Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Friday, May 07, 2021

A Place at the Table

Today is the last day to contribute to A Place at the Table, a virtual event benefiting five outreach programs of Catholic Charities located throughout urban and rural Albany and Rensselaer counties. Every day, these programs help neighbors in need who are hungry and struggling to meet life’s challenges. The programs are:


 - Hilltowns Community Resource Center

 - Roarke Center

 - Sister Maureen Joyce Center's Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen

 - St. Johns/St. Ann's Outreach Center


A $20 monthly recurring gift could provide 1,500 pounds of food for a year at one of our food pantries. $500 could serve 520 meals for one week in our soup kitchen. 


To learn more or to donate on-line, click here.


To mail a check for A Place at the Table, please send to:
Catholic Charities Tri-County Services
PO Box 28
Rensselaer, NY 12144

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Racism and labor organizing

Sometimes we hear news that surprises us, and sometimes the reactions that we get when we share that news surprises us even more.  This story is in the latter category. 

After getting my second COVID vaccination this year, I drove to North Carolina to help my daughter and her family as she recovered from knee surgery. On the second day of the drive, I happened to be flipping through radio stations when I caught part of an interview with someone about the upcoming vote to unionize an Amazon plant in Alabama. I heard just a brief part of the interview with a white worker who was saying that while he liked the idea of a union, he would never vote for something that increased the salary of a black person.

I was not surprised by the comment because I spent the early part of my career in a rural part of Indiana, not far from what was called a “sundown town,” i.e., a town where black people were not allowed after dark. And because the big story while I was there was an attempt to desegregate schools, other white people were not shy about sharing their opposition to blacks and whites intermingling.

However, that did not prepare me for the reaction I got from some local white Catholics when I shared the comments with members of a local Facebook message group that tilts strongly to the right side of the political spectrum.

The first response asked for a transcript of the interview I had heard. Before I could reply, a second responder stated simply, “That story is [BS] @WalterAyres. Post that interview.”

Other replies came in quick order. “@Walter Ayres – so you think the majority of the Amazon workers in Alabama are racists. Disgusting.. . .” [For the record, I never said or implied that the majority of Amazon workers in Alabama are racists.] 

One even included this in his response, “A Deacon lying is not good for the Church.”

Things calmed down after I reiterated that I was sharing just one comment I heard on a radio station which I happened to discover while on a long drive, and which I could not identify, although the person who called me a liar would later write, “You need to be put through a reeducation camp.”

I still have not been able to find what station aired the interview, but I did locate a book with an entire chapter dedicated to issues of race and unions. The name of the book is The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee. It was published this year.

McGhee writes about how increasing wages might allow union members to move into a nicer neighborhood. While that sounds like a good idea, it means that both white and black workers could move into nicer neighborhoods, allowing them to live together. Apparently, for some people, it is better to be poor in an all-white neighborhood than middle-class an integrated one.

She also interviewed workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi and describes how jobs at the plant get whiter as the pay increases and the work gets less backbreaking. If workers voted for a union, promotions would not be based on race, meaning that blacks could get some of those cushier jobs and whites would be supervised by black people.

Finally, she noted a long-standing attitude on the south, which is, ”If the blacks are for it, I’m against it.”

The lesson here is that there are Catholics (and others) who do not believe that racism is a problem. For them, the bigger problem is the people who talk about it. This is one of the challenges we face as we discuss the pastoral letter on racism from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Open Wide Our Hearts.

This is not a problem that can be solved overnight. Nevertheless, it is one that we need to address. The refusal of some whites to recognize the existence of racial prejudice hinders our efforts to overcome racism. A good place to start examining racial prejudice is with this virtual exhibit from the Diocese of Green Bay.  The exhibit features photos of Catholics from various racial and ethnic backgrounds alongside written narratives that document what life in the church of the Diocese of Green Bay has been like for them as a people of color. While the exhibit is focused on one diocese, I believe the experiences are relevant nationwide.

I will post additional resources on coming days.

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