“Let’s pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.” – C. S. Lewis
(author’s note – this one could be rough, we’re going to hit on some sensitive issues. Stay with me.)
Those who know me, or read this blog, know I’m not a liberal or progressive – I tend to be rather conservative. As such, I was not all that hopeful that anything good would come from an Obama presidency – with two exceptions. First, the president favors a college football playoff, which is the only rational way to determine a champion (the BCS is nonsense). Second, and more importantly, I had hoped that Obama’s presidency would finally mark a breakdown of the racial chasm in this country. Just as John Kennedy’s presidency moved Catholics from a politically and socially marginalized group into the mainstream, and Jimmy Carter’s presidency reintegrated southerners into the political mainstream, so it was hoped that Obama’s presidency would mark the turning point away from political and social marginalization for African Americans.
A new poll out a few days ago by Scott Rasmussen (by far my favorite pollster), casts doubt on that hope. The poll (found here) indicates that folks are generally much less hopeful about race relations now than they were a year ago. Further, it is noted that blacks are much more sour on the current mood than whites. Some 39% of whites believe race relations are getting better, which is not a lot, but it far outpaces the 13% of blacks who feel that way.
I suspect that we have not yet closed the racial disconnect. I think the issue is not that we don’t all want better race relations, we just differ on what that ultimately looks like. I posit (feel free to disagree with me, and comment accordingly) that the main difference is what an expectation of improved race relations means – for the other guy.
I’m white. I know a lot of white people. (I know a lot of black people too, but that’s not the point.) The general approach to race relations of your average, run-of-the-mill white person in America is one of frustrated indifference. We don’t really care enough to get in a twist, other than to point out logical fallacies in various “liberation theology” arguments. By-and-large, conservative white people have moved on. (Obviously not all – there are still ardent racists out there, but they are not as numerous as the pundits would have you believe. To the extent they do exist, I offer that it is not true racism, but a resentment backlash.)
In this context, the notion of improved race relations lies totally with African Americans. The argument would basically go “we’ve moved on, perhaps you should too.” If they’re really snippy (to borrow Al Gore’s word), you might even get a “we have a black president, you can’t possibly believe that the deck is stacked against you.” (Easy there, I’m not defending these arguments, just pointing out the tone and sentiment that I see.)
As I said before, I also know a lot of black people. I submit that the narrative of improved race relations looks quite different to them. The African American community has been told for years (by their “leaders”) that the deck is in fact stacked against them, and the political, social, and economic systems are designed to restrict access to wealth and power. (By the way, I believe they are – but not in the way that Al Sharpton or Jessee Jackson would describe.)
If this is your narrative, then improved race relations must look totally different. It must be more of an admission on the part of white people that they have been oppressing, and opposing, and frustrating all attempts to break free.
Neither of these admissions is forthcoming. White people (most of them anyway) don’t believe that they are oppressors in any way. Oh sure, their great grandparents may have been, but those are bygones. Further, it will likely take more than the simple election of a black president to elicit a response of “oh, maybe white people aren’t interested in oppression anymore.”
Perhaps that is why hope has faded. We all hoped that something good was going to come out of this – we just figured it would start on the other side of the aisle.
As a Christian I would argue that the answer is not explicitly the presidency of one man, or any set of government policies. No, the answer in my worldview lies within the Church itself. This is the place where the ministry of reconciliation transcends national narratives about race (see 2 Cor 5:11-20). This is the place where reconciliation takes the form of brotherhood. Where old things are passed away and all things have become new.