BRIDGEPORT—“These are always challenging conversations,” Darius Villalobos acknowledged during his webinar on “how to have difficult conversations about race.” “It is now even more important that we are engaging in honest dialogue.”
Villalobos’ conversation was the sixth of several webinars titled “Conversations About Race” being hosted by The Leadership Institute, the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and the Apostolate for Black Catholics.
Villalobos acknowledged that the challenges that we face as a Church and as a society when it comes to talking about race are ignorance, guilt and fear.
As many other speakers have stressed, Villalobos affirmed that anti-racism work is reflected in Catholic Social Teaching. He explained that racism is a life issue, and being pro-life means being anti-racist. “All lives have dignity because we are made in the image and likeness of God,” said Villalobos.
The speaker explained that Catholics have been addressing systemic issues as a Church for a long time. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, the Catholic Worker Movement and Catholic Campaign for Human Development have been doing this work for years.
“Catholic means universal,” said Villalobos, “We are the most diverse religious community in the world and we have the ability to tap into the diversity in our local Catholic communities.”
“It is easy to recognize that this is a really big issue and we want to take action at the national level,” Villalobos explained. “But sometimes we forget that sometimes where these issues really come up is at the local level.”
Villalobos encouraged listeners to be in dialogue with community leaders, ministry leaders, coworkers and colleagues, young people, family members and friends, spiritual guides and directors, and ultimately ourselves about these issues.
“If we don’t speak up, there are other individuals in their lives who might give them a different perspective and be able to have influence over them,” Villalobos explained that we are going to have to have these uncomfortable conversations, as difficult as it may be.
Villalobos explained that it is important to engage in these conversations in a thoughtful, respectful, but prophetic way. “Invite people to think differently,” he said.
“Every conversation can be an opportunity for encounter,” Villalobos said. He explained that encounter is based in authentic relationship, and it is important to consider this when deciding who to engage in these conversations with.
“If you’re going to talk about race start with experiences,” suggested Villalobos. “Starting with stories allows us to listen to others and understand what they are saying.”
Villalobos explained the importance of really listening, instead of just listening to respond. “We have to be charitable,” Villalobos said, “we should allow others to ask questions and use that as an opportunity to explain and teach.” “In that sense of charity we can walk with one another and respect one another,” said Villalobos. “This is ongoing work that needs to be done.”
“We cannot put the burden on BIPOC, especially those of the Black community to fix the problem of racism—we all have work to do in this,” said Villalobos.
Villalobos suggests that the focus of these conversations should not be based on guilt. He explained that it is important to center the voices of those most affected by racism, as they are often closest to the solution.
Villalobos gave great advice for what one can do when having difficult conversations about race:
We need to resist the need to respond with a better or different insight about something. We need to be an ally. Being an ally is different than simply wanting not to be racist. Being an ally requires you to educate yourself about systemic racism in this country. Try not to repeat, “I can’t believe that something like this would happen in this day and age.” Ask when you don’t know—but do the work first—education yourself. Stop talking about colorblindness. Be about transformation, restoration, reparation and the Resurrection.
Quoting the Gospel, Villalobos said, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
About Darius Villalobos
Darius Villalobos currently serves as the director of diversity and inclusion for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). He served in the Archdiocese of Chicago in a variety of ministry roles, including youth ministry, young adult ministry and catechesis. He is a graduate of DePaul University and is also a student at Catholic Theological Union. He has served as a parish RCIA director, liturgical music minister, retreat director, catechist and youth minister.