Anyone arguing that 21st-century America is "colorblind" needs to look no further than the headlines to see how race continues to prompt controversy in our country. In the past couple weeks alone, we watched a celebrity chef, a second-degree murder trial, and a Supreme Court decision all make news due to their racial implications.
Concerning the Paula Deen controversy and Trayvon Martin case, blacks and whites remain disconnected. As some fans flooded Facebook clamoring for Deen's redemption and defending her language, many blacks remain unconvinced of her contrition. In the Martin case, most blacks I know are hoping for a guilty verdict (along with more than half of blacks in America, according to Gallup), but the general population has mixed opinions, if any at all.
While some believe that we have achieved an equitable society, enough that the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, many blacks—especially black men—remain subjected to indignities every day. Far from color-blind or post-racial, there's still a way to go.
It seems as if the president's election, instead of ushering in the new post-racial U.S., has revealed the troubling underbelly of race relations in this country.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story detailing the slide backwards of black professionals. One commentator, a white hiring manager, accused African Americans of having a victim mentality and being hobbled by slavery's legacy. He wrote that he preferred to hire "hard working" and "bright" West African immigrants who do not carry the same baggage. Commentators went back and forth about blame, some maintaining blacks should just "get over it."
Meanwhile, a mini-dust storm erupted in the black press over what was considered a "scolding" on the part of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when they addressed graduating classes at predominantly black colleges in May. Commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote a blog post chastising the First Couple for talking down to the black graduates. He wrote that the Obamas assume a familiarity with, and seem to feel comfortable criticizing black audiences, in a way they do not with other constituent groups.
This got me to thinking. We do, in fact, need to have a conversation about race: and about the violence, drugs and hyper-sexuality in our communities; the epidemic of fatherlessness; and the limited dreams that cause generations to languish in the projects. And let's not forget the abysmal state of black matrimony.
When the President and First Lady, "call out" some of troubling issues faced by the black community, I see them addressing us as family in the same way your favorite aunty will tell you your slip is hanging or you've got lipstick on your teeth. They were casting a vision for young people, which is a good thing, since "without a vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18).
Still, we need to do more to correctly diagnose the problems—which require the attention of church.
It has been said that African Americans are the most uncoupled people on the planet. Yet at the turn of the century, more than 90 percent of black adults were married, according to author Alikah Butler. Today nearly 70 percent of black women are single, and many at the higher socio-economic levels go childless as well for lack of a suitable mate. According to Butler, one of the barriers against black marriage is the incarceration rate: 900,000 black males between the ages of 18 and 60 are behind bars on any given day, most spending prime years to get established, get a job, and get married in prison.
Joshua DuBois, in a fascinating cover story in Newsweek recently addressed some of the unique challenges of black males. Although retraining programs and education help our community, the heart of the issue is a spiritual, not political, one. We must reestablish an identity grounded in the God who loves us beyond measure.
During slavery, faith in God sustained a subjugated people who sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Go Down Moses" as they labored in the fields belonging to others. Those songs are said to have a secret subtext – pointing to an earthly escape from slavery, but also a sincere longing for a celestial home. Life was short, hard and brutal, with very little to look forward to on earth.
Subsequently, the black church has been a bulwark against the storms of discrimination and racial hatred for centuries. We often forget how recent this history is. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. My own grandparents were born little more than 40 years after slavery ended.
As a black woman engaged to a black man who bears many of the scars resulting from racism, I have seen firsthand how the gospel of Christ has transformed his life and sustained our healthy relationship. New life and true life comes from one place, and that is in the "Father of lights in whom there is no shadow or variation of change" (James 1:17).
Until we, as black people, "look to the hills from whence our help comes" (Ps. 121:1) and rekindle our first love, we will be left with travesties such as Kanye West singing, "I am a God."
I encourage people of goodwill, especially those in the household of faith, to go beyond simple solutions to the racial divide that still plagues us. Let's not divide into "liberals" and "conservatives," but rather make a united stand for the truth. In Christ "there is neither Jew nor gentile," no black nor white, but instead a beloved community of flawed people pointing one another to the road home.
Hope E. Ferguson is a writer who lives in upstate New York. She comes from a long line of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) ministers, and was raised by parents active in the civil rights movement -- an artist and human rights attorney. By day a senior writer at SUNY Empire State College, she shares her life with her fiancé, four cats, and a dog.