MY COLLISION WITH RACISM
In American culture, differences within our population make us uncomfortable and race looms large in the eyes of white America. I often wonder about the outcome of the Civil War. Lee surrendered, the Union was saved, slaves were freed and the white man reigned supreme. Segregation and racism still linger. Did racism win?
There are some among us who embrace racial and ethnic diversity, developing respect for human differences. Despite this increase in understanding, minority communities continue to suffer from inequality, injustice, and exclusion at the hands of the mainly white majority. The significant consequences of this purposeful discrimination and marginalization includes societal rejection, fewer job and educational opportunities, poor medical care, unfair treatment by authorities, and the death of George Floyd.
Also, American Christianity has failed to respect the divine image in all beings and supports the racial divide. The Good News is not just for white men with religious and political power and those who support systems of inequity through their participation and silence. I am saddened by my white Christian brethren who cannot see this picture, which shows how much we live in homogeneous communities, with folks who are like us. We must publicly acknowledge and repent for the harm that Christianity in this country has caused. And we must take steps—both political and spiritual—to bring healing. WE (me) need to get involved in change to bring justice and peace.
An anthropologist will tell you that all humans of whatever race belong to one species, Homo Sapiens. The differences between human races are not great, even though they may appear so if we only consider skin color. Current racial categories are subjective and have little meaning. Black people are human beings just like me and you.
Racism takes many forms and can happen in many places. We often associate racism with acts of abuse or harassment, but it does not need to involve violent or intimidating behavior. Racial name-calling and jokes or situations when folks are excluded from groups or activities because they are black, are racially motivated.
All racism is not obvious. Someone may look through a list of job applicants and decide not to interview people with names that have racial connotations. Or the new black neighbors do not make the list for the party. Racism is more than just words, beliefs, and actions. It includes all the barriers that prevent people from enjoying dignity and equality because of their race. People are not born with racist ideas or attitudes. Racism is something that is learned. I learned it as a young boy growing up in the south.
And I believe that I suffer from unconscious bias. I did not think anything about campaigning for Ralph Northam in a traditionally black neighborhood. I met some really nice folks and had some great conversations. But a black guy walking through my neighborhood raises my antenna.
Some groups experience racism at higher rates than others.. Black people often have to deal with systemic forms of discrimination, particularly in dealing with the police throughout our country. Such experiences limit their access to the opportunities, resources, and quality of life they should enjoy as citizens of the US. For African Americans, systemic racism is bound up in historical disadvantage and mistreatment.
The political reality of our country is increasingly determined by differences in belief across races and communities. Partisan politics and media coverage are derivatives of these differences. That these differences are structural, mainly because of geography and how our racism arose in the first place, is a disgrace. The concept of race was originally invented to facilitate social control in the American colonies. Colonial rulers needed a way to clearly establish the status and roles of the different populations that were coming together in the new American possessions — rulers, managers, and free settlers from Europe; native people from whom the land was being taken; and slaves imported from Africa. The solution that emerged was to define each group as fundamentally biologically distinct and ranked on a hierarchy from most animal-like to most advanced. This cemented the rulers’ right to rule (since they were the most highly developed race of humans) and drove a wedge between groups such as poor whites and blacks that might otherwise have united to oppose the ruling classes.
Racial and ethnic groups are spread across the USA in an uneven fashion and have not changed that much in 150 years. Native Americans in the east were largely killed or forced to move westward. Black people make up higher proportions of the population in the South (where their ancestors were brought as slaves) and in the cities of the North (where they moved in search of industrial work in the early 1900s). The connection between people with similar ways of life is the most politically innocent reason for segregation. Folks like living around other people who live the same way. And when a large number of people with a similar lifestyle live together, they can support some of the the amenities and businesses that they need. Most importantly, these neighborhood clusters also allow people to find refuge and solidarity. Instead of being isolated within a hostile population, neighbors provide a support network in the struggle to resist discrimination and get ahead in a hostile world.
Levels of economic status impacts the ability to afford to live in particular locations. As the economic status of different groups shifts, the racial composition of a neighborhood may change. White flight, gentrification, redlining, and violence play a huge role. Amazingly, neighborhoods of color may get less water and sewer infrastructure, may be passed over or even directly sacrificed to provide transit and roads to richer and whiter neighborhoods, and receive less effective and more abusive police protection.
Segregation laws were struck down or repealed in the mid-20th century, but the legacy of this legal segregation lives on in our country in many subtle ways. The home of the free is a racist nation. I do not know why I am surprised. The framers of the Constitution were in some measure segregationists and they kept kicking the can of slavery down the road and avoided any resolution of the issue. Even today, Americans would like to ignore race and hope it will go away. But it will not. And I believe that racial tolerance cannot be legislated. Those of us who are white have to change. Fear of people who look different has to be replaced with love and kindness. Effective efforts to make mutuality and justice integral to life is the only way. I have to change!
The victimized minority is encouraged to complain to the courts and the evil majority has to reform itself and make restitution. This legal approach does not make people love each other. This approach will not work because it puts all the responsibility on the powerful side and makes no requirement of the weaker. I must understand that I have something to do with this situation if there is any chance for me to achieve any good relationships among people. If we all treated each other the way we would like to be treated, we would have Peace on Earth.! If I treat you like an enemy you will treat me back like an enemy. The one and only way I can get you to treat me like a friend is if I treat you like a friend. It could be that I do not know what it means to treat people of color like friends. Perhaps treating The Golden Rule as more than a slogan would help. Then I could find ways to apply it. We routinely treat others like enemies without realizing it, and then we wonder why they are mean to us. When we get angry at people for doing things we do not like, we are actually encouraging them to repeat those actions.
Somewhere along the way we sort our individual characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality which is exactly where my racism has lingered. My ego has told me to stay with what I know and remain separate. But that is not who I want to be. I want to be a part of a life based on loving and learning from everything. To solve racism today, a white man like me, in fact me, must put love to work moving me and others toward an ever-deepening union with my black brothers and sisters and all those that regularly face discrimination and injustice. BLACK LIVES MATTER.