Thanks, Dennis Rodman (did I just say that?)

15 Mar

You may have heard there’s a new pope.

I won’t go into a discussion of Pope Francis right now as there’s plenty being said by other people on who he is and what his papacy means for Catholics and nonCatholics. If we can rewind just a little, there’s a snippet of the pre-pope discussions that I’d like to highlight.

According to AP News:

After raising eyebrows by going to North Korea, former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman is continuing his bizarre global tour by visiting Rome — purportedly to help Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson become the first black pope.

But Rodman didn’t seem too sure who he was supposed to be promoting when asked about it Wednesday. “From Africa, right?” Rodman asked, wearing a hat and T-shirt promoting the Irish betting firm that organized his trip (

Note your gut response to Rodman’s reason for supporting Cardinal Turkson.

Here’s what I think AP News was fishing for:

How ridiculous. Choosing a pope just because he’s black?

Fair enough.

But what about the fact that all the previous popes (and now Francis) have been chosen at least in part because they’re white? I’m not arguing that they were only chosen because they’re white. I’m pointing out that all of them have been white, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Consider the origin of Catholicism and the way Catholicism went global (including to predominantly brown countries). Historical affirmation of white superiority, anyone?

My ouch (and I did say ouch when I read this) comes from Rodman’s poor representation of how race always matters when we choose our representatives and leaders. His ignorance undermines the legitimacy of identity as inherently part of politics (while perhaps no one asked, “From Europe, right?” to support Cardinal Angelo Scola, I’m confident that his being from Milan mattered to many).

So next time someone disparages the idea of “making an election about race” or sex, sexuality or any other aspect of identity for that matter, I ask that you consider how you can respond to point out that the real issue is not talking about when all the candidates fit the traditional stereotype.

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