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Sermons: “The Current and Future State of Ethnic Relations

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning and an even greater thanks for the work that you all have done and continue to do in the name of social justice and social equality. I am especially thrilled to speak today because we are experiencing monumental changes in our society. Tomorrow in Fort Collins, Loveland and around the country communities will be celebrating Martin Luther King Day and not only honoring the man, his vision, and his accomplishments but even more important is the honoring of hundreds and thousands like him whom we will never know their names. These individuals were not fighting solely for integration or social equality but were also fighting for recognition and the ability to live their lives with dignity. This years theme is “A Time for Change” and this is especially true in terms of race relations in this country today. Many of you have seen the recent footage of the Black man shot by the White officers while laying helpless on the ground with a number of other officers standing around. As horrifying as this is, it is just as crucial that we understand and address racial issues in our own community. On Tuesday, we will be seeing the changing of the guard and the inauguration of the first bi-racial, or non-white, President of the United States. This is not only significant because a so-called Black man (bi-racial) will be running one of the most powerful countries in the world but it also significant because it is an example of how far race relations have come in this country. Barack Obama received many votes from White America and even won in states that were predominantly white or had previously voted Republican. Hopefully, we will no longer have folks that were born on third base yet give themselves credit for hitting a triple assuming powerful leadership positions in society. The election of Obama is significant not only because of what he may or may not do while in office but it is also significant because it is a watershed in American politics and race relations. Both King and Obama started out as community leaders before they moved on to the national stage. They both embraced ideas of equality and justice. Both these men stressed their duties over their individual grievances, their opportunities to lead over their difficulties, the means rather than the ends, and both deeply believed in a strong sense of community.

I am here this morning to talk with you about the current and future state of ethnic relations and there are a variety of ways to go about it. Most, if not all, of you in the room today know the statistics and the situation of ethnic minorities in not only this country but particularly in our own communities, cities, and county. Hispanics make up 17% or the U.S. population, Blacks 15%, Asians 6%, and Natives 2% yet they are well behind the average American in terms of educational attainment, socioeconomic standing, they are high on the roles of our prison inmates, and lack many of the opportunities and privileges that many of us take for granted on a daily basis. In Larimer county alone Blacks make up .9% of the population and 4% of those in the Detention Center and Latinos 9.8% of the population and 22.5% in detention. The national numbers are even more appauling. In terms of education, 26% of Americans have a four year degree yet only 11% of Latinos and 17% of Blacks can claim this. An astounding 24% of Latinos drop out of high school and the numbers are even greater for the state of Colorado. Less than 60% of Black males have finished high school and almost 29% of all Black children live below the poverty level and over 55% are born out-of-wedlock. If this was the case for the nation at-large, Congress and the President would have already declared a national crisis and intervened to address these concerns. Why is it alright for this to happen to some while others either ignore, are ignorant, or turn the other cheek to these problems? It is true that we have made great strides in ethnic relations and the numbers I have listed, at least in some categories, are rapidly changing. Even the number of interracial marriages is on the rise yet for many in this country these numbers still hold true. What W.E.B. DuBois said over a hundred years ago still applies today and the “problem of the 21st century is the problem of the color line”. Issues of social stratification, structured social inequality, structured discrimination, racial and ethnic oppression, and the persistence of inequality are realities for many people of color in this society. I have heard individuals at CSU and in the Ft. Collins/Loveland community say that there is no racial problem in northern Colorado or that there are not enough minoroties in this community to be impacted by such probems. It seems that many lack a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of racial and ethnic relations.

Therefore, many people in areas around the country, such as Larimer county, do not see this as their problem and even those that do are clueless as to how to go about changing this. There is an old riddle that says “if five frogs were sitting on a log and four decide to leap off how many frogs are left on that log?” To many the answer is one but in reality the answer is five!! There is a major difference between deciding and doing and for too many years people have decided that inequality, discrimination, and injustice are wrong but have failed to act and do something about it or they do not realize that they can do something about it in their own communities. It is not just about the numbers but what can we as individuals do to make the future one we can be proud of and one that promotes equality of opportunity? We live in a mobile society and what we do in Larimer county can and does have an impact in other areas of this state and even in other areas of this country. When individuals move they take with them the morals, values, and ethnics from the area they move from. We must let others know that this is an area that welcomes and appreciates everyone for their contributions to our communities regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or country of origin. Equality, freedom, and justice are what people are seeking.

These are personal and collective dilemmas yet there is an interrelatedness and a need to recognize our dependence on each other because our destinies are tied together. You realize this with the work you as an organization do abroad and the same is true of the work we do in our own communities. We do have a choice and in celebrating and recognizing King and Obama over the next couple of days we need to be faithful to their dreams, hopes, and courage in this struggle to be more inclusive if we want to make King’s dream become a reality.

I am tired of people asking me how to interpret the Black community. I supposedly live in a diverse community but if I move the community is no longer diverse! We must redefine what we mean by community if we are to impact ethnic relations in this society. We must move from being balkanized to being unified. Community is a fundamental element of American society. It is a fundemental and enduring form of social interaction and despite drastic social change, both the capacity and need for community endure. People in a true community are dependent on one another and their real identity and function are tied to the contributions they make to the community and they way in which they are embraced by that community. Many do not even realize the economic and social situation of members of our own community, particularly for people of color in our community. Many are homeless, unable to meet their basic needs, and otherwise suffering. If the community no longer exists as an effective source of support then an important part of the self has disappeared. We as individuals should derive meanigful satisfaction from the act of giving and producing something that is both sanctioned and needed by the rest of community because a good part or our personal strength comes from the reflected strength of the community. People in a true community are dependent on one another and their real identity and function are tied to the contributions they make to the community. Let everyone be a part of the communities success and the community will truly be successful. Benjamin Franklin once said “if we do not hang together then most assuredly we will all hang separately.” The true measure of a community is not by their wealth or political power but by the way in which they treat members that are suffering, outcast, minorities, or excluded.

Martin Buber once said” a real community need not consist of people who are perpetually together; but it must consist of people who’ precisely because they are comrades, have access to one another and are ready for one another”

Is this the case for the ethnic minorities in our communities or country? Do they feel that they are welcome? Appreciated? Valued? Included? Understood?

We must have social conections that require mutual obligations and networks of community engagement that fosters reciprocity. As Muhammed Ali said “service to others is the rent we pay for our time here on earth”. Just think of the cities in this area. Where do the Hispanics live? Black? We need not live on the same street or in the same neighborhood to think of others belonging to our community. All are members of this community which means we have a connection and responsibility to everyone to foster social capital, caring, sharing, and opportunity. Stand up against inequality because as a historian I know that history is managable. There was a time in Larimer county that stores and establishment had signs that read “We do not serve Mecixans”. We have the ability to impact the world in which we live but first we must get up off of that log and act. A movement toward community, culture, and consciousness would extol an ideology of service to others and would embrace and build caring communities that would confront the existential issues of discrimination, poverty, peace and justice, greed, human misery, and equal opportunity. It would incorporate multiple definitions of identity, inclusive ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or any affected group. Our common group identity becomes a process in a continual state of construction. Our particular identity and our common group identity interact and shape each other in a constant process of change. Diversity is the complement of unity.

As Tom Regan stated: “This should be a generation of service; of giving not taking. Of commitment to principles not material possessions, of communal compassion not conspicuous consumption.”

I am here to challenge each and everyone of you to live up to the motto of “A Time for Change” and take it upon yourself to be that change agent. One of my fears with the recent election is that now that Barack Obama has been elected that individuals in this country are going to start to believe that we no longer have a racial problem and the work has been completed. In many ways, it has just begun and needs individuals such as ourselves to not only participate but to educate others to the realities of our society. We must take personal responsibility to be actively involved and through this personal individual responsibility we must and can make a difference.

Thank you for your time this morning and as Frederick Douglass said “agitate, agitate, agitate!!”

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.

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