President Barack Obama delivered a remarkable commencement address recently at Morehouse College It was a speech that focused on the responsibilities of the young black men who were about to seek their fortunes in the world as graduates of one of the leading black educational institutions in this country. The young men were exhorted to take personal responsibility for their lives and to resist blaming this country’s racism for the obstacles that they may encounter in the future.
The President said, “There is no longer any room for excuses… nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.… Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”
The newly-minted graduates were told to be role models for others, to “keep hustling, keep on your grind, and get other folks to do the same.”
Now, despite these lofty preachments in the President’s speech which undoubtedly played well in White America, many in the black community were concerned that his words harkened back to the days of Jim Crow segregation, when Booker T. Washington admonished black people to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. It was not lost on some that just like those early days of the 20th century, this century still finds too many Black Americans without boots.
Disturbingly missing from the President’s address to these young men, was a warning of just how dangerous it is to be a black man in America today.
There was no mention, for instance, of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot down outside a gated community in Florida by a white self-appointed vigilante.
No words of warning about the reality that young black men are more than three times as likely to be stopped on suspicion of having engaged in criminal activity than young white men. Nothing was said about the reality of mass incarceration of black men at a rate that defies rational explanation.
The President also did not draw attention to the fact that in the very city in which he presently resides, Washington, D.C., 3 out of every 4 young black men can expect to serve some time in prison.  No warning was issued that in some cities, over 80% of young black men have criminal records which will most certainly lead to a lifetime sentence of hopelessness and poverty.
My brother has three sons. And as a black father, here are the realities that he has found it necessary to teach his sons.
Regardless of how many privileges they enjoy;
Regardless of what prep and Ivy League schools they may have attended;
Regardless of the fact that they are the offspring of two highly educated parents who regularly attend a predominantly white professional and upper middle class Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina;
At the end of the day, those young men cannot escape the fact that they are and will be the object of an irrational hate, fear, stereotype and discrimination that they played no part in creating.
This is after all, presumably the Year of Our Lord 2013, and not 1913. But the Supreme Court’s recent decision effectively emasculating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 suggests otherwise. Nor did the Court’s decision regarding the precarious future of affirmative action allay the growing anxiety that the clock is being turned back.
Sadly, no one, including our own churches, is calling this nation and its people to account.
No one questions why our schools and neighborhoods are more segregated now than they were in 1954.
No one demands to know why the gap between black and white children’s educational test scores has not narrowed significantly.
No one condemns the environmental racism that systematically locates toxic waste sites in our poorest urban neighborhoods where black people disproportionately live.
No one wants to confront the realities of racial profiling, the mass incarceration of untold numbers of black men in our prisons, nor the persistence of a system of racialized social control known as the criminal justice system that is every bit as pernicious and destructive of black lives as Jim Crow ever was.
What Martin Luther King called the “congenital deformity” of racism is still embedded deep within the American psyche.
And until we look deep within ourselves and wrestle with some of our own demons that reside there, we will remain what David Shipler so aptly called us -- A Country of Strangers. And we will continue to condemn and sentence to life on the margins of our society those who we have determined to beyond our circle of concern.
What better place to carry on God’s work than in our own congregations--our faith communities? To move beyond our expectations that the “Other” must be culturally assimilated and made to conform to our norms and our value systems. Instead, how can we endeavor to create a “beloved community” of all God’s people who prized and valued for who they are as Children of God?
Within our church communities, we must actively and intentionally be about the work of restoration, reconciliation and justice--working tirelessly to realize God’s incessant call to live in a just and caring community:
- To embrace our inter-relatedness
- To confess our interdependence
- To acknowledge our sameness and worthiness in the eyes of God [Do the words, “Made in the image of God” sound familiar?]
- To reconcile the world-- seeking to restore all things to right relationship with the Creator, and with one another
- To examine deeply how we have both consciously and unconsciously become the instruments of one another’s oppression
So the question of the moment quite simply is what kind of church shall we choose to be?
 The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.