When Frederick Douglas assembled with other representatives at the National Colored Convention of 1853, they collectively condemned the nationwide epidemic of racial discrimination. As the gathering intended to discuss the circumstances and possibilities of “coloreds” (as they were called then), they recognized the various ways that “scorn and contempt” were heaped upon them — for no justifiable reason — by the white-skinned racial majority.
In remembrance of Douglas’ critique surrounding his 19th century “white countrymen,” and in recognition of our annual celebration of Black History Month, we in the U.S. continue to mourn the deep divisions that occur due to racial misunderstanding. In other words, as we take an inventory of race relations roughly 195 years after Frederick Douglas was born, we recognize that racial ignorance among far too many of our citizens continues to result in a disturbing level of collective indifference and social inequality.
Editor's Note: This column is part of a duo of posts commenting on racial reconciliation in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Read the accompanying piece, "A Convenient Truth: I Am White."
I am black in the United States of America. It is quite inconvenient to be black in the United States of America. It has always been inconvenient to be black in the United States of America.
My African ancestors were brought to the United States in chains against their will, taken straight to the plantations, and forced into slavery. They did not pass through Ellis Island, as did most of the ancestors of my white counterparts. My ancestors who fought in two world wars were not allowed any advantages of the GI Bill, schooling, the trade unions, or the opportunities of corporate America that white veterans had; therefore, as a black baby I am more likely to be born into a family who is mired in systemic poverty than a baby who is white.
I am much more likely to live in an impoverished neighborhood, receive an inferior education in a neighborhood school, and not graduate from high school than white students my age. Those are inconvenient truths.
Editor's Note: This column is part of a duo of posts commenting on racial reconciliation in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Read the accompanying piece, "An Inconvenient Truth: I Am Black."
I am white. It is quite convenient to be white. In fact, it has always been convenient to be white in the United States of America.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, I am more likely to be employed than someone who is not white, I am less likely to be incarcerated, I am more likely to be covered by health insurance, and I am more likely to enjoy a comfortable retirement and eventually die peacefully in my elder years. I am more likely have a college education than a non-white person, my (white) wife is more likely to receive excellent medical care, my (white) children are more likely to attend private schools with skilled teachers, and my (white) family is more likely to have a roof over our heads, a few cars in the garage, and more than enough food on our table.
While individual cases vary, to be white is – generally speaking – a convenient truth.
There are countless factors one could cite for the current levels of race-based inequality in the U.S., and many opinions exist surrounding potential solutions, yet there are three points of emphasis that need to be addressed for the advancement of racial reconciliation.
When I stepped back and really thought about what I was experiencing on election night, I started thinking about the night of April 4, 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Having not yet been born, I thought about the coverage of it that I’ve seen. About how Robert Kennedy found himself in front of a crowd of supporters for a presidential campaign rally in Indianapolis. Many there that night were black and hadn’t heard the news of King’s death. As he did with most difficult topics, Kennedy laid it all out there. The crowd gasped and screamed and cried. Kennedy said he understood the anger and hate each of the men and women there that night would probably feel. After all, a white man had also killed his brother.
“What we need in the United States is not division,” Kennedy told the crowd. “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another. A feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country.”
More Than Equals, co-authored by Chris Rice and the late Spencer Perkins, is considered one of the pivotal books in the Christian racial reconciliation movement that found its greatest momentum in the early and mid-1990s.
In Crossing the Lines: A Novel, author Richard Doster enabled m