NEW YORK — Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City gets the sense that people want to “shortcut” the result of eliminating and eradicating racism, and don’t put in the effort necessary to create change.
In a recent conversation with The Tablet, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs spoke about ways the nation can take strides on issues of race, after the nation’s taken a renewed focus on the issue after a shooting spree in the Atlanta-area took the lives of eight people last week, six of whom were Asian women.
“Words will not be enough,” Bishop Solis said.
“Start being kind to each other. Being kind, civil, respectful and friendly to one another,” the bishop continued. “We need to educate to understand ourselves. The intrinsic human values that we possess and other cultural contributions that each cultural group brings to the goodness of our society.”
Three days after the March 16 shootings, the Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate reporting center published a report of anti-Asian American discrimination from March 19, 2020-February 28, 2021. The report shows 3,795 reported incidents over that time.
Stop AAPI Hate was launched on March 19, 2020 by the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, Chinese for the Affirmative Action and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State “in response to the alarming escalation in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to its website.
“Something must be heard about those violence and racial injustices, as well as the rise in assault of Asian Americans and Asian Pacific descent,” Bishop Solis said. “It is very alarming, and disheartening and disturbing to see that people would treat one another with such kind of attitude and behavior, verbal and physical assault, racial slurs.”
Particularly, a breakdown of the AAPI Hate report identifies verbal harassment (68.1 percent) and shunning (20.5 percent) as the most prominent types of discrimination. Followed by physical assault (11.1 percent), civil rights violations (8.5 percent) and online harassment (6.8 percent).
For Bishop Solis, change will in part be realized through listening and education.
From 2004 to 2009, Bishop Solis served as the episcopal vicar for the Office of Ethnic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“I was in contact with different cultural groups. The Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic, European and Asians and everybody, Latin Americans,” said Bishop Solis, who was born in the Philippines. “We had a lot of gatherings. Learning from one another and experiencing each other’s cultures. Listening to their stories so that we understand how they feel and how they look at things. In that way, education is very important.”
He further notes that racism is rooted in the nation’s history. And as Christians, it’s imperative “we learn to see in others the face of Christ. The gesture of welcoming.”
“There is already existing bias or prejudices whenever we look at other people because we see them as something different than us. Their accents are different. The color of their skin are different. And that is why we have to cross that barrier. And let us not see others with filtered glasses. Let’s see them as they are,” Bishop Solis said.
“Let us respect each other’s differences. That is what the strength of America is all about.”
In the aftermath of the shootings in Atlanta a number of other American prelates spoke out. Speaking at a Diocese of Arlington event this past weekend Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington said the tragedy combined with the “hatred and violence Asian Americans have endured with increased intensity since the beginning of the global pandemic … reminds us that we still have serious racial problems that continue to plague our national unity and harmony.”
The archbishop of Atlanta also issued a statement after the shootings.
“We have brothers and sister in Christ who endure discrimination, aggression and violence every day of their lives. Tonight, many of them may wonder if they will be safe — my heart aches just to think of it,” Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer wrote. “We must, as a Christian family of faith, work to protect the whole community.”
The issue of increased discrimination against Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, was addressed back in May by Bishop Solis, Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Cultural Diversity in the Church, and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
In part, they wrote that “dreadful occurrences” of racism and xenophobia “continue to negatively impact the lives of certain populations, adding to the pain and suffering already caused by the pandemic.”
In his conversation with The Tablet, Bishop Solis also made it clear that change starts with the individual.
“We cannot change society as a whole. We have to change its heart first. The change must come from each individual in order to change the system,” the bishop said. “Everyone can continue to change what is happening around us. We have to do our share in order to end racial discrimination, xenophobia and racial injustice.”