Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Race and Racism

As racism has again lifted its ugly head and been brought into the public discussion (specifically by events in the NBA) I thought I'd add my own two-cents:

Ever since I was as young as I can remember I can recollect thinking that it was absolutely ridiculous that anyone would ever believe that one race was superior to another or that individuals would be judged as inferior based on the color of their skin.

I remember learning in elementary school about a true American hero--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.--and feeling simultaneously shocked/horrified by what I discovered about the injustice and inequality in American history, but also feeling completely inspired by Dr. King's "dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

I've since learned that this doesn't mean that we must be "color blind", because color is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact it should be embraced as a beautiful part of what makes us all unique.

Just a few months ago the lovely and ebullient Gladys Knight brought her "Saints Unified Voices" choir to San Antonio for a series of musical firesides. I absolutely loved it. (If you must know, as a kid I memorized the soundtrack to "The Preachers Wife" and sang along to every "gospel" note that came out of Whitney Houston's mouth). As the evening began, Sister Gladys looked out into the mixed race audience and with a smile that shined all the way to the back of the chapel and the beginning of the cultural hall where I was sitting, said how glad she was "to see so much chocolate mixed in with all this vanilla!" She embraced it as such a positive thing; we were very edified that evening.

Finally, I wanted to mention something that has stayed with me ever since I heard Morgan Freeman (one of my favorite actors) speak it when he narrated the introduction to a dramatic reading/performance of the Declaration of Independence:

"Not many people realize it today, but scholars believe Jefferson intended for the Declaration to be performed and not just read. It's words and rhythms were written to be spoken in proud and defiant tones in grand public places. It's a safe bet that the Continental Congress never had a in mind a performer like me. That is to say, a black man.

"Thomas Jefferson was not ignorant of the problem of slavery, of course. He called it a moral and political depravity, and in the original draft of the Declaration denounced the slave trade as a cruel war against human nature itself. But Congress thought better of this particular item and deleted it. In fact, there was no mention of slavery or black people, or of women for that matter in this pre-eminent statement on the equal rights of man.

"So it makes you wonder, how could a man who himself held slaves write with such incredible passion and eloquence about human liberation and the promise of a democratic republic? Why, some may ask, do I bring up such embarrassing truths on this glorious occasion? I answer, the real glory of the Declaration of Independence has been our nation's epic struggle throughout history to close the gap between the ideals of this remarkable document and the sometimes painful realities of American life. The Declaration symbolizes the birth of our nation of course, but ... also the constant struggle to achieve its ideals."

Here's to THAT struggle...


Papa D said...

I have said for a long time that the genius, inspiration and glory of the Constitution is that it was written by people who weren't living its ideal - that it wasn't as much a declaration of what was but rather what ought to be.

Clean Cut said...

Very true. Thanks "Papa D". :)