Originally issued March 18, 2009.
Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, applauds U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s courageous call for a new dialogue on race. We affirm his February 18th call to move past cowardice in addressing racism and social segregation. As an organization grounded in the Gospel call to nonviolence, Pax Christi USA is committed to creating right relationships in every aspect of our work and lives. This commitment requires working to root out racism—every form of which is violence against people of color—in our society and in our organization. This work is an inextricable part of our commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus. We acknowledge also the realities of social segregation to which Holder pointed and recognize that this voluntary segregation creates barriers to dialogue and to the nonviolent relationships we hope to build.
Pax Christi USA encourages dialogue about, in Holder’s words, “the racial matters that continue to divide us.” Pax Christi USA offers opportunities to engage this dialogue through the work of its Anti-Racism Team, and we invite others to do the same. In so doing, we denounce the racist cartoon published by the New York Post the same day as Holder’s speech. This is a time to grieve this cartoon’s affront to the dignity of people made in the image of God. This is also an historic opportunity for white people in the United States to take up Attorney General Holder’s call for new dialogue and to increase efforts to reject the sins of this cartoon’s racist legacy.
Pax Christi USA calls its membership and all people of faith to honesty, especially about passive acceptance of white privilege in a society that has failed to end the oppression of people of color. We must continue to work to dismantle the systems that thwart people of color from access to and achievement in health, education, wealth, jobs, social and civic participation, friendship, and justice.
As Holder said, “This nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have.” If people in the United States are to take up Mr. Holder’s challenge, especially we Christians who seek to witness to the Gospel of peace with justice, we must understand the historical relationship between white privilege and oppression. Understanding demands that we examine the enduring legacy of the United States’ original social sin of racism, the history of resistance to it, and the multiple ways that people of color have transformed this nation and all its peoples through diverse, authentic practices of democracy and faith. We need to do this so that everyone—black, brown, red, white, or yellow—may live in the full depth of our brotherhood and sisterhood, in solidarity as one family made in God’s image. Committed to discipleship, we challenge ourselves and others to changing our behaviors, our relationships, our places of worship, and our lives.
Too often, however, white privilege and ignorance rear their ugly head, as demonstrated by the New York Post publishing Sean Delonas’s cartoon depicting two white police officers shooting and killing a chimpanzee with one police officer proclaiming to the other, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
It is a lie for anyone to deny the implicit connection of the image and text of the cartoon to President Barack Obama. It is a lie to deny the implicit and historic use of apes and monkeys to dehumanize African Americans, a use that dates back to writings of the nation’s founders and that has been used to attack many other vulnerable groups throughout U.S. history. It is a lie that the symbols of the United States’ racist past (and present)—like nooses in public places, or cross burning, or hooding—are not still used to oppress today.
The cartoon appears at a time when both hate crimes against people of color and death threats on our President are rising. The denials of racism by the cartoonist and the editor of the Post are disingenuous at best—and at worse may fuel racist attacks upon the President and people of color who, on account of the color of their skin, are more vulnerable. Scandalously, these denials can find acceptance only in a society where white privilege and ignorance persist.
Pax Christi calls all people in the United States to create and put into action new ways to overcome the burden of oppression in this country and to find new ways to walk together as brothers and sisters, so that all may share new life in the liberation of God’s beloved community.