Holder: Americans are “Cowards” About Race Issues
Eric Holder, the first African-American U.S. Attorney General, has given an excellent speech on the problems of racism in the U.S. in 2009. Holder talks about the progress made in the U.S. since the end of legal segregation (’64, ’65), but also spells out how far we have to go. He notes that the media has been far too quick to view the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as proof that we now live in a “post-racial” society.
Noting that most workplaces are now integrated, Holder also points out that work is about the only place that whites and blacks (not to mention Asians, Latinos, etc.) associate regularly. We mostly don’t live in the same neighborhoods. We don’t hang out with each other after work. On weekends, we mostly associate only within our own racial groupings–both in terms of socializing and definitely in terms of where we worship. (11 a.m. Sunday is STILL the most segregated hour in America as very few churches make any real efforts to be multi-racial or multi-cultural–even if they are located in such areas.)
Holder also claims, rightly, that while most Americans no longer use openly racist language, we are “cowards” about talking about racial issues–especially with those of other racial/ethnic groups. Because such conversations are uncomfortable, and could offend, we avoid them–and thus avoid challenging ourselves to go beyond superficial friendliness or civility to actually breaking down barriers of misunderstanding.
The speech lacks the power of Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race and religion in America last year during the Democratic primaries. But this is still a bold speech that is provocative in a manner that may actually help us as a nation. I do think some critics have a point that Holder could have gone further and spelled out some of the issues that should be raised in these painful, uncomfortable dialogues–but this speech is a beginning, not an end.
Read Mr. Holder’s full remarks here. Then, take him up on the challenge: Invite colleagues from work who are of different racial/ethnic background home for dinner. If you have friends from different racial/ethnic backgrounds, try to find ways to begin such conversations. Challenge your church (and, if it is not multi-cultural, it should team up with one or more churches of different backgrounds) to provide “safe space” for such dialogues.
Honestly, folks: The military was integrated in 1948 and, sadly, it remains one of the most integrated institutions in the United States. I went to a mostly black junior high in Orlando in the ’70s (I was easy to spot in school group photos!) and to a pretty mixed (Caucasian, black, Asian, Latino) high school in Jacksonville Beach later in the same decade. I have taught at two historically black colleges (an experience both fun and VERY challenging) and I live in a mixed neighborhood and go to a somewhat multicultural congregation (it used to do better than currently). And I am constantly surprised at how far we HAVEN’T come in this country. We are having to fight the resegregation of the public schools (not helped at all by the “home schooling” movement).
How many white pastors or theologians regularly read African-American, Latino/a, or Asian American theologians or biblical scholars? (If you look at the footnotes and bibliographies of “minority” scholars, they are always fully abreast of the scholarship of the dominant Caucasian culture, but the reverse is not very often true.) Look at how little diversity there is in major news anchors (although local stations do better than the networks). If you are a well-read, college educated, white American and I came over your house, how many non-white authors (fiction, non-fiction) would I easily find on your bookshelves?
Is it any wonder we are so incredibly IGNORANT of each other–and, thus, regularly fear and misunderstand each other even when we have no desire to be personally prejudiced?
Our current Attorney General has laid down a significant challenge. Let’s take him up on it, shall we?
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