Over 400 years ago Africans were captured and removed from their native lands, homes and families to be taken to the New World and reduced to objects that would assist their owners to have a profitable business and comfortable life for their families. This subjugation of another race which was founded on the principles of someone being inferior and subhuman simply because of their skin colour is one that continues to plague North America. The institution of slavery is one that attempted to rob those affected of their basic human dignity. As has been proven many times by courageous acts of defiance, no one can take away the God given gift of human dignity.
While there have been many positive changes in legislation and laws to reduce these racist inspired efforts to supress African Americans, the recent murder of George Floyd has resulted in a nationwide and even worldwide response to racial prejudice.
As a Canadian I must also acknowledge that we are not exempt from racial prejudice and I believe we must speak out and act in ways that can truly achieve effective systemic change in the way we think and act, both as individuals and as governments. Let us also acknowledge that this racism also affects our Indigenous People. As Vincentians we should emphasize the relationship between racism and poverty. We should use the knowledge we gain through our interaction with people living in poverty and the effect that racism has had on their lives.
There have been several particularly good statements regarding racism in the past few weeks but as with Vincent, words are not enough. There must be action, which is tempered with prayer for both those who are victims of racism, as well as for those who may still practise and support racism. I would encourage every member of our Vincentian family to work within their organizations, congregations and parishes by advocating and educating others. Take action that demonstrates our sincere belief that every man, woman and child is equal. Let us also demonstrate by our words and actions to all people of colour that we stand with them and respect their right to basic human dignity and equal rights.
This is the time for everyone to act.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.
Opinions expressed are the author’s own views and do not officially represent those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.