circumstances, I’ve still been the beneficiary of a hidden system of privilege. Compared with the multitudesthat approach our borders today, mygrandparents got through Ellis Islandwith an E-Z Pass. In two generations,our family leaped from barely literateto college-educated. While no onehanded us opportunity on a platter,our name and background didn’tslam doors in our faces either.
This personal narrative revealsthe invisible but deadly fruit of racism. Racism isn’t simply about nastyassumptions and sneering remarks,hurtful as those are. Most Americans,we’d like to think, are better thanthat. No, racism is dangerous becauseof a solidly built, two-tiered systemthat allows one kind of people toadvance while pinning another kind(or every other kind) in place. It’san inequality so integral to how oursociety operates that its beneficiariescan no more see it than its victimscan be unaffected by it.
Racism has been called theoriginal sin of the United States. It’s apainful admission to make if you lovethis country, but as the saying goes,the truth sets us free. We abide in thestabbing paradox of being citizenswho pledge allegiance to “liberty andjustice for all”—a vow taken, handover heart—without a thought for ourslaveholding founding fathers, theirvote-less wives, and the native peoplesendlessly, wretchedly betrayed.
Liberty and justice have been in
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Racism has beencalled the originalsin of the UnitedStates. It’s a painfuladmission to makeif you love thiscountry.
short supply for many in this country.
The list of those who have experiencedracial discrimination is very long.
A paramount sin
Those who appeal to religious au-
thority find the church has much to
say—and learn—about this pervasive
and persistent evil. The church de-
fines racism as a paramount sin: “not
merely one sin among many; it is a
radical evil that divides the human
family and denies the new creation
of a redeemed world” (Brothers and
Sisters to Us, USCCB, 1979). Racism
is the failure to acknowledge God’s
likeness in a sister or brother. There-
fore, “to struggle against it demands
an equally radical transformation, in
our own minds and hearts as well as
in the structure of our society.”