Race & Today's Election

This past Sunday, I worshipped at St. Augustine’s church here in Washington, D.C. It is the oldest congregation of black Catholics in the city. The pastor did not preach about the election: He didn’t have to. The anticipation in the room, the smiles, the nervousness, were all immediately obvious. I wondered how this congregation, which is very conservative, would have responded if they had been told that abortion was the only issue that mattered in this election? Yesterday, when I heard the audio of Bishop Finn of Kansas City saying that voting for Obama risked one’s eternal salvation, I wished he had come to St. Augustine’s to say that.

I wonder if Bishop Finn knows who Fannie Lou Hamer was and why today, election day, some of us will have this patron saint of electoral justice in the forefront of our minds. I wonder what Bishop Martino of Scranton would say to Bob Moses if he ran into him at the Au Bon Pain on Harvard Square. Black folk see this election in a different light, and they are not wrong to do so.


Yesterday, I called a black friend who is a priest and asked how he felt about this historic election. "I have my Obama cufflinks already to wear!" he exclaimed. "But, don’t print that until I have a diocese." He broke out in a full-throttled guffaw. He, like most of the black clergy I know, is very conservative doctrinally but today’s election strikes a different, non-ideological chord. There was joy in his voice when we compared likely electoral college totals.

Today, America proves that race is not an insuperable barrier to political power and we deal a strong body blow to racism. That is an achievement per se. And the bishops who have insisted that abortion is the only issue, and that only their approach to the issue is morally permissible, they should think of Hamer and Moses and Dr. King and John Lewis today. It is not too difficult to say that while they may disagree with Sen. Obama about his pro-choice stance, and disagree forcefully, they join the rest of the nation in being properly thrilled that race is no longer an impediment to winning a presidential election in America. It is a great day to be alive. Everybody should be singing: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Michael Sean Winters



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10 years 2 months ago
Race should never be an impediment to winning a presidential election nor should it be the reason to vote for a presidential candidate. Moral issues do trump race, gender and ethnic identity. In God there is neither male nor female, white or black etc. I would be very happy if Clarence Thomas or another African American of his character and moral integrity were elected president. An Obama victory is not something to celebrate but rather something to mourn.
10 years 2 months ago
I seriously disagree with Mr. Obama on certain issues, but I am hopeful that his win, which seems quite likely, may bring about more racial harmony. I pray that this event continues to bring about the healing to the sharp divisions of racism that started so long ago at the beginnings of our nation. Maybe a young black boy (or girl) would see in him a model that they, too, may fully participate in the American dream. I still pray that he changes his mind on abortion.
10 years 2 months ago
I agree that one cannot ignore the historical nature of an Obama win. And even while being critical of his policies, especially on abortion, prolifers can say unequivocally that it is a good thing for America to have progressed to a point where a black man can become President. But you invoked King who spoke of equal opportunity for black men and women but also dreamed of a society where a man is judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. So while there are many who may vote for Obama because it is a fulfillment of King's dream of equal access, there are also many pro-lifers who will vote for an alternate candidate because they have taken a color blind approach. They are concerned not about Obama's skin color but about his full throttled support of an unrestricted right to abortion and what that means for the prolife movement. In other words, they think his ideas matter more than the color of his skin. In an ironic way, both groups are looking at King's dream in different ways. The best commentary on race and politics is from these largely African American students from the Ron Brown Academy in Atlanta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxlwYP0HNd I'm sure they never intended this to be a commentary, but there is nothing more intellectually satisfying than hearing children sing that after making the best informed decision possible(and Catholics should add, the best decision arrived at by an informed conscience), you can vote however you like!
10 years 2 months ago
I would have loved to have been in an African-American church yesterday. What a joyous time. I can still remember separate restrooms, separate water fountains, separate schools, separate places in church (Catholic churches), etc. etc. for African-American people where I was born and grew up. I never thought I would live long enough to see a African-American person be a serious contender for the presidency. I am grateful.
10 years 2 months ago
I also wish Bishop Finn could have been at St Augustine's last week. I wish he could speak to every Catholic in every pew in every parish in the country. If he did, 99% of his audience would probably be hearing about the concept of eternal damnation for the first time in their church-going lives. Some of them might even begin to understand why the protection of innocent human life is a higher moral priority than marginally different tax cut proposals. I imagine that Black Catholics would be particularly sensitive to the profound evil of the dehumanization and exploitation of a powerless minority. By the way, I wonder if Michael Sean knows that Fannie Lou Hamer had this to say about abortion: ''The methods used to take human lives, such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc., amount to genocide. I believe that legal abortion is legal murder.''
10 years 2 months ago
I realise people want to be part of the crowd and want to share in a collective outpouring of feelgood emotion and all that but the amount of shmaltzy hogwash being churned out about Obama is frankly embarassing. Yes, it's of huge symbolic importance that an African American has been elected President of the USA and those of us who live anti-racism and anti-fascism every day of our lives certainly rejoice in that. But equally there seems to be something of an emotional tyranny in the way that legitimate criticisms of Obama are being shouted down. Speaking from the other side of the pond, to me it's reminiscent of what happened when Princess Diana died; the media bullied people into compulsory mourning. It's difficult for reasoned political debate to take place in such an overheated atmosphere.


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