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Think, Talk and Be Troubled by Racism

I believe that to think, talk and be troubled by race and racism, is to think, talk, and be troubled by more than race and racism. Thus this morning, I as an 83-year-old southern born, educated and nurtured black man whose ministry has been in the north and west, with some hesitation and trepidation, introspectively, share the following. I could never have imagined that in 2017, race and racism would have the prominence that it has today.

1. I believe that one of the events that has shaped these words is that a White House official in a critique of the current administration’s “soft” response to anti- Semitism and racism, said, “I as a Jewish American…” President Obama publicly identified with the death of Trayvon Martin, but he did not say in doing this, “I as a Black American…”, but he was blasted anyway by many. Was it because he was “President of all of America”, or because he is black?

2. Color blindness, just as gender blindness, is a flaw, or is it?

3. I grew up learning this bit of folk wisdom; “If you are white, you are alright. If you are brown, stick around. If you are black, step back.” The truth of this was hammered home when as a child in a department store, holding my father’s hand, as he was about to make a purchase, a white woman arrived at the counter and said to the clerk loudly,”What do you mean serving niggers, before you serve white people?” My father, while still holding my hand, stepped back, and the woman was served.

3. Shelby Steele the black, conservative scholar/writer suggests there is “…a new burden to white life in America: Since the sixties whites have had to prove a negative – that they are not racist – in order to establish their human decency where race is concerned.” Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy being green” Is this “burden” the cause of the rise of white nationalism, because of the difficulty of being white?

4. In a re-reading of Coretta Scott King’s biography, I was bothered by something I had missed in my first reading. Mrs. King critiqued the brilliant historian Vincent Harding, who was for awhile the Executive of the King Center. One reason; because he established the Institute of the Black World while at the Center. Is Black particularity at variance with racial integration? Does the “Politics of “Respectability” compel a minimization of Black Presence, Power, Particularity, and Possibility?

5. My fear of the disease of “Colorblindness” makes me alert to people of color. I ask myself, “Is the lambasting and the unemployment of a black quarterback who does not stand for the national anthem, more noticeable because he is black? Are the differences in the rescue of persons victimized by Hurricane Harvey, when compared to the rescue of persons victimized by Hurricane Katrina, because there was a greater presence of blacks in New Orleans than in Houston? If President Obama had done what President Trump has done and is doing, what if any would have been the different response?” Is “colorblindness” a better response than to notice the double standard?

6. Are immigrants and would be immigrants from Mexico and further south, treated differently because they are brown and not white? Did/does the brown-ness (not redness) of Native Americans inform the reasons why of their past and present mistreatment?

7. Using a no longer used word to describe African Americans, is Negrophobia a bit like Homophobia? What is the fear that becomes anger, or is it the anger that becomes fear, that causes assaults on persons because they are black or gay, or thought to be black or gay? I remember speaking at a vigil in Denver following the killing of Matthew Shepard and quietly remembering the killing of Emmit Till as I spoke. Long ago, I, in my mind, added black and brown to the colors in the rainbow flag.

8. Remembering the words in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”:  “I am invisible understand, simply because people refuse to see me”, my fear is that the removal of, or making invisible Confederate Monuments, will make possible more, “out of sight, ought of mind” responses to race and the racism that made justifiable, slavery and segregation. I am writing this because I believe that if we do not think, talk, and are not troubled by race and racism NOW, with the race-based turbulence of these moments, there will never be another moment like this in which we can explore how ALL of us have been affected and infected with the diseases caused by the negatives of race and racism.

9. The FOX network deplores what it calls “identity politics”. I would suggest that it is an unacknowledged assumption that assimilation means becoming white or white-like or white-lite, by those at FOX who have this concern. After all, immigrants from Europe and other places who could “pass” the white color test, persons who are Jewish as well, became/become white, and thus authentically American. But is not the USA like a vegetable soup that values the different and distinctive contributions of those who are white and not white? Despite those who want to “Make America (White) Again”, white is not the “new/old normal” of our nation.

10. The African American Spiritual has these words; “You can talk about me just as much as you please. But, I can talk about you when I get on my knees.” I want us in groups where everybody looks alike, and in groups where everybody does not look alike, to think, talk, and be troubled by race and racism as never before. This may be our last opportunity to effectively experience the personal and national healing that a wrestling with, and a transformation of, “America’s Original Sin; Racism” will provide.

“Just Do It”, and we will be pleased with the healing that will be ours.

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, former Senior Pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston’s South End. He was active in the Massachusetts Unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/SCLC. He introduced Martin Luther King when he spoke on Boston Common to a Rally called to challenge the racial policies of the Boston School Committee. He is a 1958 graduate of Boston University School of Theology, and a 2016 Boston University Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.

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