"According to Gallup Polls taken in 1962-63, most White Americans believed that Black Americans were treated equally in regards to opportunities for jobs, schooling, and housing opportunities."
Tim Wise, Colorblind
One of the interesting dynamics in addressing racial and cultural reconciliation is that racial discrimination and prejudices are like hypertension. Many people would deny that they have a problem until the problem causes a catastrophe. Even in the midst of the civil rights struggles in the 1950's and 60's, where there was blatant and violent discrimmination, it was not uncommon for White Americans to completely ignore and deny injustice towards Black Americans.
Our society has been sick for sometime and occasionally we treat the symptoms, hoping that the disease has gone away. Yet, the evidence of the underlying disorder, verified by test after test, born out in our pathologic performance, is denied. America, the grand experiment in democracy, was founded on principles of racial discrimination and European superiority. That is not the revisionist musings of racial radicals, but the reality of the foundation of a nation. The genocide of First nations peoples by European settlers, who then became White American pioneers, was based upon deeply held convictions of the inferiority of native peoples. The enslaving of Africans that lasted 200 years on this continent, was based upon understanding of the inferiority of African races. Even those who are considered most enlightened, such as Thomas Jefferson, felt the inferiority of Africans was common fact.
Today, we cannot talk about racial healing, reconciliation, or restoration, because many cannot admit there is a problem. Despite incredible differences in the economic, social, healthcare, vocational, and educational achievements between White Americans and Americans of color, there is a tendency to blame this on simply poor choices. There is no acknowledgment that there may be structural, institutional, and cultural obstacles that influence and inform those poor choices. Our failure to do so results in placing the blame and burden of poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare, and undereducation upon people of color. The effect is a destructive psychic dimension of racialization, where people of color begin to understand themselves in terms of inadequacy and incompleteness.
Professor Donaldy Dayton (Discovering Our Evangelical Heritage) astutely observes that in the 1960's, most evangelical Christian colleges remained aloof or even opposed to the civil rights movement. I believe that many White Christian students were sincere in their beliefs but naive in their understandings of the causes and the reality of racial injustice.
In order for real racial healing to begin we need:
1. A better sense of the reality of racism and racialization in all areas of society, beginning in the church. Declaring the world as post-racial or colorblind does not make it so. Opening our eys to see that there are both personal and systematic forces involved in the life disparities of people of color in America is the beginning. The Bible says that it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God (I Peter 4:17). If we can not see injustice and discrimination within, we cannot be prophetic to the cultures and societies at large.
2. A better and larger sense of community. We tend to categorize people into "them and us". A larger sense of community looks at our city or region as sees only "us". When we begin to care for and identify with those who are culturally and ethnically dissimilar, we humanize, empathize, and eventually harmonize the community. The urban flight of the past 30 years has been an exercise in reducing the size and scope of our community. Instead of embracing the disparities of our communities, we simply flee to places where they do not exist.
3. A new ethic based upon love/justice over and against guilt/obligation. One of the dynamics that leads to a truncated discussion of race is guilt. It continually seeks to answer the question of "whose fault is it". So when some predominantly minority areas have no grocery stores to purchase fresh food, the response is not concern, compassion and inquiry, but the defensiveness of saying "that's not my fault". The dialogue can not focus on guilt and obligation, but must be driven by real desire for justice (fairness, equity, opportunity) and that is an authentic expression of love.
This month, my faith community (http://www.newhopefree.org/) begins a study of "Color, Culture, and Christ" hoping to lead our region to truly love one another. The incredible vision of Jesus is a powerful new people, made up of many flavors, colors, and sizes, that would express the image and mission of God. I challenge you to join us in being part of the answer to Jesus's vision wherever you are.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor