Racism is more than mere ideology

Last month I started to write about racism and the difficulty that arises as we seek common ground on the matter. I’ll never forget the day I was in first grade and an older boy ran up to me on the playground during recess and yelled, “Spick, go home.” For readers who don’t know, that’s a racial slur. I didn’t know that at the time. I was just six. But the hatred in that kid’s face and eyes will always be seared into my memory.

The image rose up again recently when our President told four American women, all of them duly elected representatives, all of them citizens, and three of the four born here in the U.S., to “go back” to the “places from which they came.” The President, never one to apologize for anything, did try to walk back the statement. He tried to explain that all he meant was that if they were so unhappy with our nation then they should just leave. That may be what he meant to say. But it wasn’t what he did say, and it wasn’t what I and many other children of immigrants heard. What we heard was what I heard that day in first grade: If you’re not like us, you’re not a real American.

Last month I said that with the exception of very few in America, all of us agree that racism is bad. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you doubt me, take the case of Jean Cramer, candidate for city council for Marysville, Michigan, who said during a debate at the end of August that she wants to keep her city “a white community as much as possible. White. Seriously. In other words, no foreign-born, no foreign people.” She also said that there should be no mixed marriages between the races, but averred that “as far as me being against blacks, no I’m not.”

That’s the fascinating thing. Racism is so widely condemned by the American conscience that despite her clear racism, Cramer knows that she shouldn’t be a racist. So she has to define racism in a way that doesn’t include her. And that’s the problem with racism. It can take many forms.

American Renaissance, a periodical that dates back to the early 90s, claims that whites are genetically superior to blacks and Hispanics. We all agree that’s racism. But what if a public policy results in a disproportionate harm to one race over any other? Even if the advocates of the policy never intended the result, can that policy be called racist? And can those who advocate for it be labeled racists themselves? That is the flashpoint today, because it has become increasingly hard for some to believe that an honest disagreement about policy is just that and not crypto-racism.

The church would have us know at least two things. The first is the fundamental evil of racism. The second is the point that racism is more than just an ideology out of which one must be convinced. Racism is a kind of vice, a distorted habit of thinking, the eighth deadly sin if you will. Therefore, against it a conversion of heart is required.

And to that end, Americans, all of us, ought to look into our hearts to root out racist or let’s just call them oppositionist attitudes or presumptions that cause us to look down upon others, fear others, or condemn others merely because of their name, their skin color, their accent, their place of birth or their political affiliation. Let us pray and fast together for a greater conversion of heart so that we might love as Jesus loves.

Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at

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