I still think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech, Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is the greatest example of compelling, principled political oratory since Abraham Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address” one hundred years earlier, Nov 19, 1863, or Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, Mar 4, 1865, both of which are inscribed on the walls inside the Lincoln Memorial.
You can read MLK, Jr's words, but even better, watch and listen. My favorite quote from the speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
While we’ve come a long way in race relations since slavery in the 19th Century and a Civil War to end it, since Jim Crow laws in the early 20th Century and Dr. King’s work and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, still, recent racial division and violence in the U.S. suggests we have a long way to go. And sadly, one especially unsettling manifestation of this divide intensifying the issue today is a periodic stand-off pitting Black communities against police.
The debate rages, is it “White supremacy” as some say, or racism that is the root of all explanations about Black social ills, or is it a long list of choices made within the Black subculture (as well as within other subcultures including White) that result in social pathologies, or is it some combination of these variables?
This “new” 21st Century, American racial division is actually nothing new, but it's sad, destructive to individuals and society, and threatening to our future, to say the least. Even after having elected the first Black President of the United States, we don’t seem to be able to hold public discussions without things devolving to verbal, then physical, push and shove. It does not help that the President in the White House now often uses phrases or makes statements about racial and ethnic groups, or immigrants, that sound demeaning if not are demeaning, that sound racist and perhaps are racist. Such noise and heat sheds very little light, to say the least.
One thing that might help is to rediscover the worthy aspirations that helped create and define America. Aside from his well-known desire for peaceful civil disobedience, Dr. King employed two enormously important tactics, which many protesting individuals today do not seem to embrace. He focused his work and his rhetoric upon American ideals. And he built his case on these ideals in the name of everyone, Blacks certainly, but everyone.
In the midst of public uproar in American cities in recent days, some Black and some White activists have sounded like they assume a "zero sum social context," i.e., there’s one size pie and the only way my group can expand our piece of the pie is to take from, tear down, or reduce your group’s piece of the pie. This sounds simplistic, but it’s not as far off as it may first appear.
Even if you say, one group has been or is consistently being denied it’s piece of the pie, it’s right to liberty, justice, and opportunity, then you can still argue your point based upon a set of ideals envisioning a country and culture open to all. In any event, the point is, zero sum was not Dr. King’s approach and it is not what American ideals are about.
American ideals have historically proclaimed—even when they were not always embraced—liberty and justice for all, economic opportunity and equality before the law for all, shared working toward peace and prosperity for all. This is what Thomas Jefferson meant in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These basic rights belong to all men (and women), regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Yes, it took American politics, society, and culture a long time to more fully embrace these ideals, and clearly, we're still learning to apply them, but the ideals articulate the goal.
Racial consideration and reconciliation are not easy. Too much human nature and human history get in the way. But an America for all is still history’s greatest Great Experiment, one well worth supporting.
For those who struggle with prejudice, consider the Christian perspective simply but profoundly shared in the poetic lyrics of a 19th Century children’s song: “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Concern for everyone’s human rights is everyone’s concern. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr lived and died for it. We now must live it.
Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2018
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I’ve heard someone use the phrase “off the reservation” several times recently. I’ve never made a habit of using the phrase, but insofar as I ever have I don’t intend to use it again.
The idea is that a person or group is perceived as acting outside typical or expected parameters. The person or group is doing something that someone else thinks isn’t quite right, going off balance, headed in a wrong or unapproved direction.
The phrase dates to the late 19th Century after most Indian or Native American tribes had been given (forcibly moved to) “Reservations,” large tracts of land in Oklahoma or Arizona, for example, land generally unwanted by non-Indians. The tribes had fought, sometimes over decades, an inevitably unsuccessful war for their ancestral lands and eventually surrendered in order for at least tribal remnants to survive. It was a period of systematic subjugation, even genocide, of the Red Man by the White Man.
From time to time in the next few years, Indians who left the reservation in frustration or desperation were called “renegades” and were hunted down because they’d gone “off the reservation.”
The phrase “off the reservation” is therefore an historical leftover. I hear it used, but I don’t like it. Even though I’m not particularly “politically correct,” the phrase strikes me as a kind of antiquated reference harking back to a sorry and shameful time in American history. The phrase perpetuates the idea that certain people or groups are subhuman and ought to be controlled for their own good.
This entire blog sprang fully developed into my mind when I heard a person use “off the reservation” during a conversation about how two different kinds of ethnic groups didn’t get along. The person who said it was making a point with which I agreed and is a man of character and solid values. But he seemed oblivious to the irony of using this particular phrase in the midst of a conversation about prejudice, hatred, and violence between people groups.
I don’t think using the phrase “off the reservation” is a mortal sin, not even a venial one. But I still don’t like its roots and what it implies. For me at least, I’ll find a different way to talk about someone or some group going rogue.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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I love to read Westerns. Since at least the 8th Grade I’ve read hundreds of them, along with a mountain of other books. Through the mind and pen of Louis L’Amour and a long list of other authors I’ve reveled in the glorious history of the exploration and settling of the western frontier.
But the story of the exploration and settling of the West is also the story of the subjugation of the American Indian.
It’s like there’s two sides to the story. One is uplifting: rugged individualism, heroic figures, courage, risk, sacrifice, unspoiled natural wonders, “Go West young man, go West,” horses, guns, endless buffalo herds, Indian culture, wagon trains, Conestoga Wagons, trains, cowboys, cattle drives, gunslingers, Texas Rangers, the Cavalry, hope of a better tomorrow, and much else that went directly into the formation of the American character.
Then there’s the other side: cultural imperialism, racism, savages, village massacres, broken treaties, lies, dishonest Indian agents, spoiled meat and diseased blankets, land theft, “the only good Injun is a dead Injun,” might makes right, trails of tears, genocidal military orders, cultural assimilation-qua-destruction in Indian boarding schools, reservations, end of a people.
Not all White Eyes hated or were involved in killing Indians. Not all Indians hated or were responsible for killing Whites. There was wrong, evil, and brutality on both sides. Not all treaties were negotiated in bad faith, but most were, and even those established with good motives were eventually ignored. There were compassionate, gifted leaders on both sides, and there were ruthless killers in both camps. It’s a complicated history.
It’s real history, so it’s no wonder a checkered picture emerges in fiction too. But the sad story of the Native American taints an otherwise glorious era.
Most Western fiction writers don’t write with recognizable racism. But the time frame invites it.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan books are similar. Burroughs, writing in the early decades of the 20th Century, lets his worldview shine through in the jungles of central Africa. Blacks are ignorant, less than human, and fodder for the daily violence of the jungle. Yet Tarzan is one of the great characters of popular fiction, and Burroughs prescience created a superhero more than thirty years before Superman and all that came after him.
In more recent years we’ve seen some efforts to redress the story, presenting a more balanced picture or telling the story from the Indian’s point of view. Films like “Dances With Wolves” or “Geronimo: An American Legend” are two worthy cinematic examples. Authors of fiction literature, including Westerns, have made similar adjustments. Authors like James Alexander Thom, Allan W. Eckert, Elmore Leonard, and Larry McMurtry have written widely acclaimed historical fiction that takes care to present characters and culture as accurately as possible.
So in the end, reading fiction is like reading non-fiction. It’s a mixed and messy story involving both noble and ignoble aspects of human nature. I don’t always agree with the author’s or the fictional character’s values, but they make me think, and that’s part of the joy of reading.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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Early in my career I taught a course called “Christian Social and Political Responsibility.” It was fun. At least I thought so. Not sure about the students.
I thought the most fun, and coincidentally the most learning, took place when we defined terms used in political discourse. We did this knowing that public debates often produce more heat than light, in part because people talk past each other by using the same-word-different-meaning.
Here are a few words dealing with racial politics.
Diversity refers to the rich variety of human demographic attributes God created for our enjoyment and his glory, including race, gender, ethnicity, and physical make-up. At times I add socio-economic status. But I do not include sexual orientation, religion, or religious orientation, particularly if it might be construed that I believe an organization may not make hiring decisions based upon moral views regarding sexuality or religion as protected categories. I don’t have any problem including religion or even sexual orientation if we’re talking simply about respecting others different from ourselves in a free country.
Reconciliation is a word I use to describe the human need created by what a sociologist once called our “relational dilemma.” At the Fall in the Garden of Eden sin broke our relationship with God leaving a “hole” in our hearts. This brokenness characterizes the human race, the individual human being, and Creation. We may be reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice and finished work on the cross by virtue of God’s grace and forgiveness. Believers are God’s reconciling ambassadors in this broken world, carrying the message of reconciliation, and God will one day reconcile all of Creation to himself. Sometimes this word is applied to racial concerns as in racial reconciliation. If this means working to restore a right relationship vertically with God and horizontally with our fellow humanity, I support and promote it.
Antiracism might be the most problematic word in this list. I use it to refer to policies or approaches to race relations and racial understanding that identifies racist, which is to say prejudicial or discriminatory, ideas, attitudes, and actions and attempts to help or require people to grow beyond them. But this word is used by a variety of groups that proclaim there’s no such thing as race or that define virtually all opportunity or merit-based advancement in capitalist society as racist. I can’t embrace these usages of the word.
Social justice is an outcome of the Gospel evidenced in the lives of believers who attempt to apply Christian values in life and culture by loving their neighbors as themselves. Working toward social justice is a Christian responsibility, a necessary part of obedience to God. Examples include the biblical Good Samaritan and in more recent history England’s William Wilberforce. Social justice exists when human beings are eternally valued, protected in liberty, treated with dignity, given access to equal opportunity, and encouraged to live with moral accountability before God.
How we use words matter.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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The Jonathan and David Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan is an all-too-rare multi-racial gathering of men committed to the Lord, their Christian faith, and a heartfelt desire to grow in brotherly love.
Founded and directed by Rev. Chico Daniels, President of Mel Trotter Ministries, the JDF, as it's called, meets monthly for breakfast, Bible study, and discussion, 7:00 am to 8:30 am. In the interim between breakfasts, JDF men meet one-on-one for lunch to get better acquainted and periodically show up en masse and unannounced with their wives at one of the churches represented in the JDF.
During Bible study and discussion, no questions are off-limits. Pain, personal stories, and progress all find their way into the conversation. Often-used words don't seem adequate: integration, reparations, reconciliation, anger, healing, history, revisionism.
No one, if he's honest, really wants to discuss past sins, but sometimes it's appropriate so those responsible may experience forgiveness and those affected may experience release and closure. Be angry at sin, not the people, we sometimes say. But in our human nature our response is uneven. Yet Christ, a Jew, set the example when he met the woman, a Samaritan, at the well. He acknowledged and turned from her promiscuous past, but he offered her forgiveness and living water.
Race in America will always be "an issue," especially again in 2008 where differences in color and culture are at times over-shadowing legitimate discussions of personal character and political competence in the presidential campaign. We are a "conflicted" people, evidenced by one of our most eloquent heroes of freedom, Thomas Jefferson, a man who maintained slaves and a slave mistress throughout his life.
Political answers to our racial questions may help. Clearly the country has made some progress in racial matters since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But answers to our racial questions will never be fully developed in the give and take of politics.
Answers to our racial questions will most fully be developed in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, followed by a greater application in our lives of the principles of the Christian faith. Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is only possible as we abide in Christ and he abides in us. Learning to do this by getting to know our brothers in the Jonathan and David Fellowship is one way to start.
© Dr. Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2008
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Whatever our feelings about these men, whatever our partisan inclinations, whatever our hopes regarding race relations, racial politics are not going to go away. That's not a pessimistic statement, just a realistic one. This reality doesn't mean we shouldn't work for something better and seek to assure justice and opportunity for all Americans. Ironically, acknowledging a problem isn't going to go away is a perspective that should keep us from disillusionment. As the Scripture says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people..." (Gal. 6:9-10).
Political parties, politicians, preachers--all leaders--will always, eventually, disappoint us. They and we are human beings. As one Black pastor wisely said, "The problem is not the color of our skin but the depth of our sin." Racism no matter who expresses it is not just a Left or Right issue, not a Republican or Democrat issue. It's a Christian issue and should be a Christian concern.
And we should remember that race is more than a Black and White issue in America. It's a Red and Yellow, Black, Brown, and White issue. It's broader and deeper than the progressing-but-still-challenging relationship of Blacks and Whites.
From a Christian perspective the bottom-line is that we are commanded to "Love your neighbor as yourself" and to model Christ in all we think, say, and do. That's a tall order, but it's right and good, and when practiced by the Spirit's enablement it restores integrity of the soul.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2008
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.