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REFLECTIONS: When difference of race will make no difference Bishop Woodie W. White, Sep 5, 2011
Bishop Woodie W. White
By Bishop Woodie W. White UMR Columnist
We are such a race-drenched culture in the United States. I can say this of no other country with the same degree of certainty, although I suspect there is a degree of racism in other nations as well. But America’s history is so entangled in the issue of race; it seems to be difficult to think of one without the other.
I am exhausted with and by race. It is omnipresent in American life. Sometimes visible and noisy. At other times it is silent and hidden. It is difficult in so many contexts to go a day without the reminder of race as “issue,” or race as “problem.” Sometimes race as “progress.” But race nonetheless.
My point, however, is not that race should be ignored, as though such difference does not exist. I assume it is important since God did not create the human order as raceless. But God did not create race as a problem. We did! God created race as a gift. And called it good!
As is the case for most of God’s gifts, we have misused and abused the gift of race. There are those who throughout our history have tried to remind the human family that it is after all a family—and race difference does not need to make a difference!
There are glimmers of hope, and evidence that we are now seeing race difference in such a way that it does not make a difference. That race difference need not inevitably have negative consequences.
Some weeks ago, my grandson was invited to share vacation at the beach with his best friend. Permission was granted of course, as both sets of parents are good friends as well. One white. One black.
But I too quickly viewed this friendly gesture through my “race” lens! Not the vacation, nor the invitation, but three or four years from now when the two friends are teenagers. In my memory, something happens to those early non-race friendships, when those friends are told or come to believe that such friendships are not appropriate. Often, that message comes from third parties of both races. Worse, the friends may be criticized for having the friendship in the first place.
I suppose for too many people, race is a comfortable place. It is easy politics, easy socialization, and even easy religion. Just define and assign people by their race category and no other information or assessment is required.
The recent hurricane caused a postponement of the dedication ceremonies for the Martin Luther King Jr. monument in Washington, D.C. It is the first such monument to be dedicated in the nation’s capital to an African American, on the capitol grounds.
For this honor to be bestowed during the term of the first elected African American as president is historic. At the same time, the deep racial prejudice expressed towards the president is disappointing. It comes not from those who object to his policies, but from those who object to his race.
All of these things, taken together, give us evidence of how very far the nation has come, and how far we have yet to go.
In one of the most famous speeches given by Dr. King, he spoke of a nation and a time when his children would not be judged by the color of their skin (race), but by the content of their character. I think most Americans share in that vision for our nation.
The dream of Dr. King was not just for his four children, and mine is not just for my grandson and his friend—but also for all children and all Americans of every race and color.
Perhaps, after all, we are moving closer to a time and a nation where we will see race as a difference, but one that makes no difference!
Retired Bishop White is the denomination’s Endorsing Agent for Chaplain Ministries and bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology.