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Gaps in my education

As President Biden signed the bill into law establishing the new federal holiday, dictionary searches for “Juneteenth” shot up 8,200 percent. A new Gallup poll tells us that more than 60 percent of Americans know “a little bit” or “nothing at all” about Juneteenth.

Juneteenth marks the day when the last group of slaves in Texas learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had set them free.

I was born and raised in this country and had the privilege of a quality education my mother and father did not have. Yet, I must admit to being late to the party. I was well into my 70’s before I ever heard of Juneteenth.  I was in my 80’s before I learned of the Tulsa massacre, the largest massacre of African Americans just 100 years ago. I did not realize almost 200,000 African Americans served in the Civil War. So I wonder, what else I don’t know!

Now, knowing more, I rejoice with my African-American brothers and sisters as they celebrate their Exodus journey.  

Challenge

But there is a huge irony! Juneteenth becomes a holiday at the very moment when it seems that teachers in a growing number of states won’t be able to talk about such history. So many people are blind to how subtle but everyday discrimination is a fact of life for those who are non-white.

I am not talking about “hard core” racism of white supremacists who literally believe that not all were created equal and that there is a “master race”.

I am talking about good people, including myself, who are simply unaware of how our daily experiences are so different simply because of skin color. (Good people can experience occasional instances of what people of color experience every day.)

As one white man began to understand

  • No one in my neighborhood moved out when we moved in.
  • The police do not me to ask what I was doing in another part of town.
  • No one had lower expectations of me because of the color of my skin.
  • Etc.

 Black Americans face invisible glass barriers – de facto segregation – when they seek a good education, meaningful employment, decent housing, health care, and many other forms of social advancement and benefits.

Admittedly, the issues are complicated and subtle. I see tensions when:

  • some see racism everywhere while others do not see any macro- and micro-aggressions.
  • some focus on what victims must do or not do while others never consider what they can do to lessen prejudicial attitudes.

The situation calls for an honest application of the see-judge-act. And the first step is being open to seeing what we don’t see – abuses on both sides of the racial divide.

The Vincentian Question

As St. Vincent was becoming aware of the depth of many forms of poverty that he had not appreciated while growing up, Madame de Gondi asked Vincent. “What must be done?”

Today requires well-reasoned responses to a number of related questions:

  • What is going wrong?
  • What is going right?
  • Who or what do I see… or not see?
  • One cannot find solutions to realities one does not see as problematic;
  • one cannot understand a reality one does not perceive;
  • one cannot respond to questions one does not ask.

Pope Francis shares with us what he sees ‘Laudato Si‘ teaches us that everything is connected; ‘Fratelli Tutti’ teaches us that everyone is connected.

Two dimensions of the Vincentian question

  • What must I do?
  • What can we do together?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk