The Pope, the Habs and the Black community


The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict, recently issued a statement asking people not to colour the entire Catholic priesthood with the same brush. His appeal is in reaction – long overdue – to the disturbing number of reports of members of the Catholic clergy who have committed acts of pedophilia. After years of reports surfacing about the damage suffered by those who, when young, were under the care and supervision of some Catholic priests, Pope Benedict in his public appeal referred to those who carried out these selfish and damaging acts as ‘bad seeds’. He is asking that we not judge all priests by the unhealthy behaviour of a few.

After the Montreal Canadiens beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the hard fought quarter-final series, some overzealous Habs fans took to looting and generally taking an illegal turn in their celebratory mayhem. Canadiens team members asked the general public not to condemn Habs fans because of the behaviour of a few lawbreakers. The team wants the public to keep in mind that Habs fans are generally a good-natured lot who are just really happy when their side does well.

Any right thinking person will understand and accept that there are always the few who for one reason or another – nature, nurture or psychopathy – stray off the path of socially sanctioned behaviour. So, in the same why that the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Montreal Canadiens have called for understanding, many members of the Black community have appealed to the larger society in an effort to remind those who are least in contact with us and least familiar with us that in fact the vast majority of Black people are law-abiding members of society and should not be held accountable for the behaviour of the small numbers who live outside the law.

Yet we are.

And at the same time, even as we try to maintain the balance between our individuality and our sense of collective responsibility, many of us do feel the burden of other people’s sins.

In the same way, as an identifiable group, we take notice when someone we relate to based on race achieves the phenomenal. Yet, what we rejoice in, others fear.

Here is one more example of why the same message that a pope and a hockey team have sought to present in order to defend their larger group has to be continually voiced by members of our community. National Post columnist Barbara Kay last week expanded on why she is uncomfortable with Barack Obama. Her comments, supported by a number of like minded readers, read in part, “There never was a moment when I did trust Barack Obama or any of his soaring flights of hope-and-change librettos. I couldn’t believe that Americans needed moral redemption for their racist past so badly they would actually elect as president a self-obsessed (B)lack man.”

Given the queasiness or absolute hostility that some people express about Obama running Washington for the next three years we can see that his election to the office was indeed a phenomenon. Has it been so remarkably easy for people who express such deep doubt about a duly elected Black man’s ability to manage the affairs of state to forget that the mess that was left to him was the doing of a cabal headed by two White men, George W. Bush and Dick Chaney?

There are people both here and in the U.S. who actually see Obama as a bigger threat than Bush who took that country into wars on two fronts, causing the deaths of thousands of U.S., Canadian, British and other Allied soldiers and tens of thousands among the local populations, tarnished America’s image and drove up America’s debt. Such people will say they are not racist, that their dread of Obama is political. But do we not know that all politics is personal?

A note in fine print…

During one of the town halls hosted by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 in the wake of rising public dissatisfaction with deteriorating Toronto Transit Commission customer service, a member of the audience read a fine statement reminding transit users of the code of conduct that would best serve all TTC users. Making the point that the TTC is not your private living room, bathroom or kitchen, her statement about showing mutual consideration should be played over the TTC speaker system for all to hear periodically because even though common sense should prevail, there are far too many transit users breaching the by-law regarding public behaviour on the TTC. Signs outlining the by-law are posted in every subway car but, honestly, who but the most acutely observant has ever noticed, much less taken the time, to read the fine print?

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