racial inequality

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

I WAS ONCE told that “racism is our nation’s original sin.” This statement jolted me. While I didn’t dispute its truth, I have come to realize racism is much more complex than this.

In order to dismantle the structural sin of racism, we have to first set it within a larger context that acknowledges racism’s sociopolitical dependency and structural interconnectedness.

First: “race” is not real. It is not a scientific category; biologically, it does not exist. Race is a social construct, something built systematically. It has no inherent value or true significance beyond what we give it. In order for race to have real social consequences—which it undoubtedly does—there must be other phenomena at work that validate, sustain, and reinforce the social significance of race.

As a result of sin in our fallen world, human bodies are appraised and given a value based upon certain criteria. As a result of sin, men are privileged over women, white skin is privileged over darker skin, able bodies are privileged over disabled bodies. Historically, certain bodies are acclaimed while others are defamed. Race plays a starring role in this larger drama of embodiment.

Within this racialized schema, whiteness has evolved into an exclusive fraternity. Whiteness has been judicially regulated, legislatively reinforced, and institutionally endowed with power. Whiteness bestows privileges upon its preordained clientele.

While privilege is only one small part of whiteness, and while not all of these privileges are realized (or even equally distributed throughout its membership), these privileges are uniquely accessible to its members.

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Neither Despair Nor Complacency

IN JUNE 1966, Sen. Robert Kennedy joined the National Union of South African Students for a conference held in Cape Town. Tension was running high. NUSAS president Ian Robertson had been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act, and the pressure was on Kennedy, from both the apartheid government and sectors of the anti-apartheid movement, not to attend.

Kennedy went anyway and delivered one of the best speeches of his career. “Few have the greatness to bend history itself,” Kennedy reminded the students. “But each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [s/he] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope ... daring those ripples to build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Twenty-eight years later Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The West embraced him, celebrating his magnanimity, “disremembering” the support it gave to the very apartheid regime Mandela worked to dismantle.

In the years that followed, Mandela’s leadership enabled a country to project itself beyond the cognitive illusion that suggested there was no way out of a pending Armageddon. He insisted that things only seem impossible until there is the will to make them possible. He created and energized that will, injecting optimism and political excitement into a desperate situation. When an overenthusiastic supporter called Mandela a “saint,” he responded, “No, just a sinner who keeps trying.”

At the time of Kennedy’s 1966 speech, however, Nelson Mandela was in prison, serving a life sentence for sabotage under apartheid; no one realized he was among the “few” who would succeed in bending history. And as we know now, there are certain things that even Mandela could not do.

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50 Years from Now — Infographic Shows How Far We Have Yet to Go on Racial Equality

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in mult

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in multiple forms today. Graphic by PRRI.

Yesterday’s “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., honored the nation's substantial advances in racial equality in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

But events this year — from the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act to the House eliminating funding for food stamps to the Trayvon Martin trial — are posing serious challenges to our national progress towards true equality for all.

An infographic from the Public Religion Research Institute, "The Dream by the Numbers," highlights systemic inequalities that still work against communities of color today. The statistics are grim: black communities are unemployed at nearly double the rate of white communities. Fewer than 20 percent of black youth will receive a college or graduate degree. Twice as many blacks lack health insurance as whites. And nearly 70 percent of blacks surveyed mentioned “lack of opportunities for young people” as a top concern for their community.

Why I Will Be Marching on Washington and Why You Should Too

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

March on Washington, 1963, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I will march on Saturday because I refuse to allow my two sons to be treated as statistics or a stereotypes rather than as children of God. I will march because overly aggressive policing tactics that overly rely upon racial profiling make a mockery of Dr. King’s dream that every child will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.   

I will march because the recent repeal of section four of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court jeopardizes the voting rights of millions of Americans across the country, particularly in southern states where new barriers to this sacred right are already being erected. 

I will march because based on national statistics, my two black boys face a one in three chance of spending some time of their lives behind bars, a disturbing and destructive reality that has been made possible in part by mandatory drug sentencing laws that must be reevaluated and changed.  

INFOGRAPHIC: The Racial Wealth Gap

Recent studies from both the Urban Institute and the Pew Forum tell the story of America's growing racial wealth gap. In the May issue of Sojourners magazine, Otis Moss III talked about the unjust trend: 

The call of the church has been, and always will be, to become the compassionate hands and feet of Christ. Poverty, when attached to race, is the original sin of America, a country built by slave labor and enriched by the unfair labor practices of the Industrial Revolution.

Read the full piece HERE.

See the full infographic at the jump.

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