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In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.
From January 2021 through June of 2023, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.
In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022. He shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit and educates on topics of equity and inclusion.
By Kevin Hofmann
Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion
During the pandemic, after we realized we would be sheltered in place for the summer of 2020, my wife and I decided to purchase and install an above-ground pool. We went with the pool with the saltwater filter. The process is an interesting one. When the pool is set up and filled, we add about 240 pounds of salt to the pool. The filter pulls the salt water out of the pool and through a chemical reaction converts it to chlorine and then forces it back into the pool. The water tastes slightly like salt water and is better for your skin and the environment. It also means once the pool is up and running it maintains itself. The work to keep the water clear is minimal.
The pool gave us a safe place to relax and it slowed down the world that had been invaded by a virus. We spent hours in the pool sipping on drinks and ignoring the world that seemed more fragile than I had ever experienced. Floating in the pool helped drown out the world that seemed so unpredictable and dangerous. Shortly after we set the pool up our neighbors tried to get the same pool and they couldn’t. It appeared many other people were trying to use aquatic adventures to shut out the world, too. The waiting period for pools was a minimum of six months. We were fortunate that we got in on this way of escape right before the rest of the world went looking for it.
In early October we closed the pool for the season. We drained the water just below the filter ports, covered it with two tarps, and said goodnight for seven months. The filter had done its work and I attempted to disconnect it from the pool and move the filter inside for the winter. What I didn’t realize was how heavy the filter was going to be. In the spring I had added 40 pounds of fine glass. It was ground so fine it looked like sand. The glass cleans the water as it passes through and sends it back to the pool. As I attempted to move the filter, I assumed 40 pounds shouldn’t be too hard to move. What I didn’t figure out was that water mixed with the glass and stayed in the filter; now it weighed over 300 pounds and was difficult to move. I figured I had about 100 steps to the house and another 100 steps to the basement where the filter would hibernate until the spring.
Initially, I grabbed the top of the filter preparing and expecting to be moving about 40 pounds. As I pulled the filter my hands slipped off and the filter did not move. It felt like someone had secured the filter to the ground with cement. That plan was not going to work. I tried draining the filter of all the water. That helped to a point. Pulling all of the water out of the glass and sand-like mixture was impossible. The material held on to the water and did not want to let go. I managed to siphon away maybe 30 to 40 pounds of water weight. The next plan was to use both hands, lift with my legs and walk slowly toward the back door. I was able to lift the filter and began the slow process to the back door. I concentrated on each step counting them off to distract myself from the difficulty and pain of trying to move this object that was happy to spend the winter next to the pool.
“One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. “One, two, three, four, five …” Rest. The back door was getting closer and closer. Slowly, I could see progress and that inspired me to keep going. Each step was monumental and necessary to accomplish this difficult task.
I was recently asked about my plans for the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the coming year. I shared some of the things I have planned and some things I would like to implement. I thought about what that really meant. How will we know at the end of 2023 that we were successful? After tossing it around in my head, I decided having a theme or area of concentration for this next year would help us stay focused. I began to knead some ideas in my head. Then I moved to fold them over and over and I like the product that was created.
In 2023 I want to concentrate on simply moving information 4.5 to 6.5 feet south. What I find most impressive about working at Adrian Dominican Sisters (ADS) is how educated and committed the Sisters are to social justice. When I first arrived on campus and started studying the work that has been done, I noticed all the current books on racial injustice have been read, all the top articles and Ted Talks on racial inequality have been watched, debated, and digested by many of the Sisters. I’ve noticed complex concepts around race and racism are understood and accepted as fact. Concepts like White Privilege (one of the more difficult topics to discuss with white people) or the need for Affirmative Action are accepted as common knowledge. Intellectually, very few can rival the knowledge base here. Our heads are full of knowledge, so what is next?
"And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day." My hope is we can push the knowledge in our heads slightly south, cramming it into our hearts and forcing it to mimic the Grinch’s heart. My hope is by stuffing it and testing the elasticity of our chambered walls that our hearts will expand to accommodate our need for extra space. This year, the hope is that we, too, will gain more compassion for those NOT like us.
Once the hypertrophy of our hearts is accomplished, we will move forward, taking the knowledge and increased compassion and driving it further south to our feet where we will walk out what we know and what we feel. If we can move from head to heart to feet, we can create lasting, measurable, significant change.
Every step I took to put the filter away was painful. My hands ached, my shoulders were on fire, and I was counting EVERY step. I felt each step throughout my whole central nervous system and I couldn’t wait to be done with this horrible task. I tried every trick I knew to block out the pain and yet I still failed.
I invited resignation to sit down with me and I put the filter down. My pride was busy nursing my wounds when I asked my eldest son for help and found a dolly to help us roll the filter toward its final winter home. The steps were impossible when I tried them on my own. The filter outweighed me, and it was winning. The task was too much for me, BUT when I asked for help and used some tools I had on hand I was able to attain my goal.
In this next year, we will be reaching out and asking others to share how they experience the world, and we will give them a safe place to do it. In this next year, we will be looking for opportunities to listen and learn from a broader population and looking to lend our knowledge and compassion to create change. It simply starts with one awkward, uncomfortable step.
Photo: St. Anthony Padua Parish Church in the Philippines decorated for Simbang Gabi, by Patpat nava, CC BY-SA 4.0.
As Christmas draws closer, I thought it would be great to hear from one of our international Sisters on how she and her family celebrate Christmas in their country. Sister Bless Colasito from the Philippines was kind enough to share. Wouldn’t it be great to incorporate some of her traditions here in Adrian?
If anyone else would like to share their international Christmas traditions, please let me know. I would love to include your stories.
The Filipino tradition of celebrating Christmas starts when the "Ber" months come. When the calendar turns to September 1, Filipino homes, malls, stores, and institutions will be playing Christmas carols. As we engagingly say, "Christmas is on the air" and people start to plan for Christmas; godparents prepare Christmas presents for their godchildren when they come on Christmas day for a visit, families start to set up Christmas decorations on their homes, and streets are lit up with Christmas lanterns. Television and radio stations will engage in a 100-day countdown till Christmas Day. This Filipino way of Christmas preparation can be unusually long. However, as a people, we just enjoy the spirit of Christmas from September to December, long as it may be. Besides the abovementioned preparations, we Filipinos also engage in other traditional practices as part of our preparation for the Christmas season.
Simbang Gabi is the traditional nine-day novena of masses before Christmas. For nine days, Filipinos attend Mass in churches closest to them. The whole family attends this Mass and in case parents are not available, the younger members of the family will come to church with their friends. Simbang Gabi is also a time for older people to come to church in groups or as individuals. Simbang Gabi may start either the eve of December 15 as an anticipated Mass or at a dawn Mass on December 16. The Mass celebrated on December 15 will end as a nine-day novena on the eve of December 23, while the dawn Mass that starts on December 16 will complete the nine-day novena on the morning of December 24. Filipino has always had the intention to finish the nine-day novena as it promises a "wish come true" if one completes the novena Masses.
Simbang Gabi also serves as an occasion for the renewal of relationships and friendships among families with other families, among family members, and among friends. Simbang Gabi has a healing effect in broken relations among family members, individuals, and the community.
During the nine-day novena Masses, after the Eucharistic celebration, people go out from the Church to find a variety of food – mostly sweets like puto-bumbong, bibingka, and tsokolate and other delicacies, which are usually available in the area from local food vendors who sell these foods until the streaks of dawn or until they sell out of everything. Below are the foods available for sale during the nine-day novena masses.
"puto bumbong" by tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Bibingka" by georgeparrilla is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Kutsinta" by Herbertkikoy is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
"duman in tsokolate" by chotda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
"PANDESAL" by whologwhy is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
"Ibos Suman" by Kguirnela is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Caroling was one of my happy memories of Christmas as a child. As children, my sisters and I will go with our friends to sing carols in the neighborhood. While some groups of Filipinos would go caroling during the season for fund-raising purposes, for us, we just did it for fun. After caroling, we would run to the store and buy ourselves candies or anything we want if our funds allowed. Caroling was also an occasion for me and my sisters to bond with the other girls in the neighborhood.
Noche Buena is the most awaited meal of the year for us Filipinos. This is the meal on the eve of Christmas where the whole family – and visitors if there are any – gather to share a meal together accompanied by laughter and merrymaking. The members of the family are all involved in the preparation for this evening meal, usually eaten after the Christmas eve Mass. Every Filipino family, poor and rich, prepares Noche Buena more than the usual food families prepare daily during the year, including the lechon or roasted pig. Workplaces before they take a break for Christmas will also prepare a feast for their employees as a sign of gratitude and goodwill.
Aguinaldo means gift giving and receiving. Christmas is the most awaited season of the year for everybody. During this season, employees get their bonuses and Christmas presents from their employers. Children await Christmas gifts from their parents, siblings, godparents, and friends. Everybody gets a present during Christmas no matter how meager the resources are in the family..
Monita or Monito, which is equivalent to Kris Kringle in other cultures, is also a fun thing for us Filipinos. Weeks before Christmas, families and workplaces engage in drawing names of a family member or an officemate. The name of the person that somebody picked is secret until the time of the revelation when everybody will know who Monita or Monito is. An amount decided by the group is set as a limit (can be more but not less) to buy a gift for whomever one has picked. This trick of fun always stimulates joy and excitement during the Christmas season.
Media Noche is the meal on New Year’s Eve that carries so many beliefs and superstitions among Filipinos. For example, members of the family will gather twelve kinds of round fruits to symbolize financial prosperity and abundant food on the table ensures an abundant year. Like the Christmas Eve food served on tables, Media Noche also highlights so much food at every Filipino table during the celebration of the New Year.
Feast of the Three Kings or the Feast of Epiphany is a celebration that signals we are nearing the end of the season of Christmas, though liturgically the season of Christmas ends only after the Sunday celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. In the Philippines, there are Churches that reenact the appearance of the Three Wise Men by dressing children in different costumes representing countries in the world. I remember as a child I always joined the United Nations group and dressed up in either Chinese or Japanese attire. For us children then, it was really fun dressing up as somebody who is coming from another country.
The Pan-Philippine Highway in Angeles City decorated for Christmas
(photo by Ramon FVelasquez, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The last weekend in November was a tense time for my family growing up. My father was raised in Cleveland and was an Ohio State fan. My siblings and I grew up in Detroit; most of us were Michigan fans. My father was able to find an ally in one of my brothers, so we were a house divided, assuring that every Saturday after Thanksgiving someone in our household would be disappointed and someone would be pointing out just how bad the losing team played.
Rarely was there any control applied by the winning team. The win meant you owned bragging rights for an entire year. It also meant if your team won, you were given the gift of the ability to end every argument and/or conversation with, "Well, it doesn’t matter because my team won in November."
The rest of the year was easy to manage for mother, who tried to keep the peace between the two sides. The most difficult peace-keeping time came immediately after the last whistle of the game. The winners were humble initially, saying how competitive the losing team was and how it was a hard-fought game. Then slowly the boasting would begin, and the joy held by the winning team would erupt into a trash-talking tirade that felt like a thousand tiny arrows shot at your heart if you were on the losing end. The joy would be confronted by anger in the middle of our living room, and anything not cemented to the floor could and was used to make a point. One year when Ohio State lost, my brother chose to make his point by flipping over the coffee table in the middle of the room. The coffee table doubled as a library for our monthly periodicals. So when the table was overturned issues of Reader Digest, Sports Illustrated, Jet, Ebony and the Detroit Free Press rained down on the room. It wasn’t a complete Thanksgiving holiday until something like this occurred.
I still live in a house divided. My wife grew up in Toledo and is a big Buckeye fan. She managed to lure away our youngest. Our eldest is a very smart young man who happens to also be a Wolverine fan, so I too have an ally. My wife doesn’t share my mother’s passion for allowing people to express themselves, so our home isn’t an environment where tables and magazines are overturned. So, on the big weekend, I usually work out in the yard or in the garage while my wife and youngest cheer on the Buckeyes. We respectfully give each other the space we need and don’t speak much about it. It is what we must do to stay family.
The holidays can be very stressful times because of similar relationships; people may not see eye to eye on college teams, political parties, religion, economics, beliefs, etc. Many folks want to know how they can socialize with others who don’t see the world as they do and remain civil. Better yet, many want to know how we make sure the holiday gatherings don’t end with broken furniture and a living room full of destroyed periodicals.
The solution is much simpler than most think. The question to ask before educating your cousin Eugene from Virginia on reproductive rights is, “Is my desire to prove my point more valuable than my relationship with cousin Eugene?” If the answer is yes, then maybe you could spend more time nurturing your relationship with Eugene.
I have a good friend I have known for over 40 years. We grew up together and for most of that time whom we voted for and what we valued were very similar. In 2016 we voted for two different candidates, and I was devastated. I took whom he voted for personally because his candidate said and did things that were in direct conflict with how I wanted to be treated in this life. I was angry and sad initially, but when I asked myself the question above the answer was simple. The relationship was far more valuable than me "showing him the light." Instead, we talk about other things, family, kids, our jobs, the Detroit Lions, or the Michigan Wolverines. I’m so thankful my friend was raised to cheer for the right college football and pro football teams.
If they persist in talking about volatile issues, don’t take the bait. If they continue, simply let them know that you value their relationship and talking about this type of thing may put your relationship at risk, so it is best you find something else to discuss.
At times, it is a tightrope walk but it is necessary and worthwhile. Saturday, I came inside with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. God had returned balance to the world and the Wolverines were leading the Buckeyes. The rightful king returned to his throne and the Wolverines planted their flag at the 50-yard line in the middle of the big "O" on Ohio State’s field and the world seemed perfect. I quietly watched the last of the game and then went back outside to finish taking down the Thanksgiving decorations. There was no boasting, no bragging, no rubbing anyone’s face in it. I understood for the betterment of our family a silent victory is best. By the way, a silent victory still tastes better than turkey.
Yesterday while watching the Detroit Lion’s third victory in a row, I began prep work for Thursday’s guest of honor. My responsibilities are minimal but vital to the success of Thanksgiving. I began the process of making the bacon butter that will be slid under the bird’s skin to create a soft supple bird that begs to be eaten. The rub that will be spread on the bird’s skin has been made and is ready to dissolve and infuse itself to the skin and meat. Tonight, and tomorrow, I will begin the buttermilk brine to soak the bird for 12 hours before I put the bird in the smoker. The bird will sit for about 6 hours in the smoker before arriving for a full meal that will honor his presence. I plan to sit, admire my work, and watch the Lions win their fourth in a row. Please, Lord! A Lions win makes the food taste better.
My wife will be handling the sweet potatoes, Cornish hens, curried chicken, potato salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, ham, collard and turnip greens, green beans, mac and cheese, and cornbread dressing. She will also be handling the sweet potato pie, the Almost-Better-Than-Sex Cake, yellow and chocolate cupcakes, banana pudding, peach cobbler, and pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie is for me and my Caucasian tendencies. Pumpkin pie is frowned upon in the Black community, but I don’t care. I like it and that doesn’t make me less Black… right?
Some will review what I am doing compared to what my wife is doing, and they will try to judge me for not doing enough. To those blinded by the smoke and mirrors please let me remind you I am escorting the guest of honor. If my portion isn’t prepared, smoked, and cut to perfection the day will be ruined. I would gladly take on my wife’s list but no one else can smoke Turkey. So, the overwhelming weight of presenting the reason for the season falls to me and I humbly accept. I also understand it is about quality, NOT quantity. I realize without me there is no dinner. For some, this responsibility would be too heavy. For me, my broad shoulders were chiseled for this one job.
I look forward to this holiday for the food and family. My mother and sister will join us, along with my niece and her family. My wife’s mother, father, and brother will join us with a cousin and his family of three, soon to be four. My neighbor, Jonathan, will stop by to share a beverage or two before his extended family arrives at his home. His gathering will start later than ours and I will have the option to return his empty glasses full of more drinks later in the evening.
This day I’m sure is far from the original Thanksgiving. This past summer I sat down with Rose, a local Native American, who shared her thoughts about Thanksgiving. She explained she doesn’t celebrate it as most do. She told me that the original Thanksgiving was, more accurately, a celebration dinner the Pilgrims had celebrating the massacre of many Natives. I will look differently at my mashed potatoes this year. I also thought about the fact that Native American Heritage month is celebrated this month — and every November for that matter. I’m conflicted because for some Thanksgiving could be considered trauma-inducing. It is for some a yearly reminder of genocide enacted upon innocents. I wonder why we had to combine the month of Thanksgiving with Native American Heritage month. It seems as if it was done to antagonize. I also wonder if that is why February is Black History Month. February is the shortest month of the year and seems like that was done to antagonize as well.
Therefore, during the summer I suggested we celebrate Native American Heritage month in a different way. I wanted to honor a truer representation of what Native Culture and traditions are instead of Thanksgiving. It was suggested we participate in a Ghost Supper celebration last week. I wanted something more specific, more accurate and a better way to celebrate a people who we owe so much to.
It is assumed that we only claimed land that was already owned, but what doesn’t get much attention is the knowledge stolen from Natives. The Native Americans had a far superior knowledge of farming, hunting, and surviving and their knowledge was taken along with land and traditions.
One thing we got right was the name of the day, Thanksgiving. I would just hope we would make a bigger effort to apologize for how we treated a group of people who were hospitable at the very least. To begin it would help if we clarified what exactly we are and should be thankful for on Thursday.
We should thank Native Americans for their kindness. We should thank them for not treating us like we treated them. We should thank them for sharing their knowledge on raising crops, hunting, and building community, and for not burying their knives in our backs as we did to them after we used them for their knowledge.
When I drive my fork into my wife’s mac and cheese made with seven kinds of cheese, I will say a prayer of thanks for family, friends, and life, and most importantly I will give thanks to a group who help shape a country and didn’t get much thanks in return.
My grandmother was an amazing German immigrant. She was raised in Bad Herenalb, Germany, and came to settle in a German neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. She became a mother to three boys and a stay-at-home mother. My father, Richard, was her oldest. Then there was Norman and the youngest was Gordon.
When Norman was about 7 years old, he passed away from spinal meningitis. My father was about 9 years old when Norman passed and occasionally Dad would tell me about Norman. Dad would recount the sadness that filled the room he shared with his brother. Dad spoke of the crib that Norman died in that was only feet from my father’s bed. I wondered how scary that must have been to see your young brother just waste away and die.
When I was a teenager, my father shared the story of Norman with me. To that point, I didn’t know Dad had another brother. The pain of losing a child was unspeakable for my grandmother. She never spoke about Norman, and no one ever brought him up out of respect for Grandma’s heart and sanity.
I remember when I first heard about Norman and his untimely death. I looked at my grandmother. I had never met a mother who lost a child. I assumed mourning had a certain look; it weighed on you I was sure. I never saw it on Grandma. She hid her emotions as well as she hid her homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Grandma was my safe place to land. I was the only adopted child in our home. I was the only Black person in our family, and I was self-conscious about that and very untrusting of people. When I was with my grandmother, I knew I was safe. She and I would spend hours sitting on her davenport (the couch) with the white doilies draped over the back of the couch and we would watch the news or cartoons if we could get a clear signal.
When I was a freshman in high school, Grandma wasn’t feeling good and after several months and plenty of begging by family members, Grandma went to her doctor to get checked out. She was diagnosed with cancer. Dad would travel back and forth to Cleveland from Detroit over the next couple of weeks as Grandma’s health deteriorated. While Dad was in Cleveland with Grandma early one morning before I went to deliver the morning paper to my customers, Dad called. Grandma had passed away. I never went to visit her in the hospital before she died because death scared me. I was afraid to see death in my grandmother. I was sure once I saw grandma with cancer, death would be revealed and it would only be a matter of time before death won. I wanted to remember my short, German grandmother with her incredible German accent and pure white hair who didn’t have cancer. I wanted to preserve the healthy picture I had of my grandmother.
We treated grandma’s death like grandma treated Norman’s death. The memories attached to that person were never spoken of again. Grandma died and after the funeral, it was like she was never there. She was gone and forgotten publicly but quietly I missed her. I missed our cartoon-filled afternoons on the davenport.
This past Sunday I got to participate in a Ghost Supper, a native American tradition that honors those that have passed. It was held by a small group of Catholic Sisters and a local group of Native Americans. Each person at the supper arrived with their plate settings and food that reminded them of their loved one. I brought with me small chocolate candies called Melt-Aways. My grandmother was an amazing baker and every Christmas she would make all kinds of holiday loveliness and the Melt- Aways were my favorite. It felt good to think about and tell others about my beloved grandmother.
Just prior to us sharing the food we brought we were directed by a native elder to come outside. One of the leaders of the Ghost Supper had gathered a sample of all the food that was brought. Then we put a paper plate full of food on the fire to feed our loved ones who have passed and now watch over us. We gave them food to keep them strong as they look out for us.
All of us present were given a pinch of tobacco and one by one we approached the fire, said a prayer for our loved one, and added the tobacco to the fire. It was nice to think about my grandmother and remember her. It felt good to let her know I missed her. I wished she would have been able to see me date, get married, and have children. She would have loved them.
I was honored to be a part of such a great experience and so humbled to be asked to join the Ghost Supper.
We sat in a circle in the lobby of a dorm hall. About 15 of us were new to Alma College’s campus, all white except for me with my toasted almond skin. It was orientation week, and we were sitting together getting to know each other. The leader of my group pulled from their backpack a roll of toilet paper. She instructed us to take as much as we needed and those were her only instructions. She passed the roll around and students varied in how much toilet paper they took. Some took one square and others took a large portion of the roll.
The one very self-confident kid from St. Johns, Michigan took an obnoxious amount of toilet paper. He was the kind of student that loved attention, and he understood the weight of his charismatic personality. Everything was a performance for him and in every activity he strived to draw more people to his side. I would guess his approval rating would hover around 50%. His personality was attractive to some and repulsive to others, there was no place to land in between.
Immediately, I didn’t care for him because he moved freely in this new environment. He walked into the room as if he owned it. I slid into the room most times hoping no one would see me and when they didn’t acknowledge me, I got even more frustrated. The voice and confidence I had in high school disappeared when I set foot on the campus of this predominately White institution.
The toilet paper made its way around the circle and back to the leader. She then instructed us that we would go around the circle and each person would have to share one piece of information about themselves for every square of toilet paper they took. We began and student by student shared who they were. Some shared they were athletes, some shared they were valedictorians, and some shared they lived on a farm.
When we came to the self-confident student, we knew we were going to be there for a while because he had taken so much toilet paper. He shared he was an athlete, homecoming king, a political science major, and a member of Future Farmers of America (we didn’t have that in Detroit). Then as he was struggling for things to say, he looked at me and proudly stated, “I have never met a Black person in real life.” Without pausing, he went on to his next fact, which I never heard. Everything slowed like it was moving through Jell-O. I felt my blood pressure increase with my heart rate. I was trying to control my skin tone. I knew when I got upset that my skin can turn noticeably red. It was my physiological response to what I saw as a threat. I tried to combat the response by breathing deeply, slowing down my heart and looking away. I felt all eyes in the circle were on me waiting for my response and I refused to give it both verbally and physiologically.
The activity ended and we took a break for lunch. As I walked to lunch, that statement rang in my head like the bell at Notre Dame. Then the thought occurred to me. I grew up in Detroit, one of the blackest cities in the country, yet I never remember a day where I didn’t see white people. I understood I could not successfully navigate life in this country without having daily interactions with white people. It wasn’t that I didn’t like white people, it was that I didn’t have the privilege this student had, and that made me angry. Anger rose in me that took up residence in me for the next four years. In 1985 on that campus, I lived the experience that Black Lives DID NOT Matter and it hurt deeply.
In July 2013 the Black Lives Matter movement was born. It was in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who stalked, confronted, and killed Trayvon Martin. It was obvious to Mr. Zimmerman and the jury that Black Lives DID NOT Matter, and it hurt deeply. I can still picture the courtyard where young Trayvon took his last breath in the dark, alone with a stranger holding a gun over him.
Trayvon was walking through his father’s neighborhood, on his way home from the store carrying an iced tea and Skittles. My heart broke imagining what his last moments must have been like and I chased away thoughts that Trayvon could easily have been one of my sons.
Soon after Black Lives Matter gained attention, it became impossible to hear Black Lives Matter without "All Lives Matter" sneaking up behind it. A few weeks ago, Kanye West, who is an amazing musician who likes controversy and attention, showed up at a fashion show with conservative instigator Candace Owens wearing White Lives Matter shirts, and that cut even deeper. Those three words were heard as "Black Lives Do Not Matter but White Lives Do." It was even more painful coming from two people who look like me. Now, to be honest, many of us in the Black community have asked to trade Candace Owens to another team long ago. We understand her loyalty lies with her bank account so she pushes whatever agenda will get her the most zeros. What upsets me the most is how some will take what these two attention-craving individuals say and use it to prove and prop up their exclusionary agenda.
What I have learned is that this simple statement, Black Lives Matter, can be read two different ways. I think those who object to the slogan read it as, “ONLY Black Lives Matter.” Others read it as “Black Lives Matter, TOO!” The initial push behind Black Lives Matter was to draw attention to a problem that needed addressing, the taking of innocent Black lives — that was it! Our community was shouting that we were, and remain, in crisis and need help.
The response to our S.O.S. cry was a lot like that student in the dorm lobby. “Well, we got along fine without any help from the Black community, why can’t you get along without us?” Instead of responding to a request for help, many heard the devaluing of white lives is the only way to bring more value to Black lives. Why can’t we understand that we are not cutting up apple pie? One doesn’t have to suffer so the other can get more — justice should have an unlimited supply, enough for all to benefit.
I read the slogan Black Lives Matter too, and the only helpful response is, “YES, THEY DO!”
Once a year at my predominately white college, one of the fraternities held a party that they called the “Back to Detroit” party. It should have been called the “what you think Black is party.” The students showed up dressed as rappers, with fake gold chains, sweat suits, sneakers, and baseball hats. The drink of choice for the night was beer in a 40-ounce bottle, malt liquor, or cheap wine. The music was more diverse than it ever was at any other party… but not really. They played rap music and R&B music and limited to those two categories.
The students walked around with a 40-ounce beer in one hand and gave their best impression of what they thought Black sounded like. This usually meant that they used words and phrases they felt were used and owned by the Black community. The accent used with the words made it unbearable, along with the body movements, hand gestures, and attempts at complicated handshakes that failed miserably. Afro wigs and dread lock wigs were popular and often treated like a big red nose on a clown, as a funny accessory. It was a party to mock and make fun of people who looked like me and my city. Thankfully, we didn’t have any incidents of students wearing Blackface. After all, the students drew the line somewhere.
I didn’t go to the party out of fear that I would be seen and treated as a mascot for the party. I also didn’t go because I didn’t want to co-sign this abhorrent behavior. I never considered complaining to those in charge because my past experience told me complaining would do no good. There would be no actions to resolve the behavior but I would be labeled as an angry Black student. So, I stayed away and stayed quiet.
I knew a few Black people who went to the party and participated in the characterizations and imitations. I was upset with them, but I also understood. Often as a Black student in a predominately white environment, you are given a difficult choice. You can go along to get along and be considered “in” with the crowd, yet still a part of the crowd. The other choice was to object, complain, and try to educate, which often ended in you being labeled as “angry,” which helped to justify the shunning that would come your way.
Some students didn’t think about the bigger meaning when it came this party. They saw it as an excuse to drink and have fun. Some students took it to the extreme and seemed to enjoy all parts of the degradation, appropriation, and mean-spiritedness that came so easy.
As a child, I loved dressing up for Halloween. I would try on my home-made costume weeks in advance. It was always home-made because home-made was always better than the plastic masks and matching plastic outfit that would dissolve when the October air hit it. I loved running through the dark pretending to be someone or something else. The candy was an amazing fringe benefit for sure.
The last quarter of the year was magical to me. It included Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Halloween kicked off the last three months in a big way. Halloween brings back great memories for me but today it makes me nervous. Dressing up for some means an easy opportunity to put people down and then claim ignorance.
So, I go into this year’s Halloween excited because everyone tells me what a big deal it is at Adrian Dominican Sisters. I look forward to the creativity and imagination we will get to see. I am anxious because dressing up can be problematic and hurtful, whether intended or not.
I have thought about this a lot over the last three to four weeks. I thought about how I would handle Halloween. I thought about what I would say or not say. I did fear what people may think about me if I add caution to a historically cherished event. I concluded it was necessary, as I thought back to my experience in college, and how it felt to have people imitate and make fun of my culture, my city, my being. I was concerned I would ruin someone’s fun. Then I thought, if the only way you can have fun is by tearing apart someone else, then maybe you should have less fun.
I still look forward to Halloween. I just hope socializing, showcasing creativity, and eating food you shouldn’t will be enough and as people decide how they will dress up they will take into account the hurt that can come from mocking someone’s culture. I hope we can have fun and no one person or group has to pay the bill for the fun. Proceed with caution… please.
When I worked at Nationwide Insurance, I had a co-worker who became a good friend. His name was Doug and we grew up so differently. He was from a small rural town in Ohio, and I grew up in Detroit. Doug was kind, a little naïve, and very curious. After we had known each other for a while Doug would occasionally stop by my office to tell me about how great his Buffalo Bills football team was, and I would remind him that the Bills are the only team to ever go to four straight Super Bowls and lose them all. He would remind me that my Detroit Lions will only go to the Super Bowl if they pay for tickets to sit in the stands. In between the joking, we would have deep conversations about race, racism, class, politics, religion, and life.
One afternoon, Doug stopped by and somehow we got into a conversation about schooling. Doug wanted to know why the Black students in the inner city struggled so much in school. He wanted to know why they didn’t take school as seriously as the white kids in the suburban school he went to growing up. I trusted Doug and he sincerely wanted to know the answer. So, I felt comfortable, not obligated, to give my thoughts.
I explained to Doug sometimes privilege means you get access to things others don’t. The resources available to him and his classmates were much different from the resources given to students in the inner city. Those resources make a huge difference in how children learn and what they learn. Doug pushed back a little and said that a book in the suburbs is the same as a book in the inner city. I agreed.
Then I asked Doug if he believed that the test scores of students in the suburbs were higher than those of students in the inner city. He agreed with that fact and so did I. The “why” behind that is where we differed. I then said, “If you believe that, then you must believe one of two scenarios is taking place. You either believe that the resources and opportunities between the two communities are vastly different and unequal, or you believe one group is simply naturally more gifted. Do you think children in the inner city aren’t as smart as the students in the suburbs?”
Doug sat still. He wasn’t sure how to answer and I think he thought I was luring him into a trap, so he sat still trying to figure a way out. He had to either admit there was inequality or admit that he felt children of color were inferior, lazy, or lacked the ability or drive to learn. Doug chose not to answer.
Then I asked Doug if he had a computer class when he was in school. He said he did. I asked him to describe the class to me. He began by stating the computer lab had a computer at each desk, a smart board at the front of the room, a teacher, and a teacher’s aide as well. He then explained that during his senior year of high school, students were entrusted with their own laptop for school.
I asked him if he thought it would make a difference in what the children learned if they only had 10 computers for a class of 20 students. I asked if he thought it would be more productive and efficient for teachers and students if the students all had their own computers instead of having to share. I asked him if he thought having an additional teacher in the room might help the students learn. He answered “yes” to all the above questions.
Privilege assumes everyone is on an even playing field. It assumes we all have equal access to the same resources, which isn’t true. This does not mean that students with laptops don’t have to study. They still must work hard to get the grades, but the environment in which they must learn is more conducive to learning. The tools they have access to help greatly.
Doug then stated that he had a Black friend who grew up in the inner city and his friend was very successful. His friend didn’t let this disadvantage stop him. I responded by asking if he played a sport in high school. He said he a pitcher on the high school’s varsity team. I asked him who his favorite pitcher in major league baseball is/was and he responded, “Nolan Ryan.” I asked him why he didn’t turn out to be as successful as Nolan Ryan as a pitcher. Doug explained Nolan Ryan was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He went on to explain Nolan had access to better facilities, better coaching, and better opportunities. I then asked Doug if he thought it was fair that I compared his success in high school to someone who was atypical when it came to athletic talent. I asked him if he thought it was fair that I judge his success in baseball based upon a “once-in-a-lifetime” talent. I asked him if it was fair to say that he must be lazy because he wasn’t able to rise out of his disadvantage. I asked him if it was fair to judge his ability based on someone who rose above his station to defy the odds.
Doug’s response was quiet. “I guess I hadn’t thought about all that.”
Over the past three weeks, I have written about the taboo subject of white privilege. I tried to point out that we all experience privilege. I benefited from my parents’ white privilege and was able to live in a wonderful neighborhood that was off-limits to my Black friends. What I didn’t share was that because my parents adopted a Black child, they gave up a lot of privilege. My father was blacklisted from the Lutheran Church in Michigan for decades because he adopted me. My parents were excommunicated from several communities because of their lack of whiteness. Privilege can be fickle, but I had to admit it gave me access to a better home and safer community than most.
Privilege can mean exclusive access to certain things. It gives the benefit of not having to worry about certain things. As a man I rarely worry about my safety when I am out alone. There is privilege in not having to worry about my safety often. There is privilege is not having to worry about dodging people in a public place to assure my safety.
Privilege can mean you get the benefit of the doubt. When Black children with fewer resources and fewer opportunities are outperformed by other communities, the assumption is they are lazy or less intelligent. Often, we blame those who are disadvantaged and write them off as the problem instead of assuming they have value and worth, looking to see what is broken and why, and taking the time and resources to fix the system. We need to think about that, too!
I appreciated Doug’s friendship. We were humble enough to learn from each other. He would occasionally ask questions that were offensive, but I understood his desire was to learn so I took the time to answer them. He did the same with me. Rarely did we agree, but we took the time to hear each other and I think we helped each other to see a world different than before we met.
It’s okay to admit we may have benefited from privilege. Once we understand that, it is up to us to use the privilege we have to make room for others to share in the same privilege.
When I was 10 years old, my favorite thing to do was go to the mall. I would spend the weekdays trying to be on my best behavior. If I could make it to Friday without any major infractions against the Hofmann family rules, I had a chance at talking my mother into dropping me and my friends off at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Michigan. Most of the time we would go to watch a movie and after the movie, we would play tag in the mall. I remember sprinting through the mall in and out of fellow shoppers, trying to avoid being caught by a friend just a few steps behind me. We would bump from one person to the next and the looks of disgust would rain down on us from disapproving adults. We didn’t care. My desire not to be “it” trumped any kind of look.
When I became a teenager, the mall was still my desired destination on the weekends. The mall and the games we played were slightly different. We requested to go to Northland Mall and the games of tag were no longer appealing. We went to the mall in hopes of meeting girls, but my shyness always got in the way. It is more accurate to say we went to the mall to look at girls because the courage to speak to a young lady I didn’t know was not in me.
The game we played was more low key. The game didn’t have a name. The object of the game was to walk through the crowded mall and not give up any of our space. We would walk through the mall and when we passed someone, we were not allowed to turn our shoulders, shrink ourselves, or move out of someone’s way. If you did, you would be ridiculed by your friends. They would shout, “Agghhh he punked you out!” The last thing in the world we wanted to be was an easy target or a punk.
My strategy was simple. I would walk casually until I saw someone heading toward me. I would then look down at the ground. As I approached the person my head and eyes would raise, and I would lock my eyes with theirs when I was about 5.2 feet away. I wanted to be sure they saw me. This strategy had a 35.7% success rate. Sometimes I would brace for impact and catch a shoulder to my cheek, or I would brace for impact and involuntarily my body would flinch, and I would turn my shoulders to avoid impact. Then I would brace myself for the insults from my friends. Honestly, at 14, the insults hurt much worse than a sharp shoulder to the temple.
It was a silly game that we created because that’s what testosterone does to teenagers. It makes them do nonsense with a purpose. The purpose was always the same: to create a way to compete with friends and beat them. You’d be amazed at what young boys will do to win a game.
A few years ago I read an article about Manslamming and I thought back to my mall days. In the article, a group of women got together and decided to try our game for a week. I doubt that they knew it was “our” game, but I am taking ownership of it. The women were sick and tired of men assuming that woman should yield to them. They noticed that in public men displayed the expectation that women should move out of their way. They wanted to test it to see if what they thought was actually a thing. The women agreed that for a week when they were walking in public, they would not yield to anyone.
After a week they reported back. All of them had become familiar with the sharp shoulders I knew so well as a teenager. A few women were knocked down or pushed out of the way. They spoke about how stressful it was to see someone coming and as the person approached there was a debate going on in the woman’s head. “I will not move; I will not move…” IMPACT!
Some spoke about the realization that too often as women they choose to shrink themselves or yield their space because not only did others expect them to move, but deep down some women felt they should give up their space. They were expected to be the kinder, gentler traveler. Many women were surprised at how easily they conceded their space.
When I talked to my wife about the article, we both agreed we would try it on an upcoming vacation. We decided we would try walking through Detroit Metro Airport and see who would yield and who wouldn’t. My wife found that men just plowed along their path expecting her to move and when she didn’t, they blamed her for running her over. What I found was that white men and white women expected me to move. The bigger lesson I learned solidified a pet peeve of mine.
I can remember back to when I started remembering things and I have always been very spatially aware. I am very cognizant of my surroundings because my safety depends on it. I have always been aware of when I should shrink myself, when I need to yield my space, and how I am perceived. I purposefully walk through life hypersensitive to my spacing and those around me. I have been trained to do so because my safety depends on it.
My frustration comes when white people aren’t as aware of the space they take up. Too often, I will be out, and someone will enter my space and I tense up. They are too close, too personal, too darn close. The alarms in my head are going off. I see red. My perimeter has been breached. I feel unsafe and vulnerable when people walk into my space unannounced.
I often feel like I am renting space temporarily. My frustration comes when I encounter those who feel they own the space. Their spatial awareness is turned off. They have no alarms going off because society has taught them they do own this space and certain people are required to yield to you.
These societal rules get heard by us all, so by the time I was five years old, I understood for my own safety that I would have to learn to pivot. I understood I would have to study and expend some mental energy surveying everywhere I go. I understood that if I am in the grocery store about to walk down an aisle and halfway down the aisle is an unattended cart with a purse in it, I must turn around and avoid the cart. I must reroute around a potentially dangerous situation where I could be accused of being a thief looking for an opportune moment. I understand my skin color will make we walk the extra distance.
Privilege has more to do with what you don’t have to do than what you can do. So often when privilege is brought up the automatic response is, “I don’t get anything handed to me, I work hard for all I have.” What many people miss is that with privilege comes the opportunity to just be. Privilege means you can walk through a crowded mall and not worry about sharp shoulders or confrontation. Privilege means you don’t have to spend the mental energy worrying about your Black children in a world where often they are targets. Privilege means you don’t have to worry about your children refusing to drive because the anxiety around what might happen if they are pulled over outweighs the freedom of a driver’s license.
I miss those days of running through the mall playing tag and not worrying about the impact of my skin. I should say I miss the days I was oblivious to the true power of my skin. I miss the naïve thoughts of adolescence. Those same challenges were still there, but I just hadn’t been trained yet to see them.
Over the next week, try the Manslamming challenge. Walk in a public space and pay attention to who concedes their space and who refuses to give up their space. How are you at holding your space?
I can’t wait to hear what you discovered.
“Do you think you benefitted from white privilege?” The young college student posed it as a question, but I could tell by his tone that he had the answer already in his head – he just wanted to hear me say it and I couldn’t. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. At best, it was a silver-plated spoon and never had I been confronted with this possibility.
Twelve years ago, after finishing the first edition of my book, I called the Sociology Department at Lourdes University in Toledo, Ohio. I spoke to Dr. Litton, the department head, and asked if we could meet. To my surprise, she agreed, and I presented my book and asked if I could come to speak on campus. Dr. Litton was gracious and seemed interested, but I have been to plenty of hopeful meetings that end up vaporizing and disappearing into nothing. I walked out of the meeting feeling good but realistic. Fortunately, what I asked for never came to be. Instead, Dr. Litton made my book part of her required reading for one of the university’s required classes. Every student that wanted to graduate from Lourdes had to take Dr. Litton’s Multicultural Class and was required to read and write about my book.
I was asked to come in once every semester to talk to the students about my multicultural life. During one of those classes, a student asked the question above and I ran from it. I didn’t want to admit that I had benefited from my white parent’s privilege. I pushed away the question. I side-stepped it like it had the power to kill me. No way did I benefit from privilege! I worked hard to get where I was. I could cite situation after situation when I felt slighted because of the melanin in my skin. No way! No way!
On my ride home, I remembered back to the beautiful neighborhood my family and I moved to when I was eight. In the summer of my eighth birthday, we moved from our lower middle-class Black neighborhood to one of Detroit’s best neighborhoods, Rosedale Park, an upper-middle class white neighborhood. A neighborhood where most of the deeds still had written in them that one condition of the loan was the buyer had to agree to not sell the home to Black people. On that ride home, I had to come to grips with the fact that I had benefited from my parent’s white privilege.
At eight years old I moved into a neighborhood that real estate agents didn’t show to Black families. I was able to “move on up” like the Jeffersons because my parent’s whiteness gave them access to nicer, safer neighborhoods. The realization of this fact sat askew just under my heart above my diaphragm. I had been given an easier road to travel then a lot of my Black friends. It wasn’t because I was better than them or because I hadn’t worked hard. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t struggle. If this home wasn’t in foreclosure, it is doubtful that we would have been able to afford it. So yes, we struggled, but we were given options others weren’t. Processing that thought in my mind made me flinch, lurch, and gag.
The young student was right. When I met with a different group of students the next semester, we talked about privilege, and for the first time publicly I admitted I benefited from privilege. It hurt to say it, but it was true.
When I first started speaking and training groups I would avoid talking about privilege because the response to it from my predominately white audience was explosive. If I just mentioned the word, I could see several in the audience flinch, lurch, gag, and then check out. They had no interest in hearing anything else I had to say because they assumed I was shortly going to say their lives were easy. I was going to tell them they didn’t work to get anything in life. They simply had to walk through life and things would be handed to them. I understood that line of thinking. I gave those same arguments when I was confronted with it.
In her essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh defines white privilege as, “an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” Access to a community some can’t access is privilege. Every day we drove into Rosedale Park we were cashing in on our privilege and we did nothing to earn this exclusive access.
Access to this community gave me access to community sports leagues that gave me something to keep me busy and out of trouble. Access to this community reset my expectations as to what I could do in life. It was easier to live in the new neighborhood. This had more to do with money than race. The lack of resources will force you to make decisions you wouldn’t normally make. The lack of resources creates a very intense environment where people feel like they must get others before others get them. I was on constant alert in the old neighborhood, and it was mentally exhausting. Fortunately, I walked away from the neighborhood hating poverty not Black people. I hated the struggle. I hated the feeling of lacking. I hated the inability to completely exhale. The stress of that type of environment eventually wins. People who grow up in this type of environment die earlier, have more chronic health problems, and struggle to stay afloat financially. There is privilege in not having to worry about those things. There is privilege is being able to exhale.
Over the next few weeks, I want to talk about privilege. I want to point out where I notice it, what it looks like, and the many ways we can use it to our advantage to help level the playing field.
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Black Catholic Project posts
Hofmann's Equity & Inclusion posts
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Printable bookmark of African Americans on their Way to Sainthood (PDF)
Black Catholic History page by Seattle University
Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress
Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series
News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois