In a recent column, I related a conversation that my wife and I had with our young son about race. We talked about how incisive and damaging stereotypes about Hispanic people are in church and society.
The article invited Catholic pastoral leaders, educational institutions and organizations to lead the way accompanying Hispanic families, among others, as they discuss with their young questions about race and the effects of racism.
The weeks following the publication of the article have been interesting. Many people wrote with gratitude. They expressed that the story served as a starting point to talk about racism with their own children and even in their own faith communities.
Some were gracious to affirm the confidence that it takes to talk about these matters openly and invite a public conversation.
Some people who wrote acknowledged that they avoided those conversations because they do not feel comfortable talking about race with their children. Some do not know how; others prefer not to do it.
There is no doubt that Catholics in the United States are aware of the prevalence of racism and the viciousness of its effects upon the lives of many people in our society. We are that society. Racism has been part of our own collective history. I wonder why we continue to treat racism as a taboo.
There were also a few not-so-gracious comments that covered a long spectrum of perspectives, from name-calling to pessimism to denial — a typical sample of the attitudes that often undermine conversations about racism in church and society.
The response to the article motivated me to dialogue with some Hispanic Catholic families raising children. In some of these families, both parents and children are U.S.-born. Others were families with immigrant parents raising U.S.-born children.
I asked them if they talked about racism at home, and if so, how they approached the topic. From those conversations, I learned three things.
One, Hispanic families are very aware that racism is real in our society. Not as an abstract idea or as a sociopolitical problem that affects others. Racism is personal. It hits home, literally. Hispanic families experience instances of racism on a regular basis.
Because racism is real and personal, Hispanic parents speak regularly with their children about it. Many of these conversations focus on behaving “con cuidado” (carefully). These parents are not naive. They know that racial, ethnic and cultural biases often define their interactions with others in the larger society.
Two, Hispanic families want to learn how to best navigate a society where they and their children are often the target of racism as well as ethnic and cultural biases. This seems like the perfect opportunity for pastoral leaders to accompany these families. Let us not miss it!
Three, Hispanic parents know that our Hispanic cultures are not innocent of racial and cultural biases. This was perhaps the most revealing aspect of my conversations. Diagnosing the illness is the first step toward healing.
The treatment of black and indigenous communities in Latin America and the Caribbean has been historically deplorable. It is no secret that the polarizing climate that divides the U.S. tends to pitch Hispanics against other cultural groups — and vice versa. If not addressed, these realities will lead to further biases.
These conversations with Hispanic Catholic families are a reminder that no one is immune to the sin of racism. Besides a humbling sense of honesty, in these personal conversations I noticed the absence of three attitudes: name-calling, pessimism and denial.
These are much-needed conversations. We need more people and families with the courage to start them.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
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