The Other America

I’d like to say I am free of bias, but that wouldn’t be completely honest.

I am a Bruin through and through and if you love UCLA, there is one school you do NOT love – USC also known as the University of Second Choice.  We had quite a few other names for them as well, but many of them can’t be repeated in church.  How anyone could be a fan of “that other school” is beyond me.  UCLA is the #1 public university in the nation, the most applied school in the country, the second most national championships, and in the top 20 among all universities – public or private.[1] But USC is known for some things, too.  For four times the cost, you too can attend this less prestigious school and if you have trouble getting in apparently you can pay Rick Singer to help you out.  If you need a reference, just ask actress Lori Loughlin of Full House fame.[2]  But in all seriousness…USC is a horrible school.  Just kidding.  Rivalries run deep.  But if we’re not careful, friendly rivalries can turn into something more than just innocent jabs at one another and become much more insidious.  We’ve seen people take to vandalism and property damage over something as silly as a school football game.  But there’s a lot worse that can happen, too.  I still remember Giants’ fan, Bryan Stow who was beaten outside of Dodgers Stadium for no other reason than wearing a Buster Posey jersey.[3]  He was in a coma and it has taken him a very long time to recover.  I don’t know if he ever fully will.  Not long after that, there was a fan-related shooting at a Raiders-Niners preseason game where two people got gunned down.[4]  And who can forget the riots in Vancouver when the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup?  301 people were eventually arrested, 140 people were injured, 4 were stabbed and 9 police officers were hurt.[5]  Over a hockey game. 

Rivalries are fun…unless they get out of hand

Imagine…if people can get this violent, defensive, and worked up over a ball game…

What happens when it comes to problems and issues rooted even deeper in our communities?  As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s hard not to reflect on the violence surrounding the racism that still exists in America.  Racism runs far deeper than school rivalries or baseball legacies.  Racism is fed to us, introduced to us, and perpetuated in small, insidious ways. It affects us deeply, and far too often, those of us who have to live with it learn to develop callouses over our souls to protect us from the harm that it does to our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth, and our pride.  We do such a good job of covering it up, people think it doesn’t exist anymore.  And for a while I even believed it.  “We live in a post-racial society.”  Except we don’t.  And I hate to break it to you for those of you lucky enough not to be a victim of racism or racist beliefs, but it’s still out there.  People are trying to make us aware of it so we can do something about it, but I hear others complaining that those scholars and educators and activists who are talking about it are the ones CREATING it.  It’s like when you clean up the house, but don’t have time to really do a good job and you throw half of it under the bed – it’s like, “Don’t look under there!”  If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  But it does. 

There was a speech Dr. King gave 55 years ago.

It was called, “The Other America.”  And in it, he shared some very prophetic words I’d like to share again with you today.  Here’s what he said,

Now the other thing that we’ve got to come to see now that many of us didn’t see too well during the last ten years — that is that racism is still alive in American society. And much more widespread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.

To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior. And this is the great tragedy of it.

Remember, he wrote this 55 years ago and what haunts me is how relevant these words still are today.  Racism is still here.  And just like Dr. King said, it’s much more widespread than most of us realized.  The idea that one group, one race is responsible for all the good in America and none of the bad is a delusion of the self.  And Dr. King was right in another way – the logical conclusion to racism is genocide.  Now, we may not be throwing people into camps, but we are causing a much slower death by attrition.  By denial.  By refusing to make the changes necessary to provide equal opportunity for us all.  Racism is still just as insidious as it has ever been.  It’s so easy for us to think racism is gone because we had swept it under the rug for so long until someone comes along and gives us all permission to be racist once again. 

It happens in such small innocent (and not so innocent) ways.

We don’t even think about it at the time.  Like when growing up, people would comment on how good my English was.  Why wouldn’t it be?  And they said it as if it was a compliment, like I should genuinely be proud of my “good English.”  You might think, “Well, that’s not racist.  They just didn’t know.”  But would you make that same comment to a blonde hair, blue-eyed kid?  Or when people assumed I was good at math because, you know, all Asian kids are good at math (admittedly I was).  Until my cousin became a deputy in the Sheriff’s department, I was genuinely afraid of the police.  I remember taking driving lessons from both my parents and they said, “If you’re ever pulled over for a ticket, put your hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, and ask for permission before reaching over to get your driver’s license and registration.”  I remember asking why and they said, “If you make any sudden moves, they might think you’re going to reach for a gun and could shoot you.”  You can believe I never forgot that lesson.  I never even put two and two together that this might have anything to do with race until a comedian brought it up in a stand-up skit how his white friends had no fear of the police, and I asked Cassie, “Did you ever get taught that?”  And she said, “No” like it had never crossed her mind.  Racism doesn’t have to be all white hoods and burning crosses.  It can be as subtle as speaking “good English.”

Both as a church and as the people of Christ, we have to be on the alert to our own prejudices.

Whether they are as simple as a school rivalry or as complex as systemic racism in America.  We need to dig deeper to insure we are pulling up the roots of racism and not simply trimming back the weeds.  As we reflect back on Dr. King’s legacy, I can’t help but echo the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians when he wrote: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3) It’s time we started acting like it.  Thankfully, that movement has begun.  Over the past 20 years, congregations have become more racially diverse, but we have a long way to go.  Findings by Baylor University show that while the number of diverse congregations have nearly tripled,[6] we still lag behind the ever-changing demographics of our neighborhood.  Closing that gap is important for the church to grow and recent studies bear that out.  In a study of 20,000 United Methodist churches, racially diverse churches had higher attendance levels than monochromatic churches over time[7] and as neighborhoods become more diverse, it will be important for our congregations to reach out and embrace those changes.  Which is only one reason why BMUC needs to move beyond its ethnic heritage and embrace the wider community.  Staying monochromatic doesn’t work and we are very monochromatic.[8] But other than our own survival, it makes sense.  Both geographically and Biblically.  Reaching out to our community who live within walking distance of our church would reasonably increase attendance since they live so close.  And Biblically, it’s hard to ignore that passage from Revelation: “…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9).”  God means for us to live in harmony with one another.  It’s how he designed us. 

Our landscape was redone to be more welcoming and invitingg

It’s hard to let go of what we are familiar with.

But we have to ask ourselves, is this what was meant to be?  Or are we created for something MORE?  We could, for many long years, stay safely inside our monochromatic bubble.  But would we then be advancing the very gospel we say we believe in?  Or would we be playing it safe, afraid of the changes it might bring about, afraid of losing our heritage, when the truth is, we would be preserving our heritage by building on the foundations laid down by those saints who came before.  Just as this church redesigned the landscaping of our building to become more inviting and welcoming, so we can redesign the landscape of our church to do the same.  Let us continue to be that neighborhood church where everyone is welcome and together we can transform lives in the name of Jesus Christ.  And to echo the words of Dr. King one last time, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities ; http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/champs_records_book/Overall.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_college_admissions_bribery_scandal ; to be fair, there were students who got into UCLA using Rick’s “side door” technique (what most of us call bribery).  The vast majority however attended USC.

[3] https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/10/us/bryan-stow-giants-first-pitch-spt-trnd/index.html

[4] https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/6881597/two-shot-candlestick-park-parking-lot-oakland-raiders-san-francisco-49ers-game

[5]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Vancouver_Stanley_Cup_riot#:~:text=The%202011%20Vancouver%20Stanley%20Cup%20riot%20was%20a,Finals%2C%20which%20won%20the%20Stanley%20Cup%20for%20Boston.

[6] https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=220972

[7] https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=222716

[8] Our membership in 2021 was 176 and of those 152 were identified as Asian.  Only 24 were multiracial or of another ethnic background.  By definitions commonly used, a diverse congregation is at least 20% or higher of some other ethnicity.

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