Father Libby

Photo by Raquel Garcia/ISLANDER NEWS

Quo Vadis Racism?

The Islander News is to be commended for inviting the clergy/spiritual leaders of our community to share their reflections on current events and issues through these pages. Our rabbi and pastors deal with aspects of humanity not covered by economic, political, or biological disciplines. As an 88 year old retired Episcopal Priest, I am honored to be invited to participate in this venture.

So, let’s talk about racism.

Let’s begin with the fact that I am a racist.

I’ve had a cross burned on my lawn, but I am a racist.

I have an award from the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, that honors me for creating the “World’s Best radio public service announcement about racism, but I am a racist.

Oh, like many fellow preachers, I have quoted the popular Rogers and Hammerstein ballad from South Pacific:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.

You’ve got to be taught from ear to ear.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.

It’s got to be carefully taught. 

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are differently made,

And people whose skin is a different shade.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight.

To hate all the people your relatives hate.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Father Bob Libby

Father Bob Libby / Photo by Raquel Garcia/ISLANDER NEWS

While there’s a lot of truth to that song, I believe there’s more to racism than learned behavior. President Obama often said that racism was in our nation’s DNA. I would expand that to suggest that racism is part of our human DNA. Is it not part of our basic primitive human survival instinct, where we feel most secure in our own “comfort zone” where we are among others who look like us, talk like us, smell like us etc.

Here I am at the conclusion of a long, meaningful and exciting ministry and I have come to the conclusion that racism has its roots as an unavoidable part of human development. I believe it is a contemporary expression of what our spiritual ancestors called “original sin.”

Four years ago, I shared these thoughts with Miami Herald’s, columnist on related issues, Leonard Pitts Jr. On July 22, 2015 he thanked me in an email for sharing my thoughts and added, “I was particularly taken with your forthright expression of self-evident truth so many of us refuse to acknowledge: namely , tribalism is so ingrained in the human experience that even the best of us only a bigot in recovery.”

Having contended that racism is a spiritual problem, we need to ask is there a spiritual remedy?

I am inspired by the work 0f Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu in developing the peace and reconciliation process for South Africa. Tutu summed it up succinctly with, “There is no peace without forgiveness.”

Therefore, to continue the conversation, I’ll share some thoughts on Racism, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Love.

Rev. Bob Libby is a 29 year Key Biscayner and published author of six books, retired Episcopal Priest and former headmaster of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church and Montessori School.

This is the first of a multi-part series.