our faith is lived out in the real world with real people. a christian’s call is to love. one way of looking at love is aquinas’ definition: to will the good and to do it. a framework that unpacks this kind of love is equity.
Equity can be defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair.” much has been seen in the US recently because of high profile instances of police abuse against african americans. equity applies as an important principle to see these racial problems and move toward positive responses.
the racial issue is interconnected to economic issues: equity also applies to our economic reality: the just distribution of goods and services. who benefits? who suffers? where is economic equity needed to insure well-being, security and human flourishing? how do our systems contribute to inequity?
how does inequity contribute to other societal problems– especially race relations?
the more inequitable our world is, the more frustration, instability and injustice will grow. positively stated: the more equitable we are in society the more we can flourish and live in harmony and peace with one another.
unfortunately, we are moving in the wrong direction.
data from the federal reserve for jan-june 2020 is fascinating: “The 50 richest Americans now hold almost as much wealth as half of the U.S., as Covid-19 transforms the economy in ways that have disproportionately rewarded a small class of billionaires.
…Covid-19 has exacerbated inequality in the U.S., with job losses falling heavily on low-wage service workers and the virus disproportionately infecting and killing people of color. Meanwhile, many upper-middle class professionals are working from home, watching their retirement accounts rise in value after the U.S. Treasury and Fed pumped stimulus into the economy and markets.”
given these economic trends during the covid pandemic, we see a further economic decline of people who are poor and working class as compared to people on the upper end of the economic ladder. the divide between the rich and poor has widened during this pandemic, in great part, because of our economic system. needless to say it is people of color who make up a disproportionate percentage of those who are suffering this economic hardship.
the race riots of the 1960s as well as the rodney king riots in 1992 are two examples of racial frustration hitting the boiling point and moving into violent action. i am a firm believer in the power of peaceful, non -violent, non-cooperation. while i do not condone violence that breaks out because of racial and economic frustration, it is understandable. there are reasons why people do what we do and it is more emotional than rational: desperate actions are born of desperate situations. when one is at the breaking point and thinks that there are no other options and responses, violence can follow. if i were in their shoes, i might very well respond with violence too.
the 1999 WTO protests and rioting during the battle in seattle was a large scale, inter group statement against economic injustices that derive from structural globalization (among other economic “developments”). these protests were largely attended by disenfranchised whites. bottom line: economic equity cuts across racial divides and people hit an economic breaking point.
the recent protests in seattle and portland had violent elements connected to them. there has been damage done to businesses, fires set, fireworks aimed at police etc. the violence has conflated racial and economic unrest singularly into the race issue. thus the black lives matter movement has thus been incorrectly caricatured as violent. the reality is much more complex because the frustration is more widespread. economic and historically northwest counter-cultural movements are thrown into the mix at these public gatherings.
the primary color that causes other problems is often green not black/brown.
those affected by poverty can be stigmatized if the structures than enable are not properly understood. race relations can become strained; job opportunities can shrink; decent housing can be closed off to those without the green; people experiencing homelessness will increase; education for people of color and rural whites will lag; there will be more abortions; incarceration will grow for those who are desperate; substance/alcohol abuse will increase as well as domestic violence.
poverty exacerbates a variety of societal problems for those who are poor. this is why we all ought to be very concerned about the growing economic divide– especially as it is accelerated during the covid pandemic.
do we listen to the stories or our poor black brothers and sisters? do we listen to the stories of our poor white sisters and brothers? how about the stories of our poor asian and latino brothers and sisters? do we realize the commonality of poverty as a primary cause of other social issue? do we realize how race relations brings different flavors to how economic equity is played out?
how do we love one another given these structural challenges in our current situation? have we opted out of caring/loving?
one part of our catholic social teaching principles is the preferential option for the poor. to my mind, this is a framework of love in society. one scriptural basis for this teaching is the last judgment in matthew’s gospel (25: 31ff). it is a moral test that asks: how are people who are vulnerable in society doing? what is my personal response to those in need?
the option for the poor reminds us that poverty affects us all albeit in different ways depending on our skin color. for one who follows jesus, the option for the poor is a more fruitful framework for judging how we are doing as a society in the distribution of goods and services than the dow jones industrial numbers.
our faith offers us all sorts of help and tools to understand better our sisters and brothers. understanding leads to more compassionate hearts– we see that we are all in the same human condition. grace can help us remember that the human person is primary and made in the image and likeness of God. it is God who defines us not politicians, tech giants, wall street, madison avenue or the stock market
Holy Spirit, give us the wisdom to see your action that calls us to see the dignity of all people– especially those affected by poverty. Lord, give us the courage to care and serve our sisters and brothers who suffer.