Friday, May 02, 2008

Race in America--Part Six: Appropriate and Effective Responses

John E. Stapleford's essay, "A Torturous Journey: The Condition of Black America," (Christian Scholar's Review, XXXVII:2, Winter 2008, pages 231-251) is very important work that deserves our serious attention. If you've been following his page, you've seen my attempts to summarize his extensive research. I've put it up here in hopes that it would further a conversation beyond this space out in the real world we all occupy.

Much of the research is downright depressing. A number who have taken the time to comment have asked questions about what to do and how to respond.

Stapleford ends his essay with a short section he calls "What Might Be Done." He writes from the perspective of a churchman, so his suggestions relate to communities of faith and their possible responses to the unique challenges facing African Americans in the United States.

Here's part of what he suggests as possible responses for the church:

1) Be a prophetic voice by making congregations aware of the reality facing black Americans and by speaking this truth into the larger society. People and institutions of faith should use their human capital to invest in and work for social and systemic change. Blacks and whites should be working together, side by side in efforts to create new partnerships, drive forward funding reform and by engaging in initiatives to work for real change.

2) Whites should support the efforts of blacks to build a better future. Commitment to working together to see improvements in public education, housing, health care, wage levels, employment skill enhancement and access to equal opportunity.

3) The 21st century should be the century of multiracial congregations. Work must be done to change the fact that 90% of blacks attend predominately black congregations and at least 95% of whites attend predominately white churches. All sorts of obstacles exist, but a change in behavior and mindset is called for here.

4) Whites should work hard with blacks to see significant human, social and educational capital growth in our national community.

I would add that whites simply need to open their minds and eyes to the unique and challenging positions that African Americans occupy in the United States. Listening with a new set of ears, learning the benefit of arriving at new understandings by simply hearing people out no matter how frustrating, challenging or new the ideas may sound. Seeking first to understand, rather than to be understood will be a key principle for achieving authentic community and informed attitudes.

Honesty and candor will be essential to any progress. Patronizing attitudes, flights of white guilt and continuing adversarial postures share the same debilitating character and should be avoided.

We must keep talking. We must learn new skills grounded in patience and a long-term commitment to breakthroughs, progress, community and reconciliation.

God help us to never give up. The cost of doing so will only continue to add to a national tab that we simply cannot afford to pay. Much work remains to be done.

I'd love to hear about your experiences. I'd appreciate your responses.



Waymon R. Hinson, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your summary of what looks to be an important document. Out here in West Texas we're looking at similar issues but through a smaller lense of black and white farmers. The specific angles we're taking involve both examing the plight of the black farmer versus white privilege as lived within the context of farming.

Any ideas you have along those lines would be appreciated and any directions for literature to look into would be appreciated as well.

Keep making us think.


Larry James said...

Waymon, have you read C. Vann Woodward's classic, The Strange Career of Jim Crow? From Woodward and others it seems that the "farmers movement" of the last 19th century almost managed to unite poor white and black farmers around coops and what became the Populist Movement, but all was lost when mercantile interests began using race as a means to divide poor whites from poor blacks. One result was that poor whites sided with rich whites often against their own economic self-interests in exchange for a higher spot on the social pecking order as defined by race and class. Public accommodations and transportation was largely integrated, even in the South right after the Civil War until Jim Crow emerged as a means of social control, including both groups of poor farmers. Our history is filled with duplicity, greed and hate. No wonder Jeremiah Wright is angry!

c hand said...

But whose history is not filled with duplicity, greed and hate?
We killed old Jim Crow years ago, yet his eulogy drags on. We are glad he is dead, aren't we?

Daniel Gray said...

Everyone else having a flawed history doesn't absolve us of our own guilt. We're glad Jim Crow laws are federally unconstitutional, but their absence (legally) does little to amend the heart of segregation and racism that those laws placed on the American people. Jim Crow is still alive, sadly.

Larry, I think it's interesting to see the divergence of black and white churches today. Most black churches are engaged in social justice and civil rights, while most white churches are not. Because our churches our so segregated, we (those of us in predominantly white churches) have failed to come to a full understanding of the lives of our African American brothers and sisters. Church has consistently shown to be one of the most segregated institutions, and it shows in the church's collective inability to address these problems.

Anonymous said...


I've been with you all the way in these posts, but citing Jeremiah Wright, even now?! Yes, I can understand a certain amount of Black anger (unless it turns spiteful or violent, which is not acceptable from anyone). But Wright is paranoid to the point of delusional, and now seems set on sabotaging the first legitimate Black candidate in our history. Let's not give c hand unnecessary fodder.

Larry James said...

Anon, 2:05 PM, I appreacite your comment and even understand where you're coming from. That said, the question no one is asking is this: What is going on or has been going on in this nation that would make some of the more supposedly "outlandish" comments and charges made by Rev. Wright believable in the African American community? I think we can't just dismiss him. I think what he speaks to resonates with black folks because of what they have experienced and likely still experience. As a white man, I likely cannot understand, but I need to try no matter what. Just my position. Let's keep talking.

c hand said...

When you say the end of Jim Crow has "done little", are you saying that the struggle that brought his end was not worth the cost?

A weakness in all mankind is a desire to be flattered, pandered, and indulged. What does a politician tell a group of voters? What does a beau tell his girl? What does a vacuum cleaner salesman tell the lady of the house?
Race baiting on group fears and resentments is not new to Rev Wright. You could even say: but the KKK was worse, and I would agree.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah Wright teaches Black Liberation Theology which has its roots in Marxism and is a very dangerous belief system. James Cone, whom Larry has apparent great respect for, is also a black liberation theologian. In my opinion, that is why Larry finds it hard to dismiss Wright.

Daniel Gray said...

c hand, I really don't understand what you're getting at here, unless your simply trying to twist my words. Of course any struggle against racism and segregation is worth it. I'm saying that doing away with Jim Crow laws hasn't gotten rid of the problem of racism, and your initial post plays on the assumption that racism is dead, because it's legally outlawed. There is a difference between de jure segregation and de facto segregation. De jure segregation is illegal, but de facto segregation happens every day and was a result of the lasting impact of Jim Crow.

By the way, Jim Crow was not a real person. It's a reference to a popular song at the time.

Anonymous said...

It is very unfair to say that LT has its roots in Marxism. While there may be examples of persons with Marxist ideas using and sometimes abusing LT, that should not result in the charge that LT theologians and thinkers are therefore all Marxist.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 10:45

I didn't say they were all Marxist, but LT is strongly influenced by Marxist thought and Marxist interpretation of history. It thrives on perpetuating class struggle, without class struggle, poor vs. rich, etc. there is no LT at all. I challenge you to read more about it.

Anonymous said...

Anon, 1:53 AM, was James, the brother of Jesus, aware of and concerned about class struggle and oppression? Read James 5:1-6.

c hand said...

Is one of the difference between de jure segregation and de facto segregation that the latter is worse? Being eyed with suspicion late at night by Obama's white grandmother, is different than being lynched by a mob late at night, no?
The black middle class in America is growing and advancing. It is only a segment of the black population that is stagnant, and their problems have less and less to do with race.

Daniel Gray said...

I'm sorry, I don't follow your logic. What does Obama's white grandmother eyeing me suspiciously have to do with segregation?

Daniel Gray said...

chand, also, please explain why blacks are disproportionately represented in poverty figures?

c hand said...

Almost nothing, which is the point. Yet this was the best example of lingering white racism that Obama could come up with. The only credible(mainstream following) segregationists in this country now are black segregationists.

Imagined racism in the mind of blacks is doing them far more harm than any real racism in the hearts of whites. Our racism is not malevolent now but mostly genial and the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

A man is more than his color. How have so many blacks escaped the poverty numbers?

The wall of racism that existed in this country has been knocked down, don't trip yourself on the rubble that remains.

Larry James said...

c hand, while I appreciate your optimism, I feel it may be a bit more self-serving than you'd like to admit. But, enough of that.

In a day or so I plan to post something on Liberation Theology. Like every "theological system"--Calvinism comes to mind just here--Liberation Theology has been abused, misused and misunderstood. There have been extremists who advocated violence using a version of this interpretive approach to justify that which can't be justified. But, a focus on such extremes is neither fair (as some have indicated here already) nor helpful. Years ago I had a professor in graduate school who would never allow us to read books about the thought of others. His reading assignments were always in the primary literature to be discussed. If we wanted to know Barth or Kant or Hegel, we read their works, not some secondary interpretation of their writings. So, here it is not enough to read about Liberation Theology. One must read after those who espouse this hermeneutic. At the risk of rousing my critics, there will be more to come on this subject in the days ahead.