04 June 2020, The Tablet

The only thing that matters


The killing of George Floyd

The only thing that matters

A protest in New York on Monday over the killing of George Floyd
Photo: PA/Alive Coverage/Sipa USA, Christopher Lazzaro

 

The United States is convulsed by anger after the killing of George Floyd. At the core, says a leading theologian, is the nation’s commitment to white benefit and advantage

Let’s consider these vignettes: I arrive at a suburban parish whose members are overwhelmingly white to celebrate Mass for a fellow priest who had suddenly taken sick. I ask the usher to direct me to the sacristy. He hesitates and asks, with suspicion, “Why do you want to know?” I explain the situation to him, thinking my visible Roman collar is already a complete explanation of why I am here. He interrogates me. “You’re a priest? Who sent you?” After explaining yet again who I am and why I am here, he responds, “Well, why didn’t he send us a real priest?”

It’s the start of the new school term, and I arrive ahead of time to ready the classroom for my students. As the time approaches for the start of class, the students start to get nervous, asking each other, “Where’s the professor? When is the professor going to come?” This, despite the fact that I am standing in front of them writing on the board, and am by far the eldest and most formally dressed person in the room.

To fully appreciate these stories, you must know that I am a black man, a Catholic priest, and a professor of moral theology at a leading university in the United States. However, the only salient factor for understanding these two episodes is my racial identity, the pigment of my skin, my blackness. Because too often in America it is the only one thing that matters.

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