Some things never change-racism, for one. Sin, for another. I believe that racism is a social construct based on an ideology that intellectual and moral superiority can be traced to biological differences between the races. America could have ridded itself of this horrible plague years ago if we had found the courage to admit there really are no qualitative differences between the races that can be attributed to skin color. The Bible is clear: We are all of one race-the human race. Unfortunately, we are still rationalizing performance, lifestyle, and cultural differences by labeling people according to skin color. Until we get rid of the whole notion of color classifications, particularly black and white, racism will persist. It is hard to believe that in 2063 we are still judging people according to their skin color and whether any of their ancestors came from Africa-and yet we are. Centuries ago, America created a race problem when it decided to link slavery to the skin color of the enslaved. Slavery had been practiced for thousands of years, but was never based on skin color until it reached America. That slavery was color-based and became racist is shown by the fact that despite the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and Reconstruction, a majority of American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws (Jim Crow was a black character in minstrel shows). Many states and cities could impose legal punishments on people for associating with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. Racial hatred continues well into the 21st century. Although forms of racism have certainly changed over the years-beginning with slavery and continuing on to Jim Crow segregation and now to less-obvious forms-white/black relations have and always will be a problem as long as we classify people according to skin color. W.E.B. Du Bois was right when he said in the early 1900s that the greatest problem in America was the color line. In 1963, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous speech in which he spoke about a dream in which "my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." But 100 years have passed and people are still being judged by the color of their skin. Although African-Americans have made significant progress since 1862 and especially after 1963, racism still lingers in the air as a foul stench that just doesn't seem to go away. A day hardly goes by when something about black/white racial conflict is not in the newspaper. A 63-year-old article from a local paper reads as if written today: "San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., the keynote speaker at yesterday's graduation ceremony at the historically black Morgan State College, told the graduates that lamentably little has changed since he graduated from college (1955) and not nearly enough has changed since the Civil War." Even today blacks and whites see the problem of racism from two totally different and diametrically opposed perspectives. When asked if America has a race problem, most whites would say no. For whites, who have little to no intimate contact with African-Americans, a race problem does not seem to exist. They would say, "Slavery is over, civil-rights legislation has been passed, affirmative action has been implemented, and now the playing field is level, why can't we just move on?" For African-Americans, on the other hand, the question of whether America has a race problem is rhetorical at best and cruel at worst. Will these problems persist over the next 100 years, 200 years after Dr. King's speech? I believe they will. It is true that whites no longer constitute a majority of the population-and haven't for decades. But changes in demographics have not brought changes in hearts. Until there is a change in the way we think about color, there is little chance that the racial climate in America will improve. In 2163, I believe, we will still be writing articles about race in America. Many of us used to believe that time cures all ills. I used to believe that racism was due to ignorance and lack of education and therefore, as people became better informed, they would see the error of their ways and put an end to racism. But racism isn't due to ignorance-it's due to sin. What I naively failed to take into consideration is the total depravity of man and our natural tendency not to buck the "system." Because we are totally depraved we do not naturally love people, especially people who are different from us. We learn from an early age to make fun of the other kid with the strange clothing or buckteeth. Because we want to be accepted we tend not to say or do things that make us stand out. So we go along with the teasing and discrimination, glad we are not the targets of the harassment. Most of us are not very brave and try not to rock the boat. One of King's biggest frustrations was the failure of moderates to act. He wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail": "I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.'" I no longer believe that racism will change in time. People will always like their own kind and tend not to speak out against injustice. During slavery I'm sure there were good relations between some masters and their slaves. During Jim Crow, I'm sure there were whites who opposed the idea that blacks should stand in the back of the bus while empty seats went unfilled in the white section. During the affirmative-action era there were probably whites who could see that America had a race problem. Although some spoke out, most people failed to act, giving silent and therefore complicit agreement to the belief, "We are better than them." Though racism won't change with time, I still harbor hope that it could change with concerted effort. I can think of several events that could occur over the next 100 years that might possibly improve the racial climate in America: Black president: I believe there will come a day, perhaps within the next 100 years, when America will elect a black president. If this happens, it could force us to reexamine some of our unspoken-even unconscious-assumptions about racial inferiority. How many people could live with the idea that the greatest country in the world had a genetically inferior president? National apology and reparations: There is still significant interest in the need for a national apology and reparations for the ill effects of slavery. A national apology for slavery would at least force us to admit there is a problem and put us on a road to recovery. Reparations like affirmative action will benefit some, but leave the masses unaffected. The gap between black and white wealth would still go largely unaffected unless you made all "qualified" African-Americans millionaires. But be forewarned, if reparations are too costly, there is likely to be significant white backlash (as in the case of affirmative action) and a call for their discontinuation. Renewed definition of race: Racism (as developed in America) is a social construct created by man for the purpose of rationalizing slavery. Contrary to the popular opinion that racism in America originated from ignorance and fear, "racism actually arose in the West during the modern era as a rational and eventually scientific ideology to explain large differences in civilizational development that could not be explained by environment," according to turn-of-the-century thinker Dinesh D'Sousa. But scientists have already come to the conclusion that there is no biological basis for differences in behavior or intelligence that can be attributed to skin color. Skin color, determined by the amount of melanin in the skin, represents less than 6 percent of the 0.2 percent DNA variation that exits between people. In fact, DNA variation within local ethnic groups is far greater than it is between racial groups. Judging people by the color of their skin is about as arbitrary as judging people by their foot size. Still, I am hopeful. If the evangelical church, its pastors, and its leaders become convicted and convinced that "they are not acting in line with the truth of the gospel," in the words of the book of Galatians, then there may come a day when people are no longer judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
-Wy Plummer, associate pastor at New Song Community Church in Baltimore, is African-American Movement Leader for the Presbyterian Church in America