Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Color-Line 2.0

Another year, another election, another victory for the politics of polarization. Or so say some social commentators about the meaning of this past Tuesday. Jim Wallis, evangelical activist put it this way:

"Civility has died in America, and urgent pleas for a more truthful and respectful public discourse from both religious leaders and former lawmakers from both parties have been ignored by a media that just loves a perpetual conflict narrative. But many in the country still long for a more moral and civil tone in our political discussion. Could civility become sexy in the repetitive shouting match which is now American politics?" (Read the whole thing here)

Charles Blow of the New York Times refers to this phenomenon as the "Great American Cleaving":

"We have retreated to our respective political corners and armed ourselves in an ideological standoff over the very meaning of America, having diametrically opposed interpretations of its past and visions for its future. Talking across the table has been reduced to yelling across the chasm." (Read the whole thing here)

The Boston Globe features a story describing the election as indicative of a "Gaping Divide":

"This year’s tumultuous midterm election cycle cut deeply into the ranks of moderates on Capitol Hill, helping usher in a Congress that scholars say could produce the most partisan voting pattern since the Civil War era. The lack of moderate voices has led to fears that lawmakers will be deadlocked over an array of issues, even though a large swath of voters tell pollsters they want compromise — and progress." (Read the whole thing here)

W.E.B Du Bois famously identified the problem of the 20th century as "the color-line". While Du Bois was referring to race, which is certainly in the running as an equally central challenge facing the 21st century, I'm beginning to think that the color-line may have a new twist over the next 100 years. The new color-line will be about the divide between people based on politics and ideology, the color-line 2.0 if you will.

We have all become acquainted with the new color-coded America divided among the red and the blue. I'm not sure where this color-code started but it has become a fixture of public discourse. What's more, for many of us it has become internalized as a kind of "color-consciousness", a way of sorting who's in and who's out, who we should love and who we should fear, and who's America is more "real". I remember once a few years ago over-hearing a co-worker saying that he would "never live in a red state". I wondered at the time what the implications might be of people choosing where they live based upon their neighbors' politics. Might this become the new segregation?

I have often referred to the many tragedies and injustices related to race as the inevitable consequences of the color-line. The color-line 2.0, what 'Abdu'l-Baha has referred to as political prejudice, has it's own inevitable consequences:

"All prejudices, whether of religion, race, politics or nation, must be renounced, for these prejudices have caused the world's sickness. It is a grave malady which, unless arrested, is capable of causing the destruction of the whole human race." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 146)

I believe that political prejudice may prove to be the defining challenge of 21st century America. If so, avoiding its inevitable consequences will require the same commitment and systematic effort to counteract its influence as has been required to address other forms of prejudice. It will require that we question the notion that political prejudice is somehow the acceptable prejudice, that we strive to become lovers of the light, transform the discourse of disunity and put the disunity industry out of business. It will require that we recognize the truth in Baha'u'llah's assertion that, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 286)