The citizens of Charlottesville, Va., have shown great courage and perseverance over the last few days. People of good will and intention all over this nation mourn for the victims and their families.
What we learned from the incident in Charlottesville is that racial hatred is very much alive and well in the United States.
I’m thankful that the darkest period in American history ended over 150 years ago. The institution of slavery was a desolate and dismal season. Unfortunately, the light of tolerance has not yet covered the landscape of this great nation.
There is no question that the bridge that divides the races has become smaller over the decades. However, because that bridge has not received proper maintenance, we are beginning to see cracks. Let’s be honest: We intentionally deferred the maintenance on the bridge, and now the cost to repair is much higher than it would have been if we’d addressed it years ago.
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The verdict in the Rodney King trial and the riots that followed were signs, but we ignored them. The division we witnessed during the O.J. Simpson trial was a clear example that the bridge was in need of maintenance, but we as a nation did very little to correct it.
Now, because we have not properly dealt with our differences the bridge that separates the races is not only widening, but is almost too dangerous to cross. As a result of decades of racial profiling, police brutality and a long history of tension with police and minorities, people are retaliating.
We’ve gotten to the point that we now hear the slogan “Blue Lives Matter” because law enforcement is under attack. We are seeing a rise of hate groups like we’ve not seen since the end of the Civil War. We are entering into another gloomy period in American history.
What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and if we don’t act now it could easily happen in Kansas City. The NAACP has already issued a Missouri travel advisory because of the racial discrimination in our state. Things will only get worse unless women and men of faith take action.
The reality is that there is no easy or quick solution. After all, the problem has been around for centuries. What we can do is have open and honest dialogue regarding our prejudices, fears and stereotypes that we act on with people of different races.
St. James United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection have started having those conversations. We need more faith communities to learn from one another and with one another. We also need our teachers to actually address the issues of race and prejudice in our schools with the intent of helping our children celebrate and understand our differences.
Additionally, we need our elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats, to be intentional about meeting with, and truly representing, people of every race, class and creed.
I’m certain that if we don’t shy away from uncomfortable racial conversations and seek to live together, God will bless America.
Emanuel Cleaver III is senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church.