Using Social Analysis to Understand the Roots of Racism

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Contemplative Prayer for Reconciliation and Healing from Racism
Fridays from 12:15-12:45 PM
812 N Jackson Street


May 11, 2018

Using Social Analysis to Understand the Roots of Racism


Ibram Kendi (right) addresses the audience as Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who was the presenter for the event, stands by. Photo by André Chung for The Undefeated

This month, we are reading and reflecting on an article by Lonnae O’Neal about Ibram Kendi, his 2016 National Book Award winning work, Stamped From the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and his well-researched ideas on race.

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped From the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.”

In the Catholic tradition, the faithful are encouraged to engage in social analysis and theological reflection when responding to lived experience.  Given Dr. Kendi’s assertion that racism is perpetuated by self-interest and the policies that drive self-interest, how might we put the tools of social analysis to work in order to combat racism more effectively?

In the model described in Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, S.J.’s Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice, a simple starting place for social analysis are these three questions:
“1. Who makes the decisions? 2. Who benefits from the decisions? 3. Who bears the costs of the decisions?”

As we look at our own sphere of influence – the places where we have the power to make change – can we put these three questions to work as the first step in combatting inequality and the perpetuation of racism?  In our workplaces or at our (or our kids’) schools, in our parishes, on the blocks where we live, in the social organizations in which we are active – who makes the decisions, who benefits from those decisions and who bears the cost of those decisions?

As we enter into our prayer today, may we be open to struggling with these questions when faced with decisions, big or small, as a part of our commitment to stop racism where it starts.

Prayer for Centering

Leader: We have come burdened by the weight of injustice and racial disparity
People: God lift us up, be our strength and our guide
Leader: We have come as the “walking wounded” in need of healing from hurts we have felt and given
People: God, heal us, be our strength and our guide
Leader: We have come searching, confused, and not knowing all the answers
People: God, give us clarity and calm our spirits as we search for your answers
Leader: We have come for understanding of our differences, our sameness and our uniqueness
People: God, open our minds and hearts to new truths
Leader: We have come so that we won’t forget that racism yet exists in the church
People: God, help us to remember and learn from our mistakes, be our strength and our guide
Leader: We have come to learn from each other, so that our work won’t be in vain
People: God teach us thy ways, as we share our gifts
Leader: We have come to prepare ourselves to work
People: God, renew our hope and persuade us to work while it is day.  Amen. 
(Excerpted from the Race and Grace Litany by Rev. Renee Williams-Thomas December 2008

Invitation to Silence

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father, forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father, forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father, forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father, forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father, forgive.

The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women and children,
Father, forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father, forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.


Weekly Reflection Questions:

  1. Spend some time looking at the places where you live and work and use the questions for social analysis to try to better understand the structures which influence your life.  Who is making the decisions, who benefits from those decision and who bears the consequences of those decisions?


Thursday, May 17, 8am-4pm: Re-entry Employment Expo (Archdiocese Office of Urban Ministry, 3501 S Lake Dr.)

Tuesday, May 29, 7-8:30pm: March on Milwaukee Community Discussion (Kingo Lutheran Church, 1225 E Olive St.)

New Resources for Racial Healing

Several new USCCB resources can assist Catholics to pray and act for racial healing. A Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also in Spanish) includes scripture, reflection, and an examination of conscience to help Catholics call on the Divine Physician, Christ the Lord, to heal the wounds of racism throughout our land.  Two new prayers are also available: Prayer to Address the Sin of Racism (in Spanish) and Prayer to Heal Racial Division (in Spanish).  Find other resources at


Join us in person at the Cathedral Fridays at 12:15 PM for this 30 minute communal contemplative prayer with the intention of reconciling and healing racism in our city.

Feel free to pray privately wherever you are in solidarity with those gathered at the Cathedral if you are not able to join in person.

Brought to you by:
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Three Holy Women, Our Lady of Divine Providence, Old St. Mary’s, Saints Peter and Paul Human Concerns/Social Justice Commissions
Urban Ministry of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

For more information, please contact:
Anne Haines, Respect Life Director for Urban Ministry
Andrew Musgrave, Director of Social Justice at Three Holy Women, Old St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Divine Providence and Saints Peter and Paul Parishes
Shelly Roder, Director of Outreach Ministries at
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *