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Commentary: Race still matters in America

Commentary: Race still matters in America

The Rev. Canon Gregory Jacobs of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark blogs today about racism in America, and President Obama’s recent commencement speech at Morehouse University:

It was a speech that focused on the responsibilities of the young black men who were about to seek their fortunes in the world as graduates of one of the leading black educational institutions in this country.

The President said, “There is no longer any room for excuses… nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.… Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.” The newly-minted graduates were told to be role models for others, to “keep hustling, keep on your grind, and get other folks to do the same.”

Now, despite these lofty preachments in the President’s speech which undoubtedly played well in White America, many in the black community were concerned that his words harkened back to the days of Jim Crow segregation, when Booker T. Washington admonished black people to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. It was not lost on some that just like those early days of the 20th century, this century still finds too many Black Americans without boots.

Disturbingly missing from the President’s address to these young men, was a warning of just how dangerous it is to be a black man in America today.

Read his full post here.

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Paul Woodrum

Rod: playing high church/low church is always more fun than doing justice. One wishes the President had taken on the Supremes recent gutting of the Civil Rights Act and the advantage states like Texas are now taking to reinforce racism through renewing voting laws formerly rejected by the feds.

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Erik Campano

Jacobs has written an incredibly good blog post.

What Martin Luther King called the 'congenital deformity' of racism is still embedded deep within the American psyche.

And until we look deep within ourselves and wrestle with some of our own demons that reside there, we will remain what David Shipler so aptly called us -- A Country of Strangers. And we will continue to condemn and sentence to life on the margins of our society those who we have determined to beyond our circle of concern.

He's absolutely right that racism is as endemic to American culture as it has been throughout the country's history. Michelle Alexander's work has almost definitely proven this. And Jacobs is also right when he says racism is not spoken about nearly enough in the mainline Protestant pulpit. Here in Harlem, a number of churches give the issue its due; but in some other parts of New York, it gets glossed over -- as if telling the truth about race is somehow inappropriate in church -- as if preachers might be offending their listeners, by speaking seriously about a sin at the heart of American social and economic inequality. So people are left unconscious of their own racism.

At the end of the day, those young men cannot escape the fact that they are and will be the object of an irrational hate, fear, stereotype and discrimination that they played no part in creating.

No one knows exactly how to excise that hate from our society. It's probably going to be a never-ending battle, because institutionalized racism was present at the foundation of European colonization of the Americas, and it is the great stain on our history. But if that process of overcoming hatred is going to start anywhere, it's in our spiritual communities. Jesus challenges us to remove the log from our eyes. It is the role of the priesthood -- whether ordained, or of all believers -- to drive that process of self-reflection.

Jacobs is calling on us to "examine deeply how we have both consciously and unconsciously become the instruments of one another’s oppression [emphasis mine]." Spirituality is about examining the hidden forces that shape our perception of the world and the ways we behave. Church, in the broad sense, is the place where we look inside ourselves as honestly as possible. If we do that, our deepest psychological currents of racism will, hopefully, with grace, be revealed, and this is a process that cannot happen quickly enough.

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Sara Miles

Amen. Thank God for Canon Jacob's witness.

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Rod Gillis

Canon Jacob's article is well worth reading in full. It has a strong prophetic quality to it that we don't often get in churches these days. One wonders if it will garner as much interest and passion here as the question about whether or not pastors should wear clerical collars?

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