Sadly, I believe the chances of current ideas easing racial tensions in America is minimal in the wake of the shootings of black persons by police and the shootings of police, unless things really change on both sides of the aisle.
Race relations and tensions in America have a long and sordid history, which does not need to be restated herein.
We live through times when things seem to be improving, and then something will happen that brings some of us to the stark realization that major divisions and feelings still exist.
In those times, right and wrong, guilt and innocence, and perpetrator and victim concerns often seem to be trumped by racial feelings and implications.
I see much of America in two basic groups. One group holds that:
â— Racial equality is a reality.
â— All are sinful but sin is more personal than social or institutional.
â— Failure is a person’s own fault.
â— Powerlessness, poverty and ignorance are choices.
â— Some people are lazy or evil and can’t or won’t be helped.
â— Reparations are pointless because all slaveholders and slaves are dead.
â— Liberal social policy has done little but crystallize and grow the underclass.
â— America’s financial deficit is to be laid at the feet of this underclass.
â— The key to personal and national economic growth is a purer capitalism.
â— The poor are on the dangerous verge of being a voting majority.
â— Republicans are good and Democrats are evil.
â— Police are almost always right and citizens are almost always wrong.
â— The justice system is fair and the imprisonment of a disparate percentage of the poor and non-white is due to their essential criminality.
â— Incarceration is inherently rehabilitative.
â— Hunger, homelessness, nakedness and sickness are needed motivators.
The other side of the aisle is populated by a group who holds that:
â— America’s economic, social and political playing field is very uneven.
â— People are essentially good and sin is more institutional than personal.
â— Inequities are largely a result of poor nurture and oppression.
â— All want to succeed and will do so when given the opportunity.
â— Opportunities have not been provided to all by those in power.
â— Rich people are inherently evil, lazy, elitist and oppressive.
â— America’s deficit is due to low taxes on the rich and excessive expenditures on defense and other non-essential programs that benefit the rich.
â— A key to success for all is a further movement toward socialism.
â— The poor are largely excluded from the political process.
â— Democrats are good and Republicans are evil.
â— Police and the justice system as a whole are usually wrong and citizens in conflict with police and the justice system are usually right.
â— The imprisonment of a disparate number of the poor and non-white is primarily due to poverty and racial prejudice.
â— The vast majority of criminals are victims and can be rehabilitated.
â— Providing the struggling poor with food, clothing, housing and medical care encourages opportunity and provides basic human rights.
Inherent to both perspectives above are the half-truths, presumptions, arrogance, ignorance, innuendoes, lies and a lack of impetus to find common ground.
However simplistic the above may seem to some, is it any wonder that there is so little ideological bridge building?
We must move beyond the rush to blame and remain entrenched. As attractive as blaming is, issues are rarely as simple as they seem.
To complicate matters, I believe much of America is in the grips of a national character disorder evidenced by the refusal or inability of most to accept even partial culpability for our circumstances.
Character disorders are like substance addictions in that they are rarely addressed prior to the subject or subjects reaching “rock bottom.” We are a ways from there, or so I think.
I pray for a host of leaders on the local and national scene from all sides of the aisle who will sit together and begin with something like, “We admit that we and our kind are partially responsible for this race and class debacle. If you can admit the same thing, we can build some bridges.”
I believe “a soft word turns away wrath,” and this might be a place to start. After all, we don’t seem to be making much progress as it is.
Besides, if those on each side of the great divide are counting on settling the issues by winning outright or by forcing the other side over to their way of thinking, my sense of pessimism is realistic, indeed.
Reggie Warren is pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Virginia, and a former member of the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.