Aug 282014 7 Responses

Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past

Anytime race becomes part of the social narrative, one of the most common statements I hear is “why can’t we just get over it and stop talking about it?”

It sounds appealing–let’s forget the past and assume everyone is equal. Yet there is a reason we can’t do that. (See: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean I Should)

Let me illustrate why:

If you have small kids, play this game with them.

Take 200 $1 bills and say, “I’m going to split this money between you.” Then give the first child $5 and the second child $1. When the second child screams, “That’s not fair,” ignore him. Give another $5 to the first child and another $1 to the second. When the second child once again screams, “That’s not fair,” ignore him. Repeat this process 33 times until the first child has $165, the second child has $33, and you have $2 left. Now recognize what your second child has been screaming about.

Ask, “Why do you say this is unfair?”

The child will easily explain that giving five to one and only one to another is not equal.

Ask the child, “What would be fair?”

The child will quickly say, “You should give each of us the same amount.”

Respond as though your eyes have been opened, like you didn’t know and now you do.

Apologize for getting it wrong and then gleefully take your last $2 and give one to the first child and one to the second child.

Then ask, “Does that make it all fair?”

Obviously it won’t. Even though you handed out an equal amount the last time, inequality is still present because one child has $166 and the other has $34.

As a society we have come a long way regarding race. Proof of how far we come is how difficult it is for me to imagine many of the things which have happened in our nation’s history. Slavery and segregation are concepts I have studied, but they aren’t realities I have seen. Blatant racism is so foreign to my understanding that the few times someone has said openly racist comments it was a shocking experience.

Racism is not simply a thing of our past. It is very much part of our present. Everyone does not get an equal shake. We are closer than we have ever been, but we are still aren’t there. (See: 10 Reflections on Ferguson from the Pastor of White Cops and Black Men)

Yet even if we were there, things would not be equal. There is still a past which greatly influences a present. It affects how we interpret events, influences the opportunities we are given, and helps define what we think is possible or impossible.

Where we have come a long way is regarding the issue of race on an individual level. Openly racist individuals are more the exception rather than the rule. There may be no position, title, or opportunity which an individual is unable to attain. While racism still exists on an individual level, it is much more rare than it once was. (See: Why I Can’t Say ‘America Is Going to Hell in a Handbasket’)

Where we still have a long way to go is on the institutional level. For as long as governments, corporate boards, CEOs, and other positions of power do not fully reflect the diversity of our communities, racism still exists. Not that the individuals in power are racist, but that the systems in place are doing something to hold back the full spectrum of all our neighbors.


12% of the U.S. population is black, but 44% of the prison population is black. 13% of the US population is Latino, but 18% of the prison population is Latino.

There are two possible conclusions from these statistics. Either:

1. Evolution was right and different races have different nuances which could lead some to be more violent and less civilized than others. (See: Beliefs Have Consequences)


2. God created us all equal, but we have a systemic problem which is creating a culture leading to the great disparity. (See: Don’t Tell Me Every Religion Is the Same)

If all God’s children are equal, but our society sees great disparities by race on key issues, then we have a societal problem more than an individual problem.

Clearly individuals are responsible for themselves. Every person must take ownership of their own lives and do everything they can to find success and happiness. As a leader, I can never let the outcome of one individual define who I am or the job I’m doing. Each person is responsible for him or herself. However, as a leader, if large numbers of people are experiencing bad outcomes, I have to question my responsibility.

As it is with teams, organizations, and churches, so it is with communities and countries.

Each individual is responsible for their own decision making, but when great disparities exist in wealth, incarceration, and other key statistics, we have to ask what are the systematic issues creating the divisions?

This is why we can’t just claim everyone is equal now so let’s forget about the issue of race. We can’t forget about the issue of race until everyone truly is equal. For as long as most of the wealth belongs to one race and most of the prisons are populated by another race, we can’t claim everyone is equal.

For more, see:

7 Responses to Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past
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