Monday, March 30, 2009
"Have You Heard What Obama's Doing Now?"
Mondays are the days for me to be out and about--mornings are usually a Bible study with other area UM pastors (the shorthand term for this is "lectionary", as in
"are you going to lectionary?"), and whatever hospital visits there may be are in the afternoon. The study is in Kingston, which makes access to the Wilkes-Barre area hospitals much closer.
On my way to the study this morning, I stopped at the Thomas' grocery store on "the Ave." to get something to drink. An elderly man I've never seen before walks up to me, in the middle of the parking lot, and says: "have you heard what Obama's doing now?"
No "hello", no "excuse me", no "hey you". Just "Have you heard. . . ?"
I say back to him; "I should warn you before you finish, he's my guy."
He plows on: "Have you heard that he's going to replace the Statue of Liberty?"
My eyes must have glazed over when he said that, because what was in my mind was "Uh oh, this is not going to be pretty."
And it wasn't. What followed I will not repeat, but there was a reference to a famous brand of pancake syrup. It was meant as a joke, and I guess this guy saw another white guy coming toward him, and thought it would be safe.
Well, of course I told him it was not appreciated, and offensive. And I walked away. It's just about the only proper response for a Christian. You can't just remain silent, you surely can't laugh, but you also can't punch the guy. I don't know what he said after that, but I did hear something.
Folks, America is not yet a post-racial nation. For all that Obama represents in American History and race relations in this country, it's starting to become clear to me that we are at the beginning of whatever it is, rather than at the end. Just because this guy was getting on in years doesn't mean that his attitude, which is unacceptable in any time and place (including grocery store parking lots when talking with complete strangers), is about to die out. There are plenty of younger white people who have had the privilege of telling that joke, and worse, and getting away with it. Gee, maybe even the New York Post has published an editorial cartoon that depicts the joke!
Racism is still alive in America. It is still a struggle that needs to be fought. The disease maybe buried deeper, but we have not yet found the cure. And now, as some Americans are rushing to think that when the economic and foreign policy problems we've gotten into over the course of the last decade or so aren't fixed yet after a month, and those waiting for failure rub their hands in anticipation, forgetting their own failures, some of that venom is going to be spewed with a decidedly racist flavor.
Some of it will have to be fought by pushing back and calling attention to racist statements made by people. Some of it will have to be fought by teaching what anti-racism is. For fellow Americans who are Christian, let's be clear; there is no Christian position on this that is acceptable outside of standing against racism.
If you don't know how, or are afraid of standing up to friends or relatives, it's totally understandable, but the tools do exist. The General Board of Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church has set before it the goal of the complete destruction of racism, and has formulated many tools with which to do this work. There are many other anti-racist agencies, both secular and religious, as well.
I thought about handing him my rubber www.endingracism.org bracelet, but the site isn't up yet. Maybe next Monday i'll go back to Thomas', and have a handful of material to hand the guy, wait around a while to see if he shows up again. In fact, I think that is what I am going to do. Anyone wanna come?