Jeremiah Wright’s controversial sermons have created a huge media buzz concerning race in America. Most of us have heard nothing else on the cable news networks for nearly two weeks running. Last week I sat in the green room of the Lehrer News Hour preparing to discuss Wright’s theology and the role of the church to bring healing to the race problem in our nation. The segment just before me featured the head of the Pew Research Center.
The Pew representative stated surprising results from their survey conducted from March 19-22. Although 35% of voters cited that their opinion of Barak Obama has grown less favorable and most voters were offended by Wright’s comment, the debacle had somehow not undermined the support of the Obama faithful. He has maintained a 39 to 49 percent advantage over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The turning point for Senator Obama was his nationally televised speech on race. The speech distinctly stopped his political bleeding. Pew concluded that the speech was positively received by his base. In addition, both Clinton and McCain supporters also gave Obama high marks for the speech. While many believe that Jeremiah Wright’s sermons will come to haunt Senator Obama in the general election, the Senator seems to have dodged a bullet.
As I mused on the dynamic changes occurring in American culture, I could not help thinking that many racial “absolutes” are shifting dramatically. Let’s take a moment to think about 5 absolutes that may be changing.
MYTH #1 - SUNDAY MORNING: THE MOST SEGREGATED TIME IN AMERICA
Sunday brunch and “mall patrol” are becoming part of many unchurched American’s routines. Sunday is often a leisure/ outing time for the secular community. Increasingly places like Georgetown and Tyson’s Corner in the Washington, DC area are awash with a multi-racial group of “mallers.” Additionally, mega churches are actively attempting to integrate the pews. White churches no longer have an invisible “no blacks wanted” sign hung over their doors. The integration of congregations is not just being led by white pastors. In 1981, I was one of the first black preachers in America to lead a predominately white congregation.
What was novel in those years, is becoming more and more common place today.
MYTH #2 - BLACKS WITH COMPARABLE EDUCATION TO WHITES GET PAID LESS
As my co-author and I searched the dusty pages of income data by race in preparing our new book (Personal Faith, Public Policy), we were shocked at how close salaries actually are. Black PhDs actually make more money on average than their white counterparts, while black bachelor degree holders make less than 9 percent fewer dollars than whites.
MYTH #3 - ONE RACE IS SUPERIOR OVER ANOTHER
The inferiority of one race versus another has been debated back and forth from the beginning of the nation. For example, one of the justifications for slavery was the “inherent inferiority” of black people. Time and time again sports authorities have claimed superiority of blacks in certain sports along with the limitations of whites.
Careers have risen and fallen on an announcer’s statement about black sports prowess. Most shocking in recent years was Michael Irvin's comments that Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboy superstar quarterback, had to have black blood. Ironically, Irvin is a black, pro-football great, turned sportscaster. Similar statements by white media figures would have gotten them fired. Whether cultural truisms acknowledge it or not, racial distinctives in adulthood are due to nurture not nature.
MYTH #4 - THE BLACK COMMUNITY IS MONOLITHIC
The unity of the black community was its greatest strength in the civil right days. In addition, black political unity gave rise to its influence in the Democratic Party. It is easy to see today that unconditional black commitment to the Democratic Party has become a real liability to the advancement of black community concerns.
The black community is growing. A Pew research study released in November of 2007 shows that blacks self identify as two different black communities. They reported that African Americans see “a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks.” In light of this split they do not feel that blacks can be considered one race any more. Once this truth was teased out by the Pew survey, it is little wonder that many blacks are less positive about their future than any other time since 1983.
Although blacks feel very strongly that discrimination is still very much alive in the nation, the study showed that overt racial hatred is less for both blacks and whites than it has been in decades. Pew found that blacks are unified in their lack of confidence in the criminal justice system as well.
MYTH #5 - BLACK POLITICIANS CANNOT COUNT ON WHITE SUPPORT AT THE POLLS
White voters have followed through in supporting Barak Obama thus far in this election. Therefore, the failure of attractive black candidates to close the deal with the American public at the polls (sometimes called the Bradley or Wilder effect) seems to have been nullified by Senator Obama.
A decade from now the entire racial landscape of the nation can be changed for the better if we seize the moment. The evangelical Christian community has the greatest chance of any community to lead the way in resolving the race issue in America. In light of our unique position in modern history, let’s make a difference starting today.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
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