Most vehicles now have blind spot warning systems to prevent us from mistakenly hitting another vehicle that we can’t see. In light of recent events in our area and nation, I wish I and others had blind spot warning systems to help us not mistakenly misunderstand what our Black brothers and sisters continue to experience.
To be honest, I thought we had turned a corner in this country. I believed that racism was declining. I was clearly wrong, and I’m sad that I was blind to what so many others saw and to what my Black brothers and sisters were still experiencing.
I grew up in a loving family in which we were taught all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, and that all deserve love, respect, and dignity. As a young boy, I witnessed my father literally take the coat off his back and give it to a Black man. When I asked him why he did that, he simply said, “The man was cold.”
He did that right in front of our house in Bethesda, in what was a “lily white” neighborhood at the time. At Our Lady of Lourdes School, there were no children of color to the best of my recollection among the 1,100 students attending the school in the 1950s and ’60s.
That changed a little when I went to St. John's College High School. I sat in classes with African American students who became my buddies. At the same time, I also remember the 1962 city championship football game at RFK stadium between St. John’s and Eastern High School when a terrible fight broke out. The papers called it a race riot, and it was a frightening experience for all.
After graduating, I had a summer job on Capitol Hill, where I was blessed to witness firsthand the debate on the Civil Rights Act during Lyndon Johnson's presidency. With some contention, it became the law of the land.
Then, four years later, I was in college when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was savagely murdered. There were marches and violence back then, too.
Forty-three years later in my first days at Catholic Charities, I remember being struck by the racial diversity evident in our staff, volunteers and those we serve. And I remember being so proud to be asked to lead such a diverse organization.
The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Botham Jean, Michael Brown and so many others speak volumes about our inability to accept Black men and women as equal members of our society. I realize now I had blind spots that I didn’t even know were there.
I was born white and grew up in a white neighborhood. I did not have contact with any person of color until I was in my early teens. I had parents who loved all people, and I had no animosity whatsoever toward African Americans. And yet, I was not walking in the shoes of a Black child who experienced discrimination. It didn’t happen to me, so my awareness was limited.
I know that I am not a racist, but I also know that we all view the world through the lenses of our experiences. To this day, I’m sure I don’t see and recognize all that I should.
The murder of George Floyd and the massive demonstrations around our country and even the world remind us that we all have blind spots. We all need to look carefully at who we are, where we came from, and what we’ve experienced. We all need to be open to the fact that the invitation to look at things from a viewpoint different than our own is a gift that I hope will open our eyes, ears, and hearts to loving all people.
The Catholic Church proclaims that all human life is sacred. Yes! We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
This belief is utterly at odds with racism and police brutality, and one too often absent from the structures and policies we allow to prevail in our country and city. We must stand behind and support our Black colleagues and leaders and listen as they share their pain and steer us forward.
At Catholic Charities, we will not accept racism, prejudice, discrimination or bigotry in our words and actions. I profess my belief that Black Lives Matter, and I hope all children of God will stand against racism and injustice.
These issues affect our families, friends, neighbors, and entire community. In the midst of our hurt, anger and despair, let us stand with each other. Let us provide comfort and strength to each other when we need it most. And let us speak to and give witness with our lives in overcoming racism, discrimination and inequality.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he tells us to “first take the log out” of our own eyes so that we can see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes. (Matthew 7:5)
I must continue working to to take the plank out of my own eye so I can see more clearly. I will continue to work to overcome any bias in me, and I invite you to join me in reflecting on your own beliefs and actions while listening to and respecting others, particularly those who may be different from you.
For it is together that we must move forward. Together as people. Together as Americans. Together as children of God.
May God bless our country, our Church, and every human being made lovingly in his image.
(Msgr. Enzler serves as the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
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