When I wrote about the then newly released movie “The Blind Side” (“Realities of racism,” April 4), a reader wrote that she felt that she had had the same experience as the movie’s female lead.
To recall “The Blind Side,” a prosperous white family in Memphis, Tenn., befriends a high school student who, because of his talents at football, has been enrolled in an elite private school. They notice that he is desperately poor and does not even have a place to sleep. Giving him room and board, the wife goes to his neighborhood to find his mother.
After this adventure, she goes to an upper-scale restaurant for lunch with three friends, all from her own economic class. She tells them that she had lived in Memphis all her life, and she never knew that people had to live under such conditions.
The OSV reader wrote that she had lived in Cincinnati in 2001, during the race riots there. She remembered her fright. The violence was subdued in a few days, and while the angry feelings and suspicions lingered, things eventually returned to normal.
However, she wondered why the violence had happened. She made it her business to discover how many black residents in Cincinnati lived. Poverty was the key, leading to poor housing, broken families, bad health care, failing grades at school or school dropouts, desperation, anger, hatred and violence.
The reader wrote that she had never known the conditions in which others in the city existed, and so little was their chance of escape, because advancement first of all meant overcoming the conviction that no one cares and there is no where to turn.
These comments about Memphis and Cincinnati could be applied to every American city.
We all are inclined to be Monday-morning quarterbacks. So we judge others, usually quite readily. So very often many of us do not know the conditions in which others live, and on the basis of this ignorance we form our opinions.
For a long, long time in America, blacks have been victims. First, there was slavery. Then, when slavery was abolished, the plight of former slaves fell in priority before political pragmatism and bad thinking. Prejudice denied blacks the opportunity to attain meaningful economic independence and to be integrated fully into society.
Whites by and large seldom knew how blacks lived. Fears among whites that they might lose advantages for themselves fueled the estrangement and then more harsh judgments.
It goes on, certainly amended by all that happened in this country as a result of the civil rights movement. But, despite modern communications and mobility, this is a society in which many know little, if anything, about how others live. The Gospel comes into play when the fact is mentioned that many of us do not care how others live, and, moreover, when we are quite content to let others live in terrible conditions.
In the last generation, new victims have entered the picture — immigrants.
This is the best-informed society in history. Yet most of us know little about others with whom we have no contact. Sadly, as Catholics, often we do not care.
Human nature remains the same. We humans rarely acknowledge our ignorance and limitations, because of what the catechism in the old days referred to as “original sin.” We think we are so much more than we are, and then again, when something difficult is demanded, we fail to realize our strength.
Before judging others, admit these limitations. Then, it would help if we all, through whatever processes are available to us, sought to lift from others their cares, be it poverty or despair. This is discipleship.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV associate publisher.