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  • Dr. John Tharp

Race and Racism in America

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

As we begin our summer months we can look back to where we have been in order to focus on the present and what we need to do now to build a better future. Covid-19, mass business closures and unemployment, natural disasters and the killings of innocent people- namely African American males, have all shocked our collective conscience so far this year. It is precisely in tough and uncertain times that we need the best in all of us to emerge as we work to make the necessary changes to improve the lives of everyone.

For white Americans each of us has a responsibility to understand the conditions that others face in our society. This understanding is needed in order to help our country fully commit and live up to the ideals that our nation was founded on in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Two books stand out as foundational in gaining a better understanding of how our country impacts African Americans- both are by Derrick Bell, who was a Dean, Professor of Law at Harvard as well as a Civil Rights lawyer. The books are Face at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism and And We are Not Saved: the Elusive Quest for Racial Justice. While Bell lays bear the complicated relationship of Black subordination to white self esteem in America, he does offer hope that while the missed opportunities, the wrong roads taken and the overpowering fear that have so far prevented us from achieving racial equality, we still have hope because as whites we have both the individual and the collective choice to alter course and embrace the humanity of people of color and end the subjugation of this race of people.  

Other books to read for a foundation into understanding Black America include the following:

  • Black Boy and Native Son, both by Richard Wright

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

  • Song of Solomon and Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, with Alex Haley,

  • Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Leron Bennett

  • From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans by John Hope Franklin

  • Where We Stand: Class Matters by Bell Hooks.

Also, watch the documentary film, Eyes on the Prize, a fourteen part series about the Civil Rights Movement.

While it is concerning that 50 plus years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we have yet to fully narrow the economic, educational and opportunity gaps between races of people, with a full commitment to first understanding the plight of minorities and disadvantaged people and then choosing to practice anti-racism in daily living we will then begin to narrow and end the discriminatory practices that are perpetuated in all facets of society.

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