To the editor:
Despite the shocking nature of Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp’s use of the words “master race,” I was not surprised. American history and politics have been shaped by a 200-year legacy of racism, a legacy that we are continually challenged to confront. While it may be true that his comment was an attempt at making a joke, the comment he made is still deeply troubling.
It is troubling because, even in jest, it still suggests the idea that some people with some physical traits are superior to others. As Christians, and especially as Catholics, we believe that we are one human family in solidarity with each other. That is to say, none of us lives in the world alone. We are all interconnected and responsible for others regardless of nationality, race, gender or otherwise. In fact, the word Catholic comes from the Greek katholikos, meaning quite literally “through the whole.” Thus, the Catholic church by definition is meant to be universally inclusive even if we Catholics have at times failed that call ourselves. So any conversation about a “master race,” language that quite literally comes from Nazi ideology, must be seen as purely antithetical to the teachings of the church.
This is, of course, before we even mention the context in which Mr. Klemp spoke these words. A white man in a position of structural power made these comments to an African American woman making a presentation to the Commission. His focus on any physical trait seems entirely inappropriate. My mind continues to circle back to the question, why did Mr. Klemp make this comment at all? I cannot judge his intent, but at this point, I’m not certain his intent matters. However his comments were intended, his words have proven harmful to the public he is meant to represent.
Women religious have been speaking out against racism for many years. In August, the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious “stood in communion” on behalf of ending systemic racism. Last week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a pastoral letter “Open Wide Our Hearts” which focuses in part on how racism violates fundamental human dignity. It is our turn now at home, as people of faith, to stand up and say that Commissioner Klemp’s comments do not represent our beliefs or values.
Editor’s note: John Shively is the coordinator of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.