Dr. Marcia Chatelain: An embrace of social justice is an embrace of faith

BRIDGEPORT—”I hope that my talk today can help you bring home some of the strands of the conversation and hopefully give you the vocabulary to share the information within your parishes, schools and community,” said Dr. Marcia Chatelain, the presenter of the seventh 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.

“I think a lot about the Lenten season when I think about the issue of racism,” said Dr. Chatelain, explaining how living antiracism is connected to one of the most impactful stories of the New Testament.

Dr. Chatelain compared white supremacy to the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). “A similar bargain has been put before many people and it is the reason why white supremacy continues to sustain itself and take on many forms. We are often told that we will have the very best, the best financial rewards, schools, opportunities for our children if we bow before some of the tenets and values of white supremacy,” Dr. Chatelain said.

Dr. Chatelain explained that racism is the externalization of the contempt for people because of their racial identity by withholding care, justice or safety; stating that racism is an obstruction of the ability to facilitate and receive these things.

“We are in a moment right now where people feel deeply compelled to pick sides,” said Dr. Chatelain. “One of the reasons why I think this is happening because we have never before had the ability to chronicle who we are in specific moments as we do now,” she referenced social media and our current ability to access information in a way that is quicker and more available than ever before.

“Regardless of where we stand on a position there are structures in place that normalize inequality in the places that are designed to meet health, housing, nutritional, educational, legal and social needs of people,” the speaker said. “What are we allowing in our society to obstruct people from feeling as cared for and loved as the creator has cared for and loved us?”

Dr. Chatelain explained that bias is an unfounded or narrowly dawn preference or affinity for people or peoples at the expense of building substantive and loving relationships with others.

“Especially now, I think we see the importance and human need of community,” she said. “When it comes to racism, we see our immense power to actually intervene in these problems,” said Chatelain, specifically referencing the Church and its great power to create change, especially in light of its great diversity.

Dr. Chatelain explained that segregation is the result of structural racism and interpersonal racism and it shapes all aspects of American life, from school to neighborhood to church.

“Racial scripts comprise what our families, schools, churches, neighborhoods, political parties and other influential entities teach us about difference, human value and acceptable behavior,” explained Dr. Chatelain, making clear that these scripts are sometimes not explicitly written but are enforced by the community we live in.

“We are a faith tradition that is based on renewal,” Dr. Chatelain said. “We have to have the confidence that our faith will pull us through any tension we feel while standing up for racial justice.”

Dr. Chatelain explained that race shapes how people view and perceive the world around them, especially in reference to feelings of freedom and fear, and expression and understanding of faith.

Chatelain also explained that Catholics are very active when it comes to service, especially prison ministry. She urged listeners of the importance of taking this service and turning it into action in terms of great systemic change.

“So much of the work is about a kind of reflection process,” Dr. Chatelain urged listeners to speak from a place of personal experience when discussing racial justice.

About Dr. Marcia Chatelain 

Marcia Chatelain is currently a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a Reach for Excellence Assistant Professor of Honors and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  She is a proud native of Chicago, Illinois, and an even prouder graduate of the following schools: St. Ignatius College Prep, the University of Missouri-Columbia (bachelor’s journalism/religious studies), and Brown University (A.M. and Ph.D., American Civilization).  She is a scholar of African-American life and culture, and her first book South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015) reimagined the mass exodus of black Southerners to the urban North from the perspective of girls and teenage women. Dr. Chatelain’s latest book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America examines the intersection of the post-1968 civil rights struggle and the rise of fast food industry.

Next Thursday at 7 pm, The Leadership Institute will be hosting a conversation about the conversations facilitated by the diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. In this final webinar, listeners will have the opportunity to discuss what differences we can make in our parishes, schools and communities based on the previous webinar conversations.

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