12 Sep 1997 An Answer to America’s “Race Question”
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The national dialogue on race has always been with us. Every year there are articles, books, television programs and incidents that make race the central issue at kitchen tables and water fountains across America.
Most recently, a group of Congressmen, led by Ohio Democrat Tony Hall, has called for a resolution to apologize to African-Americans for slavery. President Clinton has appointed a commission to study race relations. The NAACP has faced pressure from within and without to disavow school busing as a tool of integration. And Louis Farrakhan promotes himself as a black messiah. Can we ever lay to rest the great “race question” which has hung like a foreboding cloud over our nation since its inception? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, in the same way the Mayflower Compact served as a covenant for the first puritans and the Declaration of Independence served the early patriots, the time has come for an American Covenant on Race.
Among the principles of this American Cultural Compact would be the following:
1. No racial stereotypes. The problem with Fuzzy Zoeller’s remarks about Tiger Woods was not that they showed hatred. It was that they showed a willingness to lump a whole group of people together as one faceless mass. That is exactly what Hitler did to the Jews. When we deny people their individuality, we deny them their human dignity and value. To some extent, the black civil rights leadership has unintentionally contributed to this stereotyping by pretending that all Americans of African descent think one way. It has never been, and it is not true today. To suggest that thinking differently than certain self-appointed opinion leaders is to be “not black” plays unwittingly into the stereotyping of racists.
2. No racial hatred. This is very easy to say, but not as easy to do. A decade ago I began to notice the increased presence of Asian faces in my quiet suburban city. My first inclination was hostile. What are they doing here? Why are so many coming here? These are the same people who killed my fellow Marines in Vietnam. I was wrong. There is something within the human psyche that causes us to divide from other human beings, to have an “us” versus “them” mentality. We must refuse to accept such attitudes in ourselves or others. At home, at work, and in our neighborhoods and social lives, we must have zero tolerance for racial hatred.
3. No hyphenated Americans, just Americans. As we become a more racially diverse nation, we must appreciate that diversity, while, at the same time, preserving our common American identity. Otherwise, we will become a nation of warring racial groups. Let us no longer be African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans; let us be Americans. Of course, every American is of some foreign descent. This is what makes American culture a beautiful mosaic. Yet, we must be first and foremost Americans, with a shared set of values and ideals.
There are other principles which should be included in our new covenant. We must affirm the intrinsic value of every human being as the creation of God and rid ourselves of the well-meaning paternalism which only denigrates poor and minority people. We must stop labeling social problems as being black, Hispanic or white and solutions as being conservative, liberal or moderate. It is time to start asking only one question — what will help people become self-sufficient and realize their God-given potential?
The national discussion on race has always been with us in one form or another. It is time to go beyond discussion into a new millenium of racial harmony. It is not up to politicians but up to the American people to decide what kind of nation we really want to be. If we will embrace a new covenant on race which reflects the highest and best, America will take a peaceful giant step toward the promised land of liberty and justice for all.
(Rev. Earl W. Jackson Sr., an associate of the black leadership group Project 21, is National Director of the Samaritan Project for the Christian Coalition. He is also pastor of the New Cornerstone Exodus Church, in Boston, Massachusetts.)