Catholic is the new black

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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Conservative critics should stop complaining about the lack of media coverage of the Catholic protest of the government’s HHS mandate, which commands Catholic institutions to pay for health coverage of procedures that the Church finds evil. Traditional Catholics need to just accept the fact that to the liberal media, we have become a secondary, second-class group. We’ve become like blacks in 1950s America.

While the left freaks out over the analogy, let me emphasize that the comparison I make is a limited one. Catholics in 2012 are not forced to use segregated facilities and we have not been jailed for our beliefs — yet. But we do live in a subculture that is increasingly cut off from the mainstream. Like blacks during the years of segregation, Catholics have their own book publishers, newspapers and magazines, television shows, even celebrities. And whereas there was once some crossover between the “Catholic ghetto” and the rest of America — Bishop Fulton Sheen once had one of the highest-rated television shows in America — these days traditional Catholics are almost completely shut out by the country’s elites.

The most obvious example, of course, is the HHS mandate and the resulting protests. Forty-three Church-affiliated institutions are suing the government over the mandate, a remarkable development that will deal with questions that go to the very heart of what the First Amendment means. Yet as the Media Research Center and others have shown, the story has been ignored by the liberal media. Conservatives are outraged by this, but to me it’s not even worth getting angry about anymore. Like blacks before the Civil Rights Act, we need to just focus on creating and sustaining our own culture. Rachel Maddow, CBS, ABC and The New York Times are not going to give our concerns about religious freedom and government coercion (to say nothing of abortion) any more consideration than Bull Connor gave black protesters in Birmingham in 1963. To them, we are every bit the freaks that Connor thought blacks were.

Today’s anti-Catholic elites are as ignorant as Bull Connor was. On May 25th, the gang on “Morning Joe” were discussing recent polls showing Americans are now majority pro-life. For years and years I have been reading about this shift; Catholic magazines, TV shows, speakers and books have been hammering how the science has changed things. We now have 3D ultrasounds that show new parents that their baby is in fact not just a collection of cells. Indeed, the role of the ultrasound in the pro-life movement now constitutes old news.

When the topic came up on “Morning Joe,” guest and babbling liberal Donny Deutsch was stunned by the news. “Has anyone written about this?” he marveled. Pat Robertson knows more about hip-hop than Deutsch knows about the pro-life movement. Has Maureen Dowd or Chris Matthews ever read a book or article by Pope Benedict? Of course not.

I was born in Washington, D.C., where my family’s history goes back to 1915. But I grew up in the suburbs and it wasn’t until later in life that I learned about black D.C. — the place that historian Constance Green called “the secret city.” D.C. has been at least one-quarter to one-third black since its inception in 1791, and the city’s free blacks established churches and schools before the Emancipation Proclamation. According to historian Kathryn S. Smith, after the Civil War “the black intelligentsia of the nation congregated in Washington.” Howard University, which had been founded in 1867 by the Freedman’s Bureau as the first biracial university south of the Mason-Dixon line, was only one of a handful of colleges in the country that offered opportunities for blacks. “Howard University drew exceptionally able students in law, medicine, and sociology,” Green noted in “The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in Washington, D.C.”

By 1920 Washington was a financial, spiritual and cultural stronghold of black America. The first black bank, the Industrial Savings Bank, was born here. Unlike New York’s Harlem, whose black population inherited many of its buildings from previous white owners, many of the institutions in Shaw were paid for by black businessmen and built by black hands: the True Reformers Building, the Laborers’ Building and Loan Association, the Whitelaw Hotel, the 12th Street YMCA and the Prince Hall Lodge. The writer Albert Murray summed up the town’s pedigree nicely in a piece in The Nation magazine: “The Washington of [the 1920s] … was not provincial in matters of entertainment and the arts. It was not as cosmopolitan as New York, to be sure, but even so, it reflected much of the New Yorker’s taste, perhaps comparable to a suburb of Manhattan.”

Conservative Catholics in America in 2012 are basically living in another secret city. Liberals like Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews and the staffs of the news networks and The Washington Post do not read the books we read, watch the shows (“Mother Angelica”) we watch, or know the priests we know. Yet like the racist whites of an earlier day, they feel morally superior to us, and have no hesitation about lecturing us about how atavistic our faith is — without, of course, knowing anything about it. What is Bill Maher but a modern-day George Wallace?

In the 1920s, modernism hit America. Young Americans set out to shake free of Victorian restrictions, much to the shock of the Victorians themselves. The hot jazz being played in places like Harlem — and by a young Duke Ellington in Washington — was renounced by alarmed authorities as nothing more than “jungle music” suitable only for reverting man to primitivism. Dancing became more erotic, and books by James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald and black writers like Langston Hughes, George Schuyler and Washingtonian Rudolph Fisher depicted street life and human desires as well as what was considered open sexuality in blunt, frank language.

This rift in the white world over modernism was reflected in black Washington. In an August 1928 issue of the NAACP magazine The Crisis, psychologist, author and Washingtonian Allison Davis took aim at the modernists: “For nearly ten years, our Negro [artists] have been ‘confessing’ the distinctive sordidness and triviality of Negro life, and making an exhibition of their own unhealthy imagination, in the name of frankness and sincerity. Frankness is no virtue in itself, however, as any father will tell his son, nor is sincerity. A dog or savage is ‘sincere’ about his bestialities, but he is not therefore raised above them. … It is a question, then, of the purpose for which one is being sincere. It is quite evident that the sincerity of Milton, of Fielding, and of Dr. Johnson is different in kind from the sincerity of Mr. DH Lawrence and Mr. James Joyce. If sincerity is to justify one in exploiting the lowest traits of human nature; and in ignoring that sense in man which Cicero says differentiates him from other animals — his sense of what is decent — then sincerity is to pander to a torpid animalism.”

Black Washington, like modern Catholic orthodoxy, was a conservative subculture that was shunned and mocked by a bigoted elite. And if Obama and the left have their way, it won’t be long before they turn the hoses on us.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.