In Fall 2020, the Black Catholic Messenger was formed among a group of Black Catholic laypeople and allies who agreed that the Catholic media landscape was missing something: an online publication for Black Catholics. We decided to change that.
“We will do what no other paper published by colored men has dared to do — give the great Catholic Church a hearing and show that it is worthy of at least a fair consideration at the hands of our race...”
—Daniel Rudd (1886)
Black Catholic stories are being told, but often not by Black Catholic voices.
While this is perhaps not intrinsically negative, it certainly does have many drawbacks in practice. Secular writers often do not understand the nuances of the faith and the Catholic Church, and non-Black Catholic writers typically do not understand the nuances of Black culture and—when relevant—the Black Church.
This plays out in a number of ways, from mainstream outlets butchering details in stories back during the Black Catholic Movement, to modern Catholic media running stories by non-Black writers that are borderline hostile—indifferent to and even dismissive of the experiences of Black people (Catholic or otherwise).
We are often painted as exotic or even pitiful—and certainly not worth a regular column, section, or dedicated (Black) staff member.
“The Catholic Church alone can break the color line. Our people should help her to do it.”
Moreover, up to now, the notable Black Christians reporting on Black Catholic issues are either a) not Catholic, or b) Catholic, but writing for outlets that target White audiences with content tailored to their concerns and interests. A story about Black Catholics written for White readers will be markedly different from one written for Black readers. A smaller difference, but difference all the same, exists between a story written for Black Protestants and one for Black Catholics.
Much of the Catholic media landscape either leans Traditionalist (often taking on a certain unhealthy posture toward the Pope, the Vatican, and Vatican II), or Cafeterialist—taking on a different, but equally unhealthy posture toward the same. The Black Catholic Messenger, in rejecting two extremes, seeks to affirm Catholicism while remaining free to report the news as it is. In the vein of Daniel Rudd himself, it seems important to reiterate that Black Catholic advocacy is entirely compatible with Church teachings as they stand in 2020.
“I have always been a Catholic and, feeling that I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church, I thought there could be no greater factor in solving the race problem than [her].”
Black culture is a reality. The Black experience and voice are unique. We have specific concerns and specific needs because of the nature of our home here in the United States—which hasn’t always been a welcome one and often still isn’t. We are not a monolith, but we aren’t a tabula rasa either.
Our outlet is to be a space for Black Catholics to have a voice within a Black Catholic context, rather than a secular, general (which often is functionally White), or Black Protestant context. Daniel Rudd saw the need in 1885, and many of us see it now.
That is the message.