”We must be wary of ourselves when the worst that is in (humanity) becomes objectified in society, approved, acclaimed, and deified, when hatred becomes patriotism... and the gangster is enthroned in power."
- Thomas Merton from "The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton"
In recent weeks, we have witnessed several instances of blatant racism and shocking acts of violence against people of color that have put an already fragile nation further into turmoil and served to widen a deepening political and social divide.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” While he espoused non-violent protest, he understood that the violence that rocked the nation in the late 1960’s was the eruption of long-simmering pain and anguish. While a particular event may be the spark that sets the tinder ablaze, the tinder had been piling up for decades through economic discrimination, daily insults, and continuing injustice.
If a riot is the language of the unheard, we need to learn to listen. Some members of our society have access to publishing their words in newspapers, in academic journals, even here, on the College's website. One of the principles of Catholic social teaching, embraced at Le Moyne as a Jesuit institution, is a preferential option for the underrepresented. We need to listen carefully to the voices of those who are oppressed and not rely solely on the voices of those with access to mass media and we need to allow what we hear to shape our understanding of the world. People are speaking; let those who have ears to hear listen. Dr. King explained that language of the unheard over 50 years ago carries with it an urgent message for us all – and yet, the need for that language continues.
Earlier this year, Ahmaud Arbery was shot by vigilantes while jogging. Just this week a white woman called the police on Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher in Central Park, making the false claim that he was attacking her. And on the same day in Minneapolis, white police officer Derek Chauvin held George Floyd down, pressing his knee against his neck for over seven minutes, until, unable to breathe, Floyd died. What do Arbery, Cooper, and Floyd have in common? They are all black.
All of this takes place during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected the marginalized, including many people of color, bringing into stark relief underlying inequities in health insurance coverage, treatment by medical professionals, and employment in essential service professions.
Thursday night, the police station Derek Chauvin had been assigned to was set on fire. It would be easy to condemn this action and call for peace and calm. Remember, however, Jeremiah’s warning about those who call, “Peace, peace!” when all they want is calm and quiet. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King explained that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” There will be no true peace until we listen to the voice of the unheard and respond with justice.
As an institution whose mission is social justice, it is vital that we all not only acknowledge what is happening but also be moved to action. We echo the sentiment found in a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): “While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded.” (For more from the USCCB read “open wide your hearts,” its pastoral letter against racism.)
We want to hear, even when listening will make us uncomfortable. We want to hear from you...about any injustice you have experienced, whether that happens in our community or outside of it. We want to hear from you about how you are doing and what you think about the events in Georgia, Minnesota, and around our country. We want to listen – and to respond.
To facilitate these discussions, we will be scheduling virtual conversations this coming week. Once we have a day and time, we will send out information on how you can register for those meetings and a link to the Zoom session will be sent to you. If you have questions or concerns, or want to share your thoughts and are unable to attend either conversation, please contact Bennie Williams ([email protected]) or Tabor Fisher ([email protected]). We are all ears.
Linda M. LeMura, Ph.D.
Joe Marina, S.J.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
C. Tabor Fisher, Ph.D.
Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusion
Director, Office of Inclusive Excellence & Global Education