Black History Month: Memories and Action
Black History Month was celebrated in the United States throughout the month of February. It is a month for discussions, acknowledging the work of today, events and remembrance of those who have so often been forgotten or not even identified in history. It also makes us aware of the racism that is too prevalent in this country. There are simple unconscious words we sometimes utter, places we avoid and acquaintances who could be friends with only a word or two, beyond “hello.”
I was impressed with the document “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” developed by the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was approved by the full body of bishops as a formal statement of the same at its November 2018 General Meeting and authorized for publication by Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield General Secretary, USCCB.
Here are some paraphrases and quotes that echoed within me: We are all children of God because God loves us and unites us to God and “it makes us a ‘we.’” Racism still infects our nation. Consciously or unconsciously “when we exclude, ridicule, mistreat or unjustly discriminate another on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful.” The statements are clear and straightforward. In spite of this, we can open our newspapers to read about young black men being killed by some police officers; prisons have disproportionately housed black and Latino men and women; blacks and Latinos are among the poorest in our nation and suffer the greatest legal and social abuses; and black and Latino achievements are generally ignored in favor of the societally acceptable white ones, both now and throughout history.
During February, I made an effort daily to highlight on my Facebook page some figure in history commemorating those who have contributed so much to our country. There is a plethora of possible heroes, politicians, inventors and people of the arts. More importantly there are people whom we know and count as friends or good acquaintances.
My memories stem back to my first teaching job at Curé D’Ars in Denver at a school where black teachers were few. Memories update to teaching assignments in Arkansas and Louisiana.
One of my fondest from high school was when a black student who towered over me, Robert, stepped up behind me during an altercation when on my hall duty and said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Moskeland, I’ll always have your back.” There is no greater tribute than that.
As stated in “Open Wide Our Hearts,” “too often racism comes in the form of the sin of omission, when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.”
As I reflect on the racism that flows through our country today, I am newly aware of the need for each of us to combat this pejorative view of good people. I recall the Racism Committee in Loretto that faltered, and I dream of a possible renewal of one. I know I would love to be on such a committee. I also want to have conversations with people who harbor racial distrust to ask how they came about feeling as they do, what opportunities have they had or missed in their life? Listening is a good and healing tool.
I hope that Black History Month was fruitful for you, dear readers. I am hoping that we are at that juncture in Theory U where we are letting come after letting go. We are being offered a great opportunity in the United States at this time. It starts with our memories and grows into our present opportunity for action.