Today’s find: Squirm session

The sanctuary provided no sanctuary last evening, and that was a most uncomfortable feeling.

The occasion: A presentation by Saint Louis University’s Dr. Norman White entitled ‘Shut It Down: Closing the School to Prison Pipeline,’ sponsored by the Peace & Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The venue: The church building at my home parish – the very same sacred space where I’ve received the Eucharist and celebrated the sacraments innumerable times over the past 30 years.

The church building, in other words, that I consider my spiritual home.

Only I noticed that it didn’t seem particularly cozy last night.

SLU's Dr. Norman White at St. Joe Manchester

SLU’s Dr. Norman White at St. Joe Manchester

It wasn’t due to Dr. White. He gave an enlightening, impassioned and often moving talk.

Rather, I think my spirit was roiled by the subject itself – which turned out to be not so much about school reform or over-incarceration, but the underlying current of racism that fuels both of those societal cancers.


It has no place in ‘my’ spiritual home, I’d like to believe. And yet, I notice that I can’t even hear the word without getting just a tad defensive.

I squirm when the topic is raised – in part, I suppose, because I don’t feel individually responsible for it. Discrimination and oppression are not in my nature. They are not sins I’ve ever confessed.

And yet.

And yet, I’ve become aware in recent months how I, personally, may have benefited from the racism of the past. The property values I enjoy today in my suburban enclave are the fruit – at least in part – of the redlining that occurred in the St. Louis area a few generations ago.

It’s not my fault, I like to tell myself.

Still, it’s a fact – as pointed out by a study I learned about at a different Peace & Justice Commission talk earlier this year. It noted in part:

The isolation of African Americans on St. Louis’ near northside was accomplished and enforced in a variety of ways; some private and public strategies of exclusion overlapped and reinforced one another, others were cobbled together as legal challenges prohibited some of the more direct tools of segregation. At the center of this story was the local realty industry, which lobbied for explicitly racial zoning in the World War I era; pursued and enforced race-restrictive deed covenants into the middle years of the century; pioneered the practice of residential security rating which governed both private mortgages and public mortgage guarantees; and–as a central precept of industry practice–actively discouraged desegregation of the private housing market.

There’s a lot more to explore on this topic here, the interactive map that made it impossible for me not to see the pernicious effects of institutionalized sin, right here in River City.

And I heard more data along those lines during Dr. White’s presentation last night. Data, in this case, demonstrating the deep economic hole in which many of the St. Louis area’s children find themselves as they begin their school years.

Data, supported by my own experiences in prison ministry: That there are many in this country who grow up without the advantages I took for granted – and who turn to crime more or less as a strategy for survival.

It’s not my fault, I like to tell myself.

But it is my call to do something about it.

As a Christian, I can’t look away – no matter how intractable the problems. No matter how uncomfortable the topic – and the reality – of racism make me feel.

Once I know, I can’t un-know.




Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.



Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

Post navigation

3 thoughts on “Today’s find: Squirm session

  1. Joe Vilmain

    I’d like to hear more about this presentation, was sorry we were out of town for it and where did you get that terrible closing line, “Once I know, I can’t unknow” – man, that is tough to swallow, thanks for sharing.ybic Joe V.

  2. Pingback: Today’s find: Ternary | With Us Still

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: