January 11, 2016

Post-racial? Don’t think so

            This past weekend kicked off the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations in the Kansas City metro area.  As we review the tragic events of this past year, many involving lethal stand-offs between police and young black men and women, King’s vision seems even more urgent, even as we acknowledge how far away it is in actuality.
            Pundits seized upon the post-racial language following the election of America’s first African American president.  According to Urban Dictionary, “post-racial” is
a term used to describe a society or time period in which discussions around race and racism have been deemed no longer relevant to current social dynamics. 
America is anything but post-racial!  Surely there is a fatigue factor for persons of good will who have stayed in the fray for justice, but the campaign is far from over.

            Schools, Central included, love to feature images of multicultural harmony, with students from different racial backgrounds working together, smiling and conversing.  In truth, it is more aspirational than actualized, and race still matters.  Americans still enjoy or endure, given one’s social location, “silent and not overt segregation,” according to Stephen Balkaran in Huffington Post.  School systems, employment, healthcare, prison systems, immigration policies, and poverty all bear witness to racial disparities.

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Interfaith Service held at Rockhurst University, which was sponsored by The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee.  I am always delighted at the significant collaboration between these two oppressed minority groups.  Many rabbis accompanied black clergy in the historic freedom walks in the South, and the prophetic vision of each tradition strengthens its counterpart.
Representatives from Islam, Sikh, Baha’i, Judaism, and Christianity read from King’s address “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” written 60 years ago.  Sadly, it was as relevant today as when delivered at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, at the first Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change.

Among those in leadership and attendance were Central alums.  I was grateful for their presence and their enduring commitment to the unfinished agenda of Dr. King.  Concrete action toward justice can bring about change.  I want to suggest three things Central can pursue.
First, we must not shy away from very specific conversations about race.  Too often our caution (from the varied perspectives) breeds denial.  Second, we need to admit we have continuing problems.  Glib claims about diversity often obscure the intransigence of differing educational privilege.  Third, ongoing repentance is a key spiritual practice in majority culture.

We have a longer journey to a post-racial society, but we can draw nearer the beloved community.  And that is a worthy goal.

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