President Carter is right, and President Obama is..., well let’s just say he’s not about to commit political suicide. For some reason, the current President refuses to acknowledge that racism is deeply rooted in American soil and intricately tied to American identity. His ideological illusion was hinted at in his emotional race speech during the campaign and his downplaying of Congressman Murtha’s confession that even White Democrats in his northern constituency had a problem with a bronzed skinned curly haired President. And I wonder how much thought he has given to the fact that he is only the first “Black” President because American racist categories automatically disqualify his mother’s ethnicity by virtue of her copulation with a Negro. It is true that we are navigating a turbulent journey to an unknown racial destination, but I feel compelled to ask the President, “Are we there yet”?
A Small Stable I’m not sure if President Obama’s refusal to confront the reality of racial politics in America is due to his American experience. After all, he was raised in Hawaii, and his induction to mainland racial culture was obtained from liberal academic enclaves in Massachussets, New York and California. True, he did receive practical training on the streets of Chicago as he organized on streets once dominated by Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam; and he was fortunate enough to be introduced to Christianity through the prophetic preaching of Dr. Jeremiah Wright; but has he been immersed in the total experience of being Black in America?
Before anyone gets defensive [or offensive], please notice that I said “total experience.” You see, there are many people of African heritage who have been insulated from the insidious racism that permeates many areas of American public life. Some of these recluses are given prominent media platforms to promote the “melting-pot” propaganda. They ignore the effects of centuries old institutional racism that keep a disproportionate amount of Blacks in poverty. Through jaundiced eyes they spotlight the small stable of Blacks who have achieved the Euro-designed “American dream,” and turn a blind eye to the masses in the spectator stands who are victims of the American nightmare. Their standard of attainment is limited by their warped understanding of W. B. G. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth” philosophy, as they shun the total empowerment vision of Marcus, Martin and Malcolm.
Nonetheless, although disheartening, the denial of a few is no reason to pretend that racist ideology is only shared by a fringe element in American society. Some believe the journey is over, but I am still compelled to ask the obvious: “Are we there yet?”
I Witness I was not born in this country, but as a bearer of African genes living in the South I fully understand President Carter’s concern. Let me give you some brief synopses of my experience as an African in America. Let me tell you what I witness on a regular basis. Those who live in the South know that it is not unusual to see the confederate flag unabashedly displayed outside homes and hanging from rear view mirrors in vehicles. Most recently, I was shocked that I was not shocked when I noticed a group of bald headed young white men I encountered in a health club proudly displaying their permanently etched swastikas and other Aryan Nation tattoos. O, and I still remember pulling up behind a car with an alluring bumper sticker, proudly declaring: “Jesus is coming... for the White race!”
Please don’t get me wrong. I love the South and fully know that not every southerner yearns for the resurrection of a twenty-first century Nathan Forrest. I applaud the courage of the state park director who terminated several employees for overt racist activities targeted against me and other people of African descent who were paying customers at the establishment. I still have the handwritten letter one of the workers handed me with the reminder that we were still the “n-----s” (my stomach still sours when I think about what they may have done to our food). When I think of this incident, I also regret that I did not insist that instead of being terminated, the perpetrators receive diversity training–after all, their replacements were coming from the same socio-geographical pool.
What was I saying? O yes, I really do love the South and know that there were millions of White people who made an intentional effort to change the reputation of this region by casting votes for the bi-racial Barack Hussein Obama. It has become commonplace to see mixed raced couples in a town where in my lifetime, a “Colored” man would have been lynched for even looking at a White woman. My son attends a majority White school that is headed by a Black principal and has several other Blacks in administration (an indicator that this is probably not tokenism). The South has come a long way, but when I think about the complaints of departmental racism levied against their superiors by Black law enforcement officers in my town (and yours?), I am compelled to ask, “Are we there yet?”
Conclusion: Not Yet Just in case the President is still not convinced by my diatribe (wouldn’t it be great if he had an opportunity to read these Spectrum columns?), I present “Exhibit A”: the Christian Church. I’m sure C. Eric Lincoln would have loved for an occasion to amend his chilling observation, but decades later the “Divine” worship service is still “the most segregated hour in the life of America.” True, there are some congregations that are making intentional efforts to model the eschatological Kingdom of God, but for the most part the masses have chosen to remain in our segregated comfort zones. Sadly, our fear of racial intimacy and delusions of normalcy have served to maintain a separatist system that is based on the fallacious notion of White supremacy.
In the American and South African Adventist contexts, some erroneously believe that problems will be solved with the integration of conferences. However, the reality of White flight and the promulgation of none-White churches in White conferences provide a quick reality check. The real problem resides at the grass roots level where genuine fellowship can lead to the dissipation of stereotypes and the formation of lasting relationships.
The evangelist in me wants to give an altar call. I’ll let him have the final word. He is especially appealing to those who have a genuine interest in dismantling the current system. He is urging you to make an intentional effort this week to invite a person or people of a different ethnicity to eat in your home with a view to forming a life long relationship. He is challenging you to visit a church where the majority of people don’t look like you and spend the entire day there. He is appealing to you to do some prayerful introspection as you confess your biases, repent, receive God’s forgiveness and seek a new agenda in life. The evangelist believes that God’s Spirit has asked him to make this invitation. Will you listen to him? Will you listen to Him?
If we are intentional about making a difference, maybe our progress will positively and rapidly impact society. And maybe we can voice an optimistic, “Not yet,” the next time there is occasion to ask, “Are we there yet?”
Keith Augustus Burton, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Life EmPowerment, Inc., a non profit corporation emphasizing community empowerment and personal responsibility. His vision of racial reconciliation in the church is laid out in the final chapter of his widely read book, The Faith Factor: The Key to Black Empowerment.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1875