Tuesday, April 15, 2008

State of Race Relations

In an earlier post I wrote about Obama’s pastor. I’d now like to look at how we are doing as a nation when it comes to race relations – a nation which is supposed to be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. This isn’t a comprehensive review, just a few thoughts of mine.

The Good News

The good news is that there is both a woman and an African-American man as potential candidates for President of the United States. Gender and race don’t appear to be major issues in this election, which means that we have, at least to some extent, made some progress in those areas.

The Bad News

The bad news is that there is still bias, but today it is more subtle. This prejudice is nearly invisible to white people, but African-Americans and other minorities suffer some sort of indignity almost daily. I’ve been told this by black friends, and I’ve read about it in articles. I’ve heard about it from enough people and read enough articles that I believe it, even though I don’t usually see it because I’m not the target.

We are still divided along racial lines in the number of ways as well. For example, African-American viewpoints are sometimes different from the way white Americans may see things. A good example is the O.J. Simpson trial. To most whites he was clearly guilty, while many blacks believed he was innocent. We’ve had similar differences of opinions on why relief was so slow in coming to New Orleans after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Blacks say the slow response was racially-motivated, while whites say it was government incompetence.

Anger and Frustration

Because of a long history of injustice, plus the ongoing indignities, there is anger and frustration lurking just below the surface with many black people. A few years ago I was at a gathering of pastors which included some black clergy. I don’t remember how the subject of race came up, but all of a sudden I saw that anger erupt in the discussion. As I understand it, there are at least three reasons for this anger:

1. First, there is a long history of slavery and oppression of African-Americans in this country (with denial of rights that lasted well into the 20th century).

2. Second, they still endure indignities and insults of various kinds, including stereotyping.

3. Third, they believe their suffering is worse than any group of people has ever endured in this country.

Although other groups have suffered discrimination and abuse, they believe the African-American experience has been worse than any of the others. We have to realize that whether we agree with that view or not, that’s where black people are coming from, so it helps to be aware of that. I’ve observed this anger a number of times and in several different ways, so I know it’s there, and I try to be sensitive to it. The discussion after the documentary film “Meet David Wilson” on MSNBC was revealing in that regard.

Other Minorities

Of course there are others who have also been subjected to discrimination: Jews, Latinos, Orientals, Catholics, women, American Indians, to name a few. We had friends who are Chinese, and they went into an Italian restaurant for a meal one evening years ago. They were totally ignored, never waited on, and finally left in disgust.

I grew up Catholic in a predominantly Protestant area, so I would occasionally hear anti-Catholic slurs. Those certainly are not as hateful as the “N” word and other slurs, but still made me conscious that I was not in the mainstream in at least one sense.

I used to work for a guy who doesn’t look Jewish, and had a rather waspish name. One time he was in a meeting and some guy who didn’t know him made an unkind comment about Jews. He didn’t say anything at the time, but after the meeting, he went into the guy’s boss’s office and told him his employee has a problem that should be addressed.

It’s been said that my wife’s aunt, had she not been a woman, would have advanced much further in the company than she did – although she still did pretty well.


We should always remember that Christians are called to a higher standard than the world. Therefore, we must treat all with kindness and respect, even when different from us. We should treat all people with dignity, respect, and as a fellow human being. This includes dealings with members of the opposite sex, and people of different socio-economic status. We should also treat children courteously and with dignity.

We should never talk down to anybody, and always be authentic. I try to be authentic around everybody, because if I’m not, it’ll be obvious. As Jesus taught us, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and do unto others as we would have them do unto you. As I’ve said many times before, we can’t do it on our own. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is very weak. To accomplish these difficult tasks, we must follow the first and greatest commandment (Luke 10:27, NCV):

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.”

Love the Lord – love your neighbor. When you love the Lord your God, then the rest of the things I’ve been talking about fall into place, because we are willingly obedient to God’s leading. That’s a good witness to all you come in contact with, and you are glorifying God in the process.

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