By Daniel Waters
My wife and I have been married for 38 years. I am white and she is Black. I grew up in a then-predominately white neighborhood in the south end of Toledo. My wife grew up in the predominately Black south side of Chicago. We met at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, my wife’s first music teaching job out of college in Adrian, MI. I was directing a youth group playing music for Mass on Saturday evenings.
But as we fell in love, got married, and built a life together, I was forced to realize that racism is pervasive and systemic in our society. I am consistently treated differently when I am in public by myself that when we are in public together. And on reflection, I was saddened that I have learned to take it for granted. I do not even give it a thought when someone stares at us or makes vague disparaging comments behind our back, but just loud enough to hear. I have learned to live with all of it. That is so incredibly sad, and it is very wrong. When I learn to live with things like being searched every time we travel to Canada to enjoy the Stratford Theatre Festival, or when the border agent asks if we are married and clearly implies “you are disgusting” – I become part of the problem. That was a hard thing for me to admit to myself.
Sometimes racist comments are made out of ignorance, but our country and our church have grappled with this issue for decades. Ignorance is simply not a valid excuse. Even if someone claims that the comments are “just in fun” or “not meant to hurt anyone,” all racism is hurtful.
For many African-Americans, learning to live with it is common. My brother-in-law tells me that there are so many injustices, it is impossible to address every hurt, even in a single day. He basically said he chooses his battles.
I have tried to approach the problem with humility, but directly and firmly. The change must be ongoing. One practical step for me was to share this reflection with our entire parish in a homily one weekend. Afterward, I was heartened by the number of written notes, emails, and comments I received. Over the years, there has been reconciliation and change in some people, maybe simply due to the longevity of our marriage and our continued service to the community. Two parishioners in particular wrote in detail about taking up the challenge of looking inside themselves, and offered gratitude for us.
In the Trinity, the thought of the Father emptying himself completely to the Son, and in turn Son emptying back to Father with the overflowing love of the Holy Spirit, gives us a vision of true community. We speak of God as the definition of love. Perhaps we can speak of the Trinity as the definition of community – and racism is an utter break in that community.
How do we make that vision of true community a reality? As a start, I humbly offer my experience of looking deep inside and facing a hard truth. It is only when each one of us is willing to look deep inside that we can have the unfailing commitment to make a bold difference. To never tolerate the filth of racism even in its most subtle form. Our country is better than that, our Church is better than that, and our world is better than that.
Deacon Daniel Waters, BCC, is manager of mission and spiritual care at Bon Secours Mercy Health St. Charles Hospital in Oregon, OH.