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Race | jonmower.com

Race

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The Speech

If you haven't already, read the text of today's "race speech" from Obama (link).  No matter your political persuasion, you'll find much there that you agree with.

This speech is the essence of what is so attractive about his message.  Unity not division. Hope not fear. And not or. Americans not Republicans or Democrats. This I can support wholeheartedly.

The other thing that has struck me in recent days is how prevalent the impression is that our racial issues are so far behind us that they are irrelevant to today's reality.  And that Tiger Woods, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, a governor or two, are evidence that all is hunky dory.  Come on.  There is no disputing the fact that, relative to their percentage of the population, blacks are underrepresented in positions of power (government, Fortune 500 CEOs, etc.), behind in economic advancement, behind in academic achievement, but drastically over-represented in prison.

As I figure it, faced with that evidence as well as even a superficial knowledge of our racial history (slavery, lynching, sundown towns, segregation, discrimination, bigotry, etc.), what explanations do we have other than 1) the blatantly racist view that blacks are naturally inferior in terms of morality, intellect, etc. or 2) the conclusion that the effects of our tragic racial history are still felt today?  This is no excuse for any individual to shirk responsibility for his own actions, but it does help us understand why some people might still feel angry and that there is still work to be done.

Factory-Reject Monster Baby

With all the recent discussion of race in American politics (e.g. Obama taking heat for the high racial content of his church's message; Bill and Hillary Clinton taking heat for playing racial politics, etc.), it was great timing for me to hear the "Babies Buying Babies" segment of the 18 January 2008, installment of the This American Life radio show.

I won't go into any more detail so that I don't spoil it, but let me simply say that it was fantastic!!! Here is the teaser from TAL's site:

Elna Baker reads her story about the time she worked at the giant toy store, FAO Schwartz. Her job was to sell these lifelike “newborns” which were displayed in a “nursery” inside the store. When the toys become the hot new present, they begin to fly off the shelves. When the white babies sell out, white parents are faced with a choice: will they go for an Asian, Latino, or African-American baby instead? What happens is so disturbing that Elna has a hard time even telling it. (16 minutes)

Have a listen online.  Here is a link to the web page where you can listen to it in your web browser: link

Another good listen that is somewhat-related (deals with race in America) was the 23 January 2008 installment of the "Democracy in America" segment of The Economist's podcast.  It features a conversation with Michael Dawson of the University of Chicago who discusses...

...what's at stake for African Americans in this election, and whether Barack Obama has a chance

Here is a link to the mp3: link

Athletic Ability

irvin.jpgThis is kind of old news, but I thought this on espn.com was funny...that a joke like this one would create a big controversy.

Michael Irvin (ESPN commentator and former Dallas Cowboys receiver) joked on ESPN Radio that...

Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo's athletic ability must be the result of an African-American heritage.

Irvin later apologized for his comments...

"They were inappropriate and insensitive. My whole thing, what I always try to do, is give people a first-hand knowledge of what it's like in the locker room and how we as players joke around with one another," Irvin said.

"Generalizations about heritage are inappropriate even in jest, and what Michael said was wrong," ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys told USA Today. "We have spoken to Michael about it."

The Big Lead has a transcript. Based on that, I can see why Irvin's statements were a little more inflammatory than than they would seem based on the ESPN story:

"… [there must be] some brothers in that line somewhere … (laughs to himself) somewhere there are some brothers … I don't know who saw what, where …. [maybe] his great, great, great, great Grandma ran over in the hood or something went down … (laughter)"

Dan Patrick, sensing disaster, jumps in and says, ‘that's the only way to be a great athlete?'

Irvin comes back with, "No, that's not the only way … but it's certainly one way … [maybe his] great, great, great, great Grandma pulled one of them studs up outta the barn [and said] ‘come here for a second' … back in the day …(more sinister laughter)"

The Analytical Student

Every once in a while (maybe once or twice a year), when I'm sitting in front of the computer and need to kill some time for some reason, I poke around on concernedmembers.com to see if I can find something interesting to read. The mission of that site is described as this:

There are thousands of Churches undergoing hostile takeovers and being changed into a venue of "Holy Entertainment" by the "community church" movement.

"No one here will admonish anyone for worshipping God in what ever manner they believe to be correct. However, when someone subverts an existing Church by secrecy and deceit against the principles of it's founders and members...

...WE HAVE A PROBLEM!"

The below listings are links to various church member sites where the members discuss what's happening at their church, and learn about the problems causing division and take-overs.

This past weekend, during such a moment of random browsing, I came across this post by a Rochester College student. Rochester College is located in the Detroit-suburb of Rochester and is affiliated with the churches of Christ. The student documents his/her concerns about Rochester College, focusing on the lightning rod himself Rubel Shelly and also the controversy surrounding a Black History Month (BHM) guest chapel speaker that plagiarized from an internet chain email of dubious veracity known as "Life Without Black People."

In reference to the BHM speech controversy, the poster at concerned members links to a blog titled The Analytical Student that (link):

...aims to foster an intellectual environment in which analytical students are free to question the teaching and philosophies taught by Rochester College, both in its activities and assemblies.

The blog is interesting and represents a pretty good discussion of the issues related to the controversial chapel speech without much gratuitous bickering. Much of it is anonymous, but there are also comments from folks like Candace Cain, RC's dean of students, and Calvin Moore, president of RC's Student Action Diversity Committee (SADC). There was also apparently the formation of a Caucasian Support Group on facebook, in analogy to the already-existing African-American Support Group, thrown in for good measure.

The poster (Tacitus) at concerned members summarizes his/her motivation in a postscript:

Note: My main intention in writing this (as well as the intentions of other Rochester student writers will be joining in this endeavor as well) to simply "let the truth be known" about what's going on at Rochester College. Rochester College portrays itself as a Bible-believing, conservative Christian institution, but it has shown itself to be anything but that. I hope that you will pass this information on to your friends and church members - it's time donors and visitors see past the facade Rochester College is putting on to attract and maintain students and funds.

Final Note: This is only the beginning of the accounts of troubling incidents at Rochester College. I and other students will write more as time permits.

Also, the House of God Sessions, organized by Calvin Moore and RC's SADC, looks like it could be very interesting.

No to Discrimination

From an article in today's NY Times by David W. Chen titled "New Jersey Court Backs Full Rights for Gay Couples":

New Jersey's highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples, but ordered the Legislature to decide whether their unions must be called marriage or could be known by another name.

In a decision filled with bold and sweeping pronouncements about equality, the New Jersey Supreme Court gave the Democratic-controlled Legislature 180 days to either expand existing laws or come up with new ones to provide gay couples benefits including tuition assistance, survivors' benefits under workers' compensation laws, and spousal privilege in criminal trials...

The New Jersey court did not go as far as Massachusetts, which in 2003 became the first state to permit gay marriage. Instead, it could be considered the new Vermont, which created civil unions for gay couples in 2000, in the politically, legally and culturally charged world of same-sex marriage...

"We do not have to take that all-or-nothing approach," Justice Albin wrote of the marriage question in the majority opinion.

"We cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantages same-sex couples," he said. "We cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this state that it ranks as a fundamental right."

In my opinion, that's the way it should be...states should have the right to define "marriage" as they choose, but they should NOT discriminate among their citizens based on sexual preference.

Which brings me to another hot-button issue: affirmative action. In an opinion piece in The Chicago Tribune titled "Reverse discrimination gets another look", Steven Chapman discusses an upcoming ballot initiative in Michigan:

On Nov. 7, voters in Michigan will decide on a ballot initiative banning racial preferences in the public sector, and if it passes, opponents say, it will put the state back into the Dark Ages.

Proposal 2 represents a reaction to the University of Michigan's use of racial double standards in selecting its students. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the preferences used in undergraduate admissions were unconstitutional but those used for law school admissions were not. The court said it was OK to favor minority applicants--and discriminate against whites--in order to promote diversity, as long as the school wasn't too blatant about it...

The resulting measure...would amend the state constitution to bar the use of racial or gender preferences by public universities and government agencies.

If it passes, no one would be penalized or rewarded for their skin color or sex. That was the point of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today, though, colorblind policies are denounced as a form of oppression...

At the University of California at Berkeley and at Los Angeles, California's most selective state schools, the percentage of students qualifying for need-based federal aid has risen sharply since 1996. In socioeconomic terms, those campuses have become more diverse, not less. But in Michigan, the concept of diversity begins and ends with race.

The claim that women would suffer without special help in college admissions is a particularly outlandish invention. At Berkeley and UCLA, women increased their numbers after gender-based preferences were scrapped.

There is not much doubt that Proposal 2 would reduce the number of black and Latino students at the University of Michigan, the flagship public institution. But in California, the top schools have not become replicas of Ole Miss, circa 1960. The biggest gainer has been another racial minority--Asian-Americans.

Nor have African-Americans and Hispanics been exiled from higher education. The total number of blacks at all University of California campuses has fallen only slightly, and Hispanic numbers have risen substantially. The chief difference is that many (though certainly not all) minority students have been shifted from the most selective state schools to somewhat less selective ones.

Are these students worse off for not getting into Berkeley or UCLA? Quite the contrary. In the old days, black and Hispanic students generally got worse grades and flunked out at much higher rates than whites and Asian-Americans. But that is changing...

Racial preferences, always a clear detriment to whites and Asian-Americans, have now been exposed as a false friend to those they are supposed to help. Michigan will have a better future if its voters abandon this relic of the past.

I tend to agree. A case can certainly be made for the benefits of affirmative action, but in the end it's just too bass ackward to discriminate in the name anti-discrimination and diversity.

Study: Diversity rises in suburbs

From a USA Today article of the same title by Haya El Nasser:

Suburban counties, once the bastion of white America, are becoming multiethnic tapestries, and white populations are inching up in some urban areas after big losses in the 1990s, according to new Census estimates out Friday.

"Suburbs and especially fast-growing outer suburbs are not just attracting whites anymore," says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. "All minority groups are coming. They're a magnet for blacks as well as Hispanics and Asians."

The changes are dramatic in the South. About 74% of the growth in the U.S. black population happened there from 2000 to 2005. The region also generated about 71% of the national growth in whites, 42% of the Hispanic growth and 27% of the Asian growth.

The Color of Love

A while back I heard a segment on This American Life about Gene Cheek and his book The Color of Love: A Mother's Choice in the Jim Crow South. His is an amazing, sad, and tragic story. It caught my special attention because it occurred in Winston-Salem, NC where I grew up. I ordered the book and and read it during our vacation in the mountains of NC. I think the book would have been more powerful had I not already known the basic outline of the story from the radio show...I knew what was coming. So, if you're gonna read the book, I recommend not listening to the radio bit first. It was kind of a shock to me that in 1972, the year when I was born, inter-racial marriages were still illegal in NC and that Gene Cheek's story was happening in the previous decade. I'm so thankful that my parents raised me such that I wasn't taught any of the racism that was the norm when they were growing up and still wasn't nearly dead when I did.

Church debates slavery pay-back

From an AP article of the same title by Andrew Welsh-Huggins:

The Episcopal Church is poised to apologize for failing to oppose slavery, but making up for its 19th century inaction won't come without 21st century controversy.

At its national convention beginning June 13, the church is expected to approve a resolution expressing regret for supporting slavery and segregation. A second resolution is more controversial: It calls for a study of possible reparations for black Episcopalians...

The church is struggling over whether reparations would be a meaningful gesture 141 years after the Civil War ended.

Reparations could mean anything from cash payments to college scholarships.


The article doesn't detail why the Episcopal Chruch is feeling this guilt. On a related topic, the documentary "Traces of the Trade" sounds interesting. According to an Episocopal News Service article by Daphne Mack, it "...tells the story of the DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in US history and also a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island."

Grim Forecast for Young Black Men

From an article by Michael E. Ross on MSNBC.com:

At a time when the U.S. economy is on the upswing and more people are finding work, young African American men are falling further behind.

That’s the grim portrait painted by three new and forthcoming books by scholars at Columbia, Georgetown and Princeton universities. The picture isn't new, but the depths of its despair and pathology are.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are about 5 million black men in America between the ages of 20 and 39. The new books, and an earlier one from Harvard, find them losing ground in mainstream American society, despite advances made by black women, presumably part of the same socioeconomic experience.

This vexing problem, caused by a variety of social ills, is equally vexing when scholars consider what causes it.

Among the studies' findings:

  • Rates of imprisonment for young black men escalated throughout the 1990s and continued climbing well into the current decade. About 16 percent of black men in their twenties who were not college students were either in jail or in prison.
  • African Americans are seven times more likely to go to prison or jail than whites.
  • Almost 60 percent of black male high school dropouts in their early thirties have spent time in prison.
  • The percentage of young jobless black men continues to increase, part of a trend that generally hasn't abated in decades. In 2000, about 65 percent of black male high-school dropouts had no jobs, either because they couldn't find work or because they were in jail. By 2004, the studies found that number had grown to 72 percent. The numbers for young black men were higher than for whites and Hispanics similarly affected.

Race and Churches of Christ

The race theme continues...There's an interesting opinion piece from The Christian Chronicle by Barclay Key titled "Opinion - When it comes to racial reconciliation, our churches have a long way to go." Some excerpts:

[During the civil rights movement of the sixties] Despite claims of theological purity and uniqueness, churches of Christ were remarkably similar to the surrounding culture in their approach to race relations...Many congregations taught "spiritual equality" on Sundays but practiced inequality the rest of the week.

When racial identities were subordinated under the guise of Christian unity, blacks and whites interacted with surprising frequency in the segregated South, based on their self-perception as the "true church" vis-à-vis "the denominations." While other Protestant churches formed what amounted to racially exclusive denominations or administrative districts, churches of Christ did not because they understood themselves as the only authentic expression of Christianity. This perception partly explains why blacks and whites within churches of Christ, even during the Jim Crow era, interacted with some regularity. These interactions, however, were in no way an expression of racial equality or even unity, since churches practiced and even taught racial segregation. A few instances demonstrate a level of association that was uncharacteristic of that era. For example, black preacher Marshall Keeble sometimes baptized whites, even though riots resulted from "mixed swimming" in some parts of the country.

The confluence of ecclesiology and race relations raises significant questions about common conceptions of sin and salvation in churches of Christ. Many Christians have chosen to think that keeping women out of pulpits and pianos out of church buildings are more important than how we treat people. Replicating these "marks of the New Testament church" has taken precedence over those issues often labeled "not a matter of salvation," including our treatment of, associations with and thoughts about people who are "different" from us. As a fellowship, we have taught that having women preach or using a piano in worship might jeopardize one’s eternal salvation, while racism has been relegated to the realm of custom or personal opinion, as if racial reconciliation were optional.

While some positive changes have occurred since this era, in a collective sense, churches of Christ have failed to recognize and repent of their past racial sins. Rather than actively and consistently pursue racial reconciliation over the past 40 years, churches of Christ have mostly acted as if legal reforms absolved Christians of any responsibility in facilitating interracial dialogue, understanding and community. In many places today, we have reached a standstill. Our leaders have not developed the necessary fortitude to preach racial inclusion and make it happen. We have chosen to ignore rather than to discuss and resolve the sources of distrust among blacks and whites within our fellowship. Instead of seeking and maintaining meaningful, cross-cultural relationships, we find it more convenient just to affirm "unity." We have discovered that excuses — "they don’t want to worship like we do" — are easier than working to make Christian unity a lived reality.

Pursuing racial reconciliation invites controversy. It requires sacrifices of will, control and power. Yet sacrifices are necessary if churches of Christ are to be credible. Young people are increasingly perplexed by the racism of their parents and grandparents. Concerns about interracial marriage, for example, that often characterize older Christians, both black and white, seem irrelevant to youths who have interacted with people of other races for all of their lives. Racist stereotypes gain little traction with students who learn in biology and anthropology classes that concepts of "race" have no scientific justification. Historically, churches of Christ have reflected, rather than molded, the racial mores of the surrounding culture. Now, if churches wish to be respected and valued in the 21st century, they must actively include "every nation" as the gospel has always demanded.

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