11 June 2020, The Tablet

White privilege – a confession in response to the Black Lives Matter protests

US politics and race

White privilege – a confession in response to the Black Lives Matter protests

Officers kneel outside police headquarters in Austin, Texas
Photo: PA/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner


A Catholic moral theologian and former law enforcement officer from a midwestern culture steeped in racism, reflects on his own personal experience of white privilege

I first met Bryan Massingale, who wrote the memorable piece confronting America’s commitment to white privilege in last week’s Tablet, 25 years ago at a small conference of Catholic theologians and ethicists. Massingale was a young assistant professor of moral theology at Saint Francis Seminary in his home diocese of Milwaukee in Wisconsin; I was a graduate student studying moral theology at the University of Notre Dame.

We sat together over a meal. I immediately felt a rapport with him. Massingale was the first black Catholic theologian I had ever encountered. His presentation opened my eyes to “environmental racism”. He pointed out that waste incinerators and landfills tend to be located in impoverished neighbourhoods where blacks and other people of colour reside, contributing to serious health problems.

Since then we have worked together on various boards and committees in the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America. In December 2014, in the wake of the police killing of Eric Garner and the deaths of other black persons in police custody, we collaborated on a joint statement on racial justice. It was signed by 456 Catholic theologians.

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