Racism Can’t Die from Starvation: The Debt of American Christianity

On this the date that we honor the work of one of America’s most influential Christian Pastors, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr I have one question: When was racism officially over in America?

I mean what date did the United States finally close the book on this and declare that now, finally, everyone was equal? Or at least equal with regards to race?
The United States officially ended racism in…

What about 1777? That was the year that the Constitution of the Vermont Republic (what would become the state of Vermont in the USA) banned slavery by freeing men over 21 and women older than 18. So a law that was designed to sort of graduate you from slavery left children enslaved and separated from their parents?

Maybe it was 1807? The USA passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act which outlawed the international slave trade. Of course the domestic trade remained legal, and the last slave ship to dock in the USA did so in 1860. The ship itself was built in America too, it was called the Clotilda.

Well definitely 1865 right? The 13th amendment to the Constitution which officially outlawed slavery in the USA by declaring that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Of course if it was that simple then the words Jim Crow, lynching, and KKK would have no meaning in American History.

Ok, definitely by 1965 then, with the Voting Rights Act which aimed to remove every impediment to voting which had been placed upon African Americans since they had been allowed to vote in the first place.

Or at least by 1967, when the Supreme Court forced marriage equality on the entire country. By which I mean that they forced the states to legalize interracial marriage in the landmark decision Loving V. Virginia.

Ok, it was definitely over in 2008 when the US House of Representatives, and in 2009 when the Senate, passed separate resolutions apologizing for slavery. Of course the president never signed these, and these resolutions “came with a caveat that the mea culpa could not be used as legal rationale for reparations.”

So, even in the late 2000’s the US government wasn’t exactly coordinated or agreed that slavery was a mistake so much as a kind of accident for which the USA was in no way really responsible.

Well if racism was over then, would the following names have any meaning? Rodney King or Amadou Diallo? What about Tamir Rice or Michael Brown? Maybe you have heard of Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, or perhaps Aiyana Stanley-Jones? If you look them up I am sure you will remember that you know them, but that somehow they have slipped into the dark recesses of our minds. They have slipped down into the space where we remind ourselves that racism is dead and none of these people died for anything other than a simple misunderstanding. Certainly it can’t be that race had anything to do with their death, since we all know that racism is dead because…now when did that happen again?

I mean it must have been in my lifetime because I know that I grew up understanding that you weren’t allowed to call people the N-word anymore. Never mind of course that I often heard it in those situations where that one friend looks around to make sure that we’re all white here and then they say it, and we chuckle. You had to laugh, because otherwise you would be kicked out of the club, and you wanted to be in the club.

Christians apologize
Ok so as Christians, Let’s try some new dates.
Catholicism sort of apologized
In 1985 Pope John Paul the II apologized to black Christians in Cameroon for the involvement of Christians in slavery. ”In the course of history, men belonging to Christian nations did not always do this, and we ask pardon from our African brothers who suffered so much because of the trade in blacks.” In 1999, The Vatican’s Memory and Reconciliation declaration set the stage for how the Catholic Church would move forward and apologize for its participation in historical atrocities. The Pope finally issued this coming apology in 2000, which included a broad apology for all the sins of the church over the past 2000 years. This included the Holocaust, Inquisition, and Crusades, all of which were in some ways motivated by racism.

The Southern Baptist Convention issued a rather good apology
In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention, which had been formed because the Baptists split into Northern and Southern over the issue of slavery in 1845, issued a formal apology for its support of slavery and segregation. The convention goes so far as to apologize to all African-Americans and admit that the effects of slavery are ongoing.

The United Methodist Church apologized for how racism affected itself

In 2000, the United Methodist Church apologized for how the racism in the church had split it into distinct denominations of black and white, north and south.

The Episcopal Church issued an apology and a confession

In 2006 and then again in 2008 the Episcopal Church issued its official apology for the church’s specific involvement in “human captivity, segregation and discrimination.” They even went so far as to prepare a document listing the actual actions taken by the church and its members in preserving racism. This document served as the primary evidence that the church should apologize to all blacks in America for its participation in slavery and racist practices.

So if racism is over then can we as Christians finally own up to and apologize for it? Can we apologize for Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, and our part in driving non-whites out of our churches and our neighborhoods? Can we admit that our disdain for welfare recipients, poor neighborhoods, and all of our veiled statements about “those people” aren’t right? Maybe the American Christian Churches didn’t own slaves, but if this used to be an almost entirely Christian nation then that means all of the most horrible racist aggressions in our history were carried out by the people sitting in our pews. It’s time to be honest about that.

Then, maybe just maybe, the Christian churches in America can start talking about the next step, Reparations.

Of course if you insist that racism is dead then I have one simple question,


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  2. James Taylor
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