Saturday, October 9, 2010

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: Edward Gilbreath's "Reconciliation Blog"

(For an explanation of the title, "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual," see here.)

Over the past couple of Friday evenings I have been reading past articles from the "Reconciliation Blog" which is written by Edward Gilbreath, a former editor at Christianity Today.  The reconciliation in "Reconciliation Blog" refers to the reconciliation of the races.  Much Evangelical Christian writing on race and its relation to culture and politics has been pretty abysmal.  Yet Gilbreath's posts on this blog are outstanding.  Very few writers are able to step into the shoes of others and understand them as well as Gilbreath.  Gilbreath writes with the intention not to argue a position, but to promote understanding among people seperated not only by racism, but by perceptions of each other which perpetuates misunderstanding.  From a 1/30/09 post , Gilbreath, who is African American, writes, "...there are many systemic issues related to the 'race' problem...Indeed, often times, the racial divide is a matter of perception, not racism." Now, when an African American writes that racism is not the only culprit that is responsible for the plight of black Americans, and that white Americans are not the only party in the racial divide who need to examine themselves, a white person such as myself is of course is appreciative.  Yet, Gilbreath writes some things concerning how whites view race relations that need to be heeded if true racial reconciliation is to take place.

As Gilbreath himself understands, this country has made great progress in how African Americans are perceived and treated.  Yet when whites are confronted with continuing hostility from the African American community, whites often respond with this attitude: "Things have improved so much for people of color in the U.S.  The Civil Rights movement has ended discrimination and there is now so much more opportunity for people of all races.  We know that whites oppressed other races in the past; why can't they get over it.  Things have changed."  Yes, things have changed.  But white Americans are often unaware of the racism that African Americans still have to contend with.  Why is it that banks are more likely to approve a loan to a white couple than to a black couple?  The same goes for loans made to white owned businesses verses those made to black owned businesses.  The 1/30/09 post linked to above refers to racial conflict in Paris, Texas.  Blacks and whites met together to air their grievences in an open meeting.  One issue concerned a white judge who had given a black teenager a long prison sentance for pushing someone.  A few months before, the same judge had given a white teenager a very light sentance for arson.  The judge, who attended the meeting denied that racism had a role in the plight of African Americans: "I think the black community in this town is suffering a great deal from poverty, broken homes, drugs...Because a large percentage of the black population is caught up in that, in their anguish they are perceiving they are the victims of discrimination.  But white people are not the enemy.  Poverty, illiteracy, drugs, absentee fathers-that is the enemy.  Thats not racism.  Thats the breakdown of a community." (From the post linked to above.)  Gilbreath agrees that the judge's words contain a lot of truth.  But then he immediately points out the systemic issues related to race that whites often ignore which I quoted above.  In a 3/9/09 post, Gilbreath reminds us that "Though we've long since repudiated and attempted to move forward from our nations biggest failures on the matter of race, a lot of the residue of our failures continue to inform our personal and constitutional relationships today.  To ignore that fact only hinders our efforts toward true progress and reconciliation." In another post, from 4/21/09, Gilbreath writes about how the progress we have made in race relations has led to new and even bigger boundries between black and white.  He links to this article concerning white college students who put a noose in their window so African American students could see it.  In the comment section of the article, white students write that they cannot see why the African American students should be upset.

Is it realistic for whites to expect that blacks should have completely gotten over past bitterness?  In the article about Paris, Texas linked to above, another sore spot in race relations was the honoring of the Confederacy at local government buildings.  A white person may say "Hey, slavery has been extinct for almost 150 years.  Its time to move on."  When I lived in the South, some of the same white people who expressed such sentiments spoke with emotion concerning the land their families lost when it was seized by the Federal government during Reconstruction.  Bitterness and hatred can take generations, centuries to heal.  Only in the past couple of decades has the hatred between Catholics and Protestants begun to abate.  Still, not everyone from either side is willing to let go of their anger over how one side tortured those on the other side.  How many years will it take for some Armenians to move past their hatred for all Turkish people because of the genocide commited by Turkey against the Armenians in the early 20th century?  How long will it take for the Chinese to forgive Japan for its barbarism when it invaded China in the 1930's?  Some Africans still hate Europeans because of how Europe brutalized Africans during Africa's colonial days.  My own mother is 82.  One of her grandfathers, whom she knew, was a teenager living near Gettysburg, Pa. when the battle of Gettysburg was fought there.  If my mother knew her grandfather who lived during the Civil War, how many African Americans the same age as my mother actually looked into the eyes of their relatives who had been slaves and heared them relate what had been done to them?  Memories die hard.  To expect the entire black community to "just get over it" is a bit unrealistic.  Especially when more recent memories of Jim Crow and lynching are taken into acount.  When whites, even within the Church, take this into account, this will make actual reconciliation more of a reality. 

One surprise for me was Gilbreath's take on the notion of a color blind society.  In a 4/7/09 post, he notes that non-whites are more productive in work environments that acknowledge differences than in work places that stress a color blind environment.  In a color blind work place, whites expect non-whites to assimilate into the white world.  They have no clue how this creates identity crises for non whites.  Non whites see more bias in environments that strive for color blindness than in businesses that acknowledge differences.  This post is a must read.  I wanted to quote from it but I think it needs to be read in it's entirety.  It made me think of the issue of all black student groups on college campuses.  These groups have been criticized as a regression from the progress made concerning race over the past few decades.  Yet I have read that students in these groups perform better academically than their counterparts who are more "assimilated."  How should this affect thinking on reconciliation?

Gilbreath and I do not agree on everything.  He voted for Obama; I did not.  Yet there is no condemnation in his tone for those who he doesn't see eye to eye with. I wish the same could be said of other bloggers who write on the issue of race, and when I write this, I am referring almost exclusively to white bloggers on the left. Just today he posted an article on a book entitled "Divided By Faith" which states that Evangelical theology actually makes racial reconciliation more difficult.  I have not read this book, nor have I read Gilbreath's own book on the subject, "Reconiliation Blues."  This opinion concerning Evangelical theology certainly causes me to defend it as a first response.  I am sure I would take issue with some arguements from either work.  Yet after becoming more familiar with Gilbreath's work, I know there is a possibility that some of my assumptions may have to change.  I have been intending to read "Reconciliation Blues."  Hopefully I will get to it next year.  (I do not feel justified in buying more books until I have read some I already have, especially those I bought while in seminary.)

The "Reconciliation Blog" is not updated often.  Gilbreath is focused upon his other blog, "Urban Faith," which will be explored on this blog in a future post.            

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