US-E AntiRacism aims at exploring the features and paradoxes of interracialism as the typical Catholic ‘third way’ between racism and militant antiracism. While the major Catholic speakers denounced White racism in its biologist, neo-pagan, and Nazi-style form and alleged imitations (e.g., apartheid), this stance prevented antiracist Catholics in a broader sense from understanding non-biologist racism, whose major theme is not physical inferiority but cultural essentialism. On the basis of that reductive definition, the word ‘racism’ was not used to mean segregation/discrimination based on ethnical-cultural premises. Even if the Church took the goal of defeating racial prejudice, an immediate racial integration was mostly considered impossible, socially dangerous, and not even beneficial for common good and Black peoples themselves.
It is possible to identify in Interracial Justice: A Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Race Relations by the Fr. John LaFarge (1880-1963) the most influential book in the Catholic scenario dealing with racial integration, and a turning point which represented a real call for action against anti-Black discrimination. That work, which was later republished with the title The Race Question and the Negro: A Study of the Catholic Doctrine on Interracial Justice (1943), strongly opposed the myth of race, contesting it as a scientific datum. LaFarge was the American Jesuit pioneer of the US Catholic interracial movement and the co-author of the renowned ‘hidden encyclical’ against racism and antisemitism secretly commissioned by Pius XI in 1938 but never published. US-E AntiRacism investigates the transnational influence of the group LaFarge gathered around the Interracial Review, the mouthpiece of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY). Some historians identified in Catholic interracialism another strand of the ‘long civil rights movement’ dating back long before the 1950s desegregation era which was inaugurated by the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) verdict. However, US interracial movement remained controversial: it was accused of relying on clerical paternalism, since it played against Black protest, and discouraged miscegenation and interracial marriages.
We can take the March on Washington of August 1963, in which LaFarge and several interracialists were involved, as a watershed. Ironically, the time when interracialism became mainstream in the Catholic arena also marked the rise of a new model of Catholic antiracism, more in line with the 1960s modernization. This implied an ecumenical vision and a clear shift of objectives and interests: from the issue of natural law to that of civil and political rights, from ‘Negro apostolate’ and conversion to the worldly goal of emancipation and social equality. This paradigm had his own non-Catholic hero and then martyr, Martin Luther King Jr., who was regarded by Paul VI himself as a Christian example preaching racial justice, unlike violent Black Power.
These are the essential questions addressed by the project:
How did interracialism spread and become common sense in transatlantic Catholicism?
Did interracialism change Catholic race thinking? Did it radically object to the segregationist principle ‘equal but separate’? Did it provide a language of reform, or rather a tool of conservatism?
What were the ideological interactions between the American-style interracialism and the mainstream European Catholic colonial and postcolonial discourse?
The project has three main objectives:
1. The reconstruction of Catholic interracialism as a global network. The purpose is to identify interracialist communication and activism between the two sides of the Atlantic (the US, the Holy See, France, Belgium, Italy). Special attention is paid to interracial think-tanks: ecclesiastical universities and Catholic colleges; missionary literature, press and societies; the Jesuit network; lay organizations, such as Pax Christi and Ad Lucem.
2. The examination of interracialism as a particular way of antiracism, i.e. its key-concepts, images, practices, and paradoxes. Catholic interpretive communities assimilated and reworked interracialist discourse and agenda through publications, meetings, and liturgies. Let us think of events like the Pax Christi’s Quinzaines missionnaires, Ad Lucem’s Journées interraciales, or Fordham’s Interracial Sundays, as well as the politicization of sainthood. The cult of some figures – Peter Claver, Martín de Porres, Benedict the Moor, Pierre Toussaint – emerged as a powerful means to disseminate a ‘true’ Catholic antiracism, opposed to White supremacy and based on ‘interracial justice’.
3. Historicizing Catholic antiracism. Breaks and continuities will be underlined, illustrating the Catholic evolution in the struggle for racial justice (from ‘interracialist’ to ‘antiracist’), which finally became mainstream along with the 1960s modernization and the rise of Third Worldism, Leftist Catholicism and the ‘long 1968’ Catholic counterculture.