Is racism dead?
In June of 2012, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans elected the Reverend Fred Luter, Jr. as the first African-American president of the 167-year-old denomination.
More remarkably, the Rev. Luter was unopposed for election and his selection was enthusiastically welcomed by the thousands of delegates of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and the world’s largest Baptist group.
The word Southern in the Southern Baptist Convention stems from its having been founded and rooted in the southern United States. In 1845, members at a regional convention being held in Augusta, Ga., created the SBC, following a split from northern Baptists over the issue of forbidding churches in slaveholding states from sending missionaries to spread the gospel. In the last several decades, the SBC has intentionally sought to be more diverse.
In the recent past, black Americans have risen to powerful, important, and influential posts in the private sector, the military, and the government. Among these are mayoral offices, governorships, judgeships including the Supreme Court, Ambassador assignments, including to the United Nations, Secretary of State, and, of course, the President of the United States.
In can be argued that President Barack Obama was elected, not in spite of his race, but, at least in part, because of it.
In personal conversations with many who voted for President Obama in 2008, four reasons have emerged:
1. Mr. Obama was the clear choice for Democrats/liberals/progressives, etc. He was their man.
2. There were those who voted for Mr. Obama, the Democrat candidate, because they believed that the Republicans had squandered their opportunity and needed to sit on the bench for a while.
Yet there were other reasons stated that might be surprising:
3. Some voted for President Obama because they wanted to be part of American history.
4. Others, especially Southerners, voted for Mr. Obama so that they could make a personal statement that they were not racist.
One person, who was troubled by Mr. Obama’s political views, told me, “I tried to find a way to vote for him because I wanted to vote for the first black president but I just couldn’t do it because of his stand on certain issues.”
Now, of course, this was not a scientific survey, merely a fairly large number of conversations with individuals over a period of years.
Still, it suggests that America, in the 21st century, is far different than the America of the 20th century and it is radically transformed from the America of the 19th century. Mixed race couples, who might have been harassed or threatened a few decades ago (and arrested at one point in the nation’s history), barely receive a passing glance.
Gone are the separate water fountains, the separate entrances to department stores and theaters of my Southern childhood, and the separate seating on public transportation. Gone are segregated schools and forced segregated housing, both of which were part of the landscape of my youth.
Is bigotry dead? Is prejudice gone? No, sadly, some people seem not to be able to exist without finding other people to despise and to whom they may feel superior, but that is not limited to racial differences.
But the sweeping, pervasive institutional racism of the past is dead indeed.
The Rev. Darren Martin, a minister from Luter’s church, said, “The SBC’s past support of slavery and segregation are well known but Luter’s election was a true sign ... that change from within has really come ...”
The signs are everywhere if one chooses to see. If the racism of the past is not dead, then it certainly is on life support. The sooner it finally and completely dies the better.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may contacted at email@example.com.]