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What does Catholic tradition actually teach about racism? Did Jesus have anything to say about it? Father Hugh Barbour explains how the ancient Faith deals with a term coined in the modern world.


Cy Kellett:
Racism in the light of divine revelation right now on Focus. Hello and welcome to Focus, The Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending the Catholic faith. Remember to subscribe wherever you subscribe, maybe at Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, that way you’ll be notified when new episodes are released and please leave us that five star review, it does help to grow the podcast. This week in a certain sense Christian tradition has actually nothing to say about racism. The term racism did not come into general usage until the 20th century, so one can’t find any reference to it in the scriptures. You can’t find it in the church fathers, you can’t find it in the medieval theologians, but there is another sense in which Christian tradition provides the only language in which we can properly come to an understanding of racism because Christian tradition has a full account of the human person and a full account of society.

Scripture gives us I should say, scripture gives us our proper account of our own creation, it tells us of our fall from grace and it tells us of our shared redemption by Christ. It’s in the light of these realities that we grasp the true nature of the sin of racism and frankly, access the medicine to cure it. Our beloved chapter… our beloved chaplain, father Hugh Barbour is our guest for this episode and we gave him a tough task. Father, explain racism from the perspective of the Lord. Talk to us about it in the way that Jesus would had the word racism existed in his time. Here’s what he had to say. So thank you for doing this conversation with us father Hugh, it seems like the greatest teacher in the world on sin is the sinless Lord himself, he knows more about it than anybody else. So I want to ask you is there… we know what modern theory says about racism, we know what the founding fathers had to say about racism. We know all of these, we know what William Wells Brown had to say about racism and all that, but what does the Lord have to say about it?

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, he did two things. First he created human nature and created us from the beginning as was described in Genesis, to be of a common origin. We are all from the same origin as human beings, not just as creatures of God, but also as human beings, medicine it’s from our first parents. And so there’s a common origin for the whole human race and you’d notice the word race there is used in the super generic term of that includes all the other races so called, okay?

Cy Kellett:
Fine.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
So first he created us out of nothing, or out of nothing, but then also it says out of the slime of the earth, the body made from the elements and so there’s one rationale for an absolute human solidarity and equality in terms of common origin and descendancy, we’re all one kind created by God and declared good. That’s one truth of our faith that’s quite explicit. Then the second one is that having fallen into sin in which we were even more equal, its effects, he redeemed us from our sin by offering his own humanity taken from Eve through Mary for the salvation of the whole human race of each and every one, shedding his precious blood. So our creation and our redemption are universally goods that are indicative of God’s intentions for the human race, that we all are one kind and we have one single destiny.

A common origin and a common destiny by the grace of God, made in God’s image in the beginning, having fallen and redeemed by God in the end so that we might reach finally union with him in heaven. So that’s the foundation of-

Cy Kellett:
This is a very solid foundation.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
A very solid foundation of any Catholic understanding of the question, it’s like how is a Catholic supposed to understand? What are we supposed to understand by racism?

Cy Kellett:
Racism then is contrary to the unity that God has created in us and the unity he has redeemed us into.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Right, exactly. It’s contrary to the unity of the human race and therefore it’s an error against faith. If you’re a Catholic and you actually buy into a-

Cy Kellett:
Race.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Race theories, where you hold it certain persons by reason of their race or ethnicity are naturally inferior to you, or are not endowed with the same rights or don’t have the same destiny that you have, well then that’s contrary to reveal faith. That means you’re not… you’re denying something that’s part of the Catholic faith and that goes all the more so for the redemption where Christ dies for everyone and sheds his precious blood equally and for all and so consequently every descendant of our first parents, everyone who shares that common human origin is equal with regard to both creation and redemption. So that’s-

Cy Kellett:
So would this just to… I mean, as a historical matter, say if you went to the apostles, would they have been open to every person of every color for example, equally.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Certainly, I mean, Saint Paul says in crisis neither Jew or Greek male or female slave are free and of course slavery and antiquity was not strictly speaking a race thing, it was partly in some parts of Roman empire, because for example in Roman antiquity… and kids would like this in our country, the elementary teachers or household slaves, you had a Greek speaking, highly educated Greek speaking person from Syria or someplace who was your slave who taught your children grammar and the rudiments of education. So it was not based on race in the Roman empire, but certainly the apostles made it very clear that the gospel was preached to and our Lord made it clear to all nations and they went to all nations. They went through North Africa and farther down all the way the Ethiopia.

Cy Kellett:
Rightly even Phillip in the Bible.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
They went preaching Ethiopian Eunuch, they went all the way to India with st. Thomas and into the interiors with Saint Andrew and so they-

Cy Kellett:
And actually had good success in all those places.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Yeah, they did.

Cy Kellett:
When you think about the [inaudible 00:06:42] Christians later to the East.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Yeah. They went all the way to China. But this sense that the salvation and ultimate destiny and be attitude of the community of the human race is a common thing that has to be promoted by the church throughout the world is precisely a dogmatic defense for Catholics at least against any racial theories. The problem with racism and we’re talking on the ideological plane, we’re going to get to the questions of social justice in just a moment. But on the point of view of what we actually believe about human nature, the problem is that the theory of evolution with the survival of the fittest produced very many racist theories and tendencies from the 19th century on.

Cy Kellett:
Yes.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
So our progressive friends need to realize that it was a new and largely anti-Christian or anti revelation based notion which undermined universal faith in a common human nature and a common human destiny thereby reducing man to the level of an evolving animal and therefore of course, it’s obvious that from the merely bodily point of view you can always make physical comparisons and since you’re a materialist you reduce the value and dignity of that being to their physical or material characteristics.

Cy Kellett:
Yes.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And that is the essence of the type of natural racism which is professed everywhere.

Cy Kellett:
And in general today, the person who adheres to is a purely materialistic evolutionary biologist. That person is generally going to be tempered by the social progress, they’re going to say no, that might be in the history but that’s not in the science and that’s fair enough. It’s not there in the side.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But the evolutionary view of man provides absolutely no defense against a racist distinction between humans of varying degrees of quality.

Cy Kellett:
That’s why I was saying that the… when you went put the basis [crosstalk 00:08:51] when you put the basis in revelation on our shared creation and redemption it’s much more solid anti-racist position than a scientific anti-racist position.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Right. And that’s the Christian position of our revelation, but practically all religions have a teaching about human origins which emphasize some common origin for the whole human race. I mean, it’s just, it’s almost an intuitive awareness of human reason. I mean, that’s why in the declaration of dependence of course we have that all men are… this is self-evident, you hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Now that self-evident has been long time ago eliminated by modern scientism and rejection of any notion of a divine origin for the human race. So what was evident to the free-thinking rationalist Thomas Jefferson is not evident to the followers of various movements now, whether extreme-

Cy Kellett:
No, because he believed in nature and nature is God.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Extreme right wing, a racist or extreme left wing, it progresses. They don’t accept that account of human nature and so the unifying force of our traditional documents for example is no longer there, it’s at least suspect, everything’s suspect.

Cy Kellett:
Well, is racism then say a racist ideology of any kind, is it an error or is it a sin? How do you categorize it?

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
This is very important because racism as an error would be in the first place an error against… and I’m talking about for a Catholic, an arrogance, the revealed truth that men were created, human beings were created from a common source and therefore share a common destiny.

Cy Kellett:
Awesome. It’s an error against… of the faith.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
It’s an arrogance to the faith. Now, if it’s as a sin, of course that’s if you take that error against the faith and you so embrace it that you deny the truth of the faith and we call another race a different kind of animal, you run across people that are like this-

Cy Kellett:
To do that. Yeah.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But they may do that without a full intention of denying Christianity, but they do it. But the fact is you’re in very dangerous territory when you speak about other human beings as though they did not ultimately share the same nature that you do from the same source, with the same destiny. That’s something we have to be always reminding ourselves of in order to maintain the respect and the charity to everyone, even people we don’t like, or people we avoid, people that have hurt us or frightened us or whatever, but we have to be conscious continually of our common humanity from our first parents and our common redeem nature from the fall through Christ, that’s key. So first of all it’s an error against the virtue of faith, but then secondly and this is where we most of all see it, it’s an error contrary to the virtue of justice.

Justice is that virtue whereby our will is set to give to each one what is his due, to be fair to all. It doesn’t mean you treat everybody absolutely equally because you owe… certainly you owe your mortgage company a lot more than you owe the gas station and so you owe a lot more-

Cy Kellett:
A lot more.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Depends on the kind of car you have, I guess.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, right.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Maybe your car costs as much as your house-

Cy Kellett:
Some people, I suppose that’s true.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But this is where we see racism in the more common sense, in the sense that among Catholics or among Christians you rarely will find an ideological racist as someone who actually is a racist to the point of denying the truth of the faith, right?

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
It’s not that common. And if they are, they have to know that they really deliberately do that, they’ve departed from the virtue of faith, which is this very serious matter because again it’s a mortal sin.

Cy Kellett:
I suppose, Pope Pius said that about the Nazi, you can’t be one of these racists and be a Catholic and I’m thinking of was it [inaudible 00:12:55].

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
That’s Pius 11th. Pius the 12th had also very firm words to say about it in general, that racism in the ideological sense and Catholicism are completely incompatible.

Cy Kellett:
Completely incompatible.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Now from the point of view of justice, the virtue of justice whereby you render each one his due, it’s an interesting question because if you go to the sources of moral theology for example to st. Thomas in his Summa in the second part, second part of the second part mostly, or to the Saint Alphonsus or any of the great moral teachers, racism wasn’t a category, they didn’t have that word.

Cy Kellett:
No, they didn’t know that.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
The category of racism only begins with modern scientific culture and a comparative evaluation of the different “races”. That’s when it becomes a concept that was regarded in the beginning as justified by science, that’s why we have… that’s the whole birth control movement, it started with a desire to have eugenics and to produce better more fit human beings, this whole [inaudible 00:13:58]. That’s why the [inaudible 00:13:59] in New York, you heard they took [crosstalk 00:14:01]. But she was an outright, avid drooling, frothing, racist.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, without question.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But anyway, but of course, since she brought the wonderful benefits of [crosstalk 00:14:13]. Well no, she didn’t even dream of that. I mean, that is beyond her, that’s-

Cy Kellett:
That’s right, she was-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
She was not [crosstalk 00:14:21], people back then were not that wicked, that we would justify that. In any case, racism is an arrogance, justice is an error, so you have to look at the sources and see where it comes in, sinning its justice, it’s precisely a sin whereby or an error, which can they do a sin, whereby one judges another human being rashly, or by mere suspicion and thereby deprives him of what is his due in virtue of his dignity on account of the differences of his ethical racial identity within the human race.

Cy Kellett:
Awesome.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
So when you deny someone his due because of their ethnic or racial identity then that’s the sin of racism as against justice and it seems to me now they’re different writers, but this is the way I resolved it. The type of injustice which is involved with racism is the so called sin or error of judgment by suspicion, or what’s called rash judgment. That is where you judge another for light reasons that is not for weighty ones and in so doing you deprive them of their due. Now, remember a person has the right to your good opinion.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, that’s so interesting, I’ve never heard that phrase before.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You’re not permitted to sinning against another and thought just as long as you don’t do anything bad to them-

Cy Kellett:
Sorry Nick, I’m just saying that because of my bad judgments.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Oh, okay. All right. You’re not permitted.

Cy Kellett:
I apologize.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
I can’t imagine anyone doing that to Nick.

Cy Kellett:
No, no.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, that’s worse than racism. This is particularized to a single person-

Cy Kellett:
I know.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
That’s completely rational.

Cy Kellett:
I know.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You poor man.

Cy Kellett:
I know I’m a horrible person, Father.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
I’m glad you’re making this public confession now. But the… when we… based on slight indications, deprive another of what is his due, even in our thoughts we don’t… we have to struggle not to give into it. Now, st. Thomas gives some interesting considerations about that regarding the different ways in which we might sin against justice by rash judgment against another for a light reason, a light reason being basically something accidental to human nature and the color of our skin, our language, our particular cultural habits, all of these things, the historical relationship of my family, or my group of families to your group families, which is one way of using… looking at slavery, is it, you know, there are some families that abuse other families.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, that’s right.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And all of those things are light reasons to judge someone compared to the fact of our common humanity and destiny in God, that is those are not sufficient to judge someone evil or unworthy of just treatment and therefore doing so is the beginning of a sin. That is… and st. Thomas says it very intelligently. He says that right here, I’ll quote him for you exactly if I can find my little… st. Thomas defines judgment by suspicion as evil thinking based on slight indications and the one… the first kind of judgment by suspicion of rash judgment is our own wickedness or our own sinful nature, what we would call now projection, where we’re prone to think evil of others because we ourselves are not exactly good.

And that’s the first sort of category of racist wrong, that is when you have a passing tendency because of your own weaknesses, that is excessive fear, excessive anger, all these things, that we have a tendency to begin to judge someone on account of his race or her race to be not worthy of respect in some way or not worthy of his due in some way. But st. Thomas points out that is so… that’s at the beginnings of our consideration and so it says the first degree is when a man begins to doubt of others goodness from slight indications. This is venial and a light sin for it belongs to human temptation, which no man can go through this life. So we recognize that we will have random thoughts that are not-

Cy Kellett:
Charitable.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Not charitable or not just.

Cy Kellett:
Just.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Just especially.

Cy Kellett:
That’s more important.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
That’s a question of just, you know, passing them by or pushing them away or looking carefully at where they came from and say no, that’s not right and that’s the beginning of a sinful unjust racism. If you began to entertain those thoughts seriously you might see some analogies here seriously so that you become convinced that the person has these evil qualities for reason of which you do not owe him or her that degree of respect. And this flows forth into a certain conviction or judgment based on your passions of course not based upon reason and then leads of course almost inevitably to unjust action if the occasion permits, this is a grave sin, it’s a mortal sin. That is if you… if that comes to become… that becomes a settled conviction that you have deliberately entertained. Now you can see easily the comparison with people record Orthodox Catholics recognize very well between impure thoughts that you give into and impure thoughts that you don’t give into.

Cy Kellett:
That this is the kind of impure thought.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
These are racist thoughts, all right, which you can have and it’s not that big a deal but if you entertain it to the point where you’re actually consenting to them their content [crosstalk 00:20:25] finding reasons in yourself whereby these things are justified, it’s the same logic in the man that’s being tempted to indulge in impure thoughts. First you notice and you go try to bash it away, then you start going oh, that’s kind of, well-

Cy Kellett:
And then you build a habit too.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
A habit evil of thoughts and this could be a grave sin and as st. Thomas says, he says if we cannot avoid suspicions because we are human, it’s just a human nature, like making rash judgment because we’re human, who must nevertheless restrain our judgment and refrain from forming a definite and fixed opinion. And so if you have definite and fixed opinions about people-

Cy Kellett:
Of another race.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Ethnicities or races that are… if we’re talking about things that are negative or incharitable especially, that would lead you to tend to deprive them of what’s their due or to treat them unjustly or to speak of them unjustly, then this is a grave sin. Now, that’s just the development out of the passing thought and then the third stage is even worse when those particular convictions become enshrined in actual legal activity. That is when a judge deprive someone of what is that person’s do on account of their race or ethnicity. Now in st. Thomas’s time a judge was anybody that had an office in society, they didn’t have the separation of powers like we have and so that means a police officer. It means a legislator, it means a judge on a court bench.

It means… and in the church it means everyone in the Pope all the way down to the barest priests. Anybody in churches that has real power over someone else, legal jurisdiction, they’re a judge. And so that’s the worst and most offensive example of it because these people have care of the common good. And so the outrage is of course on the part of people who see things clearly is all the greater and their sorrow when people who are in positions of having to disposition of justice over other people, treat them unjustly for this rash reason of simply their race or ethnicity. So that’s why st. Thomas says we restrain our judgment and refrain from forming a definite and fixed opinion and that way we’ll also avoid the extremity of that, a society in which even the instruments of justice are used unjustly against persons because of their ethnicity or race like you hear about the lynchings and that kind of thing where they actually don’t even observe norms of law, where that becomes even that extreme.

Cy Kellett:
But you could also have a situation where a judge might impose harsher penalties on say black teenagers than white teenagers because the judge has internalized the idea that well, they’re worse people. I mean.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, this is… this goes in the direction of what they talk about a systemic racism, which if the judge isn’t conscious of that-

Cy Kellett:
It’s unjust, but not necessarily a sin.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, it’s not necessarily as grave as if he’s saying I’m putting you away longer because you’re black. But the problem is people don’t want to confront such ugly motivations and so they tend to kind of push them aside just like when they are tempted to commit adultery, they just sort of forget about how bad it is.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, otherwise it would really-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
I really need this right now, I’m on a business trip, that kind of attitude. It’s the same, we justify our sinful actions because we’ve already entertained them in our thoughts, but this-

Cy Kellett:
Yes, yes. I see what you mean.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But this aspect of now, there is a problem here though because people would say wait a minute now. I tell my kids not to go through X neighborhood unaccompanied. Now that’s because I’m afraid of what might happen to them, is that a racist judgment? A rash judgment based on suspicion, because it’s a neighborhood of a particular race I don’t want them to go through, because in those neighborhoods often things… bad happen. Well, st. Thomas says that this is what’s called a judgment by supposition namely, it’s not by suspicion of rash judgment. It’s a judgment made in order to prevent an evil, not to cause an injustice. So you know that very often crimes are committed in this neighborhood so you don’t want your kids walking around in it and actually in our culture that applies to both white and black parents because black parents tell their teenage boys don’t-

Cy Kellett:
Go.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Walking through a white neighborhood all by yourself-

Cy Kellett:
And that not [crosstalk 00:25:13].

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You certainly don’t run and that’s not a sin, they’re protecting them from an evil of being exposed to… actually being exposed to that racism, which would be an evil. So there are… or you know, you keep guns in the cabinet or you have other things that you do to defend your home or whatever, those are when we make judgements that are based on a supposition in order to prevent an evil, that’s not the same thing as rash judgment. And so although it might look the same, and I think people of various races they knowing the particular difficulties or vices to which groups of people are more commonly exposed, they will give such kinds of advice but the motive there is not racism, it’s protection from a possible evil. So it’s a little different, although it could have a fuzzy line there.

Cy Kellett:
I was going to say there’s some things where you do have some positive obligation over time to try to wear down those things that make that neighborhood inaccessible to people of your skin color, like when you can and in a safe and prudent way patronize that neighborhood, go to its restaurants or its stores, you should because you do have a positive obligation to try to break down what is in fact an evil situation.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You have a relative obligation to do that to the extent to which your duties and circumstances permit.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, possible.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But it’s very important for example the red lining that happened after world war II, that was just absolutely immoral. Or the exclusion of freed slaves from the grants of land in the West right when they were all farmers. These are acts of clear injustice based simply upon the race and ethnicity of these people. That is a sin of racism, that’s clear.

Cy Kellett:
And that’s what built the American suburbs after the second world war.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But it was even worse because they wanted to prevent them from having a status in society that would give them real political control because if you have money you’ve got power. So there are examples of institutionalized racism, which are real.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, I see what you’re saying.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But I’m I… and that’s… and those have to be dismantled but in a way which maintains also the dignity of those who are on the you might say advantage side of that equation. That is it’s also not fair just to blanket an entire population with a label of hate and injustice when they may be quite willing to do what they can to overcome that.

Cy Kellett:
Well, let me put it to you this way too though. Like an ethnic neighborhood for example, is not necessarily an evil, as a matter of fact-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
No.

Cy Kellett:
It could very well be a good, you have Korea town or Chinatown in LA or something. This is not an evil thing, the existence of these places where people live with people of the same culture, I don’t know-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And language too.

Cy Kellett:
And language. Yeah.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, I mean, it happens fairly naturally, but it needs to be something that happens freely. It has to be freely, it can’t be imposed by the state. It’s imposed by the bonds of, you know, we’re closest to those we’re closest to, it’s the same with patriotism or anything like that, or our love for our own family more than other families. I mean, that’s natural, but that’s not… that’s not the source of an injustice to somebody else and so it’s a different thing. I mean, it could be the… given our fallen nature, any good thing can be turned to something evil.

Cy Kellett:
That’s a good point.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
So we have to be rather balanced in our consideration. So Pius the 12th in 1939 right after he was elected he published his first encyclical just as Germany was about to invade Poland, start world war two, in which he said the principle error today is the error that denies the common origins and destiny of the human race. He started off with that and he made it very, very clear that even says after the manner of Thomas Jefferson, the first of these pernicious errors widespread today is the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men to whatever people they belong and by the redeeming sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the alter of the cross to his heavenly father on behalf of sinful mankind, he says that right away.

Cy Kellett:
That is magnificent.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
That was just right before the invasion of Poland. And he actually ends into the call with a little appeal for Poland, not there was much he could do, but an equality of rational nature and that’s where Jefferson got the idea of all men being created equal, to revelation. He may not have acknowledged it at that point, but then he… but this is in view of the unity of mankind, so it’s not just individuals with individual dignity, it’s a unity of humankind as a whole and that’s very, very important. But he distinguishes some nations are better off than others and the nations he says, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by sharing their own peculiar gifts and that by reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same father and all those redeemed by the same divine blood.

So people may live in different neighborhoods, but I don’t think anybody who went to an Italian restaurant in an Italian neighborhood was unwelcome and I don’t think anyone went to Korean barbecue in Korea town was unwelcome. I mean, you know what I mean, and that’s not just an economic thing, it’s just that no, that people like to share the good things that they have to share and they know where to get them.

Cy Kellett:
Although I will say this, in the United States black people have suffered a particular onerous burden in this regard, in that they weren’t… you couldn’t eat in certain restaurant. You really [crosstalk 00:31:32]-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
We had institutionalized our customary segregation and we practically do today.

Cy Kellett:
It really does seem that in America there is a special, I don’t know what to call it, but a special category of intense injustice against black people, all in America,

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
If not intense, extensive low grade and constant.

Cy Kellett:
Right. It’s chronic.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
It’s not like because nobody, you know, people that would never intend to be particularly cruel or really deprive someone of their fundamental rights might still be clueless about certain things that are-

Cy Kellett:
Fair.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And so one has to examine that and resist it in a way which is effective and that of course has to do more with one’s own people than the other people, that is about how we act around other people of our own race regarding other races, that’s more… now someone will say well father, what about ethnic humor? You know, this is a big one. You know people always, what about ethnic humor because that’s supposed to be completely off the table.

Cy Kellett:
I think that’s a terrible… myself I think that’s a terrible mistake, equating that with racism.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, this is the problem, is it isn’t. It can be.

Cy Kellett:
It can be. Sure, but you said any good thing can be.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You can tell by the quality of the humor if it’s really disgusting and demeaning, that’s one thing but if it’s simply recognizing the quirks or, you know, like there are actors who are experts in accents for example the traditional cartoons would never had any humor at all if they didn’t have people who were able to talk in every conceivable sort of way, meaning accents which indicated all kinds of human differences of sex, age, intelligence, ethnicity, everything. Now, granted there are stereotypes. Stereotypes can be very damaging.

Cy Kellett:
Yes.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But they can also be signs of affection at a certain point-

Cy Kellett:
Well, don’t you-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And that’s why our particular problem today is that the whole lighter side of the recognition of differences has just been completely obliterated from view.

Cy Kellett:
But in a place like New York city for example, Jews, Italians, Irish, all these groups, they lived right on top of one another, they knew one another.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Literally the same apartment building.

Cy Kellett:
So this kind of joking around was a different thing than it is now, but I still will say that humor that makes fun of black people in the United States is different, it’s of a different order because all those people, the Jews and the Italians and the Irish and… I’m trying to think of all the groups, but you name them, the Poles and whatever. The one group that was particularly excluded is black Americans.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Yeah, and this is the difficulty is if its ethnic humor among groups that are proportionately equal to each other, social-

Cy Kellett:
And have an affection for one another.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
But with humor that has to do with difference in race precisely, there can be-

Cy Kellett:
There’s a different level of [crosstalk 00:34:47]-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
They can inference that it’s disrespectful. One of the problems with the humor surrounding, there is lots of rumors surrounding Jews. They did it in the [inaudible 00:34:56] and all over-

Cy Kellett:
They say it’s survival skill, a lot of [crosstalk 00:35:00].

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
They know all of that and they joke about themselves all the time, although they’re on a fine line as they also know the evil antisemitism and how dangerous it is, there has been in history and yet they don’t avoid making fun of their own stereotypes, they don’t do that. But again, it’s the spirit which there… it’s offered, but in the case of blacks of course, one of the things was that the humor, they themselves were put in the position of acting out stereotypes of their ethnicity. I mean like the first Academy award went to that lady that played-

Cy Kellett:
Mammy.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
What was her name?

Cy Kellett:
From the Gone with the Wind.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Yeah, Gone with the Wind, I’m trying to remember.

Cy Kellett:
She’s a wonderful actress, but she’s forced to play-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And she got an Academy award, but she had to sit in a table by herself-

Cy Kellett:
Oh God, I didn’t know that.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
At the other awards center, that was in LA by the way, back then that was Hollywood. But in any case they were particularly put in the position of having to play the buffoon or play the fool and nobody minds an old stereotype that actually corresponds to something that existed in history and there are very many writings that for example Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which helped tremendously the [crosstalk 00:36:14] Hattie-

Cy Kellett:
McDaniel.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Hattie McDaniel, that helped the abolitionists movement. It was full of these stereotypes and they were second nature. So now it’s more a question of sensitivity to… I think it’s more a question of sensitivity to persons in general who disregard this, it’s like smoking, it’s just been absolutely completely bad and it’ll take a long time before anybody ever thinks of that kind of humor as being mild.

Cy Kellett:
Its [crosstalk 00:36:47] thing about forbidden fruit though. There is the self defeating quality to that. If you don’t let people have any fun, then they’re going to think racism is fun in a way, I mean in a certain way, do you see what I mean?

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Right.

Cy Kellett:
That if you don’t let people just talk and-

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Well, the thing is you don’t have to jump on it and demonize it immediately the moment you suspect there may be something there. You have to wait to form a judgment because the question here is treating people justly and so you can be just as mean and unfair in judging someone else to be an evil racist when he’s not, based on slight indications which you haven’t investigated, then someone else could be a racist truly judging the person’s character to be inferior and unworthy of respect based on slight indications. That is what we’re concerned about here is justice and the fact that you belong to an ethnicity that was enslaved or an ethnicity that was enslaving doesn’t mean that you are now deprived of your right to be treated justly, both have to be treated justly.

And the old Testament is full of that, goes on about how it’s important to show justice to the poor and oppressed but then it also says judges should not favor the poor over the rich unless it’s a question of justice. So leaving out that ideological sympathy side of it, but just what’s the actual case of things. In the scriptures there’s so many examples of what we would regard as ethically unacceptable. Our Lord prefers his own people to other peoples.

Cy Kellett:
He does.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Of course, he’s the God who chose the Jews, the Hebrews before all other nations just because he preferred them and he weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem as for no other place even though many other cities would be destroyed. And then when the Syrophoenician woman comes up to him and asked him to heal her daughter, he says I’ve come only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and she was speaking pagan and she responds, sir, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table and then pulling out of her, heals her daughter. Now that’s an example of a totally [inaudible 00:39:02] to correct interchange where our Lord says no, I don’t help Gentiles-

Cy Kellett:
We don’t serve your kind.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Actually what he says very precisely is I was sent-

Cy Kellett:
Sent. Yes.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And that’s true. And what he was doing is trying to teach the fact that it’s first to the Jews was he wants to direct them towards the true religion of the one God of the old Testament so as to stir up faith in this woman, so that her… the healing can come about by a faith in the true God and not just treating Jesus like he’s a shaman or a magician or something like that. And so he had that intention, but the form was perfectly well understood at the time because the ethnic differences in the Middle East of course as everybody knows are of tremendous importance and they’re not just racial, they’re also tribal and everything else.

So there are a lot of delicate areas, but the main thing is that every Catholic needs to make that profession of faith in God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and Jesus Christ to whom all things and all persons were made and in the universal salvation brought by Christ for every single person, and so in view of our common origin and destiny to be resolved, to treat justly in our judgments, our thoughts it is, in our words and our deeds everyone with whom you come in contact and that we find ourselves at tendency to react unjustly, we have to examine it and put it aside just like any other impure thought.

Cy Kellett:
Beautiful.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
That’s what we need to do.

Cy Kellett:
All right.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And the rest of it there is a lot more to talk about, but that’s all the difficult political stuff.

Cy Kellett:
You should publish an article on this.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Maybe so, maybe we will.

Cy Kellett:
Catholic answers magazine.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
I think so, that might be a good idea.

Cy Kellett:
All right. Father, as always thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I think the putting us on solid ground of the unity of the Catholic… excuse me, of the human race in both creation and… in the order creation, in the order of redemption, that’s the solid basis on which we overcome racism.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
And a personal conviction to behave justly, to give to each his due. [inaudible 00:41:19].

Cy Kellett:
Father Hugh Barbour thanks.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
You’re very welcome.

Cy Kellett:
I find it helpful to think about racism in the terms that father Hugh who presents it. First of all, as a sin against faith, it’s a failure to believe what God teaches about the unity of the human race. It’s a failure to believe what God teaches, what God does in the redemption of the whole human race, in the person of Jesus Christ. But second of all, it’s a sin against justice, a failure to give what we owe to others, that follows on the sin against the faith. So in a certain sense one is an intellectual sin, I don’t believe what the church teaches and the other is an active sin. If we think about these terms, we see that ideological racism is just to retreat from the faith of the God, the Bible and that starts with, you know, we were familiar with what the Nazis had to say or what the early eugenics had to say and this is why the church pose them because this kind of ideology denies Christ.

It denies God’s creation, it rejects the Lord of love and justice. But in practical terms, we find we can fight racism not by endlessly sinking to under… uncover other people’s impure thoughts as father puts it, but by calling people out of the sin of rash judgment. This allows us to have a rational conversation and also to explain why attitudes about, I don’t know, Filipino people are this way or black people are this way, or all white people are this way. These are instances of injustice because they’re rash judgment. This is a sin that’s talked about in the Bible. This is a sin that’s talked about in the church fathers and in the medieval theologians and racism is covered under it and so we need to call ourselves to a higher standard, not to make rash judgments about others.

We can overcome the impure thoughts problem. We can’t overcome just instantly the idea that we’re going to have thoughts that are evil, that appear before our mind, what we can do is get in the habit of non entertaining them and of challenging others when they present them as realities. These are not true, these are not fair, these are sins against justice because they represent rash judgements. Hey, if you liked this episode, email us, you can just send it to focus@catholic.com, we want to hear from you. If you don’t like the episode we want to hear from you on that too and if you’ve got ideas for future episodes just send us that email at focus@catholic.com.

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