I recently subscribed to the publication New Oxford Review and I am SO glad I did. I can tell right off the bat that I am going to get to put my brain on a 10 mile run several times an issue. I can also see, immediately, that I bring a different perspective to most discussions and I suspect it is one formed by my American Heritage.
The first article I read is by Thomas Storck, a well known Catholic author who has written extensively on our Faith's social teaching, Catholic Culture and related topics (his stuff can be found at www.thomasstorck.org). I like the cut of this guy's gib, as my Dad would say, and part of that is because he makes me think, he challenges me with good Catholic Thought, formed by the mind of the Church and allows me to exercise my reason.
The article I read deals with the difference between superficial markers such as skin color and the much more powerful way to identify people which is culture. Mr. Storck makes some wonderful points and reading the article makes one keenly aware that there is a particular CATHOLIC culture that we in this country have lost over the past few decades, particularly since the 1950's. Whether we blame that on the constant war our country has experienced and the need for Catholics to prove their patriotism over and over again by participating in those wars or whether it is plain old concupiscence, it is true that what was once stuff that 'all Catholics did' is now in danger of disappearing.
However, I think Mr. Storck makes a mistake when he writes, "...focusing on skin color shifts the discussion to something superficial and distracts from what is essential" as though skin color does not matter. I think, and I may be wrong, that while it is essential to try and build up our culture, to pretend that within this culture our skin color does not matter is foolish.
I am going to ignore the easy arguments to prove my point because, while ever Black parent can share the experience of both receiving and giving 'the talk' to their child regarding how to respond to people of authority, every PARENT should (and usually can) share the experience of both receiving and giving a similar talk to their female child about how to deal with boys and men and how we need to make sure no one can ever, EVER, blame us for the bad and/or criminal behavior that we all end up experiencing. And in today's times I can honestly say that I had talks with my eldest nephew about how to respond to scary situations and why walking home from a friend's house at 3am was not a good idea, to call me instead because it is dangerous out there.
Rather, I think we need to pause and remember that within the AMERICAN Culture and we had actual laws that were based on someone's skin color. The legality of an action was ofttimes determined by skin color, not whether that person was an American. We didn't care if they believed in working hard, individual freedoms, no taxation without representation, fighting for their country or were against criminal enterprises having control of our streets. We cared first about what color their skin was because that was far more important than whether or not they had enlisted in the US Army and put their life on the line or if they were trying to start their own business.
Mr. Storck's essay stated clearly that even before the Incarnation, European culture was cool with other nations and peoples. He then uses Alexander the Great as an example citing Belloc who writes that intermarrying with the locals was the main way Alexander brought Greek culture all the way to India.
Which, I guess, is why he needed to march with all those soldiers and had all those sieges along the way?
While I understand that culture is important as that which binds us all together, I think we are foolish to think that this attitude - an attitude of being Catholic FIRST - is not something to which we must aspire. We are just not there yet. We are not yet past what we see in the other person - and oftentimes we miss the crucifix they wear around their neck. Especially in today's political climate, when so many people have married their political identity to their religion, we have forgotten how to BE Catholic.
Our culture is in trouble and we are afraid to live it, to be CATHOLIC out LOUD because if we are, we know we are marking ourselves as 'other' in a world that pushes the 'other' out. So we don't tell someone what we are and we let our superficial skin speak for itself.
I think it is very important to remember now, for Catholics, that we have something much deeper than our skin color binding us together. The whole wonderful point of BEING a Catholic is to be able to acknowledge the universality of our Faith so that we can take comfort in knowing that whether we are in Modesto, Winnipeg, Nigeria or Wisconsin those of us gathered together for Mass are doing so because we believe in that which we proclaim during the Nicene Creed.
However, I think we also must be willing to acknowledge how we have throughout our existence given into that which the world says is far more important than culture. We have rejected Catholics who were the wrong color, spoke the wrong language and came from the wrong place. We have been as sinful as the rest of the world and made that which is superficial the focus of our attention. We have been ignorant of our own Culture and to pretend we have not is to pretend that Original Sin has no effect on us today.
I lost a friend because she saw my acknowledgement of my country's 'sins' as an indictment of something very personal to her. Maybe she is right. Maybe, when I see the cracks in the wonderful world that is made up of good Americans, I am seeing our own sins. Surely, I can do better in looking beyond the superficial and seeing the person? If I want my country to do so, I must do so. If I am to do so, I must examine my past and make amends for those times I did not live up to the ideal of Catholicism. I must be willing to admit my sins and then ask for forgiveness - for racism, for sexism, for not being strong enough to stand stronger in the face of injustice.
I get a kick out of sharing with people my ethnic make up because it is eclectic (Persian,Irish,Italian, Cherokee anyone?) but the reality is this: if a police officer looks at me? She sees a little white lady with platinum hair and Forty-Niner earrings. That trained officer is NOT going to not have the same reaction to me as she will to a 16 year old brown kid with a shaved head, holding a skateboard. The officer may not approach either one of us, but I know which one of us is going to be watched longer...and it is not me.