A few months ago I had the pleasure of participating in a public forum where issues of racial and ethnic discrimination were the main topic of discussion. Along with a few others, I found myself seated at a table in front of an invited audience of slightly less than a hundred adults. These adults were from varying social distinctions, occupations, ethnicities, language, age, education and economic circumstance.
Even though this gathering was being sponsored by a large United Methodist Church, there were also Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, as well as several other denominational representatives who were both observing and participating in this venture of open dialogue.
Given what I experienced during the quickly moving two hour session, I thought I would share with you what turned out to be a remarkably revealing gathering.
It has been my experience that public forums which focus themselves around issues of race most often find the participants to be classified into two groups:
1. Those who have personally experienced the pain of hateful and ignorant displays of aggressive individual bigotry as well as the harsh sting of institutional racism.
2. Those who have come to the conclusion that, with only a few exceptions of those red necked country bumpkins still living in the shade of the archaic KKK mentality, racially- or ethnically-motivated thinking has forever been erased from the public consciences.
Regardless of whether or not you are Republican or Democrat, If you have falsely come to the conclusion that a couple of centuries of intentional racial and ethnic forms or racial discrimination and/or institutional intimidation have suddenly been washed away in the afterglow of the Obama election and his hard-fought re-election; shame on you.
To find evidence of this “shame” all one has to do is contemplate the incredible social reactions and group dynamics experienced from multiple points-of-view regarding Michael Brown (Missouri) and Eric Garner (New York) to know issues of race in America, although better, are still far too often intentionally neglected.
The unfortunate and inconvenient truth is obvious to those who still feel the frequent effects of hateful speech, physical intimidation, social alienation, and economic subjugation pointing in their direction. Despite the grand and historic reality of the first person-of-color being elected and re-elected America’s 44th president, racism and ethnic separatism are still running rampant in foundational sectors of American culture.
Again, I am not denying that over the last 50 years improvements in public language, governmental policies, and civil discourse haven’t become more sensitive regarding racial interactions. They have. However, you shouldn’t be fooled into believing that learning new words, phrases, and acceptable public behavior has any lasting effect on “the heart” of an individual.
Have cultural improvements been made? Obviously, Yes. However, to think this societal under-current of evil hatred and mistrust is all but eradicated is more than a little ignorant, especially when compared to the daily experiences of tens of millions of people living within the boundaries of the United States.
On this particular evening one of the many participants “of color” responded to the question, “Are things better now? And if so, How?” by saying the following.
“Yeah, it’s better, but only if you assume it’s better to be stabbed by a knife rather than shot by a gun. You are still hurt either way. “
Racism, bigotry, and ethnic discrimination remain an endemic fixture within a large portion of the country and is being systematically employed both overtly and covertly in a wide variety of industries and organizations….both sacred and secular.
Presented by several people at this public forum were stories of the “normal course of life” in and around their area. A few examples were stories such as:
· Two Latin American shoppers meeting for the first time in the checkout line at Walmart having a friendly conversation in Spanish were suddenly verbally abused by a white shopper, telling them, “Get out and go home, illegals.”
· A black family recently looking to sell their home found themselves asking their realtor if they should take the photos of their family down before the prospective white family arrives to investigate the house for purchase.
· A local mixed-race couple being refused service through the age old tactic of ignoring them while others were being waited on with urgency and enthusiasm at a popular and well-known restaurant.
· A bilingual Latino mother with two small children arrived at a local health care clinic, just like so many others do, looking to use the medical services that are set aside for those who are financially less fortunate and being boldly turned away because according to the clinic’s employees, “It wasn’t the right day of the month for ‘your people,’ so you will have to come back.”
And of course there are the two highly publicized cases of two African American unarmed men; Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Michael Brown, who went from walking down the middle of a dead-end street, less than 30 yards from his front door, to approximately 70 seconds later….dead. The other instance involved unarmed Eric Garner, who for the “horrible crime” of selling individual cigarettes, was choked to death while being arrested.
These and hundreds of thousands of other stories that could be shared to anyone willing to listen represent one of the biggest social challenges still facing America; intentionally toxic racial and ethnic distrust…which foster fear….which inevitably leads to hate.
Beloved, even with the cultural watershed moment provided by a diverse cross-section of USA voters electing and subsequently re-electing a biracial Harvard University lawyer and first term senator from the state of Illinois as president of the United States it is still sadly and abundantly obvious that far too many segments of our country still carry severe challenges within this are of social interaction.
We Christians….those who have been severely and permanently transformed by God’s empowering embrace….cannot become complacent when it comes to carrying on the righteous fight against the evils of racism and ethnic discrimination. Those who are committed to “The Way of Christ” are still called by God to positively effect individual lives, prompt communities to be reborn, and righteously uplift a resurrected savior toward whole segments of our country’s population who need to be healed and transformed. Our government is not the primary agent of change. It is those who love The Lord, with all our minds, hearts, and souls – who are the PRIMARY AGENTS OF CHANGE! Many of us would be wise to remember that.