|Gordon, an ex-slave, from Wikipedia|
Some scars never go away.
With our nation once again reeling from a violent eruption of heinous and explicit racism, a number of people have raised related questions about the way that unconscious and implicit racism continues to shape the current cultural landscape.
If humanistic luminaries like our nation's founders could be blind to their own denial of basic human rights to black citizens, and if highly educated judges and legislators could support institutional segregation for decades, how likely is it that 21st century Americans are without our own racial blind spots? Isn't the probability very high that this era has its own social and cultural structures of sin that impact all of us?
These are not comfortable questions for cocktail-hour conversations, of course. They are matters for deep reflection about our most basic presuppositions, which routinely go unexamined. They are also questions that often leave people thinking, "I don't know where to begin with that..."
Here's a starting point, a must-read for anyone who dares to delve more deeply into questions of institutional and structural racism: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
The importance of this book cannot be overstated, just as its provocative thesis cannot be easily digested: Alexander argues that the "war on drugs"--promoted by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, and propped up by a number of shocking Supreme Court decisions--is the vehicle of ongoing racism in our times. It is a machine which has targeted and incarcerated black men at outrageously disproportionate levels, and it leaves a devastating swath of convicted felons in its wake who have no hope of re-integration into society. Somehow the author manages to address what seems like all conceivable counter-arguments, even demonstrating the essential role played both by the myth of colorblindness and by black exceptionalism (e.g., the election of an African-American president).
Just as Original Sin left the human race with a weakened will and darkened intellect, so today's racial structures of sin continue to compromise and implicate us all. Statues and monuments may remind us of past structures of sin, but debates about where they belong might just be a distraction from addressing current racial inequities. With a targeted minority--black men--continuing to suffer mind-boggling levels of felony convictions, it seems that the least we can do is to begin seeing the unconscious and implicit mechanisms at work today.
Ultimately, of course, only a Wounded Healer can save us from the mess in which we are living. Yet he needs us to be his agents in this noble mission. The Lord knows we did not choose to be born into this particular system, but he also knows that we can choose whether or not we perceive the reality. And we can decide how to begin tending to the wounds.
Reading The New Jim Crow would be a great place to start.