The following companion articles were published in The Capital Times on Jan. 16, 2013.
Originally published Jan. 16, 2013, at Brian & Kristen Konkol. Republished with the permission of the author. Stephen G. Marsh and Brian E. Konkol are co-pastors of Lake Edge Lutheran Church, Madison, Wis.
An inconvenient truth: I am Black (by Stephen G. Marsh)
I am Black in the United States of America. It is quite inconvenient to be Black in the United States of America. It has always been inconvenient to be Black in the United States of America.
My African ancestors were brought to the United States in chains against their will, taken straight to the plantations, and forced into slavery. They did not pass through Ellis Island, as did most of the ancestors of my White counterparts. My ancestors who fought in the two World Wars were not allowed any advantages of the GI Bill, schooling, the trade unions, or the opportunities of corporate America that White veterans had; therefore as a Black baby I am more likely to be born into a family who is mired in systemic poverty than a baby who is White.
I am much more likely to live in an impoverished neighborhood, receive an inferior education in a neighborhood school, and not graduate from high school than White students my age. Those are inconvenient truths.
As a Black man in the United States of America, I am 75 percent more likely to interface with the criminal justice system, get arrested, go to jail, and have a criminal record follow me for the rest of my life than a White man in the United States of America. I am much more likely to go to jail than to go to college. I am more likely to be on death row than a White inmate and more likely to be the victim of capital punishment than a White inmate. I and my Black community are more likely to be ignored, disrespected, disenfranchised, discriminated against, short-changed, not consulted and counted out than my White counterparts and their communities. These also are inconvenient truths.
With the election and re-election of Barack Obama — a Black man — as president of the United States, it is tempting for many to believe that our historical racial challenges in this country are a thing of the past. The fact is that polls show that more White people described themselves as racist in 2012 than did in 2008, and race-mongering militias are at an all-time high. So our historic racial challenges still seem to be quite alive and insidiously well.
My colleague and co-pastor Brian Konkol insists that it is crucial for White people to recognize that it is socially and economically convenient to be White; or in other words, Virginia, there really is White privilege! Dealing honestly with the convenient truth of White privilege is an open door into dealing honestly with the inconvenient truth of systemic racial discrimination. In the United States, systemic racial discrimination is part of the DNA of the founding fabric of this country. According to the original Constitution of the United States, as a Black man I am considered to be three-fifths of a person. Being Black in America has always been an inconvenient truth.
As we prepare to celebrate once again Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial reconciliation, we must consider replacing “convenient” and “inconvenient” truths with the truth that will set us all free: which is, under the parenthood of God, all people — no matter what race, color, culture or religion — are created equal, and we have been given all the resources we need for that paradigm to flourish. What we cannot seem to muster up is the political, societal and spiritual will needed for that paradigm to become reality.
Some say we cannot accept a society in which some have lesser odds than others, but the inconvenient truth is that we have always accepted such a society. The very inconvenient question of our time is “when is enough going to be enough?” Many lives, including yours and mine, are being and will be deeply affected by the answer to that question.
A convenient truth: I am White (by Brian E. Konkol)
I am White. It is quite convenient to be White. In fact, it has always been convenient to be White in the United States of America.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, I am more likely to be employed than someone who is not White, I am less likely to be incarcerated, I am more likely to be covered by health insurance, and I am more likely to enjoy a comfortable retirement and eventually die peacefully in my elder years. I am more likely to have a college education than a non-White person, my (White) wife is more likely to receive excellent medical care, my (White) children are more likely to attend private schools with skilled teachers, and my (White) family is more likely to have a roof over our heads, a few cars in the garage, and more than enough food on our table.
While individual cases vary, to be White is — generally speaking — a convenient truth.
There are countless factors one could cite for the current levels of race-based inequality in the U.S., and many opinions exist surrounding potential solutions, yet there are three points of emphasis that need to be addressed for the advancement of racial reconciliation. First, it is crucial (especially for White people like myself) to recognize that it is (and always has been) socially and economically convenient to be White. Second, we (especially White people) must eliminate the far too common racist theories surrounding racial inequality as being exclusively related to work ethic, intelligence and/or discipline. Third, it is essential for people of all race groups to join together as one human community, engage in conversation, identify our issues with sincerity, and thus respond to the systemic sources and community consequences of our race-based inequalities.
If all people are born as equals, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims, then equal opportunity regardless of skin color should be an urgent priority. As racial reconciliation is incomplete without transformation and empowerment, those committed to equal opportunity are called to move past short-term charity toward an embrace of long-term justice. In other words, as Stephen Marsh, my colleague, reminds us, the historical threads of our national fabric are soaked in racial exploitation, and while we try to move on without full confession, forgiveness and reconciliation, we cannot progress as a unified society when the wounds of racism remain deeply ingrained and widely visible.
While it is indeed possible for any person — regardless of racial identity — to enjoy the fullness of life, the shameful reality is that such outcomes remain more probable for those who are born White. In other words, although against-all-odds stories continue to exist, those who beat the odds are not only rare, but they are also — by definition — people who faced difficult odds, and we cannot accept a society in which some have lesser odds than others. And so, as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21, it is time to even out the odds of opportunity, renew our collective efforts at genuine racial reconciliation, and ensure that all people are born with a full array of life options. As people who share the dream to thrive through content of character rather than color of skin, we recognize the presence of God within our various racial identities, thus it is a foundational aspect of our faith journey to ensure life in its fullest for all people. As a result, the time is upon us to face the appalling past and present facts of racial inequality, and in response to our common connection as companions in the human community, promote a world in which all people in all places are given the opportunity to flourish.
Find a link to Brian Konkol’s blog Brian & Kristen Konkol at Lutheran Blogs.