Race Relations in the Post-Obama Era

Race Relations in the Post-Obama Era

Note: These are the prepared remarks from which I gave my presentation on February 21, 2017 at Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Library in Lynchburg, Virginia as part of their Faculty Author Series.

In considering the title for this talk, some may think it’s far too soon to evaluate the post-Obama era. After all, it’s only a month and a day old!

With passions regarding the past eight years of the Obama presidency still high on both sides of the political aisle, it’s fair to assume that any verdict we render now will have the rough edges smoothed, or be thrown out altogether as time and distance bring hopefully greater objectivity and academic rigor to the study of his time in office.

That said, history, whatever its verdict, cannot take away the significance of Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the White House. Whether you wished him well or ill, he was the first black person to become president of the United States.  As we observe Black History Month, his achievement is arguably the culmination of a tortured history between Americans of European and African descent dating back to 1526, when Spanish settlers brought, among others, a group of African slaves to establish and inhabit San Miguel de Guadalupe, the first European settlement on what is now the continental United States.

Peace on Earth

When the first of November rolls around each year, my spirits begin to rise in anticipation of the holiday season to come. The period that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with Epiphany – Three Kings Day for some - on January 6th is my favorite time of the year. I’ve been pushing the envelope in my household for years on when I start to play Christmas music – regrettably, there is not a lot of Thanksgiving music out there! – and while I usually wait until Thanksgiving Day, this year I started a little bit early to try and usher in the season as soon as I could.

Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter and the End Game

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" ~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Friends of Voltaire

The start of the 97th season of the National Football League (NFL) is two weeks away, and football fans are ready and eager to set aside their cares from the work week and immerse themselves in the entertainment and escapism that is professional football. The NFL is clearly America’s greatest sports pastime, which by definition is “something that amuses and serves to make time pass agreeably”, a “diversion.”

Bearing One Another's Burdens

I’m sitting here staring at a blank piece of paper, my mind filled with thoughts and my heart troubled. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of the racial tension that has our nation in its grip, and I’ve been dismayed by the tone and tenor of the conversation on social media, even among my friends and acquaintances. Calls for understanding are being met with resistance, requests for prayer are being ridiculed as inaction, and some are even predicting God’s coming judgment on one race over another.

Those of us who strive to follow the whole counsel of God are left to wonder if we are alone in trying to honor our common heritage as image-bearers of God, all of whom are worthy, yet all of whom have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All I know with absolute certainty is that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, and I want to think, feel and act as He does, as much as I am able.

Does the Color of a Person’s Skin Matter?

I recently posed the question on Facebook; does the color of a person’s skin matter? I was hoping to illicit some responses which could lead to healthy discussions on race. Instead what I discovered was a collective yawn. I received a grand total of one response, which read essentially, “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” It seems that although the issues of race run deep and run continuously, they also seem to run below the surface. Concerns over skin color lie dormant until some actual or perceived injustice springs back to life, the cry of racism.

A few years back I was deeply moved by the testimony of a young teenage girl, given during a discussion about “race and how it affects me.” Her comments, to this day, produce a stir of emotions within my soul due too the profound truths she so innocently proclaimed. The discussion was part of an all night youth lock-in at the YMCA, culminating a two year cross cultural relationship between teenagers from two church youth groups; one group white, the other black.

Let me back up a little first. In 1995 I moved my family south, after having lived my entire life in Upstate New York. We suddenly began to encounter more African American’s in our daily interactions with society than we would have encounter in several months, back home. It was my observation at that time that although blacks and whites seemed too co-existed amicably at work and in society, there didn’t seem to be much personal interaction. This troubled me and I pondered how things “ought to be,” in light of living in the heart of the Bible belt.

My wife and I worked with our church’s youth program and we decided to phone around to see if there was a black church of similar size and located near by, which would be interested in working with us. Sure enough we found a church willing to push aside the status quo and tackle the issues of race head on. Our leadership teams met over dinner to discuss and design a strategy for getting to know one another. Although initially our interactions were tentative and sometimes awkward, we persevered and forged wonderful new relationships that previously were very unlikely.

Our youth met monthly and enjoyed swimming together, playing volleyball, bowling, basketball, roller- skating, worshiping at one another’s churches and other group activities too. For most of us, crossing the cultural barrier was a new experience, but one richly blessed with new understandings and insights. There were certainly challenges to overcome, such as the time we planned to visit a neighborhood swim club. I became concerned a couple of days before the event that the members of the swim club, located in a predominantly white neighborhood, might not appreciate sharing their facilities with twenty or so black teenagers. I didn’t want to assume the swim club members would be prejudiced and yet I feared that if they were, it would be very uncomfortable for our new friends to discover they were not welcome, with swim suit and towel in hand. So I called around to the board of directors of the swim club to seek permission for our use of the pool and facilities. In the end the board of directors had no issues with our use of the pool and the event went off without incident, but the awareness that something could go wrong was always in the back of my head; further evidence of the subtleness of racism.

Anyway, the night of the lock-in, the youth played basketball, swam and just had fun hanging out together and mingling until mid-night. During the two years of interaction prior to the lock-in, we never formally discussed race or anything related to race, so mid-night was selected as the right time to broach the subject. The youth were seated in a circle at center court and the discussion began. Initially the teen’s comments were general and polite. It was the consensus of the group, both black and white that racism wasn’t such a big deal. The teens felt that considerable progress had been over the years, but they didn’t feel their lives were significantly impacted by racism.

But then the girl I mentioned at the top of this article stood up and shared her story. She worked at a local convenience store as a cashier. She said, “When white people come in to pay her, especially the older white people, they lay their money on the counter because they don’t want to touch my skin.” Here was an innocent young girl sharing honestly from her heart, a very real pain she experienced regularly. She wondered why the color of her skin mattered so much and why she wasn’t good enough. This girl’s honesty provided others with permission to take off their masks too. I saw for the first time what was previously invisible to me and I have been forever changed by the courage of a teenage girl. I invite each of you to join me in taking off all of our masks so we can see what has been too long unseen. I honestly can’t remember the other stories shared that early morning, but I will never forget the girl who testified that the color of a person’s skin still matters; at least it does in her world.

Stephen C. Weaver Esq. is an attorney and President of the No Walls Ministry, Inc. located in Lynchburg Virginia, whose mission is to help churches work cross culturally and cross denominationally to address the needs of the local community.  He has been teaching, speaking, writing and engaging in inner city ministries for over twenty years with his particular interest and passion being in the area of race relations.