Racism Runs Deep, Digging Out Takes Time


Image from Colorlines It was trendy 8 years ago to consider that America is now a post-racial country, thanks to the election of the first black President.

I have dear friends who insist that being "colorblind" is the ideal posture when it comes to race.

Almost without fail, when one segment of society proclaims #BlackLivesMatter, there is another segment that follows up with, #AllLivesMatter.

So where does that leave us?

Is America truly post-racial? Should we stop seeing color, and get on with the work of not seeing race? Is it more appropriate to advocate for all lives, not just those who's skin runs darker?

My feeling is, because the history of racism in our country runs so deep, then it is going to take more time than we've given it so far to feel like we've dug ourselves out.

The first slave ship docked on American shores in 1619.

Slavery was legal (aka, the Law of our Land said it is GOOD and PERMISSIBLE to buy and sell and OWN another human being) up until the 13th amendment in 1865.

But then in 1896 segregation became legal (aka, the Law of our Land said it is GOOD and PERMISSIBLE to treat blacks as different types of humans. You know, if you can't own 'em, control 'em.), until the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement in 1964.

During that time, lynching was a real thing.

That happened.

In our country.

Somewhere around 5,000 human beings (who's skin was darker than other human beings) were hung from trees, and the Law of the Land was like, "meh..."

Slavery. Segregation. Lynching.

From 1619 until 1964.

If you're keeping score at home, that is 345 years... heck, let's just round up...

That is 350 years of institutionalized, legalized, and society-approved oppression and marginalization of african americans in our country. 

That's a long, long, long time.

While 1964 wasn't a magical fix by any means, it can at least be seen as the pivotal turning point. The Titanic began it's slow turning.

So from 1964 until now is about 50 years. (Of course, even though slavery/segregation/lynching are no longer legal, as anyone who's paying attention will tell you: there are still many ways in which there is institutionalized and legalized and society-approved forms of oppression in our county).

To be clear, then, we have 350 years of a country moving in one direction, and then 50 years trying to move in another. And yet some would look at that and say that we are post-racial, or that we should be colorblind, or that it's time to get over talking about black oppression and focus on how #AllLivesMatter.

But what on God's green earth can be undone in merely 50 years when it was entrenched for 350?!

Think about it in terms of your diet.

If you ate nothing but horrible junk food, and lots of it, every day for 350 days, you could put on 200 lbs or more. And not only would you be extremely overweight, but your whole system would be shutting down on you. But then imagine that you wake up and decide it's time to make a change, and so you start to eat healthy and exercise every day.

Do you think after seven weeks you’d be ready to run marathons and fit in to your wedding day clothes?

Or consider making frosting for your son's birthday cupcakes.

You squeeze out 350 drops of blue food coloring to get is as blue as possible, and then your six year old walks in and says, “I want yellow cupcakes!”

Do you think after just 50 drops of yellow that the frosting would be good to go?

Or how about in your relationship.

Say you spent an entire year, every day, abusing your partner. Speaking horrible things to them, telling them how worthless they are, not letting them out of the house, not letting them have any say on any decision. You berate them verbally every day, and just to mix it up you physically and sexually abuse them. For a whole year. 
Then, on Jan 1st you have a change of heart. You apologize, and start trying to be more kind.

Do you think by Valentine’s Day your lover will be ready to enjoy a steak dinner by the sea and go salsa dancing late in to the night?

The illusion of being in a post-racial society is naive at best, and downright deceptive at worst.

When the courts decide that aspects of the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary, and when some ares of the country are trying to undo Affirmative Action, they are in a sense saying, “Look, I know I’ve abused you every day for a year, but c’mon, it’s Valentine’s day, aren’t you over it by now?”

When people respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement by insisting that #AllLivesMatter, they are in a sense saying, “look, I realize the frosting isn’t totally yellow yet, but just put it on the cupcakes already, I’m hungry.”

When people insist that we should be colorblind, and not see race, they are in a sense saying, “You might still be 165 lbs overweight with diabetes and heart problems, but you should still run that marathon! And heck, who wants to fit in to their wedding dress anyway?!”

My hope is that more and more (specifically) white Americans would put in to perspective the history of black Americans in our country. They can't just "move on." 50 years of barely-making-progress is no where near enough time to collectively turn the consciousness of our society. To root out systemic prejudice. To balance unequal treatment of blacks. Or to tell our brains a new narrative about what skin color means.

(If you haven't already, do some reading about how our brains subconsciously reacts to different races. You might personally hold beliefs that are not racist, but your brain couldn't care less. We grow up in societies that shape our subconscious to associate negativity with black/dark and positivity with white/light. So while we might have made some progress in helping more people not BE racist, we still live in a constant energetic experience of racism.)

My hope is that those in power, those in the majority, specifically those with white privilege, would take some seriously deep breaths before they rush to judge or condemn black Americans when they respond to injustice (real or perceived) with indignation, outrage, or even violence.

You try having a boot pinning your neck down for 350 years, and see how you feel when the boot slowly starts to lift up.

My hope is that anyone who has ever felt annoyed or angered at black Americans for "being too sensitive" about race issues would, well, stop. Stop getting annoyed. Stop rolling your eyes or feeling superior when a black person or community "freaks out" at feeling oppressed or disrespected. Imagine someone viciously punching your arm, over and over again, until your entire arm is one huge, nasty bruise. Then you put a shirt over it and your buddy comes up and playfully jabs you while saying hi. You will, undoubtedly, recoil and wince and maybe even "freak out." Your friend will dismiss you or perhaps even mock you for being so sensitive, but of course little does he know what's just under the surface.

It doesn't take much to make old wounds hurt again. And 350 years creates some deep, deep wounds. It's going to take a while (a long while) for the bruising to go away.

And if you/me/we aren't willing to see that? To honor that? And to work towards that sort of healing? If we insist that racism doesn't exist, or that we shouldn't be putting so much energy in to it, or that somehow it's not our problem?

Then shame on us.

Maybe we are racist.

Or at least not caring enough to listen, learn, or work for a more peaceful world.

For further reading, here's an excellent series, "Don't Call Them "Post-Racial." Millennials Say Race Matters to Them" from Colorlines.

I also preached a sermon that explored this idea further. Plus, I talked about how Black Liberation Theology gave the church a much needed dimension of the Cross, Suffering, and Hope.