America, We Have A Problem

If your spouse tell you, “We have a problem.” How do you respond?

You can try to convince him that he’s wrong. You can tell her that she’s taking everything the wrong way. You can suggest that you’re not the problem in the relationship. You can argue that the relationship is better than it used to be. You can deny, deny, deny. But that just means you’ll be surprised when you find yourself sleeping in the car.

Alternatively, you can ask questions to understand the problem. Perhaps it turns out to be a misunderstanding that can be remedied by talking. More likely, resolution of the problem will require a change of behaviour.

White America, we have a problem.

We know this because black America keeps telling us.

We know this because of Ferguson.

We know this because of Baltimore.

We know this because of Charleston, South Carolina.

And we know the issues are complex, partly because of Rachel Dolezal.

We know this.

A couple of days ago I attended a one-day workshop featuring Dr Christena Cleveland. The workshop involved five hours of lectures. The first three hours were spent describing the need for reconciliation. She covered topics including:

  • Segregation within American cities (admit it, you know the “black” parts of town)
  • Perceptions
  • Discriminiation
  • Implicit Prejudice (take this research test from Harvard to gauge your own prejudice)

She also spend considerable time discussing and describing “Privilege”, which must exist whenever one group of people experience prejudice.

We spent so much time describing the problems that before we broke for lunch I raised my hand to ask if all this groundwork was necessary. “Don’t people already recognise there’s a problem?

Dr Cleveland responded that until these issues are resolved, there’s an ongoing need to keep them in America’s consciousness.

During the lunch break a white woman at my table shared that her (white) church had someone make a presentation to them recently where much of this material was presented. She said it was new to her at the time and she needed to hear it.

Yesterday, I was talking to another woman who would describe herself as a non-Christian, social liberal in her 50h’s and she told me, “I don’t know any black people. I work in the city. I’d like to do something to address the poverty issues I see as a I drive around. But I don’t know any members of the black community or what to do.

If you’re reading this blog you already know there’s a problem.

You drive around on a Sunday morning and you see the vast majority of churches segregated by skin colour. You read the news stories about the shooting this week in Charleston, and see that the description of the church as an “African-American” church reveals a spiritual issue of which this shooting is the most recent manifestation. Sometimes this segregation reflects the neighbourhood demographics. More often it reflects the comfortable ambivalence of the members.

So what can be done to fix this problem?

Centuries of division demonstrate the stark reality that no answer will be simple or easy. But here’s part one of the solution: Convince people of a problem.

I’m not a World War 2 history buff, so I won’t attempt to make exact statements about why it took the United States so long to enter World War 2. What I do know is that US involvement increased dramatically after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I’ll suggest that one element of that increased involvement was the widespread recognition of a problem. Once the problem was clearly identified, people were willing to sacrifice for solutions.

As long as people convince themselves that race relations in the United States were solved in the 1950’s & 60’s by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the process of school desegregation, we’ll never resolve the issues that continue to confront us today.

If you’re a church leader, you have a platform to peel back the band-aids and expose the continuing sores of racial prejudice, both implicit and explicit, in this country. Your church needs you verbalise the problems. Your community needs you to speak against prejudice. Your God expects you to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard. So speak.

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