The CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington released a video late last week expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and condemning racism.
“We simply cannot stand outside of something as significant as this movement, even though we know full well there may be a price to pay for walking into it,” said Rob McCann, president and CEO of the Spokane-based nonprofit in the video.
McCann spoke out about the historical and continued systemic racism of the Catholic church as well as his own bias and contribution to systemic racism.
Current conversations around institutional racism led by Black and people of color have led McCann to embrace the uncomfortable truth that “he is a racist,” he said, because of his ability as a white person to benefit from institutions in the U.S., when others do not.
Kurtis Robinson, president of Spokane’s chapter of the NAACP, expressed mixed feelings about the video.
“I look at it at its surface and say, ‘Good, it’s about time.’ And at the same time I hear myself say, ‘It’s about time,’ meaning it hasn’t been said until now,” Robinson said.
It’s great that he speaks about systemic racism and the systemic privilege that has perpetuated the problem, said Robinson, who is Black.
“I was challenged to not look at it through a hyper-critical lens because people of color have been promised this countless times – and we’re still here,” Robinson said.
As the video continues, McCann addresses how his implicit biases as a white person can be especially dangerous, because they serve to uphold systemic racism in this country. He said these are tendencies he is working to acknowledge, reconcile and eliminate.
McCann also spoke about the racist premise on which the Catholic Church’s faith is built, which is the idea that Jesus is white.
He recounted the church’s history of having slaves and staying silent when others did, too, operating Native American boarding schools and “unknowingly” being part of institutional racism.
While Robinson said he appreciated McCann’s statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, he was critical of McCann’s claim that the church unknowingly contributed to systemic oppression.
“There is not one time with this historic religion that they haven’t been conscious on some level of what they have been doing,” he said.
As the video goes on, McCann said that even Catholic Charities has been contributing to institutional racism, because it has a mostly white board despite primarily serving people of color.
The organization will continue to identify and challenge racism and its clear connection to homelessness, immigration, the death penalty and poverty, McCann said. Catholic Charities will also continue to defend the sacredness of every human life, McCann added.
“It takes courage to admit what people of color already know, and I admire him for stepping up to the plate,” said Walter Kendricks, who is Black and is pastor of Spokane’s Morning Star Baptist Church.
Black lives have been marginalized for too long, McCann said, and Catholic Charities has done a lot but not enough. There’s a need to embrace anti-racist actions to be an authentic voice for human dignity.
“For me as a white person, saying I’m not a racist is like saying a fish is not wet,” he said. “In America, racism is no longer a question but rather it’s the toxic water in which we all swim.”
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