What do a celebrity chef, a second-degree murder trial and a Supreme Court decision have in common?
Answer: They demonstrate that when it comes to race, the U.S. is far from “color-blind.” Concerning the Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin controversies, there remains a disconnect between blacks and whites. As white fans flooded Facebook clamoring for Deen’s redemption, many blacks remain unconvinced of her contrition.
And most blacks I know are hoping for a guilty verdict in the Martin case, while in the general population, perhaps not so much.
It seems as if the president’s election, far from ushering in the new post-racial U.S., has instead been a lightening rod that has illuminated the underbelly of race relations in this country.
While some believe that we have achieved an equitable society (as the Supreme Court apparently did when striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act), many blacks, especially black men subjected to indignities every day, are well aware there’s still a way to go.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, the Times ran a story detailing the slide backwards of black professionals. One commentator, a white hiring manager, accused African Americans of having a “victim” mentality and being hobbled by slavery’s legacy. He wrote that he much preferred to hire “hard working” and “bright” West African immigrants who do not carry the same baggage.
Commentators went back and forth about blame, some maintaining blacks should just “get over it.”
Meanwhile, a mini-dust storm erupted in the black press over what was considered a “scolding” on the part of the president and first lady when they addressed graduating classes at predominantly black colleges in May.
Commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic and contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote a blog post chastising the first couple for talking down to, and disrespecting the black graduates. He wrote that the Obamas assume a familiarity with, and seem to feel comfortable criticizing black audiences, in a way they do not with other constituent groups.
This got me to thinking. We do, in fact, need to have a conversation about race: and about the violence, drugs and hyper-sexuality in our communities; the epidemic of fatherlessness; and the limited dreams that cause generations to languish in the projects. And let’s not forget the abysmal state of black matrimony. But we also need to correctly diagnose the problems.
War on Families?
It has been said that African Americans are the most uncoupled people on the planet. Yet at the turn of the century, more than 90 percent of black adults were married, according to Alikah Butler, author of a book on the topic. Today nearly 70 percent of black women are single, and many at the higher socio-economic levels go childless as well for lack of a suitable mate.
According to Butler, one of the barriers that work against black marriage is the fact that 900,000 black males between the ages of 18 and 60 are incarcerated on any given day. (see The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander). Although most are out of jail in two to three years, those are the prime years to get established, get a job and get married.
Historically, the breakdown of the black family was exacerbated by the well-meaning War on Poverty of the 1960s, that rewarded households headed by women.
Identity in Christ
Joshua DuBois, in a fascinating cover story in Newsweek recently addressed some of the unique challenges of black males. Although I agree that retraining programs and education help, I think the heart of the issue is nothing less than the loss of identity grounded in a belief and hope in the God who loves us beyond measure.
During slavery, faith in God sustained a subjugated people who sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down Moses” as they labored in the fields belonging to others. Those songs are said to have a secret subtext – pointing to an earthly escape from slavery to the promised land of Canada; but I believe the longing for a celestial home in those spirituals was very sincere. Life was short, hard and brutal, with very little to look forward to on earth.
Subsequently, the black church has been a bulwark against the storms of discrimination and racial hatred for centuries.
We often forget how recent this history is. The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated last year. My grandparents were born little more than 40 years after slavery ended.
New life and true life comes from one place, and that is in the “Father of lights in whom there is no shadow or variation of change (James 1:17).”
Until we, as black people, “look to the hills from whence our help comes (Psalm 121:1)” and rekindle our first love, we will be left with travesties such as Kanye West singing “I am a God.”
As a black woman engaged to a black man who bears many of the scars resulting from racism, I have seen firsthand how the gospel of Christ has transformed his life and sustained our healthy relationship.
I believe that the president and first lady were addressing blacks as “family,” in the same way your favorite aunty will tell you your slip is hanging or you’ve got lipstick on your teeth. They were casting a vision for young people, and I say good for them! For “without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).”
A version of this story was originally published in Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/july/what-post-racial-america.html