Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around . . .
. . . when yellow will be mellow . . .
. . . when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.
With "do justice and love mercy" the Rev. Joe Lowery might have invited each of us to "walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
The Rev. Lowery stirred up something of a hornets nest in his inauguration day benediction with that line "when white will embrace what is right." The complaint seems to be that whites have broadly embraced the belief that blacks have suffered discrimination in the past, and want to do what is right by ensuring that no individual is treated differently by virtue of the color of their skin.
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes,
There is a strong temptation to simply say, "Tough. Get over it." Or some such. I think, from a black perspective, we don't expect sensitivity from people who've basically run shit for the past few centuries--especially given that we spent the last two decades hearing about how black people are so sensitive. Moreover, it was a kind of joke, a reversal of that old rhyme about "black get back."
A lively discussion ensues in the comments
Here's my gassy two cents. We have a black president. But there's only one black senator -- and he was appointed with some controversy. There are two black governors; none in the South. The same is true in the private sector; blacks are still disproportionately represented amongst the poor. Look at the civil rights agenda of the incoming president at whitehouse.gov and you'll find the same old assumption that if the we legislate equality of civil rights then there will be equality of outcomes. The policy points are all well and good, if old, but they won't get us where we need to be. (Not that I'm saying discrimination is no longer a problem -- even whites who embrace what is right fall short wittingly or not -- but on the discrimination front the progress to be made is going to be primarily at the level of the heart and the impulse, beyond mental assent or mere law. Something that perhaps our children will be better at than we are.) The LGBT agenda (scroll down the civil rights agenda link just given) is fresher and more promising.
Blacks may not have to get in the back of the bus anymore, but there's still a problem. Poverty amongst blacks is a legacy of slavery. There's much as a nation to be redressed by an attack on the problem of poverty. Not that there is an easy answer. But it's plain embarrassing (though, evidently, necessary politics) for all sides how much of the campaign was spent addressing the middle class -- read, the white middle class. I'm pretty sure it came up even more than Joe the Plumber.
Now is the time to put away childish things.
The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
- Barack Obama
Opportunity might suggest do no harm; do not discriminate on the basis of color. It might suggest to some
that we mandate opportunities even if they are overpaid make-work projects. But I think Obama means attacking the sources of poverty at their roots so that more Americans can earn a good living and create a good environment for their children.