We are not that far removed from the civil rights movement. There are millions of people living in America who remember racial segregation, discrimination, and the acceptable injustice of racism. Now that the movement has ended, and holds its section in every elementary history book, we tend to think that racism is less of an issue. We tend to ignore its dangerous existence in our culture today.
We have, in many ways, given the civil rights movement too much credit. While it brought change in our civil laws, it failed to bring change (in every individual instance) to the human heart. In other words, just because the civil rights movement has come, doesn't mean racism has gone. It is alive and well, and to ignore its existence is nothing less than irresponsible.
Just one week ago, the stench of racism seeped out of my own heart. As I walked into the voting booth, I couldn't help noticing my minority status. Out of about a hundred people, I was one out of about ten caucasians. I immediately said to myself, "Obama will win." At that moment, I lumped every non-white individual into a corporate group who, I thought, would vote for Obama merely because he was black. I made an arbitrary, stereotypical, racial judgment. I was, at that time, a practicing racist.
To all of my African American friends, I repent. I am sorry.
My reason for writing, however, goes deeper than this. Should the stereotype (in many cases) be justified, I believe it is a facet of racism that keeps us from understanding the valid reasons people have for voting according to race - whoever the candidate may be, or whatever policies the candidate may hold. To see such a vote as completely unreasonable is indicative of our unwillingness to know and love our neighbor well. After all, making judgments according to race is easier and more convenient than making judgments according to a person's reasons.
I am a middle-class, white male. I have never been stopped by a police officer because I fit a profile. I have never been denied anything (that I know of) strictly because I belong to a particular racial group. I have never had someone I don't know call me a nigger - judging and categorizing me as a stupid, mindless, individual because of the color of my skin. And, I have never had anyone give me proverbial "pat on the head" because I actually could learn enough to graduate high school or even college.
I was not raised by a grandmother who was denied simple privileges like a water fountain, toilet, or seat on a bus, all because she was black. My grandfather was not hanged by southern white police officers. Nor did my grandparents ever have to put out a burning cross in their front yard.
I have never had to wonder if justice would be afforded me. I have always trusted my banker, my local police, my governor, and my president. I have never personally wondered if my civil authorities were safe or unsafe to approach when I was in need. I have never had to vitally consider the racial prejudice of those elected to protect me.
When police drive through my neighborhood, I feel safe. I feel no need to run. I have always thought the only reason people do run is because they are guilty. But I have never considered that some run because they don't want to be embarrassed in front of their family and friends; or have their possessions and/or time unjustly confiscated.
There is no one in my immediate lineage who has been forced to live and find solace in a marginalized, impoverished community where everyone is, by circumstance, a racial refugee. I have never been denied viable employment because of my skin tone, and therefore have never been put in a position to find the cheapest property available - cheap only because people like me live there.
Perhaps most significantly, I have never been desperate for a just and authoritative advocate - someone on the outside who could pull me out. Someone who could speak on my behalf and communicate to others that I am also human, valuable, intelligent, and more beautifully complex than the color of my skin.
Because I have never been racially oppressed in these ways, I have never longed for an authoritative advocate who looked like me - whose existence in the outside, authoritative, non-marginalized world, meant that there was a ray of sun shinning through the dark clouds of oppression.
Never having been individually oppressed because of my racial identity, I have never been forced to see my racial community as the only safe community or family. If I were a black man, and had experienced all of the above, I am sure I would see life and politics through very different eyes - eyes that must see color first as a means of survival. And I am sure I would be more inclined to see the possibility and reality of a black president very differently as well.
His presence might very well mean more to me than his policies. And I would probably focus more on his color than his conduct. Right or wrong, I'd probably be conditioned to think this way. Right or wrong, these are reasons - valid reasons - why people may vote through a racial lens.
They are reasons that the white community must understand, as well as embrace as being brought about, at least in part, by our own history of corporate racism. If we fail to understand, repent, and love, we may slip into another cultural setting where a racial movement is mandated.