A Sacred Conversation on Race

These thoughts were submitted to the United Church of Christ news blog, in response to Pastor Chuck Currie’s comments, “Danville Church Tackles Tough Subject of Race“. For another example of dialogue, have a look at the Philadelphia Enquirer article, “In Pursuit of a Quieter Discourse on Race” (Enquirer, May 19, 2008).

The UCC initiative to openly discuss the “legacy problem” is timely and indeed, welcome.

I left New Orleans in 1995 and moved my family to France (partly because my wife is French and her family needed her…) but also, and in large part because the racial healing dialogue had all but dried up in that city: the city had fallen to mediocrity, abandoned by middle class whites who went elsewhere for work, and before them, by motivated blacks who fled the segregated south for the promising West Coast.

My family and I made repeated efforts to reach out and to integrate (you can read parts of our story elsewhere on this blog). In the end, all was for nought. There was little or anything we could do to change or influence the outcome of a process determined, many would say, from the day Europeans first settled the lower Mississippi.

But the problem goes beyond simply understanding (and that, for some “red state” Americans, could be quite a challenge!). It is as much a matter of re-establishing intra-community, indeed inter-faith trust.

Regardless of skin color, of one’s personal standard for beauty or one’s idea of self in relation to other, there will always be a perception of fairness, or in the case of race relations, of unfairness. And until we can squarely confront the issue of fairness and say we have done our best, the problems of “otherness” will persist.

Otherness can be and should be a blessing. It is the essence of diversity, a sign of wealth and proof of tolerance. Unfortunately, in the legacy cultures of the deep south, otherness is all too frequently a source of insecurity and a threat to self-esteem.

Until we can get over these problems, a “sacred conversation” cannot take place. It is not about “divine intervention” or even about “God’s plan”, it is about trust, acceptance and self-esteem.

I follow these issues from afar but I am truly heartened by the courage of Jeremiah Wright, by the collective intelligence that has been guiding Barack Obama’s bid for presidential power and the UCC for enlarging the debate.

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