Monday, October 24, 2005

I don't seem to have mentioned it here before, but Fr. Ong was concerned with issues of race from at least the mid-1950s. I've come across a number of both letters and public letters/talks in which he discusses racism, both overt and subtle, though he seems to have focused more on subtle racism, especially racism through language. One example he liked to cite was a priest, while addressing his mixed-race congregation, said something like "We need to better accept our colored brethren into the community." What, Fr. Ong asked, were the African-American members of the congregation supposed to make of this use of "we" which clearly excluded them, people supposedly already members of the community.

His most poignant example, I think, comes from an incident which took place at the Kansas City bus station in (I believe) the early 1960s. He was in line waiting to buy a ticket back to St. Louis and in line before him was an African-American woman with a young child. They were running late and the bus they wanted was about to leave. The ticket seller asked if someone would go to the bus and ask the driver to wait, and Fr. Ong did, telling the bus driver that a woman and her child were on their way. A few minutes later, the driver came up to the ticket booth and asked the ticket seller where the woman and child were. "They got on your bus already" she told him. "They did?" he asked. "Yes, that colored woman and child," she said. The bus driver then turned to Ong and said "Why didn't you tell me they were colored?"

With this as preface, I can now push Ong's interest in race back to the mid-1940s. In the Oct. 1946 issue of Interracial Review, he published a review of Richard I. McKinney's Religion in Higher Education Among Negroes.

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