A Nation of Cowards? The Racial Gap in America

Haven't talked about this much here, but several events have coincided to bring America's continuing (and in some ways, worsening) race problem(s) closer to the fore of my mind recently.

First, my reading of Emerson and Smith's Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America and the better part of William Julius Wilson's When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor.

Second, conversations with friends who see this as a problem in our own church.

Third, newly confirmed Attorney General (the first African American to hold that position) Eric Holder's call for America to repent of its racialized social injustice, calling us "a nation of cowards" for sweeping it under the rug for so long.

Quick tidbit or two concerning this multifaceted problem:

1. Emerson and Smith vividly show, through numerous interviews with evangelicals across the country, that although middle-to-upper class white Americans (and particularly evangelicals) are not "racist" in the strict sense of the term, their ignorance of and/or apathy toward the issue of "racialization" makes them guilty of social sin against the growing population of inner-city poor (particularly blacks).

2. Wilson shows that, through the white flight of the 50s and the black flight of the 70s-80s, and the mass movement of manufacturing jobs out of the cities, into the suburbs, the inner city poor have literally lost the opportunity to make a living wage. This massive loss of jobs (e.g., 500,000 in Chicago alone from 1950-1990) has played possibly the largest role in the creation of the modern day "ghettoized poor" populations, and insures the perpetuation of this ruthless cycle.

I have experienced a major shift in thinking (and feeling) on this issue since becoming aware of the facts. My opinions about the so-called "racial problem" were all over the pages of Divided by Faith, and were exposed as overly simplistic. I knew (as did most conservative whites and evangelicals) that there was much more to the issue than the color of a person's skin—that ghetto culture (something produced by, not inherent in, people) was the issue. What i did not understand well enough were the causes of racialized, ghettoized poverty, and what role economic and social structures played in that.

In sum, i echo Holder's rebuke—and his call to move forward in this battle. The church has a major role to play, if only they will. Unhappy about the $800 billion stimulus plan, the government's taking of your money to work on these issues? Maybe they wouldn't have to if we, God's people, had stepped up to the plate when we had opportunity. But guess what? The door is still wide open, and God is still calling us to walk through it.

Popular Posts