The Archbishop of Atlanta said this week that racism must be solved through encounter, and stressed that ignorance is the fuel to bigotry and hate speech, which he likened to a type of pornography.
“Such harsh and insulting language has too often given rise to acts of violence that destroy any sense of civility and public decorum. We should call such speech what it is: pornographic violence,” said the Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in an interview with the Georgia Bulletin. “We need more opportunities to encounter one another, and thus our metropolitan community provides a unique environment to counter the ignorance that fuels and too often ignites racism and violence.”
He expressed gratitude for the many religious leaders who have fought for civil rights and desegregation, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Paul Hallinan, and Rabbi Jacob Rothschild. “These remarkable personalities offered opportunities for people to meet one another as persons of dignity and this has helped immensely,” said Archbishop Gregory, noting, however, that he is not blind to areas in need of improvement, even within his own diocese.
The archbishop’s interview comes following the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12, which drew members of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups, as well as other white supremacists. Organizers said the event was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but attendees also chanted racist messages. On Saturday, a 20-year-old man from Ohio drove a car into the counter-protest which featured a diverse array of groups including religious leaders, Black Lives Matter, and the anarchist group Antifa. One woman was killed and 19 people were injured in the incident. The driver was charged with second-degree murder.
The U.S. bishops have condemned the violence and announced the creation of a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism to focus on galvanizing the Church and society to fight the evil of racism and minister to its victims. Archbishop Gregory identified the racial violence in recent events as part of a “'post-polite' world where rude and offensive language – that too frequently has led to brutal behavior – has been given free rein.”
Likening certain types of illegal pornographic material to hate speech, he said individuals and organizations must take a stand against such violent speech, and he drew special attention to “civil discourse.”
Archbishop Gregory pointed to some of the multicultural festivals which parishes throughout his archdiocese have hosted. When good food, family, music, and dance come together, he said, there is a universal love which not only exposes the uniqueness of individuals and cultures, but also our “similar dreams, needs and fears.”
“We really are the same,” he said, stressing that ignorance of each other is the oxygen which allows racism to thrive. “Wherever people are disconnected from one another, there is the possibility that they will begin to develop misconceptions about one another – flawed fantasies that have no bearing in reality.”
He added that the archdiocese is proud of its steps toward better interracial and interreligious relations, mentioning events with their Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as how the Chancery staff deals with diversity issues. Still, the archbishop continued, there is room for improvement.
Specifically, he mentioned the 1979 “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” a document written by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops highlighting the evils of racism. Currently under revision, the archbishop said the document will be broadened to focus on additional communities “who find themselves demeaningly labeled as 'other'” in order to denounce this exclusion as well.
Archbishop Gregory lamented the stories he has heard of people ostracized in his parishes for the color of their skin, their religion, or their struggle with same-sex attraction, and he expressed a particular concern about the xenophobia that sometimes accompanies discussion on immigration.
Poor treatment of U.S. immigrants is no different than other forms of racism, he said. Self-entitlement or fear of losing one’s privilege may be reasons for this behavior, he said, but America was founded as a “nation comprised of people who mostly have come here from other places” and cultures, who have struggled to establish themselves.
He called it “especially concerning when this despicable behavior comes from fellow Catholics who should well remember how we Catholics were victimized in the recent past, simply because we were Catholic.”