Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
April 13th, 2012

‘I Am Trayvon Martin’


This image was designed by LaShonda Anderson used with her permission.

“I am Trayvon Martin!”

This has been the rallying cry of so many people (Black and other races too) since the shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old African-American teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a suburb outside Orlando, Florida. The watchman, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense and said he pursued the young black teenager because he looked “suspicious.” This has resulted in an outcry from the black community, and other supporters, asking for justice.

This lack of respect for black male life seems to be a bad story repeated throughout the history of this country. Stereotyping, prejudice, and racism are nothing new to our community (or to other minority groups either), but when a national tragedy such as this occurs, another level of despair occurs in our communities. Too many times there are “Trayvon Martins” out there whose stories are never told. These events divide us along racial, political, and socioeconomic lines. Racism is the “elephant in the room” that we don’t like to discuss, and when it comes up, it stirs up emotions on all sides.

At the heart of this issue is stereotyping. People who are not regularly subjected to stereotyping never really understand why it is such a big deal. Take this example — following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Associated Press released two photos separately showing a white couple and a young black man traveling through a flooded street in New Orleans. The caption under the photo with the white couple said they were “finding” food at a local grocery store. The caption under the black man said he was “looting” food at a grocery story. Why the difference if they were in the same situation trying to achieve the same goal — survival? The only difference was the color of their skin. Too many times stereotypes drive us to perceive others differently and this leads to differential, and at times, unjust treatment. We tend to look at one another as objects and not as human beings created in the image of God.

Racism in the Church

It is never easy to discuss or talk about racism. But everyone does talk about it within their own racial groups. It is something that affects us all, whether directly or indirectly. We, especially as a Catholic Church, need to be able to share our hurts and challenges.

Unfortunately, the evil of racism is still working within our Church as well. I say this because I love my Church enough to challenge it. I want to work with others so that our Church becomes all that we want it to be.

After Hurricane Katrina, many youth in my youth ministry and I were evacuated to Houston, Texas. We are from a majority black Catholic church, but while we were evacuated, the closest Catholic church was a majority white church. It was apparent that we were making the regular parishioners uncomfortable from the looks and stares we received. Also, during the sign of peace and the Our Father, none of the parishioners would shake or hold our hands.

Another, more recent incident occurred about a year ago. As an Archdiocesan employee, I was asked to go to one of our local white parishes to set up early for a meeting. Even though I was in a shirt and tie, I was interrogated about how I got a copy of the key to the hall. It wasn’t until one of our white volunteers showed up and said the exact same thing that I had said that we were left alone to go about our business. People of other minority groups have expressed having the same experiences. Now, I know that not all parishes would react like this, but the fact that this has happened, and continues to happen, many more times than we would like to admit or can document, shows that we still have work to do to improve race relations as a Catholic family. Even now, our courageous local archbishop has asked our parishes to pray our “Family Prayer,” which asks us to fight the New Battle of New Orleans against murder, violence, and racism.

Church teachings on racism

The Church has produced many documents over the past half-century in regards to racism. Here’s a quick look at three of them:

Discrimination and the Christian Conscience (1958) followed the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Topeka Board of Education calling for the desegregation of school systems and other instances of racial segregation at the time. The basic conclusion in this document was that Christians cannot support segregation because it’s inconsistent with Christian views. In other words, we cannot treat the human person as “inferior.” The problem with this document was that it made no specific recommendations in regards to action.
• In 1968 the bishops released a new statement on racism entitled The National Race Crisis in response to the mounting racial tensions of the Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
• In 1979, the bishops released their next statement on racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, which looked at how racism is a part of our personal lives and social and even church institutions. The document included recommendations for action.

And more still needs to be done to address issues of racism in the Church. As our bishops have stated, we need to move toward loving one another as humans and not demeaning one another based on what we look like or where we come from. (A recommended resource: Bryan Massingale’s book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, which looks in detail at how our church’s bishops have attempted to address the sin of racism over the past half-century.)

It is never easy to discuss or talk about racism. But everyone does talk about it within their own racial groups. It is something that affects us all, whether directly or indirectly. We, especially as a Catholic Church, need to be able to share our hurts and challenges. People that benefit from society’s social structures and institutions may not see the necessity of addressing this issue, but as long as one part of the Body of Christ is affected, we all are. Only when we truly challenge the norms that may cause divisions (on both sides) will we be able to come together as the loving Church that we were created to be. We must put aside our stereotypes and fears and look at one another as brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

One of us

The black community, and those that support it, are particularly outraged by the Trayvon Martin shooting because this young man could have easily been any one of our sons, grandsons, cousins, nephews, youth ministry kids, etc., but the fact that some of us cannot express our frustrations about this issue, and the constant stereotyping that we face, leads to the distrust and continued divisions that separate us now. We are called to see the value and dignity of human life and make sure that the world provides a place where we all are treated like children of God, even George Zimmerman.

It is not easy to see the value of a person when he/she hurt us or make us feel uncomfortable. We have all been stereotyped in some way. It is just that some have been stereotyped more than others, and their whole way of life has been affected. We must all challenge these notions and remember who we are, and more importantly whose we are.

The Author : Dr. Ansel Augustine
Dr. Ansel Augustine is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He is also on the faculty of the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Ansel has worked in ministry for more than 15 years and has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University’s Institute for Ministry, a certificate in youth ministry from Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, and a Doctor of Ministry degree.
See more articles by (4).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Victoria M. Perez

    I will never comprehend the right to bear arms.. and worst then that.. to sell them to anyone.( my neighbor blew her brains out last June.) I have teen sons.. they would have fought this cocky vigilante and would have faced the same outcome as Treyvon. They wear hoodies when it’s raining out.

  • Keah Moffett

    Great article, brother!

  • DrMohamed

    Stogie,The Leftist Establishment has taken the gloves off. It will use the law to cretae political prisoners and try to silence its opponents through fear.I was born into a prosperous country that had won a world war that stretched from Europe to Japan. I may spend my old age in the same country, geographically speaking, but now impoverished and as repressive as any banana republic dictatorship.Legal secession. I’ll say it again: legal, peaceful secession of any state or other political unit that wants to go its own way. And complete resistance to any Lincoln-like fanatic who would try to crush the secession.Quixotic? Well, the alternatives seem to me even less realistic.

  • JOHN S.

    Great article Ansel!!! It’s refreshing to see that you touched on the side of humans. The RACE that we all strive to be in!!!
    P.S. To the person who wrote about WHITE PARISH, the statement was, ” a majority white parish”.

  • Roaming Catholic

    When I visited New Orleans a couple of months ago, I heard the “family prayer” at the St. Louis Cathedral, and it blew me away. Kudos to Archbishop Aymond – and to you, Ansel Augustine. You’ve touched on a significant way in which the Church is continually called to conversion.

  • Angelique

    Ansel, thank you for the article. Living in a diverse city, I was not aware of these things that occur in other churches.

    I especially like when you said “I love my Church enough to challenge it.” Often people have questioned why I continue my Catholic faith when I vocalize certain things I don’t like or agree with. And your line certainly sums that up.

    I do have to agree with some of the other posts that say that the Catholic Church in general is not a friendly and welcoming one, no matter what color you are. Until my current parish, I never thought I’d find one that was. Having gone to mass all over the country, and the world, I have found that many churches don’t like to hold and shake hands. As a person with brown skin, I’ve encountered this also in churches filled with other brown faces. Unlike Donna’s comment about “if it looks like a duck…”, things really aren’t always what they seem. A black person wearing a hoodie with his hands in his pocket and ducking from a neighbor might look sneaky to a white person. To me, I just see someone who’s cold and probably scared of the stranger following him for no apparent reason. For those of us who have faced racism, we look at things completely differently from those who never have. Like you said, being stereotyped affects us. So while someone not shaking or holding hands at first might look like racism, sometimes –maybe not all the time– it may just be the local custom. So many things such as culture, traditions and experiences can affect our perceptions, just as you pointed out in the captions for the Katrina photos. We have to try to not let our bad experiences in the past negatively affect our present, and also perhaps call a person out and up the dialogue. I’ve found that when I start a conversation with someone and hear their side of things, I can open their eyes to how hurtful and wrong their assumptions are or they can open my eyes to how pessimistic and wrong my own assumptions are.

    While I no doubt believe that you have encountered racism, I think we all need to be aware of each others’ point of view. I think that you’ve started a good dialogue here for that. Too bad it’s been taken over by talk of gun control and the right to bear arms by people who seem to have missed the point of your article.

  • Chris

    You’re walking down a street alone and several boys who have tattoos, gold teeth, and so forth are walking toward you on a sidewalk, do you cross the street or attempt to walk by. I cross and have as I lived in the so called “hood” and know that sterotyping can save yopur life or keep you from getting beat up. Been there done that.

    HATE CRIME!! I am so sick of that. Are there any love crimes? All crimes are done out of hate.

    The point is to stay out of situations. I should know. I have had many friends who would be here otherwise.

  • Tricia

    As white Christian who grew up in the lily-white state of Maine, I never understood the race issue until I moved South. Actually, I am no closer to undertanding it, I just see it more clearly now. I find racism to be incredibly sinful…and when cases like this happen, it is horrid. But my question in all sincerity is this: What then do we do to fix it? I have been labeled a bigot by a black patient (I’m a nurse) because I took too long answering a call bell. I didn’t even know his skin color, and I wonder how the patient would have reacted had I been black. Likewise, my daughter was turned down for scholarships and was told that it was because of “affirmative action” issues, even though she was the more qualified candidate. Clearly, racism goes both ways. I am concerned, truly, but I wish someone was out there giving real solutions rather than just holding protest rallies. Any valid ideas??

  • Doug

    Interesting discussions. Unfortunately, I don’t know the facts of the case well enough to form an opinion.

    People stereotype people all of the time. When you hear the word Mormon, what stereotype do you think of? When you see someone handing out leaflets on a street corner, what do you think about that person? When the author says “white Catholic church” or “black Catholic church”, it shows he is stereotyping people and Catholic communities.

    I’ve attended Church in NYC and never had anyone shake my hand at the sign of peace. I know of a parish in Dallas that put a New Orleans Katrina-afflicted music director, who was African American, to work in their music ministry.

    I live in an imperfect society here in the U.S., but I haven’t found a better one yet. If anyone knows of one, I would be interested in where it is.

powered by the Paulists