Responsively Yours: Listening With New Ears
- Audio version, February 2010 (MP3, 9.0MB)
- Cover of Response, February 2010 (PDF, 301K)
- Content of Response, February 2010 (PDF, 139K)
Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
We hear a lot today about the United States being a “post-racial” society or this being a “post-racial” era. What could this possibly mean? We could hardly expect to leave behind all that we’ve learned (good things and bad things) in the “pre-post-racial” era.
Would that we could truly say that this was a “post-racist” society — that racial stereotypes and baggage no longer affected persons and families of color. Remember, that racism is not just (or perhaps, not even predominantly) a feeling or an intention. Racism is a series of structures that affects persons of color disproportionately with the burdens of the work of living and excludes those same persons disproportionately from the benefits of their work and accomplishments.
Statistics help us to assess our structures. The National Urban League’s 2009 State of Black America report notes that African Americans remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated. Twenty-eight percent of Hispanic adults who are citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States lack health insurance, reports a study by the Pew Hispanic Center. This number more than doubles when statistics include undocumented Hispanics.
National crime victimization surveys reveal that Whites perpetrate 57 percent of the violent crimes committed against American Indians. Yet the incarceration rate of Native Americans is 38 percent higher than the national rate. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights attributes this higher rate to differential treatment by the criminal justice system, lack of access to adequate counsel and racial profiling.
These statistics tell us something about the results of our ability as a society to produce “common wealth” — prosperity for all. The combination of race and income in housing segregation isolates many persons of color from quality services (health care, schools, markets, etc.). The search for root causes is maddening as the literature focuses on the intertwining of both of race and class in a pattern of obstacles and risks.
It also reinforces “exceptionalism.” Extraordinary people like President Obama, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor and Chief Wilma Mankiller acheived prominence, despite the impediments that race or class may have presented to them or their families. Does this indicate that the barriers do not exist? No, it illustrates that these are extraordinary people. The reason we turn to statistics to evaluate the racism of our society, rather than the stories of heros and heroines, is because we need to look at the impact of race and class on the access of ordinary people to this “common wealth.”
Of course, I do not intend to imply that there are no persons of color whose family background and access to benefits provide them with temporal security — of course there are. What we are highlighting in this issue is the pernicious intertwining of racism and class (or racism and poverty) in disproportionately impeding the flourishing of persons of color.
Unfortunately, Response readers know without my saying it, this can become a “triple threat” when gender is added to the mix.
So I invite you, listen with new ears to the pundits’ claims connected to this post-racial era. Remember Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman and Peter’s with Cornelius and Paul’s declaration that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the household of God. What can it mean for us, members of United Methodist Women, as we seek to become whole persons through Jesus Christ and form a supportive community? It means work and prayer and being together. We must continue our deep listening and critical thinking. It means speaking out.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : February 5, 2010