I am a 62-year old African American male born and raised in the United States of America. That is my 17-word self-descriptor (or as a friend more succinctly opines, “we black men of a certain age”) that serves as euphemism for my blunter half-as-long self-characterization: I see everything through the lens of race.
To elaborate. In 1952, I was born. In Missouri, via the eponymous Compromise, admitted to the Union in 1820 as a slave state. In St. Louis, home of the Old Courthouse where Dred and Harriet Scott initiated their 1846 lawsuit to obtain their emancipation and, in 1861, the site of the last known slave sale in the city. In 1970 (as I wrote in a previous blog post, looking race in the eye, August 14), “I graduated from high school and from college in 1974, thus coming of age after the Civil Rights Era…and during the Black Power movement.” Somewhere along my life’s course, I came to believe that a nation that formed itself as a union on the economic, political, and social foundation of institutional slavery forever would bear in its body the DNA-strain and in its soul the stain of racism. And – though, yes, I know the meaning of self-fulfilling prophecy and I am aware of the spiritual matter of being preconditioned to see what it is I believe – little in my experience dissuades me from my perception.
The mid-term national, regional, and local elections are over. Republican Congressional and gubernatorial candidates fared well. The Democrats, not so much, save in places like the District of Columbia, where I live, which is an historic Democratic Party stronghold. Muriel Bowser is DC’s mayor-elect, the second woman to hold the post since the inauguration of District home rule.
Throughout the mayoral campaign, the issue, the reality of race was downplayed, as, I think, is de rigueur in circles of enlightened, progressive thinkers. Nevertheless, Ms. Bowser, as all of her predecessors, is African American and her opponents, David Catania and Carol Schwartz are white. Moreover, even a cursory look at DC’s electoral map reveals that Ms. Bowser swept into office by carrying the eastern half of the District, not coincidentally, the locale of predominantly black precincts. The preponderance of votes for her closer competitor, Mr. Catania, came from neighborhoods west of the north-south running 16th Street corridor, for generations a white-black demarcation line. Further, Mr. Catania garnered substantial support in parts of the city considered notably affluent, for example, Capitol Hill and Georgetown, which raises for me the specter of racism’s twin, classism.
Harkening back to another previous blog post (standing somewhere, September 22), I think of Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman who beseeches his aid in healing her daughter. He declines, citing his mission to his own people, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” With the persistence of maternal love, she, challenging the brusque dismissal, replies, “Yes, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Matt O’Brien, in his Wonkblog post, 1% of voters say economy is “excellent.” Perhaps they are rich?, appearing in this morning’s Washington Post (Section A, page 9), observes that Democrats were pummeled on election day largely because voters are disenchanted with the economy, and this despite a current several month period of stable growth. This widespread discontent can be traced to the quarter century stagnation in take home pay for middle class workers and, I aver, the continuing growing wealth-disparity between whites and blacks. O’Brien writes, “amid all this doom and gloom, the exit polls tell us that 1 percent of Americans actually believe the economy is ‘excellent’.” These are the rich who “command a bigger share of the income pie than…at any time since 1928.”
In response to the Canaanite woman’s bold challenge, Jesus said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed. Not to stretch this biblical story beyond reasonable shape and sense, it is not difficult for me to make a metaphorical connection between the 1 percent of our American households and the master’s table. And with the elections over – though, yes, attention before and now is turned to the presidential campaigns and Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, 2016 – I pray those in office, in regard to our persistent problems of addressing in helpful, hopeful ways the twin scourges of race and class, will have the spiritual grace of generosity and the gumption of political will to discern how more than crumbs might fall so to be shared with all.