'Class' is in session

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 3/22/2012, 4:07 p.m.
"The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." It has...
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

"The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line."

It has been more than 100 years since W.E.B. Du Bois penned those poignant and prophetic words. Du Bois not only understood the dark shadow cast by issues of race, but also how racism undermines America's noblest ideals.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are all fractured ambitions in a United States that has been and is consumed with race and infected with racism. This country, born of bruising and bloodshed, has always had a moral blind spot when it comes to the issue of race. This inherent hypocrisy was not only evident in the founding document of this tremendous nation but was evident during the creation of the Declaration of Independence.

While this country's Founding Fathers were deliberating over a document that would formally announce their break from British tyranny and declare their liberation from the grip of oppression, many of them were guilty of enslaving the sons and daughters of Africa. From its founding to this present day, America has been crippled by issues revolving around race. The racialization of America is a sad but tragic reality, and conversations about race, at times, seem unending. It has become popular, if not trendy, to talk about race in our country. Documentaries and television specials abound with regard to the issue of race. One could debate the efficacy and sophistication of conversations about race, but it cannot be denied that in this country, much attention is given to race.

Author and activist Gloria Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks (intentionally not capitalized), noted, "Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about race or gender; the uncool subject is class. It's the subject that makes us all tense, nervous, uncertain about where we stand." She went on to write, "Our nation is fast becoming a class-segregated society, where the plight of the poor is forgotten and the greed of the rich is morally tolerated and condoned.

"As a nation, we are afraid to have a dialogue about class even though the ever-widening gap between rich and poor has already set the stage for ongoing and sustained class warfare."

There is a dangerous and destructive legacy of racial segregation in our country, but we cannot negate the sustained, and sometimes simultaneous, prevalence of segregation by class on these hallowed shores. One must remember that the document that binds this country, the Declaration of Independence, was penned and signed by landowners and slaveholders, the bearers of wealth in their day. The reality is that the issues of race and class have been intertwined in the fabric of this country from its birth.

One only needs to take a cursory glance at the cultural landscape of our country to see that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. According to U.S. Census Bureau data released in September of 2011, the nation's poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent (46.2 million) in 2010, up from 14.3 percent (approximately 43.6 million) in 2009, its highest level since 1993.

It was the late William Sloane Coffin, the former pastor of Riverside Church, who reminded us that if we are going to be true and truthful to this country, we cannot be afraid to talk about poverty as well as prejudice, of class as well as race.

In her book, "Where We Stand: Class Matters," hooks writes: "We live in a society where the poor have no public voice. No wonder it has taken so long for many citizens to recognize class--to become class conscious." We must begin to have serious conversations about the impact of classism in our country and our community because the quickest way to lose one's humanity is to begin to tolerate the intolerable.