150 years ago this Sunday, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. However, David Blight’s remarkable essay in The Atlantic claims that the Civil War is not over.
The decades after the war saw the rise of the KKK and the persecution of African-Americans in towns across the South. Blight documents wholesale massacres of black people by white mobs. For instance, in April 1873, a white mob in Louisiana murdered as many as 100 blacks. In South Carolina, between fall 1870 and April 1871, 38 blacks were massacred and hundreds were whipped and tortured. In a riot in Meridian, Mississippi, at least 30 blacks were killed by mobs. According to one study, between the years 1877 and 1950, nearly 4,000 African-Americans were lynched by whites in the South.
Meanwhile, “separate but equal” legislation (often called Jim Crow laws) was enacted in all 11 ex-Confederate states. These laws suppressed the black vote and legalized segregation, remaining in force until they were overturned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Has the civil rights movement eradicated racism in America?
Yesterday, a very dear African-American friend and I were discussing the South Carolina shooting. He and I both live in North Dallas. He told me that when he enters a store, he removes his sunglasses, hat, or hoodie so employees don’t treat or look at him with suspicion. He counsels his son not to do anything that will draw attention to himself when walking home from school. His children are among a very small number of African-Americans at their Christian school; he wonders if their dates to the prom will come from the school or from outside the student body. He believes that if the video of the South Carolina shooting had not surfaced, Walter Scott’s murder would have been ignored.
I’ve come to believe that most white Americans, myself included, do not understand the black experience or minority experience in our culture. We do not understand the endemic prejudice African-Americans and other minorities have faced for centuries. How do we move forward?
In Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World, Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp advocate four steps: encounter, friendship, displacement and white identity. First, we initiate encounters with people of different races. Second, we enter into friendships built on commonalities. Third, we leave our comfort zone and build long-term relationships, perhaps moving into a particular neighborhood or joining a gym across town. Fourth, as we become immersed in multiethnic community, we understand our racial identity, the challenges other ethnicities face, and begin working for justice.
Is this not our Lord’s example? In John 4, he initiated conversation with a Samaritan woman, building a relationship that led to her transformation. His incarnational grace made possible our salvation and should motivate us to fight racism wherever it exists.
The solution starts with admitting the problem. John Piper: “Since majority people don’t think of themselves in terms of race, none of our dysfunctions is viewed as a racial dysfunction. When you are the majority ethnicity, nothing you do is ethnic. It’s just the way it’s done. When you are a minority, everything you do has color.”
I am convinced that he’s right. Are you?