The Common Good

To Move Beyond Denial

[This is adapted from an earlier version of the article "To Move Beyond Denial," which appeared in the July 1992 issue of Sojourners and remains relevant today.—The Editors]

I find myself asking the question, How long, O Lord, How long?–knowing that those who never learn from history are destined to repeat it.

We have not learned from Watts, Detroit, Chicago, or the cities all over this nation that the price we pay for institutionalized racism, the historic denial of justice, and broken covenants is fragmentation, isolation, and violence. We have not learned that as long as some of us are not free, none of us will be free. We have not learned that the road to one nation under God is really justice and liberty for all of us, not some of us.

That the disease of racism permeates our institutions is not a new revelation to those of us who have been in the struggle from Mississippi to Los Angeles to Chicago.This picture reveals systems that have failed and a broken and divided nation that has lost its sense of community–common bond–or of being connected to one another as sisters and brothers in one human family. The complete picture must reveal the devastating impact of slavery, extending to the current reality of attitudinal, cultural, and institutional racism.

Where do we go from here?

From the denial of racism to the naming and facing of racism.

If we are to move forward, we must acknowledge that racism is alive and well in the American psyche. It continues to function as a demonic force with devastating consequences for us all. To be white in America is to benefit from a system of power and privilege whether or not one has ever uttered a racist thought or committed a racist act.

The white community needs to move beyond denial to the facing of racism, the naming of racism, and the commitment to do everything in its power to change racist behavior and systems of injustice.

From a complicity of silence to finding our moral voice.

Religious and political leadership continues to be unbelievably silent on the issue of race in this country. Racism remains on the back burner of this nation's agenda. Now is the time to gain the moral high ground and our voice. We need leadership with a clear vision of a racially inclusive society.

From the blaming of victims toward the elimination of victimization.

Clearly political policies and institutions have not only failed us, but have made us captives to an economic system that produces a permanent underclass. We are all victimized by the blatant injustice that results. It's time to stop blaming each other and to start blaming the racism, materialism, and militarism that have brought us to this place.

From fragmentation and isolation to community.

It's time for us to come to a common table and begin the process of building relationships. This will not be an easy task, for much pain, betrayal, and oppression separate us from one another. Racism leads to fragmentation and isolation in its rawest form, with a rainbow of young people venting their rage and anger in ways that will only keep us divided.

We must work toward a vision of a new community–a multicultural, multiethnic community. We must move toward an America that we have never seen and yet must be–an economically and racially just America.

Yvonne V. Delk, a Sojourners contributing editor, was the executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago when this article appeared. This is adapted from an earlier version of the article "To Move Beyond Denial," which appeared in the July 1992 issue of Sojourners.

Image: Red crane rising above the crowd, Sarah Fields Photography  / Shutterstock.com

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