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America's Original Sin: Racism, White…
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America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a…

by Jim Wallis

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Summary: Explores our nation's deeply ingrained history of racism and particularly the challenges facing white Christians in bridging these racial divides.

"The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."

The author of this book contends that this sentence, in a 1987 issue of Sojourners, was the most controversial sentence he ever wrote. The controversy behind that statement supports the thesis of this book, that racism is America's "original sin," a part of our beginnings as a nation that we have wrestled with throughout our national existence, but never truly repented of.

Wallis begins with his own story of growing up in Detroit and working with Butch, a black man who opened his eyes to two very different Detroits and two different realities--for example "the talk" that all black parents have with their children when they learn to drive that white parents do not have with theirs. This concerns how to act if stopped by the police, where to put one's hands and so forth. He considers Ferguson, and Baltimore, two cities riven with turmoil after police-involved shootings of black men as parables revealing the racial fault lines in the American story. He then reviews our past history and current demographics and events to show that our attitudes around race are indeed our national "original sin" that only profound repentance can heal.

The next chapters explore the nature of true, rather than superficial, repentance, and that this means for the white community to which he writes a "dying" to our whiteness as we recognize the "white privilege" we have enjoyed. I suspect that for many this may be some of the most controversial material. I find this language uncomfortable. I grew up in a working class neighborhood and didn't feel terribly "privileged" compared to more affluent people in the suburbs ringing my city. It was not until later years that I understood blacks had been red-lined out of our area of the city and I had the benefit of attending one of the best city schools with over 95 percent of the students being white. I began to realize the privilege that I had enjoyed in a racialized society. It also separated me from blacks in my city, made them an "other" who were treated differently in retail establishments, by the police and more. Real repentance means, even though I didn't choose this "privilege," to acknowledge that I have benefited from a sinful division of people, to not hold onto or idolize "whiteness" and to begin to intentionally seek a very different future.

The place, Wallis contends, where we begin, is the church, still a highly segregated entity. It means listening to different ethnic voices, and submitting to leadership from ethnicity other than one's own. Another important place to begin is in the policing of our communities, where police move from being warriors to guardians and where police become integral part of the communities they protect and serve so that both they and their communities affirm both that black lives matter and that blue lives matter. It begins with advocating for restorative justice rather than a new form of Jim Crow justice with differential incarceration rates for the same crimes depending on one's race.

Dealing with the sin of race extends to our immigration policies. Until our recent election cycle, there was a growing conversation in the evangelical community supporting immigration reform. Reading this post-election seemed like reading from a different world. Even the chapter title, "Welcoming the Stranger" seems foreign. Wallis then concludes the book talking about "crossing the bridge to a new America." One of the most compelling passages for me was the interaction Wallis had with a group of fifth graders in a Washington, DC public school, who asked Wallis why Congress seemed afraid to change the immigration system. He writes:

"I paused to consider their honest question and looked around the room--the classroom of a public school fifth-grade class in Washington DC. I looked at their quizzical and concerned faces, a group of African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and European American children. Then it hit me.

'They are afraid of you,' I replied

'Why would they be afraid of us?' the shocked students asked, totally perplexed. I had to tell them.

'They are afraid you are the future of America. They're afraid their country will someday look like this class--that you represent what our nation is becoming.'"

Re-reading this passage, I think of a Sunday School song I grew up with, admittedly one that indulged in some stereotypes about skin color for which I apologize, and yet that represented the underlying gospel values of my white evangelical congregation:

"Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Wallis's quote challenged me with the reality of whether we will love all the children of the world that God is gathering in our country, or fear them. Will we see that fifth-grade classroom as the realization of our deep gospel values, and strive for churches that reflect this in our love and our life. Or will we remain racially separate, hiding behind walls of fear, saying that it is OK for Jesus to love these children as long as they are somewhere else in the world.

Wallis contends we stand at the approach to a bridge between the racist America of the past and a different America that values "all the children of the world" in our midst. His book is an invitation for white evangelical America to walk the way of repentance and cross that bridge rather than walk away from it. I'm reminded that God does not forbear forever. If we miss this chance, dare we presume there will be another? ( )
1 vote BobonBooks | Dec 7, 2016 |
If it were up to me, I would require every American, especially every white American to read this book now and talk about it. I'll have the talking opportunity in a couple of weeks when my local reading group gets together.
Jim Wallis is a hero of mine. He is the founder of Sojourners, an evangelical Christian who understands that the faith is about how we treat each other. His springboard for this little book is the fact that by 2045 the United States will no longer be a country with a white majority. The European American population will be a minority among minorities. The trouble comes when this white minority continues to cling to its white privilege, which benefits us every day in ways that we white people are ignorant of.
Wallis chooses statistics carefully and notes when they are not available. (For example, nobody is keeping a total of the number of men of color killed annually by police officers in this country.) He then analyzes what he sees and offers the beginnings of solutions. Chapter titles give an overview of the contents:
Race Is a Story; The Parables of Ferguson and Baltimore; The Original Sin and Its Legacy; Repentance Means More than Just Saying You're Sorry; Dying To Whiteness; A Segregated Church or a Beloved Community?; From Warriors to Guardians; The New Jim Crow and Restorative Justice; Welcoming the Stranger; Crossing the Bridge to a New America.
White parents may be able to guess the content of the talk that all black parents have with their young sons about police officers. This white woman was incredibly naive about the effect of the War Against Drugs on the black community. The arguments grow out of Wallis's faith, but people of all faiths and no faith will be welcomed and challenged by reading this book. ( )
3 vote LizzieD | May 8, 2016 |
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America's problem with race has deep roots, with the country's foundation tied to the near extermination of one race of people and the enslavement of another. Racism is truly our nation's original sin. "It's time we right this unacceptable wrong," says bestselling author and leading Christian activist Jim Wallis. Fifty years ago, Wallis was driven away from his faith by a white church that considered dealing with racism to be taboo. His participation in the civil rights movement brought him back when he discovered a faith that commands racial justice. Yet as recent tragedies confirm, we continue to suffer from the legacy of racism. The old patterns of white privilege are colliding with the changing demographics of a diverse nation. The church has been slow to respond, and Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week. In America's Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians -- particularly white Christians -- urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing. Whenever divided cultures and gridlocked power structures fail to end systemic sin, faith communities can help lead the way to grassroots change. Probing yet positive, biblically rooted yet highly practical, this book shows people of faith how they can work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a multiracial church and a new America.… (more)

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