October 18, 2019

‘I wanted to cry out on several occasions, right in the middle of Mass’

By Sean Gallagher

Daryl Whitley was a teenage tennis player on the rise in the mid-1970s in Indianapolis, ranked at one point as the best 14-year-old male player in the state.

A year later, he faced a Caucasian teenager in a tournament whom he had previously defeated in a championship match. With it looking like Whitley was going to win again, his competitor said a racial epithet to him during a break in play.

“At that very moment, I felt that I had been stabbed in the chest,” recalled Whitley, a black Catholic member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. “I was so angry and hurt. Tears filled my eyes as I walked back to the other end of the tennis court. I also felt the pain and struggle of my ancestors and depended on their strength to carry me through the rest of the match.”

His hurt increased when he reported the incident to tournament officials who only gave “a little slap on the wrist” to his competitor.

“Coming into the match, I saw the world as a 15-year-old believing that winning or not winning the tennis match would be about the skills, abilities and the competitive spirit of each competitor,” Whitley said. “I left the tennis match with my inner spirit broken and shattered into a million pieces. I would never see the world of tennis the same ever again.”

Whitley shared this story during a Sept. 30 listening session on racism held at Marian University in Indianapolis that was attended by a diverse audience of approximately 100 people.

He also recounted the pain he has felt in the lack of welcome he has experienced when worshipping at Mass in “predominately white parishes.” The exchange of the sign of peace in such settings he has found especially awkward and difficult.

“I wanted to cry out on several occasions, right in the middle of Mass, ‘How can we call ourselves the body of Christ when we continue to isolate and make others who are different from us not feel welcomed?’ ” Whitley asked.

“How do we, as Christians, evangelize the world and bring Christ to those who don’t know him if we treat Mass as though it’s a private social club whose membership is not welcoming, diverse and inclusive?

“I leave Mass [on such occasions] feeling empty and definitely not at peace.”

And the racism Whitley experienced decades ago resurfaced recently on a trip to Las Vegas. He was walking on a sidewalk when a motorist stuck his head out of the window of his car to yell a racial epithet at him.

“At first, I was shocked and felt no emotion. Later that night and into the morning, I became very upset to the point of not being able to sleep. How, as a society, have we become bold enough to outwardly inject our deepest fears and anxieties onto a certain race, culture or religion in order to feed our egos and feel better about who we are, despite our personal circumstances?

“How does something like this take place in one of the most diverse cities in America? Intentionally, or not intentionally, hurt people hurt people.” †


Related story: Local Catholics share experiences of evils of racism at listening session

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