If our society is to survive, we must collectively make decisions that are transformative. Anything less will speed up the spiral to destruction. This we must do, unless we are collectively masochistic. Decision making of the surgical kind is needed in every generation, especially in our day. There are many issues that are confronting our society. The question is: will we rise to meet the challenges, or have we already thrown in the towel?
Let’s begin with the issue of race. Part of the confusion in dealing with racism is that everybody denies it. Yes, we are aware that racism is not as rampant as it was 60 years ago, but it is still a present reality. Paula Deen denies racism and shows everybody what a racist she is at the same time! My definition of racism is prejudice plus power. All of us are prejudiced, but all of us are not racist. Only if you have the power to execute your racism socio-economically, politically, and judicially can you be considered racist. Blacks and whites must work collaboratively on this issue if we are to continue to make progress as a nation.
Racism is America’s original sin. It is wrapped around the collective consciousness of our lives like a tight hatband. The problem is that it has been handed down generationally for almost 400 years. While things are certainly better than they were, this is no excuse not to try to make them better. Racism impacts every institution, whether politically, economically, theologically, socially, or judicially. As I’ve stated before, my late pastor talked about the problem with racism by giving an illustration. When he attended elementary school in Crystal River on the west coast of Florida, there was a white family who would sic their dog on him as he passed by their house. The family would rejoice at the sight! One day, the dog sneaked up behind him and bit him on his calf. When he got to school, crying and bleeding, his parents and the sheriff were summoned. His father, the Rev. George Lonon, told the story of what had happened, and the sheriff made the family erect a fence, or risk having the dog impounded, or killed. The family chose to erect a fence. Although the dog continued to growl and bark as young A.D. Lonon passed each day, the fence prevented the dog from biting. The moral of this parable is that this dog was never converted: it was simply restrained. This has been a continuing problem in the United States of America with the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. It restrained a lot of people, but there is no existential evidence that many were converted.
In this country, there are people who have been legally and judicially restrained but not converted from their racism. Every time gains are made by African Americans, there is a retrogressive propensity that says let us undo what we have already done that we didn’t want to do in the first place. One example is the period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction. A second example is the 2013 assault on the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Racism has transmissive power.
Paula Deen, a multi-millionaire with profound culinary gifts, proved that she was a victim of racism in 2013. The problem did not begin with Paula Deen. It goes back ad infinitum to 400 years ago. Some people have learned to keep their mouths shut, but the problem still festers within. Angry partisan political pundits use politics as a misnomer when speaking about President Obama. Racism exists even when we are making progress. Every U.S. President knew who would be named as his Vice President, and there was no question that it would be a Caucasian man. But Barack Obama, an anthropological-schizophrenic being both black and white, could not appoint a black man or woman as his Vice President. He had to get Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate because America was not ready for a black President and a black Vice President at the same time. However, Senator Biden, I believe, has served the administration well. After the shock of electing a black President, everyone knew that he could not choose a black Vice President, male or female. That would have been too much darkness in the White House.
Eugene Robinson’s book the Disintegration of the African American Community says that it is increasingly more difficult to use the term African American because it must go through too many multi-faceted connotations. Bi-raciality is an issue. Mariah Carey is bi-racial but calls herself black. The same is true of Halle Barry. But what do you do when bi-racial people declare that they are not black? Tiger Woods calls himself Cablanasian (Caucasian, black, and Asian). To avoid obfuscation, we must define an African American as one who by pigmentation and identification is a descendent of the pre and post Civil Rights Movement.
We are in desperate need of a new way of thinking that will let our decision-making transcend the shackling and paralytic legacy of racism. Again, black and whites must make a decision to solve this issue because it is poisoning the whole stream of community in our country.
Going forward, will we dare to make a collective decision to pick up the mantle for justice, love, and mercy?
The disconcerting thing about racism from an African American perspective is that it’s almost like when Joe Louis fought Max Baer in the mid-1930s (before Joe Louis became the boxing heavyweight champion of the world). Louis was systematically cutting Max Baer up—had him bleeding from everywhere. Baer said, “Louis can hit!”
Baer’s manager, trying to encourage him, said, “Louis can’t hit—he’s barely touching you!”
Baer replied, “Well if he’s not, somebody had better watch the referee, because somebody in that ring is beating the hell outta me!” We must make decisions that would negate the need to live a life of fantasy. We need to own up to the truth.
The times in which we live are so profound, and the technology so swift, that we often have no idea exactly what we’re doing. What a powerful world we would be if blacks and whites could get together in authenticity and work toward transformation. It can be done, but we must collectively make the right decisions.