America, Reparations and Racism

06-30-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

As we head into the July 4th Holiday, the US Congress held a hearing to decide whether or not to form a Committee to study Reparations for Slavery. I heard someone say that “the US has never dealt with racism”. I would disagree with that as our history shows we have dealt plenty with racism, even if there is still more to deal with.

Many of our Founders did not want the new country to include slavery. But they soon realized that in order to get all the colonies on board they had to comprise. But many of them stated that the issue of chattel slavery sowed the seeds of future discord and division for the new nation. And so it did. A Civil War engulfed the country, in which it was the US Government that fought on the side to abolish slavery. So over 150 years ago slavery ended. But what did not end was the government’s ability to force segregation by law upon its citizens. Having “black only” sections for restaurants or restrooms was not the choice of the proprietors, it was a legal requirement.

Our society would be forced to deal with the issue of legal segregation a hundred years after the Civil War and finally end it once for all with the Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act not only ended any legal forms of segregation but it also set up a structure to deal with on-going racial discrimination whether in employment, housing, schools and other places of public accommodation. And that system has worked pretty well to root out systemic forms of racial discrimination.

But even with all that, we still realized that the legacy of slavery, segregation and racism left many of the descendants of slaves in a deep hole. So, in order to try to level the playing field and help them dig out of the hole much quicker, Affirmative Action was instituted as a way of implementing the Civil Rights Act.

One of the concepts behind Affirmative Action as it was applied to blacks, was a realization that for descendants of slaves to achieve legal, employment, educational and housing parity with whites and others in the US, they would need at times to get pushed to the front of the line until such time as when the playing field was even. This was a form of Reparations. It meant that whites and others might get pushed to the back of the line as one way of lifting blacks past the damaging effects of segregation.

Sadly, our political and judicial geniuses have expanded Affirmative Action way beyond race, creed, color or national origin. There are plenty of other groups who have been historically discriminated against but none of them to the degree of US blacks. As a result, blacks are more likely to be pushed to the back of the Affirmative Action line. If a College has to choose between a poor black kid from the inner city and an upper middle-class transgendered kid, the black kid doesn't stand a chance in today’s pecking order.

Color me cynical but this latest call for Reparations seems like political pandering rather than an honest attempt to deal with the harmful legacy of slavery and segregation and denies the advances US society has made. The idea of a committee to study Reparations was the brainchild of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. She once declared on the House floor: “I stand here as a freed slave.” I guess she is older than she looks. Her estimated net worth is over $3.5 million. She and her husband graduated Yale and her son graduated Harvard. Her own success story seems to counteract her narrative of the need for Reparations.

But even so, the US has a history of racism and discrimination that was particularly aimed at blacks and we are still digging out of that hole. But we also have a history of dealing with it and trying to wash it out of our society and out of our hearts. And we will continue to try to rid ourselves of racial prejudice. That’s the amazing part about America, despite our flaws we have consistently found ways to right our wrongs and correct our faults. If we had not, we would not still be here to celebrate our 243rd birthday.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” MLK

Happy 4th of July and God Bless America.


Fr. John B

PS Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first black Catholic priest in the US and a child of former slaves was advanced on his path to Sainthood as Pope Francis declared him “Venerable”, that he lived a life of heroic virtue. The next step is Beatification. Venerable Fr. Tolton please pray for America!