to whites. Their property was then made available to white settlers.
This also led to economic impoverishment of future generations of Native
Jim Crow: After the Civil War, there was a brief twelve-year period of
Reconstruction that was followed by white resistance that prevented African
American participation in the political system, segregated education and social
services, and solidified a low-cost labor pool. The Supreme Court’s 1896
Plessy v. Ferguson instituted a U.S. system of apartheid until 1965.
Lynching: Terror enforced racial subjugation. 4, 749 known lynchings
between 1882 and 1968 recorded by Tuskegee Institute.
U.S. 20th Century
Exclude Asian Indians from citizenship (U.S. Supreme Court, 1923).
Exclude domestics and agricultural workers from Social Security Act
(SSA) of 1935. At the height of the Great Depression, the SSA
established a basic level of economic security for many of the nation’s
workers. However, by excluding domestics and agricultural workers,
this new policy effectively denied Social Security pensions and
benefits to 75% of black workers.
Post WWII: Exclusion of African Americans from benefits of G.I. Bill.
Federal Housing Administration’s practice of “redlining” effectively
produce segregated cities and suburbs in 1940s and 1950s.
Employer discrimination throughout century.
A “Post-Racial” Society?
The Legacy of the Past in the Present
Wealth Disparity: January 1, 2013 marks the 150th Anniversary of the
Emancipation Proclamation--how far have we progressed?
 In 2005, the median per capita income for blacks stood at $16,629 for blacks
and $28,946 for whites. At this rate of progress, income equality will not be
achieved for 537 years.
 Gap in wealth even more significant: As of 2004, white median household net
worth was $118,300 and black median household net worth was $11,800.
Eighty-five percent of African American households have a net worth below
the median white household. Regardless of age, household structure,
education, occupation, or income, black households typically have less than a
quarter of the wealth of otherwise comparable white households.
 Due to blatant non-merit transfer of wealth: inheritances, bequests, and intrafamily transfers of financial assets.
Residential Segregation and Concentration of Poverty: “Spatial racism creates a visible chasm
between the rich and the poor and between whites and people of color.” Cardinal Francis
George, Dwell in My Love (2001).
Employment discrimination.
Historical Pattern of U.S. Catholic
Lack of social analysis.
Lack of passion for dignity of people of color.
Lack of listening to wisdom of people of color.
Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis,
Brothers and Sisters To Us
Persistence of racism: An “unresolved racism” still permeates social structures and individual
Covert and subtle nature of contemporary racism.
Link of racism to economic injustice.
Institutional character of racism.
Ecclesial racism: “Many of us have preached the Gospel while closing our eyes to the racism it
condemned. We have allowed conformity to social pressures to replace compliance with social
justice. (#386)” emphasis added.
Recommendations for action: 1) Parishes become places of welcome and inclusion; 2) Develop
liturgies that respect, foster, and incorporate gifts of various races; 3) recruiting, training, and
promoting ordained, religious, and lay leaders of color; 4) expand Catholic schools in inner cities;
and 5) Implement effective affirmative action program in every diocesan and religious institution.
Brothers and Sisters To Us: 25th
Brothers and Sisters to Us 25th Anniversary Research Report issued by U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops in 2004. The findings:
64% of U.S. Catholics responding to a poll stated that they had not heard a homily on
racism between 2000 and 2003. The study finds in part that this is due to the fact that
82% of U.S. bishops have not addressed racism in their dioceses.
“White Catholics over the last twenty-five years exhibit diminished--rather than
increased--support for government policies aimed at reducing racial inequality.”
Despite the clear commitment of Brothers and Sisters to Us to vocational recruitment
and retention, and despite the reality of a multicultural population, twenty-five years
later the leadership of the church’s chanceries, diocesan offices, parish staffs, schools,
institutions of higher education, and Catholic organizations is still overwhelmingly
The Church’s Racism
“What makes the U.S. Catholic Church a white racist
institution, then, is not that the majority of its members are
of European descent (especially since in many places they
no longer are), nor the fact that many members engage in
acts of malice or bigotry. What makes it “white” and
“racist” is the pervasive belief that European aesthetics,
music, theology, and persons—and only these—are
standard, normative, universal, and truly “Catholic.”
Bryan Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, p.80.
Response to a New Call
In a 2005 meeting of U.S. Catholic Bishops to consider a new pastoral letter, two bishops responded
to Bryan Massingale in the meeting this way:
“If we say what you want us to say, our people will get mad.”
“My people won’t understand white privilege.”
Massingale responded:
“Thank you for your comments. They are more helpful than you realize.
But I need some clarificantion. When you say “your people will get mad”
or “your people won’t understand,” who do you mean? After all, I am
sure Black, Latino, and American Indian parishoners in your dioceses will
not only welcome the document, but also understand exactly what is
meant. So, who are ‘your people’?
The response of the bishops was silence.
Massingale concludes: “through their comments, these church leaders and
officials inadvertantly revealed a core reality of U.S. Catholic Church, that
is, what they really believe yet seldom make explicit. Namely, that
“Catholic’=‘white’ (p. 80-81).”
Roman Catholic Magisterium
The Church and Racism: Toward a More Fraternal Society Pontifical
Justice and Peace Commission (1988). Key points:
Doctrines of racial superiority are “scientifically false, morally
condemnable, and socially unjust and dangerous.” (Nos. 2 & 33)
All human beings belong to one biological species. (No. 18)
Critques all of these forms of racism:
Institutionalized racism and apartheid systems “that legally or culturally
sanction superiority of European peoples over African, Indian or “colored”
Social racism that isolates, exploits, or maintains particular populations in
inferior social or economic situations.
Xenophobia or racial hatred…or chauvinism against new immigrants.
Eugenic racism --ways that genetic manipulation, abortion, and sterilization
campaigns racially select particular human beings.
Magisterium (continue)
Contribution to World Conference Against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Pontifical
Justice and Peace Commission (2001) Key points:
Globalization has intensified racial divides. (Nos. 4 and 21).
Condemns economic, migrant, and sexual slavery.
Reaffirms call for personal conversion and solidarity.
Reaffirms requests for pardon for the church, so that the church may be
purified of “counter-witness and scandal.” (No. 6).
Reparation “should erase all the consequences of the illicit action and
restore things to the way they probably would be if that action had not
occurred.” (No. 12).
Magisterium (continue)
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Pontifical Justice and
Peace Commission (2005). Key points:
Human dignity (Imago Dei) before God begins Christian reflection on
race and racism.
Jesus Christ is the definitive witness of love and prototype of a new
The Spirit, through baptism, calls everyone to re-discover the unity AND
diversity of the human family, and build an effective common good.
A New Moral Imagination of
Racial Justice
Cross-racial Solidarity: Interrupt participation in patterns of racial
The privileged must lament our participation in the evil of
racism, lament with the suffering of people of color, and nurture loving
passion for racial justice.
privilege and oppression. As Pope John Paul II explains, solidarity demands a
constant effort to build a human community where every social group
participates equitably in society and contributes its genius to the good of all.
Hope: Learn from people of color how “there is a way when there is no
way.” There is another way for us to live through conversion, baptism, and
Bryan Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010).
The Praxis of Ministry: A Way of
How do I personally resist learning about privilege?
How do I contend with institutional and systemic privilege
in my ministry?
How do I nurture my need for people of color as a way of
How do I develop relationships of collaboration--both with
whites and people of color?
When and how do I cross boundaries of privilege and
Thank you!