Around late summer or third quarter of 2008, I was in my living room in Nashville watching TV. I watched a lot of TV back then. There was much discussion on the news about Barack Obama. I thought to myself, if he is elected, that may be the real signal that we have moved beyond race considerations. A totally different world you might say. Despite the unknown prospect of a near financial collapse, there was much to be optimistic about during that time. You could say that the euphoria of the new millennium had not worn off yet.
Prosperity to Doom
We all eventually woke up from the immense optimism to face reality. Wrecked economy, shattered job prospects, ruined home values, sunk investments that would never return, and loss of material largess in general. All the while, we still hoped that it would all turn around. At least turn around in time enough for those who were young at the time to get back on track. In between, then and now, there was still this sense that we were more together than we were apart. Recent comments from the President may indicate this has yet to pass.
It seems true that when more people are materially prosperous, they seem less divided. When good jobs with healthy incomes exist across ethnic lines, people seem more polite more often. Animus may exist below the surface but often expressed in more passive aggressive ways (promotions, loans, and club memberships) rather than in violence from which you cannot return. But when times are hard, watch out.
You cannot always address what people believe but you can influence the worse manifestations of those beliefs when they run contrary to goodwill. The root cause of social ills, at least in terms of violence is spiritual but it is also secular. The person who killed those folks in the church in S.C. had issues with drugs, jobs, and relationships. Many of the civil tragedies involve one or more of those things.
It is about race but it isn’t. Racism expressed is often an excuse by those who misidentified the source of their problems. The problem is never the race of a person but the ideas in circulation about how people are employed for jobs, acceptable means of coping with stress, and general acceptance of individuals. Sometimes those ideas in circulation are not handled well by leaders and sometimes money and distractions are used as a substitute for quality parental relationships.
In that light, it was refreshing to see the views of several Tennessee leaders. Karen Dunlap provides a great overview of the situation. She also lays out several points of consideration that offers solutions in a very clear way. Jenny Charles shows that there was once a movement of change that was effective that could once again be engaged. Senator Alexander and Corker of Tennessee, himself originally from S.C., both show that symbolic changes are as meaningful as the other solutions proposed.
Many dreamers from the 1930s, 1950s, and 1960s dreamed of a world that was more enlightened and good than at any point in history. By force of will there are those who can live apart from society and exist in the dream in accordance with their financial capital. The rest of us seem to live in a world in which the dream has died. We must be careful in how we receive news from the media. It can alter moods. The current perception is that we are regressing. Life is a state of mind. Through free will, you have the power to change your state of mind to some extent.
Different races were meant to be and mixed couples should be admired for the possibilities they create. It is diversity that feeds a more vibrant life. Both in the physical health of future generations and the nourishing of minds and possibilities. Celebrating the contributions of different ethnic traditions is a good thing that enriches living. Emphasizing one to the exclusion of others is where the line must be drawn as that serves no interest except destruction.
Not the Real Disease
The bottom line on racism is that it is not the disease in and of itself. Rather, it is the outgrowth of a much larger issue common to the living condition. Racism is simply disguised selfishness of an exceedingly malignant kind. An entitlement perception that uses common ancestry of a narrow kind to eclipse those who have a share in the broader ancestry of life. It is treatable when we recognize it as a dark tool of advantage seeking that largely produces tragic outcomes in spirit or living or both.