Paige Courtney Barnes is an educator, writer and public speaker in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. in secondary teaching from Aquinas College. Her work may be found at http://www.blackcatholicprose.com or thethings.com.
American society has searched for secular solutions to heal the sin of racism for more than 50 years now. Although the government has legislated civil rights protections, it simply cannot legislate peace. Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Thus Christian intellectuals must be at the forefront of a movement to teach society how racial diversity is a God-given quality. As such, diversity requires more than a superficial tolerance. American Christians have a moral obligation to reverence diversity in pursuit of love of God and love of neighbor.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the sin of racism has been exposed yet again as a cancerous wound in America. From Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Philando Castile, to only name a few, tragedies of police brutality erupt every summer. The aforementioned departed souls are simply examples of the atrocities that have been documented, but many more go unnoticed. Although the task of justice, reform and reconciliation may seem daunting, Christian intellectuals can promote an immediate course of action.
First, Christian intellectuals can provide insight on the value of diversity. God himself is a diversity of persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creation is a mirror of the glory of God, and society has yet to recognize the beauty of race. Race is not a social construct to be erased or merely tolerated. Race is a beautiful expression of diversity; it is a manifestation of God’s infinite beauty. As such, it is to be cultivated and reverenced. Furthermore a greater understanding of diversity will bear fruit in greater knowledge of God.
W.E.B Du Bois, the founder of the NAACP, was one of the first Christian intellectuals in America to speak of the unifying quality of race. In the first chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” Du Bois explains the goal of racial reconciliation in America:
... the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack.
Therefore diversity is not optional; it is a necessary condition for human growth and flourishing.
Racism thrives when cultures are segregated, and consequently have a shallow understanding of diversity. America has been trying to put a Band-Aid on the cancer of racism ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. Instead of merely treating the symptoms of racism, Christian intellectuals can lead society to eradicate the sin at its source. A new appreciation for diversity is the healing balm that will inspire authentic unity in American society.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught us that love is a fruit of knowledge. And we know all too well that hatred is born of ignorance. So in order to pursue a true fraternal charity, society must not only grow in knowledge of diverse cultures — it must learn to see how the contributions of “the other” are indispensable.
As a Black Catholic educator and writer I have been speaking of the importance of bringing the gifts and talents of Black Americans to the forefront of social consciousness for years. Many Americans of European descent know very little about Black culture and history aside from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. W.E.B. Du Bois is required reading, as well as 21st-century authors such as Angie Thomas and Bryan Stevenson.
In his 1999 “Letter to Artists” Pope Saint John Paul II makes the keen observation, “Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.” If Christian intellectuals were to dive deep into black literature, music and movies — to write about them, quote them and digest their insights — it would be hard to maintain ignorance.
America is approaching a decisive moment in history. The fact that the ugly, lingering effects of the sin of racism continue to manifest may seem a cause for despair. However, the Christian intellectual actually has a unique opportunity to bring the optic of faith into the discussion. If American Christians began to understand race as a manifestation of God’s glory, they would be compelled to reverence diversity in their neighbor. And thus society could slowly move beyond superficial notions of tolerance towards the pursuit of a real reconciliation born of a renewed appreciation for the beauty of diversity.