The racist in me
Saturday, January 13, 2018
Today, I am grieving yet another senseless death. The 26-year-old granddaughter of the chair of our deacons was shot in the face in her apartment in the middle of the night a few nights ago. Local news mentioned it briefly, then went on to cover a couple of inches of snow as if it were a catastrophe. In this culture, black lives do not matter as much as white lives.
Ever so belatedly, I am becoming aware of the racialized culture in which we all, here in America, swim. It is an affront to God to claim that Christians founded this country on Christian principles. Certainly, many early settlers from Europe were Christian – genuine, sincere, loving, serving followers of the King of kings – however, those who held the reins of power in most cases either promoted or permitted the nation to be built by stolen labor on stolen land. Widespread genocide was driven by pure greed in a land-grab from indigenous peoples who had been here for a thousand years. Several million Africans were forcefully kidnapped and worked as slaves. Their labor built the entire economy – north and south alike. A bullet to the head blasted Lincoln’s lofty ideals; reconstruction ground to a virtual halt, and Jim Crow segregation re-enslaved the newly manumitted.
The former slave-holding states defected en masse in reaction against the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. Nixon inaugurated his “war on drugs,” which we now know was aimed specifically at the marijuana preferred by poor blacks and hippies – two groups he hated. It left untouched the widespread use of cocaine among white businesspeople – the drug of choice on Wall Street. That resulted in the mass incarceration of young black men, ripping apart and destroying families, and guaranteeing that generations of young African-Americans would grow up fatherless and poor. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of all the imprisoned people on earth. With mothers working two or more minimum wage jobs, kids were left adrift. Gangs filled the gap and became the family.
Federal redlining laws and mortgage regulations kept families of color locked in slums while white people fled to the blossoming suburbs. White people obtained mortgages and built wealth; black people paid rent to slumlords. Underfunded schools filled with kids without fathers perpetuated an underclass. Food deserts, inflated rents, and substandard medical care drove the life expectancy of African-Americans down. A recent, and oft replicated sociological study showed that white men with prison records are more likely to be employed than a black man with a clean slate. Résumés with typical “black” names were far less likely to be considered than ones with typically “white” names.
The entire concept of “race” is a false social construct, unknown prior to the 17th century, and invented by Europeans to promote and maintain superiority over others. Just because I have lighter skin than some others, I am advantaged. I grew up in a safer neighborhood; I had a father who came home every evening and provided guidance and love; police officers were considered friends; I knew no one who was in jail; my white public education was good; doors opened for colleges and jobs.
Drew Hart, the author of Trouble I’ve Seen tells of a conversation with a well-meaning white pastor who illustrated his point with a coffee cup. In essence, he said, we both know what’s on our side of the cup, but not the other, so we need to share with each other. Dr. Hart acknowledged his good intensions, said he did not mean any offence, but the truth is that all African-Americans already know both sides of the cup. To survive, they have had to learn the ways of the white world, how to be appreciative and submissive, how to give “the talk” to their kids. It is people like me who need to see the other side of the cup. And that begins with lamentation and repentance.
Subtle, institutionalized racism has been, and continues to be, justified by people who claim to followers of Jesus using scripture to promote bigotry. Their ancestors used the Bible to justify slavery and segregation; now they defend racist polices and oppose efforts to rectify the past.
This is Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Monday, I will gather at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center and listen to (and hopefully learn from) the wisdom of those who know what both sides of the cup look like. Then, singing and praying, we will walk a mile to Music Hall where community choirs will sing and wisdom will be preached. It will end with us linking hands and singing:
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.