As I have read the “Warmth of other Suns,” I have realized I really don’t have any real understanding of the lives of African Americans and their history in America. So, until I get “up to speed,” conversation has no context or credibility.
It is easy to only see the “now” or think we see the “now.” The truth is “now” is the result of the history that has brought our African Americans to the place they are “now.” So unless we understand the history, we honestly cannot have a meaningful conversation.
At some fundamental level we know this. Our familiarity with our American history sets the context for our values and our family history. It affirms the values passed down through the generations. It has shaped the people we are and how we have lived our lives. It is the lens through which we see ourselves, our relationships and our world.
My chest fills with pride when I read about my forefathers standing up to the King of England and all his troops. My reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which I have both learned and studied throughout my education: elementary; secondary; college; and to some extent graduate school. I know I have been able to practice my faith without any fear of government intervention or control. I remember my secretary in a former church passing me a letter from the IRS saying that they would be asking for the membership list from our church. She asked me what she should do. My response was simple, “We will not comply. They have no reason to know who is a member of this church.” She raised the concern about what if we don’t comply. I simply said, “Then I guess I will go to jail.” It was not long until the letter was withdrawn and up to this moment the issue has never come up again. I live in the freedom and confidence given me in the Constitution but more pointedly in the “Bill of Rights.”
However, suppose those noble documents on which our nation was founded, did not apply to you. Everything written in the Bill of Rights was for others. The basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not afforded you. Rather, from the earliest memories you had, you were taught and told you had no rights, you were not equal to white men and women or children for that matter. You place was assigned on the basis of your skin color as were the rights you were allowed to have never forgetting what few rights you did had did not necessarily mean you could exercise them everywhere or anywhere. Suppose you were often maligned, cheated, stolen from, and oppressed by the whites who shared space with you but not welcoming or affirming.
Suppose you were schooled in the realities you could not dream of a better future because the culture into which you were born continued, even after slavery, to steal from you the “American Dream,” or make it off limits by limiting education, by restricting most from affording or attending college, by selecting which jobs you could do and which professions you could not pursue, by making travel almost impossible and in the South tied the share cropper to the land keeping him either poor or in debt. Suppose every day in numerous ways you were reminded even at your best, you were less that the worst white man.
Truthfully, before we can have a meaningful conversation about the future of race in American and racial equality, white folks like me need to know the history and the experience of African Americans in the same space we have inhabited but not the same world. Until we are willing to pay the price to learn, to have our hearts broken by our inhumanity to the African Americans in our midst, our failure to see and speak, our cavalier attitude about the plight of millions of Americans who still struggle for the same equality we have experienced as a birthright, we cannot have a compassionate, responsible enlightened conversation about equal rights, justice, institutional racism, the truth behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and the tragic death of too many Black men at the hands of law enforcement.
America has some wonderful ideals and goals, but sadly, has chosen again and again to kick the can of “equal rights” further down the street. We did this with affordable insurance for all, we have done it with immigration reform, we have done it with tax reform.
It is time to stop pushing the issue down to the next generation. It is time to resolve a poison which has leeched into the soul of America, that has marked our stance of “human rights” for the world as hypocrisy when within our borders, we deprive so many of the same basic human rights.
It is time to face the issue, to see in the face of every African American a person of as much worth and value as any other person in this nation. It is time we strip away the laws and culture that has too long enforced a caste system where African Americans are less in value than whites. It is time to repent, really repent in the church for our support of racism and institutional racism that exists today.
It’s time. Actually, it is way past time.