by Mark Miller on June 09, 2020
January 07, 2021
In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers, and in the wake of the protests and rioting that have taken place across our nation, I have taken the time to listen carefully to the various voices out there: protesters, rioters, media, politicians, university educators, community leaders, and religious leaders. What I have concluded is that there are two very different understandings of America and the history of racism in America.
The optimistic view is that America is an imperfect nation built on the highest and best principles. However, America is not perfect and has not always lived up to the full meaning of those principles. One of those areas where we have fallen far short of our founding ideals and principles is the area of racial equality. But over the years, we have at least partially recognized our failures and have worked to correct those failures. We abolished slavery, we ended Jim Crow laws, we integrated schools, we outlawed “redlining,” we put fair labor policies in place, we created an economic safety net to help African Americans and others who find it difficult to gain access to the “American Dream.” We’ve intentionally invested in minority-owned businesses and created programs to assist minority children create a better future. Of course, America is still not perfect and there are still instances of racism, and we must continue to be diligent and do the important work of creating a nation that fulfills the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: a nation where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. This view of America acknowledges that our past is full of examples where we have fallen short, but we can celebrate the progress made while we continue to strive for greater progress in the battle to eradicate racism.
A more pessimistic view of America (although some would call it a realistic view rather than a pessimistic view) also exists. In this view, America was founded on slavery, built on the backs of black people who were treated as sub-humans. America’s institutions are saturated with racism and her economy, political structure, legal system, and educational system is rife with inherent injustice. Disparities between whites and blacks in the rates of incarceration, high school graduation, crime, and poverty are clear evidence that racism is still prevalent in spite of any minor progress or improvements that some might suggest. Every so often, as in the George Floyd incident, America’s inherent and pernicious racism becomes more visible and obvious to everyone. Enacting legislation has not solved the problem, and more legislation will not solve the problem. The only way to effectively purge racism from America is to tear down the structures that perpetuate “systemic racism” and rebuild America on a new and better foundation.
Which view is the correct view? It depends on who you ask and it depends on how you interpret the evidence for each view. It’s complicated. I prefer to embrace the optimistic view, but these days I seem to be hearing more and more about the more pessimistic view, especially from younger people. Perhaps the truth can be found somewhere in between. I’m just not certain where a solution can be found. The only thing I can be sure of is that now is a good time for me to re-commit myself to treating everyone with grace and kindness and try to live in a way that helps everyone else to flourish. I hope you’ll join me on that journey.