Reflecting on Racism and Ways to Confront a Crisis

Kevin Mullen, OFM Features

After watching and reflecting on the protests around the United States that followed the May 25 death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, of George Floyd, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, writes about the situation and on the cause of the killing by the police officer: racism. In the message below he describes three perspectives for responding to a crisis.

My lived experience in Holy Name Province has taught me to approach issues by looking through three lenses: fraternal, pastoral, and reflective. Through these lenses, specific questions arise: How does this issue affect my life with my brothers? How does this issue affect the lives of the people whom I serve? What can I learn about this issue from reading, reflection, prayer, and discussion that may shed light upon the world that I inhabit? Such a method is not original nor is it unique – I learned it through the framework of a liberal arts education and from watching the example of many wise sisters and brothers who have tried to live an integral and engaged life in this world.

Protesting the death of George Floyd. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

When confronted with the challenge of trying to respond to a crisis, I draw upon this three-fold methodology to assist me in formulating my personal response. Most recently, I have employed this method as I struggle to understand and come to grips with the horror, the outrage, the frustration and the violence that have burst forth in our country following the murder of George Floyd. The horrific facts of this case have been documented and indicate that a man was killed in a brutal manner by a police officer who deliberately abused the power given to one who wants “to protect and serve” the community at large. We know from history, and we should have guessed, that in the United States of America racism was the root cause of this violent crime.

Recognizing Anger and Pain
From my fraternal lens, I know that George Floyd’s death angered many in Holy Name Province while causing great pain to brothers who are African-American, Latino, or Asian, and who have also experienced the sting of white privilege and racism within our fraternity, Church, and world. Upon reflection, I realized that I have contributed to their pain – not in deliberate acts or words, but by my indifference, or failure to act, or by closing my ears to their call to me and other brothers. We need to change our ways so as to confront the embedded racism that we have been exposed to and (unconsciously) embraced by growing up as “privileged white men.”

From my pastoral lens, I recognized the need to include the topic of racism in regular evangelization efforts such as liturgical preaching, religious education, and adult faith formation. Sadly, the sin of racism is not known nor are its consequences appreciated in many of the communities where the friars minister. We must do more. As a Provincial who shares responsibility with bishops for certifying friars for public ministry and who has oversight of formation programs, I need to insist that the topic of racism and its connection to economic, ecological, and social justice must be understood and appreciated by those who want to be Friars Minor and minister within the Church.

Protesting the death of George Floyd. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, from my reflective lens, I must continue to read and study, but more importantly, I need to listen to the voices of sisters and brothers of color who are willing to share their experiences. The answers are not in the books alone, they are discovered in the encounter of people who have lived with this pain and who, nonetheless, have not given up on themselves or on the possibility that change and conversion are possible.

Reflecting on White Privilege
I want to join with all who feel the need to say “Enough! – we need to change – we need personal and communal conversion.” I invite the local friar fraternities to address the significance of George Floyd’s death through their ongoing prayer and reflection.

In addition, I recommend reading the article written by Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, published in the June 1 issue of National Catholic Reporter, which provides a reflection on “assumptions” underlying white privilege as well as a six-point action plan that individuals and local fraternities can use for their reflection and discussion. As you read and reflect, please ask: Are these assumptions true? All or just some? Are they yours? Do you think that they are widely held? Regarding his six-point action plan: Can you embrace the plan? Will it bring about change? What should Holy Name Province do with such a plan?

Let us continue to pray for one another. May the Lord heal our troubled hearts, may the Lord extend peace to George Floyd’s family and friends, and may we work together to better our nation and our world.

Provincial Minister Fr. Kevin Mullen— Kevin Mullen has served as Provincial Minister since 2014. The Paterson, New Jersey native’s previous assignments included serving as president of Siena College in Loudonville, New York, and rector of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. the previous reflection published in HNP Today, by Francis Di Spigno, was titled “Approaching Easter With Hope During Coronavirus”