Q & R: Racial Reconciliation

Here’s the Q:

I’d love to see you address racial reconciliation, particularly in the US; the civil rights movement started in a culture that was still steeped in modernism – so now what about racial reconciliation in a postmodern world? I think it needs a fresh look. And at the role of Christians as peacemakers and reconcilers – how best to fulfill that role in the case of the racial/socioeconomic/cultural divide. It is extraordinarily complex, of course, but it’s also one of our primary callings as Christ followers.

Here’s the R:
This is a truly important subject. I agree with my friend Frank Schaeffer – that on many levels, we are seeing a resurgence of (or exposure of latent) racism in these years with an African American president – Frank calls it “the slow-motion lynching of Barack Obama.”
I recently read this article with lots of interesting (and significant) charts on the subject of race and equality:
You can draw several conclusions from the data:

1) Affluent blacks and Hispanics still live in poorer neighborhoods than whites with working class incomes.
2) There’s a big disparity in wealth between white Americans and non-white Americans.
3) The racial wealth gap kept widening well after the Civil Rights era.
4) The Great Recession didn’t hit everyone equally.
5) In the years before the financial crisis, people of color were much more likely to be targeted for subprime loans than their white counterparts, even when they had similar credit scores.
6) Minority borrowers are still more likely to get turned down for conventional mortgage loans than white people with similar credit scores.
7) Black and Latino students are more likely to attend poorly funded schools.
8) School segregation is still widespread.
9) As early as preschool, black students are punished more frequently, and more harshly, for misbehaving than their white counterparts.
10) Perceptions of the innocence of children are still often racially skewed.
11) White Americans use drugs more than black Americans, but black people are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites.
12) Black men receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than those of white men who committed similar crimes, a 2013 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.
13) A clean record doesn’t protect young black men from discrimination when they’re looking for work.
14) Black job seekers are often turned away by U.S. companies on the assumption that they do drugs.
15) Employers are more likely to turn away job seekers if they have African-American-sounding names.

Your comment about modern versus postmodern ways of grappling with race and equality is indeed fascinating. I will give this more thought, but here’s one consideration.
As a modernist project, the Civil Rights movement worked “by the book” – i.e. it appealed to the nation’s “sacred texts” and to the “unpaid note” they promised:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This was and is a powerful line of argument – appealing to sacred authoritative texts, to the rationality of an economic transaction, etc. I would say that Dr. King also had some very “postmodern” lines of argument that were less transactional and more narrative. Referring to the Exodus narrative, for example, pressing on through the wilderness of prejudice towards the promised land of equality, has this ancient and postmodern feel.
To the degree that modernity appealed to “timeless truths” and postmodernity leans on evolutionary processes, today’s civil rights message might ask questions like these:
What kind of future do we want?
Do we want a world where race, politics, and religion align to reinforce and inflame mutual fears and hostilities? Or do we dream of a world where differences are seen as advantages, where we learn from past mistakes, and where we strive for the common good?
Are human beings evolving/learning/maturing/growing beyond the racial prejudices of the past?
There is huge work for Christian theologians and preachers to do in this regard, since so many of our theologies and denominations were born or came of age in the age of colonialism, enslavement, and segregation/apartheid – and did little or nothing to oppose them. That’s a big part of my instinct in writing We Make the Road by Walking – to help people read the Bible in a way that leads to reconciliation, mutual respect, diversity with equality, and more.