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article imageOp-Ed: Liberal Conversations on Race a One-Way Affair

By Johnny Simpson     May 24, 2008 in Politics
From Barack Obama's hailed speech to a new AP report, much is being made of bridging the racial divide in America. Yet in most every conversation, the theme is constant: the real enemies of societal harmony are conservative Christians and whites.
Here are some key excerpts from the just-released AP report 'AP engages pastors, parishioners about racism in US':
The issue of race drew sharp focus as Barack Obama's contentious split with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, played out in a national glare. In response, the United Church of Christ and National Council of Churches USA called on 10,000 ministers to initiate a "sacred conversation on race."
"The realities of race have not been addressed adequately," says the Rev. John Thomas, president of the UCC. "Racism continues to demean and diminish human lives in this country."
To listen in on that conversation, Associated Press reporters across the nation engaged pastors and parishioners about their individual experiences with racism.
They talked with a choir soprano whose faith fueled her defiance of racist laws, and with members of an all-white congregation that took the risky move of hiring a black pastor.
Get the flavor so far?
A choir soprano bravely fights Jim Crow, and members of an all-white congregation somehow overcame their innate racism to vote in a black pastor.
Here are more details on that 'black pastor' story from the same AP report:
It was an unorthodox choice for the Christian church, a tiny, all-white congregation tucked into the quiet, opulent Los Angeles suburb of San Marino — a move so risky, the selection committee polled the congregation about Cribbs by secret ballot despite the church's liberal reputation. The vote was unanimous.
"When we brought it to the congregation, we were definitely very concerned because we didn't know, we really didn't know," said Donald Shenk, a pastoral assistant who chaired the selection process. "Those race questions are often things that when people are given the chance to be anonymous about it, the truth comes out."
Before the 1960s, it was common for properties in San Marino to have a legal stipulation banning sales to blacks and Jews, and until 1989 the city was national headquarters to the ultraconservative, anti-communist John Birch Society.
Again, a slam on white racism, and a commendation to those liberal white folks who so bravely overcame such a risky proposition as voting in a black minister.
Are there any stories of black folks who overcame their prejudice of whites to vote in a white minister?
You won't find that story here.
But what you will find is how conservative blacks became more liberal and proudly welcomed lesbian, gay and LBGT folks who had fled 'sexual oppression' in other churches:
At age 11, Brandon Taylor Sides was caught between two conflicting visions of God.
He spent Sunday mornings with his great-grandmother at a fiercely traditional black church in Chicago that preached homosexuals would burn in hell. Most afternoons, his aunt took him to a church founded by black gays who believe heaven holds a place for them.
He recalls his confusion as he tried to reconcile the two beliefs.
"Somebody has to be wrong," he remembers thinking. "One of these two is wrong."
Taylor Sides, now 21, eventually embraced the message of acceptance that resonated as he discovered his own sexuality. Today, he serves as a deacon at a Christian church that celebrates black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered parishioners.
Pillar of Love Fellowship Church was founded in 2003 by his aunt's partner, the Rev. Phyllis V. Pennese.
Sunday mornings find Taylor Sides transforming a room in Chicago's only gay community center into a sanctuary for the 40 to 120 members and visitors, many of whom fled churches that condemned their sexuality.
It continues:
During her sermon on race, Pennese called on her Christian congregation to speak the truth about their lives and not be silenced by those whites who hate them because of their race and those blacks who hate them because of their sexuality.
Taylor Sides has faced hostility from both groups: white high school students who called him the N-word and black pastors who railed against gays. Surrounded by a multiracial group of friends, he was able to shrug off the taunts and stereotypes, challenging those who ridiculed him: "Do you even know why you feel this way about me?"
You see who are portrayed as the only real evildoers here?
Whites hating blacks because of their race, and blacks hating gays because of their sexuality.
I fully concede that both are offensive and totally inappropriate viewpoints that should be condemned, as the AP has done here. I condemn them also, without qualification or reservation.
But what of blacks hating whites because of their race?
Or liberals and gays hating Christians because of their religious beliefs?
Are they not equally offensive, inappropriate and hateful?
Are they also not significant intolerance issues in American society?
You'd never know it from the AP.
By contrast, here is an excerpt from an AP story on Reverend Wright from April 24th:
NEW YORK (AP) - The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to Barack Obama, said that publicizing sound bites of sermons in which he condemned U.S. policies was "unfair" and "devious," and done by people who know nothing about his church, according to excerpts of a PBS interview released Thursday.
Among the most remarked upon sound bites was Wright proclaiming from the pulpit "God damn America" for its racism. He accused the government of flooding black neighborhoods with drugs.
Wright 'condemned US policies'?
Sound bites?
The worst he said was 'God Damn America' for its racism?
(note: Wright actually said "God Damn America for killing innocent people.")
Wright accusing the US government of flooding black neighborhoods with drugs is a point the AP doesn't find meritorious of refutation, like so much they find in their current report vis-a-vis whites and conservative Christian blacks?
A rather mild condemnation of Wright's paranoid and racist rants, wouldn't you say?
Is anyone else seeing a pattern here?
I recommend you read the entire report, but here are some other key phrases that jumped out at me:
"In the South, the white man and white woman have always had more freedom than the black man and the black woman," he said.
Racism "prevented (him) from having opportunities," James Brooks adds. "Racism is institutionalized in Mississippi."
The victim was an unarmed black man shot 50 times on the eve of his wedding. The police detectives acquitted in the New York case: black, Hispanic and white.
Salguero, who has relatives on the police force, negotiates the minefields of racial injustice and reconciliation with thoughtful diligence rooted in experience. He, too, has been stopped for "driving while brown."
Yet another story on white callousness:
Virginia Montague recalls the exchange with a police officer 20 years ago that left her shattered.
Richard, her husband of nearly a decade, didn't come home after working the night shift as a New York City cab driver. By midday, with no word, fear took hold and his wife went to her police precinct in Harlem. A white lieutenant was at the front desk.
"While I was explaining, his attitude was ... like, 'So what.' And he was very dismissive," she says, a tinge of anger still in her voice as she recalls his cold words: "Maybe he's with another woman, maybe he left ... there's nothing we can do about it."
She couldn't help but think that his reaction might have been more sympathetic if she and her husband were white.
Richard Montague was murdered. His wife's insistence that police launch a search in those frantic first days after he disappeared were ignored.
"It's always been in my mind that if he were white, would there have been more of an effort" to investigate, says Montague, now 66. "I don't know."
White victims seem to win more empathy — from the police and the media, she says.
The slaying, which remains unsolved, and her painful questions afterward about how race may have obstructed the urgency of an investigation, led Montague back to the religion she abandoned 20 years earlier.
Like white folks have never had problems getting the police to follow up on cases?
It goes on and on, always with the same themes.
White bad, black good.
Black conservative straight bad, black liberal gay good.
That's a conversation on race?
Before I continue, let's get one thing straight.
I do not question at all that there is anti-gay and white racist sentiment in this country past and present.
How could we ever not know or forget, when organizations like AP are constantly hammering us over the head with articles and OpEds like this 24/7?
Nor do I advocate anti-black or anti-gay sentiment. I am a devout egalitarian.
America works because people who are tearing each other apart over racial, ethnic and religious issues in many parts of the world can live side-by-side in the same neighborhoods, be they black, white, straight, gay, Protestant, Catholic, Christian, Muslim or atheist.
Somehow it all works here. Don't ask me how or why.
The point is, this is a one-way conversation even with Barack Obama, who compared Rev. Jeremiah Wright's conspiratorial rants to his white grandmother's fear of a black man, and stating that we're all like that.
Mr. Obama, we're not all like Jeremiah Wright, and neither is your grandmother.
Not by a long shot.
While it is true that we all have the capacity to be racist or prejudiced in any given situation, being human as we all are (as was so eloquently portrayed in the Oscar-winning film 'Crash'), the fact is, all of us, white, black, gay, straight, Christian and Atheist, have a lot to be concerned about in modern-day America.
Like the fact that Obama attended Trinity UCC Church for twenty-plus years listening to a pastor whose racial views are as conspiratorially paranoid and profoundly offensive as David Duke's.
Like the culture of white resentment and hatred that is endemic in too much of the the black community, be it Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton or Sister Souljah, who said 'If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?'
Whereas black people remember Rodney King, white people remember Reginald Denny, who suffered far worse in the LA riots and still suffers today, all because he was a white person driving through the wrong black neighborhood at the wrong time.
Where gays (and most sane Americans) may take great offense at the Reverend Fred 'God Hates Fags' Phelps, conservative Christians take just as great offense at Crystal Dixon being fired by the University of Toledo for expressing, as a private citizen, her own views regarding her objection to homosexuality on religious grounds.
Whereas blacks may be incensed at the Scottsboro Six being railroaded by a white racist lynch mob over false claims of rape, whites are just as incensed by the treatment of the Duke lacrosse players by a black racist lynch mob over similar false claims.
They were both equally race-driven abrogations of justice.
Whereas minorities may be offended by Mitt Romney's Mormon Church, which has had a history of discrimination against blacks, or the Revs. Hagee and Parsley, whites also take great offense at the widespread preaching of 'black liberation theology' which considers the white race 'devils' and calls for God to be murdered if he doesn't help destroy the white race.
Should I not, as a white person, be as concerned about this twisted black supremacist Hitlerite 'theology,' which enjoys significant currency in much of the black community, as blacks are about skinheads, the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan?
This AP report continues to pander to those stereotypes of whites as closet KKK racists and conservative Christian of all races as evil and intolerant.
Does not true tolerance mean respect of all races and views within the bounds of civil discourse, no matter how offensive we may find them personally?
As liberal churches are free and welcome to open their arms to lesbians, gays and other LGBTs, should not conservative churches be free to hold their beliefs that homosexuality is wrong in God's eyes according to purely Biblical doctrine, as illustrated in the Old Testament story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?
That may be an offensive view to gays, but it is only a point of view. American Christians aren't running around stringing queers up from lampposts or crane wires, as they are doing today in Iran.
In the case of Crystal Dixon, she expressed the predominant conservative Christian view that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, yet she did not allow that belief to interfere with her duties as VP of HR with UT.
But she was still fired for it.
Still waiting for the sympathetic AP article on that one.
Not holding my breath.
The whole point of this OpEd is this: if we are to be a truly free society, tolerance must be extended to all points of views not patently hateful, racist or inciting, and those that are must be condemned by all.
Racial and other divides will never be bridged if they are only built on one side, as the AP reporters seem to be doing here.
America has gone to great lengths to address racial grievances and right past wrongs, so much so that minorities enjoy preferences and opportunities today in education, job fairs, hiring and billions in government small business loan and other grant programs that are inaccessible to whites.
Are there racists and haters? You bet.
But racism and hatred is a human condition, not an ethnic one.
And I am equal opportunity in detesting it all, no matter what color, religion, ethnic group or sexual orientation it comes from.
If we are to have a real conversation on race, or homosexuality, or sexism, or any other of the social and political thorns that adorn the rose that is American society, we must all be free to speak out against hatred and persecution, no matter what the source or who is targeted.
In the truly free and egalitarian society America should be, there is no justification for hatred, prejudice and racism from any group, no matter what excuses are given.
Past wrongs do not justify present hate.
Neither does difference of opinion.
As the AP has done, I will continue to speak out for the rights of minorities, gays and others to enjoy the basic human rights and dignities that should be the province of every human being on this planet.
Unlike the AP and others, I will not limit my broadsides only to whites and conservative Christians.
The racial hostility some blacks show to whites under guise of 'black liberation theology', or the mindless hatred and stereotyping many gays direct toward conservative Christians, whom they label as bigots and fire-eyed religious zealots at every turn, is just as offensive and sickening to me as the hatred shown by white supremacists towards blacks, or by those who murdered Matthew Shephard and Brandon Teena merely because of their sexuality.
And if we are ever to bridge the divides that wrack our nation and keep us from living in true peace and harmony with each other, it must all be spoken out against.
It cannot be a one-way conversation that leaves some groups open to biased, willful, and malicious attacks while excusing the prejudice of others to wage those attacks.
It is perhaps because of my own life experiences growing up in an urban housing project where racism was rampant on all sides, and experiencing it both violently and personally, that I am so passionate on this issue, and feel most strongly that bias, prejudice, hatred and racism of any stripe must be denounced in full measure, no matter what the excuses or justifications.
In reality, there are none.
And we can never truly live in peace and harmony until all sides recognize that plain and simple fact, and act accordingly.
I have a dream.
Someday, we will never have to have these conversations at all.
More about Obama, Wright, Race