I recently posed the following questions to our social justice network within the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP), Canada.
- Does systemic racism exist within SSVP?
- Does having knowledge of the existence of systemic racism in Canada without advocating for change mean we approve of it?
- Are there internal actions SSVP can take which demonstrate our opposition to all forms of racism?
- Are there actions SSVP can take to both advocate for change and collaborate with other organizations on positive change?
- Can SSVP reach out to the larger Catholic and non-Catholic community to invite racialized people to join us as we work towards addressing racism in Canada?
I would propose anyone could apply these questions to their own organization, congregation or family and community. I have been thinking about them as a white older male but find I must seek to read and listen to how racism has and still does affect people of colour. Why have I not done more? Why has it taken so long to realize this? What can I do now? I always go back to my favourite book and movie “to Kill a Mockingbird“ where Atticus warns his children… “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- – -until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” With this I mind, we cannot hope to understand the challenges and emotional damage that racism has on those affected by it without hearing their words and experiences, without sharing our thoughts and prayers. As a Vincentian, I often recall how Vincent as a young priest was taught all about Jesus Christ, all about the Catholic faith and Church dogma, but he never got to really know Jesus until he encountered Him in the face of those he served and walked in their skin. Vincent underwent a very personal transformation which led him to his true mission of helping the most vulnerable without prejudice.
Perhaps many of us need to reach out to people of colour, to listen to them, to touch them, to engage with them, to share our common and different beliefs, challenges, needs and hopes while understanding and supporting one another. Let each of us make Racism VERY PERSONAL!
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.
You pose a difficult challenge with these questions you’ve posed and especially with your urging us, “Let each of us make Racism VERY PERSONAL.”
Very close to home, or better, at home, our two boys do not tire in calling our attention to an unconscious, hidden, racism that shows up when we compliment fellow Filipinos and other people of color. The two practically grew up in the U.S. since one was only 3 years old and the other, 9 months old, when they came with my wife and me from the Philippines. So, thank goodness, they don’t have the predicament that we have for growing up in the Philippines.
It’s because in the Philippines, colonized by Spain for over 300 years and by the U.S. for close to 50 years, we Filipinos grow up developing unconsciously the self-hatred not uncommon to colonized people. So, when we rave, for example, about a Miss Philippines being crowned a Miss Universe, we invariably say, as in many Filipino TV variety shows, “O how beautiful she is, so white-complexioned, her nose so high-bridged.” Or when we run into a person of color who meets our standards, unconsciously adopted from colonizers, we at once praise and belittle him/her by saying, “He/she is beautiful/handsome for a person of color.” And there are times when, annoyed by immigrants from other countries, we express the wish that they’d go back to where they came from.
Indeed, Jim, I have to do more, to do, as our two boys, that is, to bring out to the light, to the open, the racism that hides within, but rears its ugly head time and again. We’ve got to slay this dragon of a sin, in all its manifestations, don’t we? The way it turns up in me is not any less dangerous than the way it shows in those who equate BLM facilely, without evidence, with Marxist propaganda.
Great questions, Jim. And comment, Ross. Unless and until we make this personal, as suggested, we may well be perpetuating systemic racism unknowingly. Years ago I did a brief study of US Society membership at the request of Gene Smith, the then president, and indicated how narrow our membership was in terms of race (and age for that matter!). Not sure if it had any effect with members. Gotta keep at it!