Three weeks ago, I submitted the following post for consideration to a popular blog site. However, before they could make a decision on the post, the Zimmerman Trial concluded. I asked the site to withdraw the submission in light of the end of the trial. I have closed the comments.
Paula Deen’s self-justified use of the N-word, combined with the SCOTUS (U.S. Supreme Court) non-decision on Affirmative Action in college admissions, calls for a double-take concerning where we are heading on race in America. When you add to these the SCOTUS decision on the Voting Rights Act and the George Zimmerman trial, then racial progress in the U.S. looks like it is sitting on a powder keg. Consider:
1. The political achievement of an African American President seems to be more about ideology than race. Although he was born at the tail end of the Boomer era, President Obama is the political offspring of the 1960’s liberals. If he were not as liberal as he is toward the dismantling of traditional marriage and the safeguarding of abortion, I suspect he would not have the favorable poll ratings he currently enjoys. His favor is not a commentary on our progress on race as much as it is a commentary on our regress on morality. A lowering of morality will accept any racial identity.
2. The justification of use of the N-word by Paula Deen seems to reveal that economics makes it virtually impossible to eliminate race-based social stratification and animadversion. That is, if Paula Deen thought that she would lose business by her comments, she probably would not have attempted to justify them as suitable. Apparently she assumed that enough of her consumers shared her views on race that her label would be accepted even if she revealed it to be the face of a racist corporate owner. Certainly the consumers she had in mind were not African American. If we had known she harbored such racial sentiments, my family and I would not have patronized Deen’s The Lady and Sons restaurant on a recent visit to Savannah, Georgia.
3. The complexities of the Zimmerman trial seem to reveal that African Americans need to make a greater assault toward countering negative stereotypes. Zimmerman is not the nation’s only racial profiler. Sadly, I am one of millions of Americans who is shocked and pleased to hear an African American professional athlete use the King’s English in a post-game interview. Also, I am one who is grateful to see an articulate African American speaking into a microphone on the nightly news. Yet this reveals that I am expecting – as are many others – a different experience.
Similarly, in the recent AT&T, “Faster is Better” commercials, as one of my friends noticed, an African American girl says, “castses” instead of “casts,” and an African American boy acts like a buffoon while doing “two things at once,” as if his multitasking could not involve an intelligent and poised discussion. AT&T gives prominent roles to two minority children, but does not give them exalted roles; instead it gives stereotypical roles. If such stereotypes are expected and acceptable, what might happen when a hooded, unidentified African American teen, walking at night in a gated community, is sighted by a neighborhood watch figure with legal permission to stand his ground? I am not justifying Zimmerman’s actions, for I think he erred in acting on the stereotype, and in pursuing Martin when he was told not to do so. For this much he is guilty of Second Degree Manslaughter in the least, even if both Zimmerman and Martin acted in self-defense in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s initial errors.
As a parent, I have told my children with the greatest seriousness, “When you walk into a store, the camera is on you. You cannot run down aisles loudly and rudely as children of other ethnicities might be permitted to do, and you cannot touch anything.” When you do not touch items on the shelf in a store, the accusation of theft will be impossible even where stereotypes abound, and you will be working toward negating the stereotype.
4. The SCOTUS decision reveals a naiveté about racial discrimination that harms future racial progress in the country. Greater than the issue of legal criteria for judging states’ oversight by the government is the issue of the evil in peoples’ hearts. Please, do not deceive yourself for one moment by quoting to me, “You cannot legislate morality.” A society cannot change the intents and motives of individuals, but we can codify right and wrong so that we can restrain evil and incentivize the good. Without legislation, we leave institutional change to the morality of each citizen — morality that often degrades when obtaining positions of power are at stake. I suspect a greater number of minorities will witness challenges both in being able to vote, and in making sure cast votes are counted in upcoming elections.
In all, the racial challenges in the country reveal that many hearts need a change that will promote a focus on the dignity of all people, and not simply one’s own race, ethnicity, or country. Such change will not come from education, legislation, or adjudication alone, for educators, legislators, and judges simply are people in academic, governmental, and legal roles: They suffer from racial blind spots and ethnic favoritism common to all of us. Real change must come from an influence external to every one of us.
I have witnessed Christ changing the hearts of many who are racist or ethnocentric, for Christ offers the power to see oneself humbly and others as greater than oneself (Phil. 2:3-4). His power gives life over death to all indiscriminant of race, class, gender, or social status (Gal. 3:26-29). Such power comes because Christ both died on the Cross in order to conquer sin and its curse – including racism-related sins – and rose again with power over death and all things (Gal. 3:13; Mt. 28:16-20). Obedience to the preaching of this Gospel would affect racial progress all over the globe.
Recommended: The Obamas and a (Post) Racial America? (Oxford)