A Real Model of Social Justice and Racial Harmony

There once was man, a legend with a higher calling, here in the New World, who rose from humble beginnings to become very celebrated indeed. This man was of mixed ancestry; one of his parents was of European extraction, the other of African extraction.

He lived in a culture deeply attuned to racial considerations, to put it mildly. Race- consciousness was inescapable, even deterministic. Inequality, misunderstanding and injustice abounded.

But this man was a healer. And a uniter. In fact, people see in him – in his humility and in the charity he extended most inclusively even amidst the racially charged tensions of his time – genuine promise for improving race relations. And for advancing the cause of social justice.

His was a life of service for the sake of the community to which he belonged, not mere commerce. He professed great concern for the poor and the sick – those who didn’t have reliable access to health care.  And he backed it up.

Though he himself had no formal medical training, he carried out initiatives designed to meet their needs, at times overcoming uncomprehending opposition to his efforts.  He won the day, however, and is now regarded by his devotees as a champion of public health services.

I am speaking, of course, about St. Martin de Porres, the sixteenth-century Dominican lay brother whose feast we celebrate today. This remarkable Peruvian miracle worker is the patron saint of social justice and public health, as well as African-Americans, mixed-race people, and interracial harmony (among several other things).

These types of accolades don’t really seem to fit Barack Obama.  Oh, sure, there is the hagiographic narrative – the spin we have been incessantly fed by the media. The disconcerting question is how purveyors of such thin gruel have so cavalierly overlooked so much evidence to the contrary.

I think many readers are well informed about some of President Obama’s more repulsive anti-life positions.  If not, please take a look at these remarks by a young woman who survived both the active attempt to abort her and the “passive” willingness to let her die when it went awry.

Since she was an unintentionally living person, she was deemed unworthy of the most basic protection any just state must guarantee.  I wish everyone, regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation could hear her serene personal testimony – and her searing account of President Obama’s repeated defense of this barbarity.

There are tenured professors and professional “ethicists” nowadays who seek to justify such inhumanity, of course.  But I’d wager that the vast majority of people – or even, say, most fifth-graders – would instinctively characterize it as callous depravity. 

And there are other – almost inexplicable – sides to the president. I was taken aback while reading something that Thomas Sowell recently unearthed.  The prolific Sowell, drawing upon decades of extensive scholarship on conflicts around the globe, has repeatedly warned about the dangers of racial demagoguery.

The context: a video surfaced, only several weeks ago, of Obama giving a speech to a predominantly black audience in 2007.  In it, he clearly insinuated that the federal government did not care about the victims of Hurricane Katrina as much as New Yorkers or Floridians impacted by 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew – because of the respective racial composition of the populations.

To give the illusion of weight to this incendiary allegation, he referred to standing legislation that had been waived in the case of those other previous disasters; the waiver took local governments off the hook by enabling the feds to pick up the tab for the necessary relief. The clear implication was that this was not the case for the folks in and around New Orleans. 

But the Senate had already voted to extend that same waiver for Katrina – to provide that same relief.  If that weren’t bad enough, Sowell went to the trouble to discover that Obama himself had voted against it; he was one of an overwhelming minority to do so. 

This doesn’t sound like fostering racial harmony.

Aside from Sowell’s utterly devastating account, I’ve not heard this mentioned elsewhere. The media’s disregard for MLK’s ideal (didn’t they admire him?) regarding the primacy of the content of one’s character is very much worth pondering.

Yet it’s not an exaggeration to say that many Catholics – far more than the Nuns on the Bus – still seem to want to regard Obama almost as another Martin de Porres.

It is also true that many of Obama’s original supporters now seem disappointed in him for a host of reasons. Many, I presume, were genuinely attracted to the concept of a life committed to justice, harmony, and charity. 

I hope they don’t give up on those ideals, and take comfort that there is a genuine model out there. St. Martin de Porres doesn’t offer us perfect political prescriptions. But on the things that matter most, he is a steady guide.


Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.