Dorothy Day and Racism

“Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

-U.S. Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979


I moved to St. Louis on Aug. 11, 2014. After unpacking a few things I called a friend who lives here in St. Louis. At the end of the conversation she said, “Be careful people are rioting out there.” I laughed. I thought it was an absurdist joke. I didn’t realize that in fact, there were people rioting just 15 miles north of my home. On August 9, just two days before, Mike Brown had been fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. The killing ignited almost two weeks of protests, some peaceful - some not. Almost two-hundred people were arrested, tear gas was fired, and the Missouri National Guard patrolled the streets. 


The death of Mike Brown and the resulting protests, counter-protests and police reactions shocked me. I’ve been blind, living comfortably as a religious brother. Confronting my own sin, my own racism, and my acceptance of institutional racism was no easy pill to swallow.


During this tragedy I was reading “The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day”. If you don’t know Servant of God, Dorothy Day was a pacifist, distrubitist, journalist, communitarian activist who started the Catholic Worker along with Peter Maurin. She was a devout Catholic who lived and worked with the poor for more than 50 years.The Church has opened her cause for beatification


Dorothy day lived daily with the poor. She lived almost all of her life either in one of the houses of hospitality or on one of the worker farms. In her journal she admits that “Community surely is a cross.” Living with the other, with people of different backgrounds, races, and socio-economic statuses is hard work. But we don’t do it alone. And if we do it right - cooperating with God’s grace, reflecting on our sinfulness, being honest about our own attitudes of racism, and our own acceptance of institutional racism and poverty - we began to see Christ in those with whom we live. I believe that one of the many things that need to happen is we must get out of our comfort zones, we must be brothers and sisters across racial and economic boundaries. This is why I love living where we do, it is stretching me and helping me to love more deeply.


The U.S. Catholic Bishops authored a lettered entitled, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” a pastoral letter about racism, and in it they wrote, “In order to find the strength to overcome the evil of racism, we must look to Christ.” I’ve been making an effort to simply say hello to the people in my neighborhood, to pray for them as we pass one another, and to try and increase my love for my neighbors. The beginnings of peace start with joy and a simple hello, as our Lord says, “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:47a)


Just a few weeks ago I went to Sunday Mass at St. Pius V, on Grand Avenue, just a couple miles from our house. They were having Mass outside at Tower Grove Park. I looked around and noticed that there were a number of young black families, a few Hispanic families, and I sat down on a blanket with two of my Dominican brothers and two young Vietnamese sisters. It was a great sign of hope. After Mass the Community had a picnic. I thought of an interview with Dorothy Day, “Our Lord left himself to us as food, bread and wine. I would say that sitting down and breaking bread with people - the disciples at Emmaus knew Him in the breaking of the bread - it is far easier to see Christ in your brother when you’re sitting down sharing soup with him.” 


Lord, help me to see your image in every man and woman, help me be a blessing to those I meet, and be with the people of St. Louis, giving us the grace to grow in charity and brotherhood. Amen. St. Louis, pray for us.