I know May is a monster on your calendar, a whirl of confirmations requiring your presence in the backwater outposts of the Faith. The physical demands alone—the hours in the car, the parish suppers, the compliments and complaints—must weigh heavily, if you’ll pardon the pun. (Truth to tell, Your Excellency, you could gain a few pounds. Skinny priests may commend fasting and prayer, but girth gives power to a bishop.)
Confusion regarding Catholic teaching has once again forced me to interrupt your busy schedule. My current perplexity stems from a recent document published by Catholic Charities USA: “Poverty and Racism: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good.” It contends that “white privilege” is the foundation of widespread racism and poverty in our country. The document states that “white privilege shifts the focus from how people of color are harmed by racism to how white Americans derive advantages because of it.” Catholic Charities also blames whites for the “disproportionate impact of poverty upon groups of color today.”
That prompted me to look up incomes in the 2000 census. Sure enough, dastardly white folks made more money than either blacks or Hispanics. The racial group with the largest income, however, were Asian-Americans.
So here’s my question, Your Excellency: Are Chinese people white?
By the yardstick of Catholic Charities, which equates wealth with white people, Chinese people must be white. (We might keep this latest revelation to ourselves, Your Excellency, as I foresee profound consequences: a Chinese Ku Klux Klan, perhaps, or millions of elderly Chinese men running around golf courses in pink polyester pants and white deck shoes.) And it’s not just the Chinese. What about Spaniards? They are Hispanic—to the Romans, Spain was Hispania—but are we now to refer to them as “people of color”?
Even the word racism has me bumfuzzled, as my Tennessee friends say. Catholic Charities seems to use it as a code word for white. Had the authors of “Poverty and Racism” written more honestly, they would have titled their document “Poverty and Stingy White Folks: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good.”
The more I think about race, the more confused I get. Questions beg for attention on all sides. Why, for example, do black people call each other nigger? Jews don’t run around calling each other kike; Italians don’t call each other wop; my own European relatives don’t call each other Mick or Kraut. Why does society regard Barack Obama as black? His mother was white, and he has lots of money. According to Catholic Charities, would he not then be a white racist? Why does Obama’s minister, the Reverend Wright, get a free ride with racial slurs regarding Hillary Clinton? If Reverend Wright is a racist, does that mean he’s black or white? Or both? Can two Wrights make a Wong? Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton our first black president. If Bill Clinton is black, does that mean that Louis Farrakhan is actually white?
Why does Catholic Charities encourage illegal immigration, only to become incensed by poverty among Hispanics? If racism—that is, being white—is tied to economics, does that mean that white people run Mexico? A priest here has hinted from the pulpit that anyone opposed to illegal immigration is a racist. His indirect slurs against his own race—he looks white to me, though I’m not sure I can judge anymore—arouse some anger among parishioners. Is it weird that a man so opposed to racial hatred nonetheless promotes racism so effectively?
Catholic Charities wants to cut the U.S. poverty level in half by 2020. If the organization truly desires to achieve this goal, why does it offer the same tired solutions of the last 50 years—more federal and state aid, more government intrusion, more affirmative action? Not a word is said in “Poverty and Racism” about the effect of absentee fathers and broken families; not a word is written in defense of individual initiative. Why?
This call to action raises even more questions. Is a reduction in the numbers of the poor theologically wise? If the poor have an easier time getting into Heaven than the rich, why would we diminish their ranks? Or is the Catholic Charities proposal perhaps some Jesuitical intrigue to reduce all of us to poverty, thereby helping ease our passage past Saint Peter? If that is the case, I applaud Catholic Charities for trying to bring everyone to a shared level of holiness.
By now you can see how these questions make my head hurt. But the most important question involves me personally. My ancestors include a physician who served in the Confederate army and a clan of farmers who helped run the Underground Railroad in Western Pennsylvania. I have only a little money. I can’t jump, but I can feel the blues sometimes. My once pale skin is now a reddish palette colored by the sun, middle age, and whiskey. Am I a person of color?
I hope you can answer some of these questions—or at least put me in touch with someone who has answers. I’ll discretely pass along whatever you say to my cousins in Beijing.
May God keep you safe on the road, Your Excellency,