While I have posted more specifically about race and church in Does Race Matters When Pastoring?, lately more general thoughts on race have been swirling around my head. It there have been many alerts as of late that have passed across “my desk” addressing issues of race in the church, politics and culture. Now with the election of Barack Obama this week, the shifts in the demographics of the electorate and the historic nature of an African American person being elected, race has once again taken center stage in American politics . . . at least for a night.
First a personal note . . .
When the announcement, “Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States of America” rang out, I wept, I cheered, I prayed. Our world has changed. OUR children’s view of what is “American” will never be the same. And not just here, but around the world. While he is clearly not just a person of racial designation, we must not, for one moment, underestimate the symbolic nature and corresponding power of having a person of color as president. The memories of what my grandparents went through as they struggled through injustice in this country came flooding back and a wave of gratitude swept over my spirit. From the days when my Filipino grandmother in Alabama struggled with where to sit on the bus because no one knew if she was white or black to anti-miscegenation laws repealed just decades ago that would have prohibited my White wife from marrying this Filipino man, at least a few layers of historical injustice were pealed back to reveal a reality of pure joy. As the results were was announced I felt, if not just for a moment, a promise was fulfilled.
At some level I still cannot allow myself to REALLY believe it.
But in honor of those White, Black and Brown folks who have fought the good fight and have lived up to God’s intentions for humanity, thank you. Your sacrifices, struggles and perseverance were not and will not be in vain.
But . . . and isn’t there always a “but” especially when it comes to change that seems too good to be true? Unfortunately in this case, yes.
As we revel in the magnitude of the election, let us not be so naive as to think that we have somehow become “post-race” as a culture and world. We still have a long way to go as a world and society before we can, at any level, claim we have “solved” racism. Now please don’t get me wrong, I am trying mightily not to give into the confining cynicism of the world. I am only trying to be wise as I try to hold onto the compelling nature of my faith, the hope and new life that Christ offers.
I think the biggest issue/concern I have right now is the idea that this generation is somehow so past race that we no longer need institutional safeguards against systematic and institutional injustice. I strongly believe that we would be foolish to begin to toss out the proverbial baby with proverbial bath water and now claim that we have succeeded in the defeat of racism simply because we have elected an African American president and/or all the generational assessments about race that has punctuated the political discourse.
But let me start on a positive note. I will not only acknowledge but I wholeheartedly embrace the intent of my statement above because this idea is not totally off. The glimpses of truth for me lie in a few observations about our this burgeoning culture that would say, yes, lets dramatically change the way we deal with issues of race.
Technology and the Flattening World – With the growing ways that we simply engage today, there is no doubt that interactions between different ethnic groups creates a greater understanding of and exposure to different cultures thus breaking down fears and misconceptions. This can only be good.
Open Source Technology – Open Source, the idea behind Wikipedia says that over time, we will collectively determine the truth and that the community will correct and police itself along the way. I very much agree with this and see it happening all around within certain groups as we move towards some collective truth. This is goes beyond methodology, but an understood way of being in a healthy and thriving community.
Numbers - The sheer population percentages are a changing. Combine this reality with the ease of interactions that technology brings and all of a sudden we are all living in multi-cultural America at some point every day. Whether or not we as individuals can actually deal with the increased pressure of cross-race interactions, they will only continue to increase.
And here is the, “yes, but” section of this post. In a vacuum and a confined demographic we may indeed be pretty darn close to not just getting beyond race, but downright embracing the joyful complexity of race. But we do not live in a vacuum . . . so here are my rebuttal statements . . . to myself?
There is no such thing as a cultural blank slate - Not everyone is playing the same game and has the same historical worldview as those who are redefining our cultural experience of race. In fact, I fear that the idea that “the next generation is over race” will be used as a tool to justify ongoing or prolonged situations of institutional racism. Sure, if the system is made of up people with this worldview about race, maybe there is some merit, but that is just NOT the case. For the most part our cultural, religious and political institutions are still made up of and lead by those for whom institutional safeguards were originally intended to monitor and protect.
Corporate sin is real – As much as I believe in Open Source culture, I am not willing to give up my belief in the ability for a body of well-intentioned people to unintentionally oppress those with less power or who live on the margins of society. While I believe that God has great intentions for us and that we will most often choose a path of grace, I think evil and human brokenness are just too strong to simply think we can or will be able to ever fully be corporately self-regulating.
We are solely defined by race – Not that we were ever REALLY able to be defined by one thing, I think it is safe to say that issues of class, economics, gender, sexual orientation, geography, age, etc. now muddy up the pursuit of racial reconciliation. Now that there is simply a greater number of ethnic groups located in a growing complexity of lifestyles and situations one’s race is no longer the sole determining factor of one’s reality in the world. While we may indeed be getting closer on issues of race, to lay upon that one descriptor, the determination of the presence or absence of institutional injustice is far too simplistic.
Okay so now what? Oh that’s simple
- Admit that issue of race today is far more complex than, “this generation is post-race so let’s get rid of all civil rights inspired mechanisms of protection.”
- Admit that while we are experiencing race differently today, institutional racism still exists, albeit in different and more nuanced ways.
- Admit that some of the structures that have been built up over the years in order to protect may have outlived their time of effectiveness.
- Embrace the opportunity and challenge to talk about and deal with issues of race in new ways, with new vernacular and new institutional approaches.
- Listen to the next generation telling us that there is indeed a new day.
- Live in hope.
See wasn’t that easy