Fr. Anthony Alaba Akinwale, OP, professor of Theology and Vice Chancellor at the Dominican University in Ibadan, Nigeria, recently presented "Addressing Racial Discrimination: What our Dominican Tradition Can Contribute," to Mount Saint Mary College students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
The virtual talk was presented by the Mount's Catholic and Dominican Institute and Dominican University in Nigeria.
"To speak of racism is to speak of an unfounded and erroneous belief that persons of one race are superior to persons of another," said Fr. Akinwale. "What, then, can our Dominican tradition contribute towards addressing the problem of racial discrimination?"
The key to answering this question first comes from understanding what racism is, noted Fr. Akinwale.
"Racism is not an ailment, but a symptom," he said. "The ailment, I submit, is sin."
Sin, he said, is defined by St. Augustine as "love of oneself to the point of treating God with contempt."
"Treating God with contempt comes from failure to recognize the sovereignty of God," noted Fr. Akinwale. "God manifests his sovereignty in creating the world. The diversity in creation comes from the sovereign will of God."
As the great Dominican scholar St. Thomas Aquinas once noted, the Dominican tradition recognizes this divinely willed diversity.
"The human race is a race of races," Fr. Akinwale said. "Their distinction is willed by God. It adds to the beauty of creation."
Instead of this distinction between races being celebrated, many throughout history have instead interpreted it as an inequality – that some races are superior to others. But Fr. Akinwale counters, "What makes us human is our creation in the image and likeness of God," regardless of our race.
What, then, can the Dominican tradition do to fight racism?
"Dominicans have a mission to refute error and to set forth the truth," he said. "Racism is first a matter of the intellect, before being a matter of structures, systems, and attitudes. An intellect that harbors the error of racism cannot establish, protect, and promote systemic truth."
He added, "Racism is a heresy," and it is the obligation of anyone who follows the Dominican charism or associates with the Dominican tradition to correct this. By teaching truth – as seen in the Dominican Pillars of study, service, community, and spirituality – Dominicans and friends of the order can combat racism.
Fr. Akinwale was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He earned a Bachelor of Theology from the Catholic University of Kinshasa; a Masters in Arts and Theology and a Licentiate in Theology from Collège Universitaire des Dominicains in Ontario, Canada; and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston College.
He has served as past president of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria, a Fellow of the DePaul University Centre for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, a consultant to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, and is a theological expert on the Nigerian Anglican Roman Catholic Commission.
Having already authored three books, Fr. Akinwale is currently preparing for the publication of his next book, called In Search of Nationhood: Essays on Nigerian Politics. Additionally, he has authored more than 100 academic essays and conference papers in national and international journals. His writings focus on religion, philosophy, politics, and education.
The Catholic and Dominican Institute promotes the Mount's heritage of St. Dominic, advances the Dominican charism of study and service, provides a forum for discussion of contemporary ethical issues, and enhances Catholic and Jewish dialogue. The Institute welcomes persons of varied faiths and acknowledges different religious traditions as essential to the college's intellectual and spiritual life.