Stahl began the discussion in a cheery, upbeat manner and quickly coaxed the panel to share very deep feelings concerning the presidential election and their task of working in the legislative branch of government during President-elect Obama’s first term. Several of them admitted that they secretly doubted that America was ready for a black president. Corporately, they agreed that Obama’s decisive victory marks the beginning of a new era in politics and race relations. The first question from the audience came from Governor Deval Patrick. He postulated that there is unfinished legislative business that still needs to be done around race.
Unfortunately, they unanimously declared that we have not entered into a “post racial” age. In fact, many of the problems the nation will attempt to solve in the next few years have racial implications. This does not mean that the nation has not made progress, but rather we will have to work through some tough issues to achieve a greater union.
For example, the panel pointed out that America has the highest percentage of imprisoned citizens in the developed world. Many of those prisoners are black and Hispanics. Next, the panel pointed out that the problem of illegal immigration has the potential to raise the specter of strained relations between black and white, Hispanic and black, and Asians vs. other groups.
Black and Hispanic unemployment levels are much higher than those of most Americans. Solutions to the healthcare dilemma that we face will be impacted the staggering disparity in the health based on race. Consider these facts: Blacks face twice the number of infant mortalities, 10 times the frequency of contracting HIV/AIDS, needing more hospitalization and requiring a greater number of amputations than their white counterparts.
The panel went as far as to allude to the fact that national solutions to our energy problems will also have racial and ethnic ramifications. I have discovered that soaring energy costs will affect the last and the least in the nation. People at the poverty line spend as much as 50% of their income on energy costs (including transportation). The race-based achievement gap in education, affirmative action, and systemic issues were also addressed by questions from the audience.
The tone of this discussion was very positive. The Caucus will encourage our next president to be a centrist that leads from the center. In this results-seeking, political environment, conservative Christians have the greatest potential of building bridges and creating new coalitions. Let’s all believe that the faith community will shed its image of contention, becoming the nation’s newest cultural “super glue.”
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.