Archive

Archive for March, 2013

Does Race Still Matter

fistsofcolorsThe views expressed in this article are entirely my own. I look at race through the lens of a pastor that grew up in a multiracial and multiethnic family, and religious background. It was written not long after the 2012 Presidential Election between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney and intended to be published on my blog for Black History Month to engage readers in a serious and intellectual discussion on race.

Eric (not his real name), a friend who happened to be white, and I were having a somewhat heated and passionate discussion about race, racism, and race relations in America after the reelection of President Barack Obama this past November 2012. Eric asked me if I thought things were going to get better between whites and blacks now that Americans have reelected a black President for a second term. Didn’t Obama’s reelection mark the beginning of a “post-racial society”? Isn’t the election of President Obama proof that we live in a colorblind society and that race no longer mattered?

I think most Americans would agree that race should not matter; however if we are truthful and honest with ourselves, the reality is race does matter. Because it does, it often has serious consequences. As I reflect on these and other questions on race and race matters, I am reminded of Michael J. Klarman’s pivotal and critically acclaimed book Unfinished Business: Racial Equality in American History (Oxford University Press, 2007) , describing that race continues to be the dark shadow and unfinished business in America society. No matter how some would like to deny that racism still exists in this country is in my view an attempt to silence any discussion on race or racism. To remain oblivious to the reality of the existence of racism is in effect to ignore the daily experiences and sufferings of people of color.

Without question, the election and reelection of the first black President of the United States was a remarkable achievement and event in American politics and history. As a citizen and a black man in America, I, like millions of peoples of all races world-wide, was twice proud to witness this historical event. Was this a political anomaly? Will history repeat itself? Will there ever be another black man or woman in the White House? I don’t have the answer to these difficult questions. History and historians will undoubtedly fill in the blanks. It saddens me however to admit that I could not share any feelings of optimism or hope for future African American prospects who may aspire to run for President of the United States. The challenges and lessons learned—good and bad—during this presidential campaign will not be so easily set aside or forgotten in the long or short term. One Black president in American history might be all America may be willing to stomach for the next 400 years.

Eric wanted to know why I sounded so cynical and doubtful. My responses to his questions were certainly not what he expected. I didn’t sound much like a man of God or faith. I tried to explain that there were still a lot of bitterness, hatred, and anger that was seething like a hot cauldron filled with revenge ever since the election ended in November 2012. The ugliness of racial prejudice and the hidden sin of racism came to light and was revealed among politicians, journalists, the media, academia, religious leaders, churches, rich and poor, black and white, and people of power. I would be foolish to believe that any of these agents or agencies of influence and power would be willing to admit to the sin of racism and would rather remain aloof to any discussion on the subject.

The paradox and discussion of race, gender, and class are not easy to dissect. Terms and definitions intersect and intertwine often leaving us even more confused. For instance, the expression “class warfare” was introduced into the presidential campaign as a way to divert any attention or discussion about race and the economy. Amazingly, conservative Republicans felt it was the rich and wealthy Americans that were being victimized by President Obama’s policies (i.e., taxing the wealthiest Americans). Consequently, liberal Democrats felt that African Americans and the poor were being shut out of the debate. The poor, marginalized, and others saw the election as being all about wealth, money, greed, and power. Historically, however, it has been noted that race and class intersect to systematically subjugate and marginalize people of color.

It’s still the old battle between the “Haves and Have Nots.” Sadly and incorrectly, a majority of whites and a large number of blacks believe “African Americans have achieved or will soon achieve racial equality in the United States despite substantial evidence to the contrary.” One need only look at very recent national statistical economic trends and reports to confirm the racial inequalities between blacks and whites. In Tami Luhby’s article “Worsening Wealth Inequality by Race: Income Inequality in America” (CNNMoney, June 21, 2012) , one wonders how can African Americans ever achieve racial equality in an economy that is designed by class, race, and gender. Luhby reports,

White Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks — a gap that nearly doubled during the Great Recession.

The median household net worth for whites was $110,729 in 2010, versus $4,995 for blacks, according to recently released Census Bureau figures.

After my conversation with my friend (or now former friend), I recalled reading Cornel West’s book Race Matters (1993) from which I drew a parallel to our discussion on race. As West stated in the premise of his book race does matter and will forever matter in American society. While I don’t agree with everything West has to say, I do believe that race and racism are deeply mapped in America’s societal DNA. It still matters in corporations, academia, politics, and yes, religious institutions (i.e., churches). And as a religious leader, it greatly disturbs me when I see men and woman of faith use their pulpits to espouse their political and racists views veiled in Scripture, slogans, and Christian “we are all one” (as long as we are in church) jargon.

West argued that “. . . we need to begin with a frank acknowledgment of the basic humanness and Americanness of each of us . . . If we go down, we go down together” (4). Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said nearly 30 years earlier, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” (given in a speech in St. Louis, Missouri, March 22, 1964). It was this “Americanness” that was called into question by many conservatives during the election that left me wondering who in their view were considered Americans. President Obama was called a communist, socialist, Muslim, and a long list of racists epithets that I will not mention here by leaders of this country and many from the Church. No one has yet to apologize for their ill and disrespectful behavior. The Church, in particular, should remain silent on the topic of forgiveness until it repents of the sin of racism.

Unfortunately, America for centuries was unwilling to honestly face up to its history of slavery and segregation. Some have gone so far as to suggest that African-Americans forget the past and put the history of slavery behind them. In 2009, House of Representatives passed Resolution 194: “America’s Apology for the Enslavement and Racial Segregation of African-Americans” went largely unnoticed in the Black community. A part of that resolution stated,

“Whereas on July 8, 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush acknowledged slavery’s continuing legacy in American life and the need to confront that legacy when he stated that slavery ‘was . . . one of the greatest crimes of history . . . The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destiny is set: liberty and justice for all.’”

There were no celebrations. No parades. Very few clergy or churches, schools, states, or government agencies even mentioned it. Should African Americans see this as a genuine beginning in the healing of our nation, or is it just another hollow gesture? Very few African Americans knew of or even acknowledged any worth in its passage. As one black man commented, “It’s just another worthless piece of paper like the Emancipation Proclamation and Native American treaties.”

While it does appear that some are making genuine attempts to have a national dialogue on race, there is still much work to be done. Churches, schools, communities, families, politicians, and citizens must be willing to continue this discussion and dialogue until genuine healing takes place—one person at a time. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it in our pursuit of a “more perfect union” among an imperfect humanity. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32 NKJV).

[1] Klarman, Michael J. Unfinished Business: Racial Equality in American History. Oxford University Press, 2007.

[2] Luhby, Tami. “Worsening Wealth Inequality by Race: Income Inequality in America.” CNNMoney, 2012. <http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/21/news/economy/wealth-gap-race/index.htm>

[3] West, Cornel. Race Matters.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

[4] H.Res. 194 (110th): Apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans.  <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hres194/text>