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Column: Racism: Whose fault is it, anyway?

Gracie Bonds Staples, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Religious News

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. -- Proverbs 4:7

We live in a world awash in information.

We know, for instance, that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Va. But most of us might not know Massachusetts was the first state to legalize slavery or that the California Supreme Court ruled a person of color could not testify in court against whites or that blacks were denied benefits under the 1935 Social Security Act and that the GI Bill that gave lump sums of money to returning World War II veterans for housing and education was to the exclusion of blacks.

We know that despite popular claims that racism and discrimination are no longer salient issues in contemporary society, African Americans continue to experience disparate treatment in everyday public interactions. And worse, most might not even care. It isn't your cross to bear.

To be sure, things aren't all bad, but it feels like it.

For some, America's racial history seems caught in a "circling roundabout" of advancement, then retrenchment, advancement, retrenchment. But what if we viewed racism through a spiritual lens that calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. What if, in getting understanding, we no longer felt the need to assign blame? And what if that meant understanding that the Christian church from the very beginning was complicit in propagating racism by the things it did and didn't do?

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Would it make a difference in the way we treat each other? Would we then finally become the beloved community the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, that God intended?

Bishop Claude Alexander, senior pastor of The Park Church, a Baptist congregation in Charlotte, N.C., has spent nearly his entire life trying to answer those questions.

And so by 1997, when a string of police-involved shootings of unarmed African Americans by white police officers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area threatened to tear the community apart along racial lines, the Morehouse College graduate was more than prepared to bring to bear what he knew by faith and years as a cultural translator growing up in the segregated South on the crisis shaped, he believed, by our almost 400-year history of slavery and racial segregation.

That year, he was among some 600 government and civic leaders who gathered to craft a response to what was happening in Charlotte, and over two days created the Community Building Initiative, a nonprofit organization tasked with achieving racial and ethnic inclusion and equity in the city.

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