When asked about reparations, Senator Mitch McConnell answered that he did not see any way for that to happen and reparations had been discussed before in the Senate and we had, after all, elected a black president and fought a Civil War to end slavery. These latter words came from the man who said, after President Obama was elected, “We will spend the next four years making certain that he is not re-elected.” How little this “leader” understands.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I tire of hearing that the election and re-election of Mr. Obama shows that we are no longer a racist country. Other events, such as the recent and sad event in Phoenix by police because a child had taken a doll from a store without payment, strongly suggest that we, as a nation, carry our racism still. But our racism is, mostly, more subtle than that of plantations and the pulling of seventy-two police officers in Philadelphia for alleged anti-Muslim and racist posts on social media. It is hidden under a gleam of laws and regulations that have made some improvements to end racism. However, I think any black person can tell of experiencing bias behavior in many ways.
I don’t know how any reparation can make-up for or lessen the pain of our years of slavery, when the chattel from Africa built much of this nation with their backs and hands. How do we re-pay for all the rapes of black women? Is there any price for the destruction of Rosewood, Florida or Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa? A new museum exhibits all the names of lynched blacks and in the county where the crime was committed. What amount pays for that?
Yea, we elected a black man president, but what of the young black men shot in the back by a policeman? What price is he worth?
As a Jesus follower, I struggle with the sin of racism in my country—the past racism and the ever-present racism. As a 72 year old white male, I have never suffered the bite of a particularly nasty word, and nor have I been followed around in a store while shopping, nor do I hear an audible “click” when I walk past a car being driven by another white person. I intellectually know of these things, but I do not experience them, and none of my family has or does share these experiences. As a Jesus following citizen, I see that we, as a white nation, have only one way to make reparations for our past, and when powerful men such as Senator McConnel make such asinine statements as he did, the “proof is in the pudding.” We must make amends and in Psalm 51, the Psalm King David wrote after his adultery with Bathsheba and his killing of Uriah, her husband, shows us the way.
Dr. Ellen Davis, in her examination of Psalm 51, uses the word contrition. She admits it is a word no longer in fashion, but it is exactly what we must feel for our sin of racism. Being contrite means that we are honestly sorry for our sin(s) and ask forgiveness. Being contrite is difficult because it arrives after an individual has examined herself to see and take ownership of her sin. Just as many blacks in America are descendants of slaves, many whites are descendants of the white class that enslaved human beings. We are all in it together, and the whites had the power, and yes, even fought an awful war to keep slavery alive.
My favorite Gospel story is in John 4 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He, a male Jew, talks with a woman who is Samaritan. That alone reveals much of Jesus’ character. However, after their encounter, He spends three day there with her and her village. She, the wife of five men, is forgiven her sins, but as usual, Jesus adds these words, “ Go and sin no more.” Ouch. He forgives us but says we can’t sin anymore. That is, in my mind, the difficult part of contrition. Not continuing our sin.
Our racism cannot be locked away in the bad old days of plantations, rapes, whippings, Jim Crow, and lynchings. We were racist then, and we are racist now. If Mitch McConnell thinks otherwise, he should have a conversation with author Keith S. Wilson who grew up in Covington, Kentucky, the home of Nick Sanderman. If McConnell listens to Wilson, he will hear how alive racism is in his state, and all the others. But so many white folk want to beg out of the issue by believing and saying that it is an old issue, long-ago settled. Too many white folk agree with the words of McConnell. He, and they, need lessons in our history and our current culture.
I see any type of reparation without cultural change as meaningless. Our government makes reparations, and the McConnells continue on their way, not heeding those words, “Sin no more.”
This country needs citizens, black, brown, white, all skin-tones, to learn about and integrate into our emotional and intellectual lives, the histories of racism in America. Learn the horrors of the Rosewoods. Feel the sting of the whip. Know the cruelty of watching the child had by your master being sold. Don’t dismiss it as an event in ancient history but learn it on a personal level. Then find a Keith Wilson and hear his words and experiences. See his Covington, Kentucky. Ponder why a policeman needed to shoot a fleeing black teenager in the back.
Scream out against a culture of racism as exhibited by police in Philadelphia. Take ownership for this sin in our country because, yes, we are our brother’s keeper.
After we know our sin, be contrite and full of remorse and ask forgiveness from the black citizens who descending from this shame. And, if you are religious, ask your god for forgiveness. But prepare yourself for the difficult part of making reparations: we can no longer commit the sin. We must stop being racist and allowing it in our country. It is a sin that will, like any destroy us. We must end it or be sufferers of it.