Of Poverty, Privilege and Politics

An exchange in yesterday's Democratic Party presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan is generating a lot of social media buzz, if not attention from the mainstream press. In response to a question from one of the moderators about what "racial blind spots" the candidates might possess, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), stated:

When you are white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor, you don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you are walking down a street or dragged out of a car...We must be firm in making it clear that we will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.
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Revisiting the Dream

"I have a 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." ~ The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

This is perhaps the most quoted phrase from Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and it is embraced by persons across the various barriers of identity we tend to erect around us. The fact those barriers still exist, however, should be an indication of how much more work needs to be done to achieve "The Dream", and given the fundamental goodness of the vision as articulated by Dr. King, it is sobering to realize how dramatic the differences are in how blacks and whites interpret its meaning.

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Politics Can’t Bridge the Racial Divide

I have watched the news with dismay as racial discord has torn a major American university asunder, and the events at the University of Missouri have far reaching implications for race, college athletics, higher education, and even the First Amendment. I’m taking things in and not rushing to conclusions just yet, because there are people I trust who say there is legitimacy to the issues being raised in Columbia, whether or not one agrees with the response. In the midst of this turmoil, however, another story dropped which caused a minor ripple in comparison, and that observation proves, at least to me, something I’ve believed for a long time. In my humble opinion, it is impossible for politics or policy to resolve the racial divide in America because they don’t offer a large enough canopy under which everyone can come together and heal.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Reconciliation

I wrote recently about how the Lord has been taking me through a season of change using a variety of events, both personal and external, to point me toward the conclusion that, while I thought I was placing Him first in my life, I was wrong and still had a distance to go. I shared how truly putting him first meant letting go of some idols to which I subconsciously still cleaved, and that doing so had liberated me to receive who I am in Christ and what He would have me do with the rest of my life. It's an exciting moment when you arrive at "the place God calls you to", to quote theologian Frederick Buechner, "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." A friend at church who had read my book approached me unexpectedly a few months ago, excited to share with me a vision he had of me having an impact on the culture regarding the topic of race relations. He led me to the realization that my temperament, my spiritual gifts, my skills and abilities, my life experiences, and even the public platform I've built so meticulously over nearly a decade, ostensibly for political reasons, could be used as a bridge to bring blacks and whites in my home country together, beginning with the church, where He commands us to be one in Him, and radiating from there out into American society as a whole.

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How’s that Conversation Working Out for You?

Back in 2009, newly installed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder created a stir, one of many to come, with his first speech after assuming the office, a commemoration of Black History Month. His provocative declaration sparked a lot of debate and discussion, and it was the eventual jumping off point for my book, a memoir and collection of personal thoughts on black/white race relations in America:

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation's history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.
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The Battle of Selma, 2015

The 50th anniversary commemoration of the march on Selma, a watershed moment in the civil rights movement, has come and gone and, in my opinion, left debris in its wake like a summer thunderstorm. It's clearer to me now than ever before that American society is not equipped for the task of racial reconciliation, and that it's going to take the unified, Christ-committed church to lead us there. There were some positive signs. Two Republican members of Congress, Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, were co-sponsors of the 50th anniversary commemoration under the auspices of the Faith and Politics Institute, which has hosted the commemorative march in Selma since 1998. They aggressively recruited their Republican colleagues to participate in the event, and a record number of them showed up. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were also there, reflecting what has been a conciliatory and charitable post-presidency for our 43rd president.

But then the storm started.

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