Thursday, May 17, 2018

Conservatives, we must be willing to talk about race

  I’m a proud product of public schools. My teachers were dedicated, the curriculum challenging, and the fierce competition between friends forced me to study harder.

  I do have one qualm, though. Thanks to historically-selective textbooks, I remember next to nothing of our nation’s history between the Civil War and World War I. My knowledge of that era is essentially three things: railroads, long-bearded presidents, and Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T.

  I don’t think I’m alone in encountering this knowledge gap. Thankfully, a new museum and memorial in Montgomery fills in some of the spaces left out of my historical timeline and beyond. The memorial demonstrates that, although formally war-less, these decades were anything but peaceful or boring. In fact, many Southerners faced a frightening reality during that period—a reality characterized by racial terrorism.

  The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the accompanying Legacy Museum document over 4,400 lynchings of African Americans from 1877-1950. Image bearers of God were hanged, burned, shot, forcefully drowned, stabbed, and beaten, often in front of crowds of white onlookers Sundays after church.

  The museum and memorial, only blocks from a Jefferson Davis statue at the State Capitol, is another voice in the national conversation about race: a conversation heightened by videos of police shootings of unarmed African American men, racially-motivated riots, and the forced removal of two African American men meeting at a Starbucks.

  Some believe that this public discussion is leading to more racial tension—that whatever injustices occurred or are occurring are better kept quiet. Time, they say, will heal old wounds.

  Time, however, has not healed this festering wound.

  A team of researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau released a study on race and economic mobility in March. It reveals that, while white boys raised in rich families tend to stay rich or in the upper middle class as adults, African American boys raised in rich families likely will not.

  In addition to being disheartening and frustrating, this study reveals an ugly and undeniable truth—that racism’s powerful hand still punishes African Americans regardless of wealth, status, or neighborhood.

  Furthermore, a report by the United States Sentencing Commission reveals that African American men incur sentences that are almost 20% longer than white men who commit the same crime and have a similar background.

  The evidence is clear: African Americans face unique social and economic hurdles simply because of the color of their skin.

  Within the bridge of one of my favorite songs—a song that most Alabamians have likely sung at church before—is the line “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Friends, these things—racism that impacts our brothers and sisters’ prosperity, racially-motivated murder, and our own prejudices—these are the problems that should be breaking our hearts. We know that they break His.

  Even so, there is a hesitancy to talk about race among many conservatives. One reason for this hesitancy is the almost-involuntary reaction against anything historically heralded by those who identify as progressive. Another is the worry that to elevate the worst parts of our history is to deny American exceptionalism. Yet another reason for this hesitancy is the assumption that talking about discrimination and racism encourages a victim-mentality that a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude can’t engage.

  Unfortunately, however, some conservatives have ignored the problem for so long that many African Americans find themselves understandably perceiving one side to believe that racism exists—a reality African Americans experience regularly—and another side that seemingly does not.

  Thankfully, some conservative groups are actively addressing racism and seeking racial reconciliation, including many conservative Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination created to excuse slavery, and its political arm—the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)—are now strong champions of racial reconciliation.

  They, along with other conservative Christians, are taking the commands of God through Isaiah to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice [and] correct oppression” seriously.

  Painted on the outside of the Legacy Museum in Montgomery are these words from Maya Angelou.

    “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

  Conservatives, we can talk about race, and we must. If we do not—if we fail to address and honestly grapple with the lasting effects of history—we will soon lose both our credibility and any power we once had to influence policy. This is a human issue that Americans, no matter their ideology, cannot afford to ignore.

  About the author: Originally from Memphis, Parker Snider graduated from Samford University with an honors degree in Political Science in May 2017. Before graduation, Parker interned with the Alabama Policy Institute, the United States House of Representatives, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. After graduation and until returning to API as Public Relations Manager, Parker worked full-time for multiple statewide senatorial campaigns.

  This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.

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