An Opportunity for Leadership

Philosopher George Santayana's observation that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it is, one would think, so logically obvious as not to merit elucidation. Not so in this country, where amnesia is a political virtue. From its inception, the United States has been, according to the eminent diplomatic historian Gabriel Kolko, "a nation blind to itself?its past...and its future."

Recent developments in Los Angeles tend to confirm these views. LA's black intifada was inevitable. It was simply a matter of time and circumstance. As things stand currently, this intifada may have been simply a dress rehearsal. Amidst this crisis, however--which is only the most recent chapter in an ongoing drama--there are valuable opportunities.

The political events following the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King affair incontrovertibly demonstrate at least two factual realities: (1) the utterly delusional state of national elite policy intelligentsia, journalists, and politicians on matters of race; and (2) the primacy of an explicitly anti-black racism--as opposed to merely a problem of "race"as the predominant dynamic driving the electoral behavior of non-black interest groups in national politics.

In my judgment, the polarization of the United States into a de facto apartheid state in our domestic Sowetos provides a singular opportunity for the church to present a unique political perspective, grounded in the theological affirmations of the confessional community. The first opportunity for the churches is intellectual. The importance of an accessible body of fresh theory and analysis of the transformation and patterns of racial stratification cannot be overstated. It has been the absence of just such hard analysis that has crippled the churches' capacity to anticipate trends and effectively respond to them.

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Sojourners Magazine July 1992
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