Although in 2008 there were tears of joy and the cry of America being “post-racial,” many people, both black and white, knew differently. America has always refused to look her racism squarely in the eye; she has been content to live within comfortable walls of myth as opposed to agreeing to stand in the hot sun of reality.
America is a nation that was formed with a racial divide.
Author James Baldwin wrote, in Nobody Knows my Name,” that America “has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from one of the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person…” He says that we as a nation are obligated to look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish to be, and he said that “If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.” (p. 116)
The peace between blacks and whites is …uneasy and inauthentic. We have not looked racism in the fact and challenged it. We have not done the work to become whole.
The most exasperating thing about our situation is that everybody knows it exists. Before this last presidential election, I was having a discussion with a white friend of mine about the political ads on television and radio that we both wished would go away, and, out of nowhere, she said, “…there is so much prejudice in white people. People are so prejudiced against Obama but nobody wants to say it out loud.”
It felt like she needed to say that, to do a “mea culpa” on behalf of people with whom she had close and frequent contact. What it made me feel was …uneasy, because the uneasy peace that exists between blacks and whites in this country feels very volatile and very threatening.
It is not as though the very most virulent racist feelings are confined to a particular region of the United States. Yes, the South has the history of being most blatantly racist, but there has been no love lost for black people in any part of this nation. John Hancock lived in Boston, and owned slaves. James Madison, a signer of the United States Constitution and a president of this nation, wrote that slaves were both property and human – but human only for the purpose of giving states more representation in elections. They were property in general, and did not, could not, receive the rights of being American citizens.
There has been resentment between the races, then, from the beginning of this nation’s life. Blacks have been under the heels of a race that has deigned itself as superior and blacks as inferior. Whites have enjoyed freedom by virtue of their race, and blacks, because of their race, have had to fight for every ounce of “freedom” they have gained. Blacks have resented whites for thwarting their efforts for freedom and whites have resented blacks for wanting more and more freedom, somehow nurturing the belief that blacks are “moochers” who feel like they are “entitled” to what whites freely enjoy.
There is no peace between the races. The issues have been pushed under the carpet and whites and blacks as well work very hard to keep the issues right there.
But truth always comes up and out. The resentment of blacks and whites periodically rises to the surface. There has been no real effort for reconciliation between the races because blacks and whites have been more interested in keeping the disease and its issues hidden. That’s why we have seen and heard so many unkind and racially tinged insults against President Obama. That’s why the Trayvon Martin case is so volatile. That’s why the incidence of hate crimes is on the rise. Though slavery as a formal entity does not exist, blacks are still disproportionately detained in prisons (read Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow and Douglas
‘s Slavery by Another Name) as a way of keeping them in their place. Blacks and whites are as far away as we ever were, made worse by the fact that we will not “look reality in the face.” It is as though we have strep throat but will not acknowledge it or get an antibiotic to kill the bacteria, and as a result, our nation is suffering from a system rheumatic heart disease.
An uneasy peace is no peace at all. Peace comes only after the work of peace is done…and we in America have not done that. It is scary and troubling, but our nation, while it is off trying to help other nations in the world embrace democracy and freedom, has not attended her own broken democracy. There is an uneasy peace, and it is truly scary.
A candid observation…