One of the greatest characteristics of the United States of America is that we are a nation of diversity; we are diverse in thinking and culture, race, and ideas. Many other nations in the world tend to be more homogenized – or at least less diverse than the U.S. where conflict between race and culture, though it exists, is less prevalent. Of course, due to recent social, economic, and political changes in the global climate, the influx and movement of peoples from one culture into and out of other nations has changed the racial homogeneity that many countries used to boast of. In some way, countries are more racially diverse than ever before1. In the United States of America, racial diversity has always been the reality.
Since the founding of the American continent, racial diversity has played a major role in the establishment of its history. Vibrant indigenous cultures had established empires and civilizations in the lands that they had acquired tens of thousands of years ago when their ancestors migrated out of Africa and through Siberia. People crossed the Bering Strait and, after generations, travelled all the way south into the farthest lands of the American continent, not without first establishing prominent cultures here and in many regions.
When Europeans visited the American lands in the fifteenth century, they were greeted by brothers and sisters whose destiny had taken them through a completely different path thousands of years before. It was in the “New World” where the convergence of cultures, races, politics, and religions would take on a difficult rebirth.
In the northern colonies run by British inhabitants during and after the sixteenth century, the introduction of people from African descent would further enrich the racial makeup of the colonies. Men and women from various African countries were sold as slaves and taken to various countries in Europe and the emerging empires of the New World. Over the centuries, the people of the American continent have tried to understand what it means to live in unity, to have a patria común2, and reconcile the difficult historical past that binds and defines us as an American People.
Depending on how one looks at it, this history can seem to be a manifestation of what destiny had decreed or a nightmare that could have been prevented. Consequently, due to this new merging of diverse peoples in a common environment, the emergence of tensions due to power, race and ethnicity became a reality to be dealt with.
In the United States today, racism is still a hot topic3. For many Americans, racial identity is a reality that they confront daily4. They are constantly reminded of who they are: the color of their skin, the religion they profess, their gender, their ethnic history. Americans are hyper- sensitive of who they are, and of who others are. To maintain an ordered society, then, they are called to know their own personal history and the history of this nation and continent. They must know where they have been and where they are going. This self-awareness of who they are is the price that must be paid to live in a country as diverse as the United States of America.
However, let us not forget that most of us are here because this is, despite its many challenges, still a nation of opportunity, liberty, security, and prosperity. Racial and ethnic diversity does not have to be an impediment to greatness, but rather the reason for it. Every country has its problems, and the U.S. certainly shares many of the same problems that other nations do, but we must also be aware that this American project, this “Land of the Free” experiment composed of people from all over the world, must have done something right until now to have survived for more than 250 years. In a time when it seems like society is at a breaking point with respect to social issues on race, the choices that we make today and the attitude we have will determine if and how we move forward as a nation.
So how do we move forward, respect each other, and maintain unity, especially in a contemporary society that has a one-sided view of the past5? In the summer of 2020, amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic, a man named George Floyd was arrested by police after he had allegedly handled a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a store in Minneapolis. When the police arrived, they arrested George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, one of the four officers on the scene knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. George was black and Derek, white.
Once the video of the police officer with his knee on George’s neck flooded the media platforms and news of Floyd’s death was confirmed, protests broke out in cities all over the United States and worldwide. George is seen and heard on the video saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and this became the rallying cry for protestors. For millions of black people in the United States, the mishandling by police and death of George Floyd was the last straw in a long history of discrimination against black men in American society6.
For decades, American news and talk shows have reported stories of young black men stereotyped, racially profiled, arrested, physically abused, shot, and killed by white and/or non-black authorities7. The case of George Floyd triggered in many people who were fed up with the apparent abuse of minorities, an opportunity to take to the streets and express their disapproval of racism in their neighborhoods8.
There were many reasons why hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets during the summer of 2020. The coronavirus had, up until then, kept most Americans locked in their homes because of the global Coronavirus scare. Since early March, the American government had advised its citizens to remain indoors to keep the virus from affecting more people. The fear of the fast-spreading virus and the inability to carry on a normal life in public, created many emotional reactions in people.
When the death of George Floyd was made public over millions of television and cellphone screens, people projected their frustration toward the reality of the injustice committed against another black male. The looting, destruction and burning of businesses, both local and corporate, the physical confrontations in the streets between white and black citizens, and the violence against police officers was the manifestation of a storm that had been creeping up over the social horizon for decades.
Add to this the controversial figure of President Donald Trump who had been labeled by media outlets as a “white supremacist”9 and “Nazi”10. The racial tensions in America had reached their boiling point and had spilled out into the public square.
Racial conflict, it seems, had now officially become united to social unrest. The Black Lives Matter11 movement, which had initiated in 2013 in response to the death of, yet another young black male named Trayvon Martin12 went ablaze in many urban cities across the nation. For many protestors, the violence was justified because they believed that for once Americans all over the country were paying attention to the racial injustices that they experience daily13.
Though a lot of progress had been made up until then in trying to appease discrimination against people of color, many black intellectuals, politicians, entertainers, and college students thought that not enough had been done. The protesters believed that if they could not live peacefully, no other American should either14. Blacks had become tired of waiting for racial discrimination to change for them; they see themselves as inheritors of systemic racism that originated in the days when their ancestors were forced to be slaves to white owners in the American colonies.
Many African Americans today claim that the Civil Right Movements of the mid-twentieth century created new opportunities for black and non-whites to integrate into larger American society but did not do enough to provide further development in education, employment, and economic growth. The fact that black men were being targeted by police officers, they claimed, was proof that the American legal system is bias toward African Americans.
Whether this claim is true or not, the images that the media projects onto the consciousness of the American people in news, film and television shows does seem to suggest that cops tend to target minorities, especially black males15. That we are currently in a situation where Critical Race Theory16 and cancel culture dominate the social landscape is proof that people have accepted systemic racism as true.
One could argue about statistics that show the relationship between race, ethnicity and reported criminal activity in the United States, and could further discuss the interpretation of that same data in detail, but one would still end up recognizing that whether systemic racism is real or not - or whether if it does exist just how widespread it is - there are millions of Americans who believe that it is so and there are millions more who support the idea of defunding police departments nationwide and restructuring the country’s legal, educational and economic systems in order to be more equal to all races and ethnicities. Not only is there a belief that systemic racism exists17, but there is also an entire movement aimed to abolish it18.
One of the motivators behind the fight against racism has been a movement called cancel culture, which has reached an all-time peak in media and entertainment since the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Cancel culture refers to the calling out of certain personalities who work in the entertainment, sports, politics, and other industries and who express apparent discriminatory or racist comments in public. Those accused are ostracized, rejected, or “cancelled” from their positions and/or heavily scrutinized online, on social media or in public spaces19.
Media giants such as YouTube20, Twitter21 and Facebook22 have published official statements affirming their commitment to uphold company policies that do not tolerate comments on their platforms which insinuate or blatantly spew hate speech against any race, ethnicity, the LGBTQ community or the official Covid narrative23. Large corporations are also called out and boycotted if customers perceive a hint of racism in their advertising campaigns and branding24. Racial hyper-awareness is everywhere and has gotten out of control.
Taken this landscape, where should one stand on the issue of racism and discrimination? Should a Catholic support Black Lives Matter? Should one participate in cancel culture? First, it is important to remember that we are called to have respect for all peoples. As Christians we believe that every person is made in the image and likeness of God25. Our dignity as humans comes from God who has created us and loved us first.
Our value as human beings is not altered by the things a person does or does not do, by the color of a person’s skin, the language they speak or the religion they profess; our dignity comes from the very fact that the Creator has brought us into existence. All human beings have the same value, including the unborn and the elderly. It is not that only black lives matter, but that all life matters.
Second, we are all brothers and sisters. Scientists hypothesize that life began in Africa26 hundreds of thousands of years ago27. We share the same ancestors. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve are the first man and woman God created28. Spiritually speaking, we are also all brothers and sisters; we truly are children of God. For this reason, we are called to treat others as family. Our neighbor29 is our brother and so is anyone who does the good that God asks of us30.
God has made us all different so that none of us can think of ourselves as self-sufficient; rather God has blessed each one with a particular talent that is meant to be shared with the community31. God purposely has made us rely on each other; in brotherhood we are complete32. Whenever we fail to respect and honor the dignity of the other, we fail to recognize the work of God in our brother and sister. An offense against our brother is an offense against God himself33.
Third, shunning people just because one does not like them or because one disagrees with them is never a good idea. It is true that one may try to avoid a person whom one cannot be compatible with, but each person should always be treated with the respect he or she deserves. Cancel culture further damages our relationships with other people.
Instead of amending the damage that has been caused by racism and discrimination, cancel culture propagates more hate and intolerance. In the United States of America, there is a need to learn how to dialogue with people who hold different ideas. Though social media has many good benefits, it has also damaged our ability to carry on face-to-face conversations in an honest and civil manner.
As Americans, we should recognize that there is a great need for forgiveness and healing in society. To move forward, we should recognize and address the evils of our history; slavery is horrible because it fails to recognize the dignity of the human person. Racism is inhumane and unchristian because it places a value system on people based on the color of their skin.
It is impossible to change the past, but we can give it significance if we invest the time and effort to acknowledge the good that has come from it - and there are many great things about our American history. If we want to heal as a nation, we must be willing to honestly communicate how we feel and what we think about racism, sexism, immigration, genderism, and many other contemporary issues, with upmost charity.
Deep healing must begin at the grassroots level. God has the power to transform all people’s lives, but this can only be done if we allow God to be part of our own personal history.
(By Edgar Avendano) @Latinofilmmaker
1 David Turton, Julian Gonzalez, ed., “Ethnic Diversity in Europe Challenges to the Nation State,” Humanitarian Resource Institute, 2000, https://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/10698.pdf
2 common homeland.
3 Olivia B. Waxman, “Trump's Threat to Pull Funding From Schools Over How They Teach Slavery Is Part of a Long History of Politicizing American History Class,” Time Magazine, September 17, 2020, https://time.com/5889051/history-curriculum-politics/
4 Joy-Ann Reid, “Everyday racism in America: Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people,” NBC News, May 29, 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/everyday-racism-america- being-black-means-constantly-rendering-yourself-unthreatening-ncna878291
5 New York Times Staff, “How Statues Are Falling Around the World,” The New York Times, September, 12, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/us/confederate-statues-photos.html
6 CBS News Staff, “Rep. Pressley On Racism and Police Reform,” CBS News, June 03, 2020, https://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_this_morning/video/nHI78133BwpX_zutTIB8mXlYLyY8Vg7C/rep-ayanna- pressley-talks-racism-police-reform-and-the-death-of-george-floyd/
7 Radley Balko, “There’s Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof,” The Washington Post, June 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/systemic-racism- police-evidence-criminal-justice-system/
8 Open Source, “George Floyd Protests,” Wikipedia, May 10, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Floyd_protests
9 BBC News Staff, “Hail Trump: White nationalists mark Trump win with Nazi salute,” BBC News, November 22, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38057104
10 Christianna Silva, Reformed Neo-Nazi Discusses President Trump's Controversial Shared Retweet,” NPR News, July 2, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial- justice/2020/07/02/886487184/reformed-nazi-discusses-president-trumps-controversial-shared-tweet
11 Open Source, “Black Lives Matter,” Wikipedia, May 09, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter 12 CNN Editorial Research, “Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts,” CNN News, February 17, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts
13 Anna North, “White Americans are finally talking about racism. Will it translate into action?,” Vox Media, June 11, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/6/11/21286642/george-floyd-protests-white-people-police-racism
14 Steve Mazie, “What Does “No Justice, No Peace” Really Mean?,” Big Think, December 5, 2014, https://bigthink.com/praxis/what-does-no-justice-no-peace-really-mean
15 Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter, “The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television,” The Harvard Journal of Communications 19:241-257 (2008): https://library.uoregon.edu/sites/default/files/data/guides/english/howard_journal_communications.pdf
16 Critical race theory is an academic discipline, formulated in the 1990s, built on the intellectual framework of identity-based Marxism. Relegated for many years to universities and obscure academic journals, over the past decade it has increasingly become the default ideology in our public institutions. It has been injected into government agencies, public school systems, teacher training programs, and corporate human resources departments in the form of diversity training programs, human resources modules, public policy frameworks, and school curricula. (Christopher F. Rufo, “Critical Race Theory: What is It and How to Fight It,”, Imprimis 50, No. 3, (2021): https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/critical-race-theory-fight/)
17 U.S. Bishops, “What is Systemic Racism?,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018, https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/racism-and-systemic-racism.pdf 18 https://www.aclu.org/news/racial-justice/ending-systemic-racism-requires-ensuring-systemic-equality/
19 The word “cancel” is derived from the idea that a television show is cancelled when it no longer holds the interest of viewers. In cancel culture, people on social media have the power to affect a celebrity or public figure by “cancelling” them from various media platforms and even removing them from their jobs.
20 Google’s Transparency Report: https://transparencyreport.google.com/youtube-policy/featured-policies/hate- speech?hl=en
21 Twitter Safety, “Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct,” Twitter Blog, July 9, 2019, https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/hatefulconductupdate.html
22 Jessica Guynn, “Facebook ranks deleting anti-Black and 'most harmful' hate speech over comments about white people and men,” USA Today, December 2, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/12/03/facebook- ranks-hate-speech-black-over-attacks-white-people-men/3813931001/
23 Reuters, “After boycotts, advertisers and social media giants agree on steps to curb hate speech,” Venture Beat, September 24, 2020, https://venturebeat.com/2020/09/24/after-boycotts-advertisers-and-social-media-giants- agree-on-steps-to-curb-hate-speech/
24 Carlie Porterfield, “Aunt Jemima Gets A New Name After Racism Backlash,” Forbes, February 9, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2021/02/09/aunt-jemima-gets-a-new-name-after-racism- backlash/?sh=4fa4ae7c82f8
25 Genesis 1:27
26 James Owen, “Modern Humans Came Out of Africa, "Definitive" Study Says,” National Geographic, July 18, 2007, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/modern-humans-came-out-of-africa-definitive-study-says
27 Open Source, “Recent African Origin of Modern Humans,” Wikipedia, May 11, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recent_African_origin_of_modern_humans
28 Genesis 2:4-3:24
29 Luke 10:25-37
30 Mark 3:35
31 CCC 1937
32 CCC 1939
33 CCC 1849, 1850