The Prodigal Altar Boy

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TQ - The Thesis Excerpted From "Father Thomas J. Quinlan, 'Fool For Christ'" 2009 by Calvin Thomas, Jr.

          Stereotypes can distract the individual stereotyped (Steele & Aronson, 1995), creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and lowering performance. (Jandt, 2010, p. 89)  A recurring theme of the interview was the subject’s effort to offset the effects of racism by addressing the role of communication by the dominant as well as the minority (in this case African-American) cultures.  Additionally, the subject’s unorthodox approach to the priesthood, violating common expectations of how priests should behave, allowed him to be more persuasive (Seiter & Gass, 2004, p. 56).

Part of TQ’s communication strategy with the African-American community was to use his actions as a priest, friend and advocate to reinforce his genuine concern for the parish.  His non-verbal actions had to reinforce his communication.  His observation that it takes a long time for black people to trust someone, especially if they are white, displays cultural sensitivity that showed genuine respect.  He was acutely aware that the black parishioners were constantly observing and evaluating to determine if he really believed in what he said, and if he “practiced what he preached.”  TQ observed that once the Africa-American community was convinced that he considered himself equals with them, he was able to communicate on a deeper level. 
An ongoing effort in the African-American community was to counteract the effects of negative stereotypes.  While actions such as introducing the African-American flag and the seven principles of African unity caused controversy with the whites, and even some blacks within the parish, he wanted to overcome the “clichés”  that were holding African-Americans back.  His efforts predate research by Steele and Aronson on the risk of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group (Steele & Aronson, 1995), and while their research looked at standardized testing, TQ feels those stereotypes, or “clichés” affect all aspects of self-identity.  Quinlan recalls firing two white nuns at The Basilica of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, “Because they would not make the school black.”  “They didn’t understand why you have to tell a little black kid, every day, you’ve got to say, ‘I am somebody.’ It sounds like a cliché, it sounds boring, it sounds dull, it sounds stupid to white people, but not to black kids.”  TQ talked about the lack of positive self-image and the pernicious effect of self-hate and emphasized the need to start early in life to instill self-esteem in black children.
TQ emphasizes the importance of language, and hints at the linguistic determinists’ view of language controlling thought (Jandt, 2010, p. 131) when he excoriates black parents for the way they talk to their children.  When a black parent tells a child, “Put your black ass down here,” TQ points out, “There’s no difference between a black ass and a white ass, so why emphasize it?  It’s a hidden form of self-hate, inferiority.”  That observation brings to mind the definition of power distance where less powerful members of a society expect and accept the unequal distribution of power (Jandt, 2010, p. 177).  In addition to expecting and accepting this inequality, TQ takes the black community to task for perpetuating this mindset through language.


 Seiter, J. S., & Gass, R. H. (2004). Perspectives on Persuasion, Social Influence, and Compliance Gaining. Boston, MA, USA: Pearson.
Jandt, F. E. (2010). An Introduction to intercultural communication: Identities in a global community (6th ed.). (T. R. Armstrong, D. Saoud, A. Baker, A. Virding, & G. Dickens, Eds.) Thousand Oaks, California, United States: SAGE Publications, Inc.
 Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 69 (5), 797.