—Adam Serwer, "Obama's Racial Catch-22"
It's the above quote that made me tip my hat to Adam Serwer's recent "Obama's Racial Catch-22" in The American Prospect. I called it "the best analysis of race and the 'race' I've seen yet," because, with the above graf, it brought us one layer closer to the heart of the onion: the white experience with race.
We said with race, not of race, but the two are clearly, intimately related. I think white folks have experiences with race all the time—especially on television. But, unlike black folks, and other non-whites to varying degrees, they do not have a near continuous experience of race as a fact of daily identity.
Except, that is, when black charges of racism are in the news. (Or when the black complaint catches them unprotected) And especially when the first black in American history is making a credible run for the White House. The last thing people who accept no personal relationship, much less responsibility, for the basic nature of American racism want to hear is that John McCain and/or his supporters are trying to appeal to white racism for votes.
But what I want to explore is: What light might Serwer's insight lend to our Vision?
For the umpteenth time, let it be said that Barack Obama is not Jesus. But I do think the answer can be found in considering the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the teachers, judges and jury of God's law. Only, by the time Jesus arrived, they were so caught up in their appearance, in their own self-righteousness, they had lost all sight of the nature and character of the God who gave them the law in the first place. As Jesus went about his Father's business, the Pharisees doggedly pursued, hoping to catch him breaking the law, as they presumed it. But Jesus messed them up every time. Take this exchange from Matthew 12:9-14, when they catch Jesus about to heal a man on the Sabbath.
Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!
The Pharisees just knew they were going to heaven based on their own judgment of their own performance of the law. The central sentiment of white America is that it's performance of God's law, as codified in our own law, is fully righteous. Even as the spirit of our law is based on:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
America has an almost pharasitical faith in the letter of our law instead of it's spirit, or, more important, the Spirit that inspired it. It's what Serwer means when he says whites "only relate to racial discrimination in the abstract," i.e. as text, not subtext.
It only gets concrete when people—sent by God or not, Christian or not— call them on their hypocrisy. Then their first instinct is to circle the wagons. Back then they broke out the carbines and trained them on the people whose land they were usurping. Today they cry "race card."
Even so-called liberals often find a place in what the racist South African Afrikanners called the laager, or 'wagon fort'. That's how I hear the MSM talking heads mealy mouthed dissections of flaps like the McCain ad melding Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Obama. No matter what, they are always willing to give other white people the benefit of doubt about their racist intent.
After all, they're within the law, right? What statute of traditional morality did Bill Clinton break, when he compared Obama's South Carolina primary win to Jesse Jackson's in 1988?
To see our Vision through, we must be guided by the spirit of our law, not the precedents established by a self-interested, often self-righteous majority. After all, that's how we got into this mess. (See Plessy v. Ferguson whose 'one drop rule' is very much alive.) We must learn to trust those who call on us to act in that spirit, especially on behalf of the least among us.
And we must remember, as few Pharisees ever did understand, that we are not above the judgment of God for what we do to each other. When Jesus tried to tell them, they immediately plotted to kill him. But, of course, they didn't know that was already the plan.