Racism is Ignorance

The below is a Reflection by Rev. William F. Platt, The Parish of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Agnes

In the end, racism is ignorance. It is an ignorance that could be dispelled if permitted. It is an ignorance that is both intellectual and emotional. It is an ignorance that becomes fear, and that fear becomes hatred. It is evil.

I grew up in Trumbull CT. Trumbull is much like Greenwich, except far less affluent. My family belonged to the Country Club, had a boat and a swimming pool – though “above ground.” We went skiing almost every weekend during the winter, and boating almost every weekend during the summer. It was a beautiful life. It was also incredibly insular.

I attended a Catholic High School. There were three or four African American students who attended, but they were all boys, no girls. The common understanding was that they had been recruited for sport scholarships. They sat at different lunch tables, and attended different parties. We were all friends, but in a very different manner. Everyone was kind, but we were “kindly” separate.

College was pretty much the same. It wasn’t until I went to the Seminary at the North American College in Rome, that I actually had a Black friend. I was 23. He was more than a few years older. He had been a successful attorney in Washington DC, and I admired that he left his practice to enter the seminary. I’ll never forget the first conversation that I had with him. We were on our “Cappuccino Break” between classes, rough life I know, and I introduced myself. We started up a conversation. There was a lag in the conversation, and I said: “so, how long has your family been Catholic?” Without hesitation and with a smile he said, “probably longer than yours.” He was right. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist, his Catholicism dated all the way back to early slavery. Being “Black and a Roman Catholic” didn’t fit my “world view.” Blacks were Baptists. I remember looking down and being embarrassed (which we now laugh about), and saying, “well there is a lot for you to teach me.”

Eddie was ordained a few years later in Washington DC. He wanted me to be an active part of his ordination. When I told my mother that I would be with Eddie’s family for the week in Virginia Beach, she said, “do you really think that is prudent?” I said, “what?” She went on to explain, which made matters even worse. I was confused. She loved Eddie, always welcomed him into our home, always supported civil rights. I couldn’t believe the reasons that she was giving for me not to stay in his home with his family. It made no sense. What was truly startling was that I couldn’t reason with her. She was convinced that I shouldn’t stay with Eddie’s family simply because they were Black.

I stayed with Eddie’s family for the week. Going out for a jog my first morning, Eddie’s mom stopped me and said, “Where are you going?” I said, “out for a jog.” She smiled and said “which way?” I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “well, if you pass from the black neighborhood to the white neighborhood, you’ll be noticed.” I smiled and said, “Because of my incredible good looks?” She smiled and said, “go jog, but you’ll be noticed, trust me.” This was 1985.

Love conquers all. Racism is ignorance.