The real question we should ask is not “does racism still exist?” but rather “how are our efforts best spent moving forward?” The Civil Rights era was a time of striking down unjust laws and challenging all Americans to reexamine their racial attitudes. This led to much needed changes in both areas. But the success achieved then does not necessarily mean that this is the most effective way to move forward now.
When I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2005, I underwent intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment, as well as surgery. This was necessary to save my life. But it would have been a tremendous mistake to continue this treatment into the foreseeable future. The steps I have taken to safeguard my health since that time have been much more lifestyle oriented, ensuring that I am eating well, exercising and visiting my doctor on a regular basis.
As I have written before, it is well known that blacks who graduate from high school, marry before having children and stay married have earning power equal to or greater than whites. Is it possible that we have reached the point in race relations where an interventional approach is becoming counterproductive? Could more efforts to strengthen families and communities and to increase educational and economic opportunity be a more effective approach?
While it is certainly important to remember the brutalities that punctuated our nation’s past, we must also remember that black history is more than just the story of victimization and suffering. Black Americans have, from the very earliest colonial times, made tremendous contributions to our country’s development and have overcome external limitations to improve the lives of their descendants.
The problem with focusing solely on the negative aspects of black history is that it can encourage the perception that opportunities for blacks are so severely limited by racism that it is pointless for them to try. This discourages many young people from making the efforts that will be needed for them to improve their own lives and make things better for their children.
Ultimately, we can choose how we look at black history: is it the story of ongoing victimization or of triumph and redemption? Anniversaries such as these rightly remind us both how far we have come, as well as how far we have yet to go. We must never forget the brutal realities of the past or gloss over them as unimportant. But we can choose not to be paralyzed by them and instead be inspired.
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.