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Posts Tagged ‘Race Relations’

Did anyone else catch this report by NPR’s Steve Inskeep on diversity and gentrification in Houston? Lots of important issues coverered here. Listen for Texas State Rep. Garnet Coleman. His insights may be helpful to consider as we continue to wrestle with the matter of  perception vs. reality in our discussions about race and racism in our nation today.

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An interesting (and creative) Associated Press analysis here about what both Professor Henry Louis Gates and Officer James Crowley might’ve been thinking during their now-infamous run-in a couple weeks ago. The reporter uses the official police report as well as Gates’s on-the-record statements following the episode to piece togehter a sort of dramatic timeline of what could’ve been going through each man’s head during their fateful encounter.

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May I vent for a moment?

For me, the saddest thing about the Henry Louis Gates incident is that we’re no better off now as a nation than before it happened. Like President Obama, I’d hoped it would become a “teachable moment,” a chance to learn from each other’s experiences and understand both the pressures felt by well-meaning police officers and the pain and indignity felt by African American men in these types of encounters. But even Obama hasn’t been able to finesse the national conversation in a way to get us all on the same page—or least in the same ream of paper.

Those who say Professor Gates was completely wrongheaded and unreasonable aren’t willing to take seriously the history (both distant and recent) that has defined the relationship between African American men and law enforcement. And those who say Officer James Crowley was just a racist, rogue cop are not willing to take seriously this man’s totality of experiences as both a public servant and a human being.

The bottom line: As Eric Holder suggested some months ago, we’re a nation afraid (or simply unwilling) to put in the kind of concerted effort required to truly understand each other across racial lines. I understand that many of us are weary of having to either defend against knee-jerk accusations of racism or educate our fellow citizens on its daily realities. But until we resolve to lay aside our anger, distrust, and cynicism and love our neighbor as Christ commands, nothing is going to change.

Okay, I’m done. I’ll probably read this later and regret hitting publish, but just had to get that out.

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This week’s issue of Newsweek features a compelling article about the evolution of race relations at Princeton University (“Black in the Age of Obama”). By looking at the experiences of two African American Princeton students from the turbulent 1960s and comparing them to the college experiences of their daughters some thirty-odd years later, the story highlights the progress made as well as the new struggles faced by students of color on the Princeton campus in what the article calls the “the cutting edge of ‘post-racial’ America, where race isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Except when it does.”

The article is only four pages long, but it’s full of challenging ideas. For instance, there’s the subplot running throughout the narrative that questions the existence of a “post-racial America.” Does an Obama presidency really mean race is now off the table? From the article:

Linked in the public consciousness to Barack Obama, the term “post-racial” has now expanded to encompass the era his election has ushered in. But in the real world, post-racialism is something of a mirage. Detroit is not post-racial. Neither is Congress, nor Wall Street, nor prime-time TV. Black people pretty much refuse to utter the word, Obama included. For most Americans, it’s little more than a convenient cable-news catchphrase.

But the heart of the narrative reveals how two students from the late ’60s, Henry Kennedy (’70) and Jerome Davis (’71), had to endure the racial tensions of the day, and the limited choices they had for survival. “With fewer than 20 African-Americans per class, ‘fitting in’ wasn’t an option,” the article explains. “Instead, undergraduates like Davis and Kennedy gravitated toward one of two roles: activist or invisible man.” In many ways, of course, that same dilemma remains today. 

However, for Kennedy’s and Davis’s daughters, Alex and Kamille, the racial dynamic has been complicated by the fact that racism, or racialization, is no longer as clearcut as it was back in the days of brazen prejudice and legislated segregation. As the article’s authors observe, today “at post-racial, meritocratic Princeton, it’s often impossible to say where color ends and exclusivity begins.” Which, consequently, leads to the current brand of double consciousness that I address in my book–that is, the 21st-century angst of not knowing when something (a comment, a look, a policy) is racially motivated or when it isn’t. Here’s perhaps the article’s most penetrating observation—it’s “money shot,” if you will:

In a post-racial bubble, it’s no longer the initial incident that makes being black uncomfortable; when everyone has “gotten over” race, any controversy can be easily explained away as a joke, or a misunderstanding, or ordinary, colorblind Ivy League exclusivity. But while Henry Kennedy and Jerome Davis had an outlet for their concerns, Alex and Kamille don’t. Even worse, they have the uncomfortable burden of deciding whether they should even be concerned to begin with. As a result, they, like many young, elite African-Americans, can feel boxed in. When injustices do arise, there’s pressure to brush them aside. To do otherwise would be to think too clearly in racial terms—to clash too openly with post-racial expectations. Ignoring them entirely, though, might look like a retreat from community obligations. Everyone’s a loser and everyone shares the guilt.

Though this article spotlights the experiences of African Americans at Princeton, it’s really a case study for the larger issue of race in America today. How we’ve “come a long way,” but how the cost of that progress has been a confusion about our new reality and a tendency to believe that we’ve tackled the problem, when in fact we’ve yet to have ongoing honest communication across racial and cultural lines (Hello, Eric Holder!). What’s more, our current racial progress has beget a new brand of prejudice and racial resentment that threatens to erect even larger barriers to true reconciliation (just check out this news report from today’s Chicago Tribune and look, particularly, at the reader comments). 

“Race” articles like this Newsweek report are helpful in showing us yet another aspect of the cultural landscape today, but they often wind up leaving the reader discouraged or pessimistic about the notion that we’ll ever really move beyond the pain and frustration of race relations in eras past. What the article doesn’t mention is the reality of God’s grace and the power he gives us to heal, forgive, and build bridges across our current chasms. But, of course, first we must agree that there are still chasms.

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Today marked the conclusion of NPR’s series of broadcasts on how Obama’s election is affecting issues of race relations in many European nations. Specifically, the series focuses on Germany, Italy, and France. Here’s an overview from NPR.org:

Most Europeans were thrilled when Democrat Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, because he promised to sweep away policies that Europeans found odious. More than that, he represented hope, renewal and proof that the barriers of age, class and race could be transcended.

But Obama’s victory also prompted soul-searching in Europe: Could his success be replicated there? Could a person of color ever become the leader of Germany? Italy? France?

Very revealing stories here. In at least a couple cases, I ignorantly assumed that Europe was more enlightened than the U.S. in some of their views on race. (Of course, this may be a reflection of that fact that I’ve never had a chance to visit Europe.) Turns out that Europe is struggling with many of the same racial dysfunctions as we are — or have — here in the U.S. Makes sense, I guess. After all, human depravity is an international phenomenon.

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I’m thinking that, by now, many of you have read ChristianityToday.com’s interesting interview with sociologist Michael O. Emerson on “What Obama’s Election Means for the Segregated Church.” Michael, who is the coauthor of the seminal book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, explored similar ground a few weeks back at my new site, UrbanFaith.com. If you have thoughts on either of these articles, I’d love to hear your comments.

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Yesterday, NPR aired the final two installments in its excellent conversations on race and the presidential election with a group of diverse voters from York, Pennsylvania. I know we’re all tired of talking about the election by now, but this was a very worthwhile and revealing series on issues that likely will generate even more intense discussion in the coming years. Check out the fifth and sixth broadcasts, and go here for a roundup of the entire series.

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National Public Radio’s fascinating roundtable on race and the presidential election continued today with a segment on Morning Edition and another on All Things Considered. This is a reconvening of the diverse panel of black, Latino, Asian, and white voters from York, Pennsylvania. Their candid discussion is worth your time.

A few questions occurred to me as I listened to this morning’s segment that I’d love to hear you interact on:

  • What does the McCain/Palin slogan “Country First” suggest to you?
  • Who is Joe Six-Pack?
  • When Sarah Palin says things like, “[Obama] is not a man who sees America as you and I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world,” what does she mean by “we”?
  • Does Barack Obama include pictures of his white grandparents in his political ads as a way to reassure white voters?
  • Would an African American with darker skin have gotten as far as Obama has in a presidential race?
  • What does it really mean to be patriotic?
  • Do you think there will be any type of post-election violence motivated by anger and tension from either side of the race line? 

Those are just a few of the questions that spring to mind. You may have others. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Alright, I’m just gonna go ahead and post on this. I’ve been trying to resist, since it seems all I ever blog about anymore is Obama and race. But the cultural Zeitgeist is what it is.

Earlier this week, Politico ran a series of articles on the role of race in the current presidential battle. The pieces covered all the now-familiar terrain, speculating on how big of a role race (or racism) could play in the upcoming election. For me, the most interesting piece was a report on “How Obama Quietly Targets Blacks.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Obama’s campaign has been the delicate balance he must strike between reaching white voters and black voters. The unspoken understanding has long been that if Obama does too much to appeal to the African American community, he’d scare off many in the white community. While I think this is silly and perhaps insulting to many white voters who have no problem with Obama’s skin color, I also think it’s true a lot of the time. Again, the Zeitgeist is what it is.

And so, for the majority of his campaign, Obama has found it necessary to treat the African American community the same way a bashful eighth-grader does that pretty girl in English class—glancing at her only in quick snatches, lest his secret crush become a topic of public discussion among all the middle-schoolers. Here’s one of that Politico article’s most riveting quotes:

“What [Obama] has done is he’s shunned black voters — but he knows that they know that he’s black. And he knows that they know in our communities we have a certain feeling that he’s got to do that to get those white votes,” said Kevin Wardally, a New York City political consultant who worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We inherently believe that what he’s doing he has to do — he has to not be in Harlem to get those white votes.” 

As I read that, I wondered how some white readers would interpret this statement. Would it seem to them that Obama is being sneaky or disingenuous? Would they be able to recognize the sad irony in all of this? The thing is, white politicians can often be very upfront about appealing to the cultural sensibilities of white voters. For instance, when Sarah Palin talks about Obama not feeling that “our great country” is perfect enough, something tells me she’s not thinking of non-whites when she says “our.” If an African American politician like Obama were as brazen with black voters, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

I confess that I was intrigued by these Politico reports. But to tell you the truth, I think these types of articles are getting old. Every day brings another examination of the role of race. Will the “Bradley Effect” rob Barack Obama of the presidential race, even though the polls keep putting him well ahead? Will the “Bubba Vote” save John McCain? Did McCain mean something sinister during the debate when he said, “That One”? Are Sarah Palin’s frequent slams against Obama before mostly white audiences (“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America”) racial code for something else?

I could give you my opinion, but what difference would it really make? Who really cares anymore? Are any of us truly ready to see the argument from the other side’s perspective? Some will call it racism. Some will call it down-and-dirty campaigning. It is what it is. And depending on your personal experience, your political affiliation, your cultural background, and perhaps the color of your skin, you’re going to have a different opinion about the meaning of it all. Honestly, at the end of the day, none of that really matters.

What does matter, however, is how we’re treating our fellow citizens, how we’re treating our brothers and sisters. Sometimes I almost think it would be best to put real life on hold during the high theater of this phase of the election season, when emotions are high and partisan rhetoric is running at a fever pitch. In these latter days of the race, there’s usually no room for banal values like respect, compassion, and grace. Right now, it’s all about getting our guy (or gal) elected.

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With the collapse of the U.S. financial system, all other news tends to pale in comparison. Still, sticking with the main theme of this blog, here are a few of the interesting news items and blog posts that I stumbled across over the past week.

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