I was a high school senior, riding a Baltimore County school bus full of my fellow (white) students, on our way to an athletic event. The conversation on the bus was about two well-known African American athletes, one known for his political and cultural stances, the other not. The conversation was – in derogatory terms – criticism of the former for speaking his mind, praise for the latter for being “acceptable” to those speaking on the bus. Recounting the conversation that evening at home with my (Republican) father – pictured above with me at a much younger age! – he clarified for me that it is unacceptable to ridicule a person simply for being opinionated, for giving voice to what they see and hear, for speaking out.
Implicit in his guidance, his formation of me, was the acceptance of the other as the other, the provision for safe space within which to talk, the recognition of discomfort as a welcome condition for growth. I learned that racism takes many forms, not least the derogatory words used on the bus, but also all of the ways in which persons of color are penalized simply for having agency, for being human beings with volition and voice. Implicit in his guidance is my obligation, my joy, in welcoming, supporting, allying with, the agency of others. I began to learn – and continue to learn – my obligation to speak, countering falsehoods, telling truth to power, taking personal risks for the good.
Now gone for more than twelve years, and roughly fifty years following that lesson, I am grateful to you Dad, and hope very much that your words have borne fruit in my life, not just for me, but for those around me – of all backgrounds and cultures – and also those someday to follow. When I think of working for justice, of respecting and empowering the agency of all, I am certain of your presence.
I love you.
- Whether young or older, or somewhere in between, what lessons have you learned from your parents about race and racism?
- How might your legacy for others – your children, their children, or just the people around you – be more instructive, more loving, or more impactful?
Lord, we are grateful for all of the lessons from the past. Some are painful and show us human sin and frailty; some are richly positive, giving us examples of who we most hope to become. Throughout, we ask for insight into these lessons, and courage to put them into practice now. Please teach us, form us, make us the people you call us to be. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Written by John S.
Every issue of “Becoming Antiracist” is written by a fellow St. Ignatius parishioner.
John S. lives in Baltimore County and works with small businesses for PNC Bank. He’s been a parishioner at St. Ignatius for five years.