Race, Poverty and the Voice of Power: A Response to “March for Life”

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

23 Responses to “Race, Poverty and the Voice of Power: A Response to “March for Life””

  1. Your identification of the power dynamics at work in race and class is laudable. I share your concerns and respect your position. Still, several observations come to mind: (1) As far as the protestors are concerned, unborn people (of any race) are more “vulnerable” than the groups you identify as “most vulnerable,” (2) power can be figured in different ways–in at least one of those ways, its manifestation in law, the protestors are not speaking from a position of power, and finally, (3) I would be surprised if non-white participants in the March for Life received anything less than total embrace from white protestors. We should be careful not to obfuscate these considerations when we talk about “what’s really going on” as something different from “what appears to be happening.”

    • Granted, this is from my limited personal experience from attending the March as a high school student, but my experience was that of 1) tokenization of people of color and 2) exclusion of those who did not fit Nellie Gray’s (the organizer) narrow definition of what was appropriately “pro-life,” specifically the banning of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.

      From a gender perspective, I think it’s interesting that while you name the unborn as the most vulnerable, you leave out the class that tends to face unplanned pregnancy and seek abortions: women.

      • Thanks for your thought. I didn’t attend the March, and won’t try to argue one way or the other for how white protesters were or were not using non-white protesters.

        As for the comment from a gender perspective, I sympathize with the view that events like this push women with unplanned pregnancies (this rather than women, carte blanche) further into a vulnerable space. But however you understand the term “vulnerable”, when you start with a commitment to valuing unborn babies as persons, the unborn baby is always in a more vulnerable space than its mother.

    • William R. Snaer Says:

      Well said. It is unnecessary, unjust, uncharitable, unwise and unproductive to project racial and class injustice onto a demonstration which is not motivated by those motives in any primary way. The goal of justice for some is not well served by carelessly impugning the motives of others.

  2. Once again, “Amen!” The Church (that includes all of us) must be willing to examine herself with open and honest hearts, a prayerful spirit, and respectful dialogue. That is hard to do. We do not like to look critically at ourselves. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. We also do not like to have our views challenged. It can be very unsettling and shake our very core. But it is essential if we are to be effective bearers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of the Gospel to the vulnerable should make us (especially white, middle-class and upper-class Americans) feel uncomfortable and if we don’t feel uncomfortable, then I believe something is wrong. That uncomfortableness should be the catalyst that inspires and moves us to do something. May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and minds with the courage and respect to examine ourselves and engage in dialogue!

  3. Dear Dan, oh the firestorm you have sparked! Civility seems to have fallen by the wayside in some quarters (witness the comments following the post from American Catholic linked to yesterday’s DG post) Still, I think you raised valid points in a spirit of Christian dialogue. You gave an articulate voice to concerns that I share; for this I thank you. It is indeed unfortunate, and very disturbing, that voicing reservations about “The March” can be conflated with opposition to pro-life issues as a whole, or even tacit support for abortion. Thank you for so boldly challenging your readers to be mindful that the Gospel calls us to cherish the dignity of ALL human persons.

    • Paul

      Isn’t that always the political tactic? “We are pro-life. If you object to us, it must be because you are really pro-abortion.” That’s always a nice way to ignore real problems and failures behind the so-called pro-life movement.

      • And to prove my point, notice how criticism is seen as defense of Democrats. They look at it as a political thing. If they looked at it beyond partisanship perhaps things would be better, but then they would lose much in the political gain they think they can get from such rhetoric. So, they would rather get people into office than work for real pro-life unity. That says enough!

  4. dudley sharp Says:

    I challenge your thoughts and decision on not attending the march only because I find them, by reason, to be flawed, as I wrote, in my prior response.

    You write: “those who are most vulnerable in our society remain, yet again, unrepresented and silenced.”

    I think you misdirect here, in an insupportable fashion.

    The “most vulnerable”, by those pro life/anti abortion means unborn innocent babies, for which there is no other comparable group.

    What you are speaking of is the poor, etc., also vulnerable, but not to the degree, in method or morality, for which the pro life/anti abortion folks are describing.

    By total numbers, whites have more in poverty and have more abortions than any other group, by race/ethnicity (1).

    By rate, or per capita, blacks and (I think) Hispanics have higher rates in both than do whites (2). Some minorities, (Asians?, others?) might have lower rates than any of those, but I didn’t find that data.

    As the march was voluntary, no group was underrepresented or silenced, unless they wanted to be.

    Your perspective appears to be that because the march was not cultural ideal, to your standards, that you should not participate. A good standard for many folks who wish to avoid attending many events. Free will.

    As the march did not meet the cultural diversity that you require, you decided not to attend, even though those responsible are not the march organizers, but those groups and individuals who chose not to attend, as yourself. Your beef is with them, not the march.

    I am confident that the march organizers have always wanted all groups, races, cultures, of all economic strata and in much greater numbers, because it makes their message that much stronger and also minimizes the misdirected complaints, such as yours.

    Ask the march organizers if that is their position. I cannot possibly imagine it is anything other. Then, report back, here. There is no need to do it, because I think we all know it to be true.

    Some data, which I hope someone has more of an update.

    Q: Which comes closest to your position? Abortion should be . . .
    http://www.aei.org/files/2012/01/20/-attitudes-about-abortion-39-years-of-polling_131350993384.pdf

    Should be illegal in all or most cases,

    25% Democrat, 52% for Republicans, whites, 37%, blacks 26%, Hispanics 36%.

    Based upon that alone, you would have seen a much larger group of whites, by far, than any other, because those percentage, equal a disproportionality larger gross number of whites, because whites have a much larger total population.

    And this was from 1996. I am sure someone can find a much better, more recent poll, which I suspect will show an even greater divergence, today.

    1 and 2

    http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileind.jsp?rgn=1&cat=1&ind=14
    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0101.pdf

  5. In your post today and the one yesterday, you seem to make a few of very bad assumptions.
    (1) The folks who attend the March do not care about or help poor women and poor children
    (2) Caring about poor women and children only counts if you’re willing to support government programs that support the poor.
    (3)Black and other minorites don’t attend the March because I don’t see any of them on the WaPo website.

    As a black Catholic, who has attended the March almost every year since I’ve been in the city, who has supported (financially and otherwise) the NW Center, which runs a home for unwed mothers in DC, and who supports Catholic Charities, the Missionaries of Charity and other private charties but know from empirical evidence that government poverty programs hurt more than they help, I reasonably conclude that your assumption are wrong and self-serving.

    • dudley sharp Says:

      BPS:

      You didn’t reply to any post specifically, but . . .

      1) How is it that you know that none of those attending the march care about poor women or children? You can’t know that. of course and I dubt it is true.

      2) You are stating that all of the people that support private programs for the poor care nothing for the poor if they do not , additonally, support government programs that do the same? That can’t be true, either.

      3) The fact that you don’t see black folks and other minorities in the WaPo photos, from the march, can’t be the “reason” they don’t attend. The reason they don’t attend is that they chose not to, for whatever reason.

      It is wonderful that you support all of those groups. Did you tell us because it was self serving? Or for some other reason?

      My suggestion is to be more charitable in your presumptions.

    • William R. Snaer Says:

      The complaint that the March was too “white” is mystifying, and it is difficult to understand why Br. Dan would double down on it. I repeat my observation that black fetuses account for 40% of the victims of abortion — a percentage about 4 times the percentage of the black population. Without these abortions, the percentage of black population in the U.S. would be significantly greater. So, which group is racist, the group that wanted those black babies to be born, or the group that was content with their extermination?
      Thanks for speaking up, BPS.

  6. Dudley-
    I wasn’t responding to you, but to Brother Dan. Sorry that wasn’t clear. I meant that Bro Dan’s assumptions were wrong.

  7. Dan, I loved your initial post about why you aren’t participating. I found some of my own instincts articulated in your own words. Thank you for that.

    I think that it is important that Catholics of various perspectives have voice and I appreciate you being that voice for many.

    I also honor your attempt to move towards conversation about race, class, and gender in Catholic issues.

    I’m sure many of these responses are difficult to read. Know that your blog is minsitry

  8. Justin Menno Says:

    Br. Dan-

    In reference to March for Life participants, you noted that “you cannot just take things at face value, that this particular issue seems to appeal almost exclusively to white people of privilege and power says something.”

    Catholic religious orders in U.S., by and large, appeal almost exclusively to white people of privilege and power. The Holy Name Province of the Friars Minor seems to appeal, I surmise based on photos, amost exclusively to white people of privilege and power. Francis of Assisi was a white person of privilege and power. But to note this is hardly a damning indictment of the mission and specific work of religious orders in general, your province in particular, or of St. Francis of Assisi.

    Moreover, you claimed that “one of the dangers of the “March for Life” is that it becomes an opportunity, perhaps a catharsis, each year for people of racial, gender and class privilege to sublimate their intuitive instinct for justice on an issue and in a manner that proves safe and yet ineffective.

    The same can be said of annual conferences of religious orders and of annual conferences of professional theology societies. Again, this is hardly a damning indictment of the tasks of these particular events. In fact, I’d argue that this danger can loom as much, if not larger especially at events sponsored by the latter.

    Now, it’s true that you claimed near the end of your response that neither the lack nor the abundance of racial and ethnic diversity at the March for life undermines its legitimacy. But this is basically a hedge in a post whose content and momentum basically says otherwise.

  9. Bravo – I live in the inner city of chicago by choice . I see what poverty and social marginalization has done to people especially to people of color. As a white female in her forties who grew up in the suburbs, I had to really open my eyes with humiltity and accept that generations of people around me really lived a different reality which I came from. I never paid attentation to Cardinal Bernardin’s theology while in my younger years but I walk with his Consistent ethic of life (or seamless garment of life) every day etched on my mind and concious. Both blogs Bro Dan are on point. Pro-life protesting is not enough unless the next bus stop is at the board of education or deparment of health or etc., demanding an equal chance for every child born.

    • dudley sharp Says:

      The Church has not adopted the seamless gament doctrine, because She cannot.

      Please review:

      2004, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows: June, 2004 “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=1125
      Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: More Concerned with ‘Comfort’ than Christ?, Catholic Online, 7/11/2004

  10. Br. Dan,

    Thank you for this post. Sadly, it is no surprise that it provokes fewer responses than your first post on the “March for Life”. It seems that it is often difficult for those who are rich to acknowledge the poverty around them and do something about it. Much easier to stick with a “safe” issue that one doesn’t have to see every day. For the record, I don’t think that abortion is the only issue people of privilege treat as “safe”: writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, against the death penalty, regarding international development etc, while all laudable and vitally important activities in themselves (not to mention being “pro-life” activities) can still, if one is not careful, anesthetize the privileged from nearer concerns of social justice and love of neighbour. Easier to walk past a homeless person on the street than question why he or she is there and try to do something about it. Easier to write letters or march about any given issue dear to one’s heart than to wonder why it is that we are so privileged/rich/educated/safe and others are not and try to do something about that. This is why I think the seamless garment/consistent ethic of life notion is so important. It challenges us to think about everything.

  11. Deleted by editor

  12. Can’t tell much from the Washington Post pictures. Some of them are obviously of pro-abortion protesters. Before making claims about how white and rich the marchers are, perhaps doing some real research would be wise. Maybe the march in San Francisco would be more to the author’s liking. “Whether you like it or not, race, class and power play into these things much more significantly than one might at first realize. That is my point.” (gratis asseritur, gratis negatur)

  13. Br. Dan,

    I confess that I do not follow your logic as to why you do not support the March for Life. It appears to me that you put the many injustices in America on the exact same level. I agree that the March is not perfect, when the people who march use the time they have to also to spread their agenda or put a plug in for their favorite presidential candidate, I believe that highly inappropriate. I think that the Pro-Life movement needs to emphasize the fact that it is NOT all about abortion. It is about war, poverty, torture, etc. All of these are grave injustices, true. But I argue that the gravest injustice is abortion. If you asked me why there is so large an organization for abortion and not for poverty, human trafficking, etc, I could not give an answer to satisfy you, I am afraid. Perhaps it is because the issue of abortion is more concrete, and is legal due to only ONE legistlative act. It is not as complex and ambiguous as war and poverty. It involves less politics, and is probably the strongest moral uniter among Christian people today. We know how we want abortion to end, we do not know how we want poverty to end, there are two or more completely different schools of though on the matter, therefore there will never be a united “march” against poverty. I hope that theory makes sense. I also hope and pray that pro-lifers are open to fighting the grave injustices other than abortion. Each of them in their own right are disgusting and must be fought tooth and nail. I understand where you are coming from, but as long as there is a March for Life, I will be there walking.

  14. I find your commentary to be incredibly insightful and timely. Regardless of whether or not readers agree with your point-of-view, it presents all of us with an opportunity to reassess the value we place on life, especially as Christians. I agree that the term “March for Life” embodies more than the issue of abortion. There is the potential to galvanize the passion and enthusiasm of the well-meaning participants and organizers of this event into a broader effort, which may ideally make this event a true “March for Life.” Nonetheless, positive changes and growth only have a chance to manifest themselves if we begin with a mindful and respectful discussion. Hopefully, it will continue beyond this forum.

  15. Br. Dan., I have appreciated the comments that you’ve made on the March for Life over the past few days. I have tried to appropriate them into a post that I made at the blog belonging to the Right to Life Fellowship at Yale Divinity School, over which I am currently president. The link is here if you’d like to have a look: http://ydsrighttolifefellowship.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/being-pro-life-is-hard/

    Thank you again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: