Sunday, May 18, 2008

Race Based Politics in America

A few days ago I heard an extensive up-to-date report on conditions in Kenya. Remember the rampages of destruction after the recent elections that threw-out the current government which refused to disclose the vote and so its own defeat?

Charlie Clements* spoke to us of the terror engendered by the attacks of one tribal group upon another in the weeks that followed. Kenyans who had been living together in peace for all the years of their independence, intermarrying, doing business with one another were suddenly forcibly splitting families apart, destroying one another’s homes and businesses. Hidden tribal grievances suddenly broke into the open and the true nature of peaceful, reasonable Kenya , the democratic beacon of African hope, was called into question.

Or was it? Last night a young man connected to the Kenyan girls schools that my church supports reported to us that all is well back home. The girls are in no danger. Peace prevails. All is normal. ...Oh, yes, food is now very expensive. And, yes, the high school senior we were going to send to university is no longer planning to go to a Kenyan school. She will [suddenly] be going to Uganda ... ‘because the schools are better there.’

The discussion of Race in America led by ministers of the United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists this Sunday morning suddenly seems, to my mind, illumined by the Kenyan experience.

Undiscussed, unaddressed racial issues suddenly erupted in our homeland, too, thanks to 24 hour TV news shows’ blatant abuse of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Right Wing attempt to smear Barack Obama’s quest for the presidency.

Leave aside for the moment the dirty Rovean politics and the unprincipled, incompetent so-called news people blathering on our TV screens. Consider, instead, how race divides us. Still divides us — despite all the earnest effort of the last 40 years.

Like our young Kenyan friend, we long to believe in Peaceful America, the America we love, where ethnic differences do not divide — “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” [No, no, ‘Illegal Immigration’ is not about race.] And in our longing for the America of our dreams we conspire with ourselves to not notice the police profiling and racial fear that fills our mammoth prison system with young black men. [Just to name aloud one small affront to decency.] And, now, along comes disgraceful politics in our homeland, too, and what just cannot be is exposed for all to see.

See all those happy white and black faces cheering the hopeful change Obama embodies! That is our America! That is who we truly are. The hundreds of hours spent by political operatives pouring through Jeremiah Wright’s 30-plus year sermonic history just cannot represent who we are as a nation. It’s just too evil... too anti-American in values. It just cannot represent the America, blessed by G_d, and beloved in song at baseball parks all across the nation. Can it?

*Dr. Charlie Clements, head of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, speaking at Andover Newton Theological School, upon his return from a fact-finding mission to Kenya, where he met with local, non-governmental groups in Nairobi and elsewhere.

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