Oct 20

The Cost of Racism

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 10/20/2021 5:57PM | Quote of the Week | Civil Rights


Our Quote of the Week comes from 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision on Brown vs. Board of Education. There have been several landmark civil rights victories since the Brown vs. Board decision made unconstitutional the separation of children in schools on the basis of race. And yet, these words still describe some realities about racism in the United States that we must not tolerate.

In the late 1950s, Sargent Shriver was the head of both the Chicago Board of Education as well as the Catholic Interracial Council, which both worked on eliminating segregation in schools and other institutions throughout the Fifties. It was while serving in these two organizations that Shriver spoke these words before The Sierra Club in 1956.

In the address, Shriver asked his audience to confront their own prejudices, and he made a profound statement about individuals who continued to uphold and promote the beliefs and practices of racism and white supremacy within our systems. He said:

"I believe that any American who holds to the theory of white supremacy and actively promotes the political, economic, and social restrictions and segregation necessary to make the theory of white supremacy effective, must be classed with those who are willing to undermine their country’s strength in the face of the enemy."

We have seen many advancements in civil rights since Sargent Shriver spoke these words 65 years ago. And yet, each day, our news is peppered with stories that remind us of the dangers of racism and white supremacy. In the past week alone we've been reminded of ongoing threats to voting rights, as the Senate blocked a voting-rights Bill which would prevent states from making voting truly accessible, particularly in Black communities and other communities of color. We've learned of challenges in the trial of Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., the three men accused of killing of Ahmad Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was simply out for a run. We've also seen new efforts to combat systemic injustices that have gone on for generations, such as a new Department of Justice initiative to combat redlining, an illegal practice in the financial industry that blocks consumers from securing mortgages because of their race or origin. And in New York City, we've learned of the local Board of Health's declaration that racism is a public health crisis. To be sure, some of these stories hint at progress in governments' acknowledgment of deeply-rooted racist practices in our systems. And yet, the fact that we are still working to eliminate so many unethical, illegal, and violent practices reminds us of the of difficulties of eliminating racism from our systems and our communities.

The population of the United States is rich and diverse. We are descendants of migrant, enslaved, and aboriginal ancestors. We practice many different religions; some of us do not practice at all. Our lifestyles vary greatly, but we all have a right to self-determination. Violent denials of our collective identity cannot be tolerated, for they destabilize us and result in injustice and violence, a cost that we must refuse to bear.

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