“Every white person in this country – I do not care what he says or what she says – knows one thing…They know that they would not like to be black here. If they know that, they know everything they need to know. And whatever else they may say is a lie.” — James Baldwin, “Speech at the University of California Berkeley,” 1979.
Much has happened in our country since James Baldwin spoke those words 41 years ago. Are his words still true? Fr. Bryan Massingdale believes they are. Father Massingdale is a professor of theology at Fordham University in New York City. He is also African American, and is the author of the book, “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.” In several interviews, he recounts an incident that happened in Central Park. A woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on an African- American man, Christian Cooper (no relation), who asked her to comply with the posted park regulations in Central Park and leash her dog. She told the police that there was an African-American man threatening her. That same day, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, and the nation’s attention fixated on that horrific event. Massingdale writes this:
“It occurred to me: Amy Cooper held the key to help us understand what happened in Central Park. It tells us a great deal about what we mean by white privilege and white supremacy. We see a white woman who exemplified all the unspoken assumptions of whiteness. She assumed that she would be presumed innocent. She assumed that the black man would be presumed guilty. She assumed that his race would prove a burden. She assumed that she could exploit deeply ingrained white fears of black men, and that these fears would keep a black man in his place.”
And so Massingdale concludes that we ought to admit it: “White people would never want to be black in America.” The benefits of being white makes it easier to be white than it is to be black in America. We need to have the courage to admit that. If we do not then we will never be able to deal with the systemic ways in which inequality works in America. We white people create safe spaces for racism to fester, and it’s out of that toxic atmosphere that more heinous actions take place, like the murder of George Floyd.
I recommend reading Fr. Massingdale’s book, especially when he talks about racism in the Catholic Church.