Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let's Change the Subject

The latest drama in 21st century race theater continues to unfold. Popularly dubbed "Gates-gate", the newest developments include the "devastated" caller to the police who set the whole thing in motion insisting she is not a racist, the release of the 911 tapes that offer little illumination on the incident one way or the other, and the impending White House "summit" between Gates and officer Crowley presided over by the President himself! Many are saying it is time to move on, to change the subject. I agree, though not quite in the way others may being thinking. It is time to change the subject from discussing whether an individual is a "racist" to talking about the persisting racial inequities in America and what we intend to do about them. The "you're a racist!", "no I'm not!" shouting matches that Americans often engage in have little practical value and are frankly a waste of everyone's time.
I have little interest in whether the person who called the police, officer Crowley or even Gates himself is a racist. I'm very interested however, in finding solutions to racial inequities in education, health care, criminal justice, housing, the environment, socioeconomic status and so on.

I have two basic questions for every American. Are you willing to live with the racial inequities that currently exist in our society? If not, what are you doing about it? Neither question requires me to spend time arguing about who is or isn't a racist. They do however, go to the heart of the matter which is identifying those who are willing to do the work necessary to get us out of this mess and those who aren't. As the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem even if your heart is completely free of racial prejudice.

"Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others. Through them the brightness of your light can be shed upon the whole earth." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 305)


  1. Thank you, Phillipe! I am unwilling to live with the racial inequalities that currently exist in society, and undertake children's classes and junior youth groups with the sincere conviction that they can transform our social reality.

    "Let them not underestimate the power inherent in the system they are putting in place." - Universal House of Justice

    studying the Baha'i Writings at Green Acre's Race Unity Day, Negin and I realized that unity is a spiritual reality. We already are one people. Justice, on the other hand, is spoken of by Baha'u'llah as being conditional on our action.

  2. I think you are right on with your analysis!!! This is totally what needs to be talked about!! The whole circular debate about who is and who isn't a racist is so played out. It keeps everything at this weird superficial level where people are too tense to make a move lest they be percieved a certain way.

    My husband and I live in a mostly white, super leftist liberal city (portland OR). There is some diversity; the white young professional types that we see around are cool hanging with their non-white young professional type co-workers and friends. To me the issue, at least with this kind of crowd, is no longer "are you harboring some kind of deep secret pent up racism that will explode any minute Michael Richards style." Maybe, but probably not.

    So then the issue is, like you said, then what are we all going to do to deal with these racial inequities. This is really what matters now. In this liberal town, where thousands of people are mobilized all the time for animal-rights or gay-rights or tree-rights, there is barely a whisper of discussion let alone action around racial inequities...it's like a giant blind spot.

    What impresses me is is not when someone has the outside signs of being non-racist (has mutiracial friends, likes Dave Chappelle, doesn't say crazy offensive things etc). But when a person, particularly a white person, has a strong inner sense of justice, of responsibility, that forces them to engage with difficult conversations around race, and join in efforts to promote racial justice. And that this springs from their own inner ideals and motivations about creating a just world.

    WE can love each other across race easily in our interpersonal friendshps, but like Michael Eric Dyson said: "Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public"

  3. Phillipe6:03 PM

    Lev and Misha, thanks for adding your voices and showing some passion for racial equity. Misha I especially like that Dyson quote.

  4. Anonymous6:23 PM

    Phillipe, I love your shift in focus. It is so much a logical way forward now that you mention it.

    I have never lived in the USA but I know that sort of incident would not happen where I live because I live in a small rural place where everyone knows who their neighbours are so if they saw someone breaking in to a house they would know if it was a stranger or not. It just seems sad to me that people do not know their neighbours. It must be a very lonley, insecure place.


  5. When I think about the problem that exists in that neighborhood my feeling is why is there no communication between the neighbors???

    It seems to me that the problem that exploded into to the ugly incident stemmed from a lack of communication between neighbors..

    For me personally I have choosen a life partner who is of African ancestry and to me that is one step to "bridge the gap"...

    also what needs to be done is to INCREASE COMMUNICATION between neighbors now if Professor Gates and his neighbor were friends and they had neighborhood picknic's then this could go a long way in healing these wounds that have been opened due to this unfortunate break down in communication....

    Bottom line... the LACK OF UNITY within the neighborhood caused the problem....

    "The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The One true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words."

    (Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14)