By David Lewellen
The work of antiracism may represent an opportunity for growth, Andrew Lyke told the NACC conference.
Lyke, a retired ministry consultant and member of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s antiracism task force, delivered the first plenary speech of the weekend Friday afternoon. But although his topic was suffering, he kept the mood friendly.
From marriage and family, “I know firsthand that life comes with pain and suffering, and love for another means to suffer with them and for them and even because of them,” he said. “Married couples suffer each other. Let’s be real about it.”
Suffering also came to Lyke when he was diagnosed with leukemia some years ago. “Battling cancer showed me that I am loved and precious in God’s sight,” he said. “I would not voluntarily go down that path, but on that path I found grace, mercy, tremendous care, and lots of blessings, and I’m better because of the suffering I went through.”
But the real topic of his presentation was his suffering as black person in white supremacist culture. Church and nation have been complicit, to say the least, in that culture, but Lyke called on his listeners to “identify and defuse those land mines. Doing so will take great courage. … We can’t undo the harm, but know that God’s grace and mercy are in abundant supply for our journey.”
Lyke had been told that as a Black man, he needs to be very gentle with a predominantly white audience such as the NACC, but “your comfort isn’t my main concern. My purpose is to bring tension and disturb you. What I ask of you is brave space, not safe space. … Wrestle with any discomfort for feelings of transformation. My prayer for you today is for discomfort at superficial answers, anger at injustice and oppression, tears for those who suffer, and the foolishness to believe you can make a difference.”
And part of the problem, he said, is white people who claim that they don’t see color. If a white person says “I don’t think of you as Black,” Lyke said, that means that “they have to see beyond my Blackness to see my dignity and worth. … Subliminally my being Black is a negative characteristic.” He quoted the writer Ibram X. Kendi that silence or “colorblindness” supports racism. But, he added, everyone is capable of both racism and antiracism and can switch between both.
The way history is taught in the United States, Lyke said, “indoctrinates us into believing we are the greatest nation on earth and that patriotism is about keeping heads in sand.” And racism hurts white people, too, he said: “None of us are truly free until we are all free. Privilege is tenuous at best unless we share liberty for everyone.”
To begin undoing centuries of damage, Lyke recommended white people talk amongst themselves about race, the way that Black people already do: “They find each other to get sanity checks. ‘Am I crazy? Did you hear what I heard?’ White people need to talk about what white privilege means.”
Also, he suggested using Catholic social teaching as a resource, and strengthening empathic skills with people of color. When a white chaplain said that Black families often distrust her in the hospital setting, Lyke responded, “Stand your ground and love them. Give them one white person they can trust. That’s one beginning.”
Actively interrupting racist language and behavior is also vital, he said. “Get involved in the fight, because it is a fight out there. For as long there has been racism, there has been antiracism. I’m inviting you to get on board a movement that began long before first slave ship.”