Black people are not new to America.
Works like the 1619 Project have garnered widespread backlash because they prove the case that Black people have been here since at least 1619—before the country was founded—and that we’ve been instrumental in building the nation from the ground up.
What is new is corporate and educational environments seeking to include Black people, other people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, and highlighting diversity as an important asset of success.
This is apparently offensive and unwise to Catholics like Dr. Andrew Abela, dean of the Busch School of Business at the USCCB’s Catholic University of America. On Tuesday, he was featured in a video for Edify, the self-styled “PragerU for Catholics” initiative from CatholicVote.org—a conservative political organization recently noted for its apparently racist policy goals.
The new video, entitled “Woke Capitalism”, leaves one wondering: what is America’s national Catholic university teaching the future business leaders of America these days?
In the 5-minute clip, Abela states that, in the past, “businesses saw the value in appealing to everybody so they promoted ideas that everybody could share, like love of country, hard work, honesty, and integrity.”
The reality is that businesses largely ignored people who were not White. The majority of commercials and advertisements for goods and services prior to the 21st century featured White Americans. As such, the pushback from Abela and his ilk can be interpreted as indignation that White Americans no longer exclusively see themselves when they look around America. As the White population continues to decline, they reject the notion that they must embrace a society—and a corporate business environment—that embraces the changing ethnic constitution of America.
Furthermore, Abela’s claim that Black Americans “lost out” when the 2021 MLB All-Star Game was relocated to Colorado due to Georgia’s GOP-led voter restrictions is disingenuous. Black Americans have repeatedly proven that they are willing to sacrifice financial gain and convenience in exchange for long-term gains when it comes to the democratic process and equality.
Black civil rights leaders have used pressure through boycotts of businesses, like during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and sit-ins to protest Jim Crow segregation in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the bus boycott, even sacrificed his own life for the cause of Black freedom. The Black community’s response to Georgia’s racist voter suppression in 2021 was no different.
Abela might not know it, but Georgia actually operated without slavery in its early years—until White business interests pushed for and obtained its legalization. Thus, his claims are built on a central lie: that those same interests have been for the general uplift of all people. The truth is that African Americans have made their place in America through massive political, social, and economic resistance ever since being boarded onto White-owned (and often Catholic-owned) slave ships.
What’s more, Abela also claims that the voter restriction laws in Georgia have been proven to be free of racism. In reality, the US Department of Justice is actively engaged in a lawsuit against the state, contending that “several provisions of Senate Bill 202 were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race”.
Abela also claims that baseball—America’s favorite pastime—was free from politics before the Georgia voter legislation. This is also demonstrably false. Major League Baseball took a major stand against integration when Jackie Robinson sought to desegregate the league. Indeed, many of the arguments Abela makes in his video were previously made by the MLB to argue for continued segregation.
Significantly, it was argued that integration would hurt Black players because there would be fewer positions for them in a desegregated league. It was also argued that the MLB would lose revenue from renting fields to Negro League teams while the White team was on the road. Finally, some White owners were worried that integration would turn off White fans, who’d no longer buy tickets because baseball was pushing a social change they did not want.
In other words, Abela is making the exact same complaints that opponents of inclusion have always made. What’s worse is that he completely obscures the reality that the Robinson affair happened in anything but an “All-American”, apolitical business. In effect, Robinson was erased from history just like the anti-racist icon Mama was erased from CUA’s campus.
Consider that many Republicans are on record arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is unconstitutional, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. His neighboring senator, the Catholic Mike Braun of Indiana, recently endorsed overturning Roe v. Wade on a legal theory that would allow for racial discrimination. So it is not clear at all that White business culture naturally tends towards inclusion because “it makes business sense.”
Lest we forget, the main justifications for the genocide of Indigenous and Black Americans were made for and by American businesses. Indeed, most colonies started out as companies. That Abela made an entire video extolling the virtue of White-controlled capital, obliterating the history of Black resistance, indicates that anti-Black narratives still dominate business culture—at least at the bishops’ Busch School.
Moreover, the video shows a failure to understand present realities. Abela argues (with no proof) that modern work culture is less accepting of non-woke ideas, all the while disrespecting and devaluing employees of differing backgrounds and beliefs. What has been proven by others is that Black Americans, women, and LGBTQ people have historically faced racism and discrimination in the workplace.
Congress recently passed the CROWN Act, proof of the discrimination African Americans—and Black women in particular—have faced simply for wearing their hair naturally. A study found that they were “50% more likely than White women to have been sent home from their workplace because of their hair”. Recently, four thousand Black employees spoke out about the racist and hostile conditions at Tesla—one of the most successful companies in the world.
Even so, for a White Catholic cisgender male like Abela, a work environment that is promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is often perceived as a threat because accepting other cultures, genders, sexual orientations, and ideas challenges White domination and supremacy.
Additionally, the fact that Abela is a Maltese immigrant shows how White Supremacy works in the US and around the globe. As a White European, Abela was able to enter the country and blend into White America, with all of the privilege attached to it. Meanwhile, African Americans whose families have been here for centuries are burdened with anti-Black racism that is both systemic, interpersonal, and economic.
For example, Black males have the highest unemployment rate in the country, and a 2014 study proved that White men with a criminal record were more likely to receive a positive response when applying for a job than Black men with no criminal record at all. Despite being an immigrant, Abela has always had an advantage simply because he is White. And he has wasted no time joining his conservative White peers in disparaging the justice struggle of Black Americans.
None of this is surprising, though, when you look at the highest-paid members of CUA’s leadership. Of those making more than $400,000 a year, 5 out of 6 (83%) are White men, none are women, and none are Black. Given that 59% of Catholics are White and only 45% of White Catholics are men—making up 26.55% of the US Church—it is clear that CUA is upholding structural (and patriarchal) White Supremacy. And the school is willing to partner with political activists to protect that system—whether through Edify videos or platforming known racists.
This benefits people like Abela, creating disproportionate opportunities and wealth for White men while failing to uplift all members of the Catholic community. Theoretically, the Church belongs to all Catholics, but America’s national Catholic university is being used primarily for the benefit of a group that does not represent most of the nation’s Catholics. Though the USCCB president recently claimed that the “Church has been ‘antiracist’ from the beginning”, we see that a project of the US bishops—founded with a papal charter—continues to primarily benefit White men.
Despite the Church becoming more African, Asian, and otherwise diverse globally, it’s no wonder that many White European immigrants, including Catholics like Abela, often object to any program that recognizes cultural differences. Since they enjoy the benefits of being seen as a “White” person in America, they often choose not to self-identify as anything else—due to possible discrimination for being different. African Americans and other people who are not Caucasian have never had such luxury of cultural neutrality and automatic acceptance.
Unless Catholics, and all Americans of goodwill, push back on the kinds of arguments Abela is making, they never will.
Alessandra Harris is author of two novels and is a wife, mother of four, and co-founder of BCM. She earned degrees in Comparative Religious studies and Middle East Studies and currently studies in the Diocese of San Jose's Institute for Leadership in Ministry. She has also contributed to publications such as America Magazine, Grotto Network, and US Catholic. Her third novel is due in 2022.
Gunnar Gundersen is an attorney in Newport Beach, CA. He serves in his parish council and choir, is a published essayist, and regularly lectures on natural law and the American Founding. He is also the first Ordinariate member of the Knights of Peter Claver. Follow him on Twitter at @GBGundersen.