Racism is alive and well in the United States. Those who were in denial about it before for one reason or another, must come to grips with this sobering reality post 2016 election. We have not progressed our way out of it as many have eagerly but ignorantly imagined. Nor have we come remotely close to dismantling it, in spite of all of our good, earnest efforts spanning generations. While political pundits analyze so many different components of the election results, all with varying and sometimes contradictory statements, one piece of truth that continues to bear out is that racism is the culprit laying at the root of the tree.
Let me be expressly clear about what I am and am not saying. I am not saying that one political party is racist and the other not. Both Republicans and Democrats embody deeply racist ideologies and both at times, can present policy platforms that appear to help vulnerable people while simultaneously screwing them over. And I am not saying that the other candidate was America’s salvation in any way – she represented more of the status quo way of doing things than any substantive change in either direction. And I am not saying that everyone who voted for the president-elect is necessarily racist, though I have some pointed questions for those who did. What I am saying is that the man who ran on a platform that was openly and explicitly crass towards African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and women – just to name a few – won. What I am saying is that the man who – without specifics – proposed building walls and banning people of a particular faith, just secured 304 electoral votes. What I am saying is that the man who received the endorsement of a known terrorist organization, is slated to become the next president of the United States. In just a few more days. God have mercy on us all!
To me this reaffirms this nation’s historic roots. In spite of all of the work that activists, faith leaders, community residents, academics, journalists, and even government allies have done over the last eight years – not to mention the work spanning hundreds of years which made the last eight years possible – racism is rearing its ugly head, insisting its pre-eminence and staking its claim on the United States’ soil, land, and air. Racism, the manner by which this country was built since it was stolen from American Indians, is here to stay. It is the only way that this country can survive – the entire nation’s economy, power, and way of being in the world exists only because racism exists. It is the nexus by which every other thing in this nation holds together.
Because it is the way of doing things in the United States, all of the effort that we put into uprooting this awful evil often seems to be ineffective. Sure, there may be short terms wins along the way evidenced through policy change and shifts in individual attitudes. But these wins, just as quickly as they come, can disappear when the political climate shifts, the economy fails, or when people simply grow tired of doing the right thing. When it is no longer expedient to do the right thing, when equity is no longer as appealing as it once was, when people forget all of the work that we have collectively put in to get us to this point, these wins – like voter rights and affirmative action – lose their effectiveness. They either lack enforcement metrics or laws change so that the metrics that secured equal rights are no longer valid as evidenced in the work to repeal Obamacare just this week.
It is very difficult to maintain hope in the face of such a reality. It’s not impossible, as with God all things are possible, but it is beyond challenging to keep imagining that liberation could actually be a tangible reality when this present-day system has endured for more than 500 years. Could this great imperialistic evil, that haunts our memories and threatens the future of our children and our children’s children – children who are increasingly of color as our nation’s demographics continue to change – come to an end so that we can all be free? Can we dismantle the spirit of white supremacy, that in the words of Toni Morrison causes people to do things that they otherwise would not do and abandon their sense of human dignity in the name of identity? “Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street.” Is a reality beyond this current situation even plausible or are we merely deceiving ourselves?
Permanence of Racism
I recently finished reading Derrick Bell’s ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well.” Like December recently. I bought the book over a year ago and finally picked it up the week before the election. Perfect timing! Although it was written in 1992, I was struck by how relevant Bell’s analysis around the black experience was more than 20 years after he published the book.
One of the most compelling chapters in the book was the last one – the Space Traders. An allegory, it illustrated how in times of political and financial turmoil, black people are easily scapegoated for the nation’s problems while being simultaneously called on to fix the nation’s ills. In this particular story, visitors from another world visited the U.S. and promised the country financial resources, the means to clean up the climate, and other goods in exchange for its black citizens. Activists, journalists and other leaders representing different racial and religious backgrounds tried to make the moral case for denying the visitor’s offer. Business leaders also tried to make a financial case for resisting this great temptation, not in the name of morality but because of black citizen’s purchasing power. Some leaders who were worried about violating the constitution, even tried to make a legal case against the Space Trader’s offer.
In the end, politicians gave into their depraved lusts and took the visitor’s offer. They amended the constitution so that it was now legal, even honorable to exile a whole race of people – telling black citizens that they were now being enlisted in selective service to save the country. They shut down journalists who contradicted their narratives, published the names of Jewish leaders who were to secretly give black people refuge, and even published propaganda through religious leaders who could deceive their audiences into believing that this was the right thing. They even went as far as to criminalize and even kill blacks who tried to escape the country or who fought back. Nothing would keep them from securing the financial and material gain that could be theirs by turning over the country’s black citizens to God knows what fate met them ahead.
Fortunately, no visitors from outer space are coming to take any of us away! And still, the parallels between this allegory written more than 20 years ago and our present day reality are uncanny. While the sanctioned means of exploitation and oppression changes from generation to generation – slavery to convict leasing system to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to police brutality – the oppression of black people is part and parcel to this nation’s survival. And as the country becomes increasingly diverse the codified hatred of blacks has expanded to include everyone who is not white, and particularly, not a wealthy, white, able-bodied, heterosexual ‘Evangelical’ male.
Everyone outside of this narrow demographic has been blamed for the economic and social instability in our country, further proving that the struggle for human rights and survival is now a struggle shared by all of us – even the so-called disenfranchised whites who voted for him in the first place. Many of these – certainly not all – voted out of the desire to Make America Great Again. While the popular slogan never mentioned race, it was a dog-whistle that called out for days gone by when whites held more power.
But not all whites, let us remember that. Power, as much as it is divided along racial lines, is more greatly defined along economic ones. Race is not the foundation, the foundation is gross inequities and class divisions between wealthy whites and non wealthy whites. Race keeps those without resources from going after the wealthy, instead turning their attention to people of color of all economic classes. Race has been effective in warding off uprisings and political revolts as so commonly happened in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries. And in order to hold on to economic power, the wealthy rally disenfranchised whites to put pressure on people of color. As Obama so eloquently stated in last week’s farewell speech, “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving (person of color), then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”
If this is it, and this is all we have, and if policies that promoted human rights can be taken away with the stroke of a pen, and if it is so seemingly easy to incite people to turn on each other, what, pray tell, can we hope in? How do we keep ourselves from becoming filled with utter despair and sadness as we see history repeat itself right before our eyes? How do we keep marching forward and stay stedfast on the course of justice, truth and righteousness when others around us, even in the household of faith, have seemed to lose sight of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that is “about God’s saving love that wants to restore all of humanity to full communion.”
A Reason to Hope
Unfortunately, many people have cast off hope. After seeing generations of their ancestors struggle and fight for the same basic human decency in which we strive for today, some have given up on the idea that things could actually improve. The unbelief, which manifests itself in various forms including nihilism and atheism, comes from a place of deep despair and hopelessness as a result of the continual failure of the system to change. And who can blame those who embrace such ideologies? It is not for wantonness and debasement that these choose unbelief, but rather out of desperation and pain. Persistent despair causes people to surrender hope in exchange for something tangible, something real in order to face reality for what it is. As the Word of God affirms, hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.
Still, I believe. For me, hope does not equate to a sense of false optimism, but it is a hope that is painfully aware of the current reality and still utterly convinced that another reality is possible. Though it may come off as mere foolishness to some, I sincerely do believe that change is not only possible but is on its way. You see, evil always resists the hardest right before a cataclysmic shift in the spirit. Remember the stories of Moses and Jesus, and how the ruling powers of their day both tried to extinguish the chance of deliverance through genocide and oppression? Similarly, in our time, the national and global intensity of oppression in this moment has to cause us to ask what the Spirit of God is about to do in this moment. Though we are prone to tremble and fear, we still have to understand that there is so much taking place in the spiritual world that we cannot see with our natural eyes. As hard as we are fighting for the cause of justice in the natural, we can trust that God is moving things in the supernatural. If He wasn’t, if things truly were not changing, if that moral arc of the universe was not ever more bending towards justice, peace, and reconciliation, Satan would not be fighting so hard. Satan fights because he is fighting a losing battle – he will not win, God’s peace, truth, and righteousness will prevail!
In that vein, I also hope because of the imminent return of Christ. Deep in my heart, I believe He is coming back to restore all of humanity to Himself, each other, and the environment. All of the relationships that were destroyed as a result of disobedience will be repaired and we will finally enjoy the fullness of His presence. In that return, the systems of this world will fall. Every empire built on the backs of the disenfranchised will not only be called into account but will also be done away with. You see, if Jesus is Savior and LORD, there is no way that any of the rulers in this world can occupy that space. Even the most powerful dictator will have to face the fact that they are not in charge and will be held accountable for how they marginalized vulnerable populations for the sake of financial and political gain.
I also hope because there are so many people who are rallying for justice. People of different races, ethnicities and creeds. People of different income and educational levels. People within the nation’s boarders and without. People of different genders and sexual orientations. People of different abilities. People of all different shapes and sizes. People of different religions and faith expressions. Even people of different political ideologies. All of us, in spite of our differences, are pursuing justice. Because of our differences, we may not all take up the same approach but the point is, each of us with our gifts, skills, and abilities are doing what we can to usher in peace and justice, and stomp out evil and oppression. The sheer vastness of this coalition of folks also tells me that there are more people intent on securing righteousness than those bent on evil. Evil, at times, may seem to be more powerful. Because of its reach, we may even begin to feel that we are outnumbered. But let us remember the apostle Paul’s admonition to the early church who faced persecution under the Roman occupation, saying “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew! Do you not know what the scripture says about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left and they are seeking my life!” 4 But what was the divine response to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand people who have not bent the knee to Baal (Romans 11.2 – 4, NET).”
There are more of us than there are of them. Though those bent on evil may wield power and resources, we are mighty if we stand together under the common bond of love, mercy, justice, and reconciliation. As the words of the 1973 Chilean socialist movement declared, ‘El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido (The People United, Will Never Be Defeated)! If we stand united in purpose, even if our approaches and methodologies differ, we will not only be able to stand against the present day threat to our collective human rights, but we can stand against structural racism and capitalism that continues to devastate our beings and witness the unfolding of the kin-dom of God before our very eyes!