The Common Good

Racial Jeopardy and American Politics

Sojomail - January 26, 2012

 QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"This is the first time I’ve heard myself speak. It’s like I’m hearing myself talk. I’m healing myself through you guys." - Army Staff Sergeant Kenneth Sargent, seriously wounded in Iraq, after working with a professional songwriter to turn his experience into a song at a retreat led by Life-Quest Transitions, an organization helping vets readjust to civilian life through music. (Source: Washington Post)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

 GUEST COMMENTARY by Lisa Sharon Harper

Racial Jeopardy and American Politics

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support
Sojourners

During a roundtable chat with a group of emerging young evangelical leaders recently, someone posed the question: “Has America become a post racial society?”

Well, we haven’t had a race riot in a while — does that mean race isn’t relevant anymore?

A black president just gave the State of the Union Address. How about that? Does that mean America’s OK with the race thing?

Our nation is a more ethnically diverse nation than it’s ever been. Does that count for anything?

Scholars across disciplines agree that what we think of as “race” literally was invented here in the 17th century to delineate castes within a system of extreme privilege and subjugation.

So, rather than thinking about the dreaded word, “racism,” to answer the question, perhaps it would be more helpful to think about how our society has been “racialized” and then ask if such a racialization still exists or reverberates in today's American culture.

In 1662, the Virginia legislature declared that children born to enslaved women would be slaves “in perpetuity” (a.k.a. “forever”) no matter what the father's race. It was the first law delineating legal difference in status between blacks and whites passed in the New World.

Before the Virginia law's instatement, the status of a person had been based upon the status of the father. This new law made it possible for white slave masters and overseers to rape their female slaves and gain more “chattel” to work their land. In fact, the Virginia law created a new kind of permanent underclass — the black slave — to support a new kind of permanent nobility — the white American.

Our forbears mirrored England's caste system, with its aristocracy and servant classes where privilege or subjugation was inherited by birthright or circumstance, with one crucial difference. In England, everyone was white, so blood lineage, rather than race, was the delineator.

America's founding fathers believed that in our hallowed land, every man should be the king of his own castle, so-to-speak. Here every man is free and equal and able reap the benefit from the land, its resources, and representative democracy. Every man, that is, except the ones who were not white.

Just seven years after the end of the Revolutionary War, our forbears felt the need to clarify who could enjoy the ultimate privileges and protections of U.S. citizenship. Through the Naturalization Act of 1790, they made it clear. The privilege of citizenship was reserved for “white” people.

Yeah, yeah, Lisa, but that was like 220-something years ago. That doesn’t prove that racialization still exists in America today. Come on! We have a black president.

OK. Let’s play a game. It’s called “Racial Jeopardy.”

1) Name the year race-based slavery ended in the United States. What is 1865?

(Good! That's right. It ended at the conclusion of the Civil War.)


2) Between 1865-1876, this number of African-Americans held elected office.

What is about 1500?

(Yes. Great! African-Americans experienced 11 years of absolute freedom after the Civil War and look what they were able to accomplish with total freedom — right after being enslaved for more than 200 years! There were black senators, representatives, judges, mayors, lieutenant governors — you name it.)


3) This is the year that state and local Jim Crow laws begin to clamp down on southern blacks’ ability to vote, move freely, receive education, or receive equal protection of the law.

What is 1876?

Good.

4) How many lynchings of black people happened between 1876 and the start of the Civil Rights movement in 1954?

What is 3,438?

(Yes.)


5) Now, this is the year that the Jim Crow system was outlawed in America.

Um ... I don’t know.

(AAAARRRRNNNNKKK! Sorry. The answer we were looking for is, "What is 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, or What is 1965, with the Voting Rights Act.)


6) So, how many years have African-Americans been actually free in the United States?

What is 47?

(Yup.)


Now answer this:

7) What two pieces of legislation are credited as having laid the foundation for the American middle class?

What are the Homestead Act of 1862 and the WWII GI Bill?


8) When the Homestead Act of 1862 was passed how much free land did folks get from the government? And who got it?

What is 160 acres? And who are white folks?

(Uh-huh.)


9) Who benefited from the GI Bill?

Who is everyone?

(AAAARRRRNNNNKKK! Technically, yes, everyone should have benefited equally from the GI Bill. And by 1956, 7.8 million World War II veterans had received free college education or training and 2.4 million were carrying home loans backed by the Veterans' Administration. But the GI Bill was crafted it in such a way that it made it difficult for African-American GIs to take advantage of the benefits. So, the white middle class far out-paced the development of the African-American middle class.)

10) Has the United States ever sought to repair the damage done by more than two hundred years of institutionalized racialized slavery and one hundred years of racialized Jim Crow law?

What is “no”?

(Correct.)

As a result, the median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with $5,677 for blacks and $6,325 for Latinos, according to July 2011 data from the Pew Research Center.

As a result, at the height of the economic downturn, the poverty rate in the black community was 27 percent, compared with 9.9 percent for whites.

As a result, if you were to lay down a map of the nation's most toxic or polluted land and lay on top of that a map of all the most black, Latino, and Native American communities in the country, you would find a nearly one-to-one correlation.

As a result, the United States incarcerates black men at a rate 6.6-times higher than that of white men.

So, my answer to the question of whether America has become a post-racial society is this: African-Americans have been completely free for just 47 years.

Our nation still has work to do. Race will continue to matter in the United States until we take active, structural steps to counter the more than 300 years of racialized politics and policies — more than 300 years of sin.

Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

E-mailE-mail this article to friends
FacebookShare this article on Facebook
CommentComment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


 ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Soul Food
by Cathleen Falsani

When Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis departed on his three-month sabbatical at the beginning of January, I sent him a list of books, films and music that I thought would nourish his mind and spirit in, perhaps, different ways than the media he normally consumes do. May something on the menu feed your imagination and slake your soul-thirst, too.
+ Click to continue

Sale Cereal
by Todd Clayton

My problem is that, for many, it's not seasonal: the lights go off every month for years, the cards are always declined, pulling on those mythical bootstraps isn't really an option. Aside from the whole I-want-to-get-married-someday thing, this is probably why I'm a democrat, because I work in the communities that are supposed to benefit from trickle-down economics. Here's a little secret, though: they don't.
+ Click to continue

He Said, She Said: Driscoll's "Real Marriage" is Really Not
by Sarah Vanderveen

Editor's Note: For those of you who pay attention to evangelical Christian culture (particularly its "emergent" subculture), it will come as no surprise that Mark Driscoll, once again has positioned himself as a lightning rod for criticism and controversy. We asked God's Politics contributors, husband-and-wife writers David and Sarah Vanderveen — a couple in their early 40s who have been married for more than 18 years and are the parents of two teenage boys — to read Real Marriage together and share their thoughts on the book and the meaning of "real marriage."
+ Click to continue

Tripp Hudgins' First Thoughts: SOPA and the Wisdom of Creative Freedom
by Tripp Hudgins

"Wisdom wants to be free. As a Christian, I believe there is actually some theology to this....Wisdom is a woman and she stands at the gates of the city and she cries out to the people, 'Be free. Be free to love and be free to share.'...What if we understood creativity to be wisdom?"
+ Click to continue

Transforming Lives, One Cup of Coffee at a Time
by Joshua Witchger

Growers First began a relationship with farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico. Day even left his day job and began working to unite small farmers to increase their product value, partner with co-ops, introduce the local farmers to the global market, and implement a process of organic certification that would yield higher revenue and enable them to chart land productivity. But it strives to be more than just fair trade or ethically conscious coffee company.
+ Click to continue

Just How Free?
by Jack Palmer

Freedom is a word often used by politicians, economists and others in positions of power/authority as a byword for happiness. The more freedom we have, the happier we are. Whether this is actually the case, freedom is something that oftentimes may not be particularly tangible.
+ Click to continue

 SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:
Clash on Dodd-Frank ‘Conflict Minerals’
Politico
“What would it mean for us to be a neighbor to everybody in the supply chain used to make the clothes we wear, the computers we type on, and the cars that we drive? Our call to love is not defined by geographical proximity,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for the Christian group Sojourners. “We are all responsible for being good neighbors. It doesn’t matter if we have a good excuse… the people in the Congo are made in the image of God."

Rejection of Oil Pipeline Project
The Associated Press
Washington-based Sojourners says the pipeline "would have been a backward step in the administration's professed commitment to investing in clean and renewable energy sources." Sojourner's spokesman Tim King says the administration decision shows "profits aren't the only part of the equation." King says "God gave believers the responsibility to care for the Earth."
 

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

 

 
 

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!
 
 
 
  

Chief Executive Officer Ten Thousand Villages seeks values-driven CEO to lead North America’s top fair trade retailer. To view full job description click here. Email cover letter and resume to CEOsearch@tenthousandvillages.com
 

Christians and Islam: Do we share more than we realize? This discussion guide looks at the shared history, theological similarities and differences, and hopes for social justice that both Christians and Muslims share. Download now.
 

Sojourners Intern Program - apply today! There is more than one way to serve God. Find yours. Click here to find out more.
 

"We're in this together." Help your class or small group face the anxiety of the economic recession with faith and community. Download Christians and the Economic Crisis, a four-part discussion guide.

 

  
 


Click Here!
 

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: sojourners@sojo.net | Advertising: advertising@sojo.net | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.