Hopeless to hopeful

| Father Charles Lachowitzer | January 11, 2018 | 6 Comments

As a seminarian, I spent three months working in one of the oldest public housing complexes in the nation. Rows and streets of multi-storied redbrick apartment buildings were filled with more illegal residents than could be counted.

Throughout the apartment buildings, in the alleyways and out on the streets, fights broke out between long-established territorial gangs. Every night, sirens wailed and uniformed officers made arrests. One night, I rode in an ambulance with a shooting victim to one of the nearby hospitals. He survived.

The fists, knives and broken bottles of old had given way to the rule of the bullet. Even the smallest of hands could pull a trigger. The underground economy of drugs, prostitution and armed extortion fueled a violence that had become a normal way of life.

A typical story in any one of these apartment buildings was that the grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. legally. They raised their family in that public housing complex, and many were still living there some 40 years later. Their children grew up in the projects, and as adults, they raised their children in the same apartment as their parents. These grandchildren were now teenagers or young adults, and some of them were raising their children in the same apartment building as their grandparents. Everyone but the grandparents lived in the shared apartments illegally.

For too many, there was nowhere else to live, and there were few opportunities for meaningful employment. Even if someone did find a job, a childhood of drugs and violence sabotaged their ability to keep the job, let alone move out of public housing.

The invisible hand of downward mobility — that which doomed a fourth generation to live in the same apartment in which their parents were born — produced a wrath that, like a ferocious tiger, bit the hand that fed them. The generations were caught in a vicious cycle of poverty simply because of where they were born, and it was the lack of hope for a better life that incited the greatest anger.

Broken homes, broken lives, broken hearts, broken brains and broken dreams.

One might imagine that this was a world with people of color. Illegal residents? Must be a Latino barrio. Gang violence? Must be a black ghetto.

Actually, the residents were all white, mostly Irish — both legal and illegal immigrants — and most were baptized as Catholics.

Whether African, Latino, Asian, European or indigenous, a culture that lacks hope is dominated by violence. To look at color as an explanation for dysfunction is, on many levels, one of the building blocks of racism.

As Minnesotans come to terms with the statistics showing alarming economic and educational disparities between whites and people of color, we are challenged to recognize that many of us may not even be aware of long-held racial stereotypes and unconscious attitudes against people of different races and cultures.

A group of pastors of historically black churches in Minneapolis has reached out to Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals “to seek collaboration in working for racial healing within the fractured body of Christ.” As we prepare to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25 and a national day of remembrance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we join with the efforts of so many to become more aware of the attitudes that contribute to the injustices and inequality that persist among us.

Guided by the teachings of our Church, we need critical eyes to see racist attitudes and compassionate ears to hear the voices of those who have long struggled to be heard. There is hope — an eternal hope born in Bethlehem in Jesus Christ. A hope that we can work together for a more just society. A hope that we can interrupt with a powerful faith the cycles of poverty and violence.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we share the hope and prayer that all God’s children, without exception, will know our God-given, inviolable dignity and value and have an equal share in the opportunities for a better life.

In his 2003 pastoral letter on racism “In God’s Image,” Archbishop Harry Flynn wrote, “Let us make this Church a clear sign to the world by speaking out against racism and by working to transform the institutions and structures in which racism is so deeply embedded. By doing so, we will make God’s love more present. We will make God’s unity more visible. We will make God’s justice more real.”

Further reading:

No esperanza, a esperanza

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Category: Only Jesus

  • Paula Ruddy

    Thanks, Fr. Lachowitzer, for the announcement that “A group of pastors of historically black churches in Minneapolis has reached out to Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals to seek collaboration in working for racial healing within the fractured body of Christ.” Where do we find the specifics of that initiative-what, where, when? Do we have a plan to partner with them?

    I understand your point that generational poverty can lead to hopelessness and rage, but I wonder how legal status fits in. If the grandparents you mention were legal immigrants and naturalized citizens, weren’t their grandchildren citizens? Do you say they were illegal because of the ordinances governing the public housing? Is your point that illegal status leads to rage or that public housing is the problem? The Archdiocese’s partnering with the civil authorities and other churches in clarifying these issues for all citizens would be a great move.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Paula Ruddy,

      Hello, again, and thank you for making a suggestion which I completely agree with. It’s encouraging to agree with you. The suggestion I have in mind is the clarification of these issues.

      You know I am easily confused, but it seems that this issue is more obscure than most and I also would like clarification. We could start with the word “racism” itself.

      We’ve pretty much abandoned the principal definition in my old Merriam-Webster which defines racism as:

      “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

      Now, it’s true that some traits are determined by race; consider the groups which dominate various sporting events. But I see those as narrow superiorities and not determinants of a person as a whole.

      Besides, this definition is of a belief. Simply believing that your group is superior to another group seems to be an instance of the deadly sin of pride (or possibly anger or envy). My pride, if kept to myself, hurts my relationship with God, but it’s affect on anyone else is usually pretty small.

      But there is a lot of talk about “unconscious racism.” If I understand the term it means that one person doesn’t think he’s racist, but another person thinks he is. We are, apparently, expected to accept the judgment of the person who says racism was demonstrated over the word of the person who says it wasn’t. That strikes me as a poor way to find racial healing and understanding. (Especially if a White accuses a Black of racism and that charge is never accepted.)

      Where “racism” (whatever that means) becomes a problem in my mind is where there is an action which causes a significant hurt to someone based entirely on skin color.

      In this country, at least, harmful discrimination based on race is illegal in many fields. Voting, employment, housing, education (public schools – colleges discriminate based on race), medical care, banking, etc., all have laws protecting against those kinds of harms. I’m all for enforcing those vigorously.

      Then there’s “Institutional racism,” which is such a vague and flawed concept that in practice fighting it results in anger, disbelief, or mocking laughter.

      The US Catholic Conference of Bishops tells us to:

      “Gather with others, including decision makers, in your faith community and ask the hard questions: Does the leadership of our institution reflect the diversity of those we serve? Are the many faces of the diverse body of Christ represented in decision-making processes?”

      Seems to me that the bishops are calling for representation by skin color. Making that a primary qualification sounds like “Institutional racism” to me.

      You’re right, clarification is needed.

  • Charles C.

    If we are to have a “dialogue” on the issue of racism, will it contain voices like Shelby Steele’s? I suspect not.

    “It is not surprising, then, that these black football players would don the mantle of protest. The surprise was that it didn’t work. They had misread the historic moment. They were not speaking truth to power. Rather, they were figures of pathos, mindlessly loyal to a black identity that had run its course.

    “What they missed is a simple truth that is both obvious and unutterable: [t]he oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

    “For any formerly oppressed group, there will be an expectation that the past will somehow be an excuse for difficulties in the present. This is the expectation behind the NFL protests and the many protests of groups like Black Lives Matter. The near-hysteria around the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray[,] and others is also a hunger for the excuse of racial victimization, a determination to keep
    it alive. To a degree, black America’s self-esteem is invested in the illusion that we live under a cloud of continuing injustice.”

    It may be that this all-consuming focus on “racism” is making more trouble than racism itself.

  • tschraad

    My first impression was that this article was a complaint on our education system. Yet he also stated a duration of 40 years and these lazy, good for nothing ( my opinion) have yet to get off of the government teat to work. St. James stated those who do not work, should not eat.

    Yet we have refugees who have not been here this long, have learned English, went to work, got public education and are productive members of our society.

    Maybe we need to stop this dependence on government and make these people responsible for their way of living. In my opinion, the government is the problem.

    • Beaglefrenzy69

      What a christian sentiment.
      You’re a deeply stupid person and your opinion means nothing to anyone. Hopefully someone teaches your daughter (who I assume is your profile picture) not to be like the people in her family.

      • tschraad

        Beaglefrenzy69 –

        Maybe you could read St. James writings in the Bible. You also will need to prove that he was also a deeply stupid person. I then would claim that Jesus Christ was also a deeply stupid person because he chose St. James as one of his twelve Apostles.