A group of bloggers have agreed that today is Blog for Justice Day. This is focusing on the Jena Six (see blog post here at OOTJ). The incredible miscarriage of justice, the inequitable sentences given black teenagers in that small town are outrageous, and must be condemned and (we hope!) changed. But I see a larger and very troubling trend. While on the surface, we have all got that equality race relations song down pat, there are definitely troubling harmonics going on down deep.
Racism is a cancer that was written into our country's legal foundations -- through an agreement between the founding fathers to reconcile slavery in order to gain the slave states' acceptance of the union. Slavery was a fact of life in many parts of the world through history. But the Greeks and Romans were upfront about the fact that they took a human being otherwise like themselves and pressed that person into involuntary servitude. They might have been captured in battles, sold for debts. But there was never a comment that the slave was less human than the master -- in fact Romans valued literate Greek slaves as tutors for their children and secretaries for themselves. But in the Christian world, where our Bible proclaims that Christ is the same for slave or freeman, owners felt the need to rationalize their slaveholding by building a fiction that Indians and black African were somehow less human than white Europeans and Americans. How bitterly ironic that the roots of racism against people of color are in their ancestors' slavery.
Anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that racism is a continuing problem in the US. For a number of years, it was "out of style" to say racist things or make jokes based on race or ethnicity. But there seems to be a backlash going on against "political correctness." This framing of the issue seems to be code speak for let's share blatantly all the secret biases and racism we all know we share. I know it does not go away if we stop people being blatant about it -- but it does create a real pressure that it's not acceptable behavior. A large plurality of people will be swayed and changed by either hearing racist statements allowed as acceptable behavior or condemned as rude, out-of-bounds bad behavior. It's hard for white people to full understand the damage caused by allowing racism to go unchallenged. Here is a nice quote from the (white) columnist:
At its core, racism is a judgment imposed on people based not on their merits as individuals but on their membership in a racial group. That's why many black people cringe when another black person is cast in a bad light. They understand that for some, one person's failure will become evidence of the group's failings.
I think it's hard for white people to place ourselves in that position. You can draw analogies — a postal worker might cringe when a story breaks about some mail sorter out in California "going postal" on co-workers with a shotgun — but racial identity cuts deeper than mere occupation.
Link to editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. Author Jay Bookman muses on the secretive nature of continuing racism.
Link to Dinesh D'Souza's analysis of types of racism and bigotry.
Link to Human Rights Watch notes on racism in the U.S.
Follow the link in the title to the central organizer for Blog for Justice Day. And follow the links I give here in the text. But consider this: until you can truly walk in the shoes of another, it may be impossible to imagine the effects of racism and bigotry in the world. If you have friends of color, ask them about their experiences of racism. Ask them what Jena means to them.