Incomplete Narratives, Misplaced Focus and "Racial Division"

Saturday, October 28, 2017 Bryan Hudson 0 Comments

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But an accurate weight is His delight.” Proverbs 11:1

There is a lot of talk today about divisions in our nation. Most of the concern seems to surround racial divisions. In my 60 years of life, especially the adult years which include 37 years of public ministry and community service, the term “racial division” was not something we talked about in the African American community. We talked about jobs, education, violence, poverty, equal opportunity, racism, white supremacists, sports, family, politics, unity, church, youth, and much more. We never focused on racial division, though we worked with white brothers and sisters on the rare occasions they came around. We also participated in some “unity” efforts, but those were never significant factors to our needs and work.

Today, seemingly at every turn, I hear about racial division and our collective need to address it. I attended an event in October of 2017 that offered talks and discussions on the topic “Healing Our Divided Nation.” The talks were positive and interesting, but not entirely focused on the stated topic. The issue of racial division was lightly touched upon, but the event mainly highlighted the good works of key organizations, good intentions, and future opportunities to do more talking (for which a 20% discount was available to attendees for the next event). The substance of the event fit within a pattern I’ve noticed for some time. There are expressed concerns about important issues of our day, but action on those concerns are often limited in scope, selective in application, and temporary in duration. Those who engage directly and consistently on issues, in partnership with "indigenous" leaders, do the most good over time.

I’ve been involved with various multicultural efforts for 35 years. Working together has always been fruitful so long as we actually worked on something. When we began searching for deeper meaning or attempted to climb “Mount Significance.” (a term used by Bryan Loritts), we began to focus more on narratives than tasks at hand. I recall a monthly pastors prayer group that began to struggle when pontificating became a form of “who is the greatest among us.” I recall one meeting where we adjourned, but I had to return to retrieve an item I left behind, only to witness the white brothers holding another meeting among themselves.

Another group in which I participated began to struggle soon after 9/11. Some said “God did it.” Others said “the devil did it.” Another alliance became irrelevant to me when the focus became conservatives taking over the government so “God could have His way.” One of the alliances I’ve continued to support receives men returning to society from prison, disciples them in Christ, helps them complete their parole, and become godly productive citizens. The pastors group I led purchased and gifted the first facility to this ministry.

Regarding racial division/tensions/relations, during 2016 I began to pay attention to reports, and polls which highlighted beliefs that President Barack Obama increased racial division or hurt race relations. These sentiments, anecdotal data points, and plain ole’ ignorance, developed into what we call a narrative.

About Narratives

A narrative is defined as: 1) Some kind of retelling of something that happened (a story). The narrative is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story. 2) A report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written and/or spoken words. 3) Consisting of or characterized by the telling of a story.

Thinking about social narratives brought me to this question: “Who is highlighting racial division? Who believes President Obama worsened racial relations? Why all the late interest in racial matters? Where have they been? Why now?”

To assert that Barack Obama made racial division/tensions/relations worse is both absurd and obscene. It is an incorrect narrative and is indicative of why we often do not make progress as a nation. As stated earlier, a narrative is the telling of a story. It’s important to know the story before embracing someone’s narrative who is not part of the story. 

A more accurate narrative regarding racial division/tensions/relations is this: Racists, white supremacists, and people with bad theology/philosophies created the great majority of racial tensions. Both past history and contemporary events plainly reveal this reality. The fact that an African American man became president, and people who hated Barack Obama and/or Black people became upset and expressed their hatred in words and deeds is not division. It is hatred. It is certainly not something for which President Obama is responsible. "Division" is a kind of false narrative that avoids addressing the actual "story."

During the civil rights era, when black students sat at the whites-only lunch tables, it was not a matter of creating bad racial division/tensions/relations. Their presence only highlighted the bad motivations and behaviors of racist and ignorant people. The narrative at the time was, “Those n------s are out of line. They don’t know their place. They don’t know they are inferior. They are stirring up trouble.”

President Obama’s presence had a similar effect on a massive scale. It is also important to highlight that white folks of good will helped greatly to elect him president and showed the inclusive spirit of America. In November of 2016, large numbers of white folks and Evangelicals (80% by poll) followed various kinds of narratives and elected a vulgar, unqualified man to the presidency, Donald J. Trump. Those narratives involved white nationalism (the desire for the nation to look like themselves and hold their values/customs) in the wake of rising minority populations, concerns about Supreme Court appointments, and perceived threats from “evil” Muslims, Mexicans, and gays.

The Story Behind the Narrative

America is unquestionably a land of dreams, freedom, and opportunity. We are also a land of deeply entrenched injustice, unrepentant sin, oppression, and idealism. The treatment of Native Americans is an obvious evidence of entrenched injustice. Legalizing abortion-on-demand, so called “marriage equality,” gambling, prostitution, oppression, gentrification, gerrymandering, and more are all evidences of unrepentant sin and/or oppression.

Idealism is a malady that causes people to focus on unrealistic notions and magical thinking. For example, talking about racial division/tensions/relations  and wondering if Obama worsened it is nothing more than idealism and ignorance of history. It is a waste of both time and thought.

Let me offer a different kind of narrative.  Since a narrative alone is not an actual story, allow me to offer some facts and concepts to help build a more accurate and useful narrative:

We don’t need to focus on ‘healing” racial division, because there is only one race, the human race. I don’t advocate any wrong-headed solution of being “color blind” and thus making people invisible. I don’t suggest we discard our ethnic heritage or identities such as African-American, because this is what makes America unique in the world. Consider the actual outcome of placing people in “race” classifications. We say everyone is either Black (negroid), White (caucasian), Jewish, Asian, or Semitic.  Where does that leave Latinos? Latino is not a race, it is a culture and language. They can identify as white or black. What about Native Americans? What about the people of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, North Africa, Hawaiian Islands, and many other places. Seeking to place everyone into a narrow or inaccurate classification of race only benefits those who use race to exploit the perceived problem of  “division” to derive some advantage or benefit. 

African Americans, more than many others, have struggled with identity. We’ve been called, and have called ourselves Negro, Colored, Black and African-American. Black is viewed as the “racial” distinction. African-American is the more noble and useful ethnic distinction for the simple reason that there is no place called “Black,” “Negro,” or “Colored.” There is a place called Africa, from which we came. I identify as black and African American from an ethnic perspective. Race is not a term I use to identify myself except as needed for official purposes. It is interesting that many are comfortable in objectifying us as “the blacks.”

One of the popular narratives offered to “heal” racial division/tensions/relations is to drop all the “labels” and simply go by the term “American.” There are those who insist that this is the way forward and the path to racial healing. That notion disrespects the core value of our nation, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning, “Out of many, one.” God sees each of us in our color, ethnicity, and character. American is my nationality. African American is my ethnic identity. 
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9).

Nonsensical perspectives and views rooted in a lack of understanding should not become a viable narrative or any basis for “healing” I can’t go to work on something imagined or idealized “division.”

Authentic unity does not require uniformity. This is part of the principle involved with some men in the NFL who want to highlight their right to kneel during the National Anthem, not out of disrespect to our flag or service people (which became a false narrative), but out of respect for “liberty and justice for all.” Lately, kneeling became a protest against President Trump who called (mostly black) men “sons of bitches” (which in our community is an insult against our mothers) and demanded they be forced to stand, or be fired.

A Better Narrative Based on the Story

“Healing” racial division/tensions/relations is the wrong focus and narrative. The focus must be placed on injustice, oppressors, and despotic leaders. We should not view “division” as something that makes us uncomfortable, unhappy, and therefore something we must eradicate. I suggest viewing division as the fruit of bad policy and badly motivated people.

Arising from the actual story, a better narrative becomes: How should people change their mindset, understanding, behavior, and motivations? How should I change? How should I help people within my sphere of influence change?

We don’t need mottos and catchy phrases. We have always benefitted from a heavy dose of reality, learning from history, and proper context.

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