Race Still Matters by John Lewis

I posted an article a year or so ago about students of color and independent schools.  My friend and colleague, John Lewis, one of three African-American faculty members on campus, and who teaches in the Bible Department, offers a response to race and its significance; I encourage you to read the above link at some point on students of color and the Black Alcove. Below is John Lewis talking with colleagues before commencement. Lewis can be contacted at jlewis@houstonchristianhs.org if you have questions.

Race matters! It is idealistic to believe that we have grown so far where race, as defined by ethnicity, color, texture, cultural nuances, even musical genre doesn’t matter in America. Race matters in public places, private spaces and that includes public schools and private, Christian educational enclaves like Houston Christian High School. I somehow still long for; hope for; pray for a day of reckoning for those who violate the delicate hearts and spirits of people who yet endure racism, discrimination, and hatred in its many disguises. I shall wait perhaps as long as forever. I am not a pessimist to be sure- but my optimism with regard to the heart of man, (non-gender), is tempered with realism: people in America, especially those who profess Christ as Lord create more damage than any overt act of racism heralded by the likes of a Klu Klux Klansman when they employ conceited, willful, collusion to carry out their systematic practices to deny people of color equal access under the law.

The nation in which we live continues to ignore the meaningful data that suggests very clearly how little our advances have been in almost every area of the American way of life. Race Matters! The fact that it must still be discussed is a signal that [it] does. We cannot seem to grasp that  something fundamentally flawed in our spiritual psyche when one man of color, the late Thurgood Marshall was replaced with another man of color, Clarence Thomas-matters not their political distinctions or judicial loyalties. There remains just one person of African-American descent on the highest court in our land. Race Matters when Antonin Scalia remains the only Italian-American on the court. It matters when there is the newly appointed, sole Hispanic-origin Justice now serving on the same high court. Spare me the court’s make-up represents a microcosm of our society” defense. It states in its own way that there aren’t but a few qualified black justices. Worse, we can only tolerate one at a time. These examples represent only a microcosm of the embedded practices of racism and discrimination still prevalent throughout our country.

We, at Houston Christian High School, still must face in new creative designs; the harboring nature of sin at its worse- when those who employ the name of Christ at the same time misuse one of His own choosing…and for what cause? It should be possible to discover somewhere in an ocean of 3.5 million people qualified, financially robust, politically connected, corporate gurus, reasonably well-connected in society with high school aged children that happen to be of color to join the family.  I know that our admissions office do a great job in presenting the virtues of this school and its people.  But our numbers are anemic in diversity- that’s just keeping it real. When you can count the number of students of color at any school with low-level arithmetic, you haven’t overcome the hurdle of racial matters.

Most preschoolers can count to 12. When you can count faculty of color with the speed of sound rhythm, then you haven’t overcome. It’s simple really. Race matters today as it did yesteryear. It will matter tomorrow. I suppose it is healthy in some sense to speak of it within the context of hopeful expectation. It is encouraging for me personally to hear some of our young students chime in on this issue. They still represent for me the innocent voice in our colored past.


14 thoughts on “Race Still Matters by John Lewis

  1. John, great post! I do think that the the myth of the few is a joke. Your point on the justices is very reflective of race and teachers in private schools.

  2. “But our numbers are anemic in diversity- that’s just keeping it real. When you can count the number of students of color at any school with low-level arithmetic, you haven’t overcome the hurdle of racial matters.”

    I think the above comment is true in a number of ways. I attended Harding University, and there tuition was a factor in why people of color were unable to finish their education.

  3. The excitement that people like Mr Lewis have for talking about “race” tells me he isnt very honest when he states a longing for it to go away. Wise, West, Dyson all profit from this. We cant pretend they are above that. He claims a desire to not have to see race, but short of becoming blind, I dont know how you accomplish that. Or, why you should.

    What he wants, and too many want, is a monologue about the sins of one group, with the defense of original sin. The realm of theory is for the professor. Much like his accusations. He states :” Race Matters! The fact that it must still be discussed is a signal that [it] does.” According to him? Wow, that sounds like justification.

    I am surprised that Mr Lewis is so simple minded. Every race and community should be equally counted in every occupation? Every field of study? Does the man care about quality? Has he ever wondered if dumbing down of MCATs for black students might be why black students fail their Medical Licensing Exams in such great numbers? Its sad to know that when Mr Lewis sees asian and white students he is frustrated. Could we handle that thought if white faculty were writing about this, but were concerned not enough whites were trying out for sports? I guess Mr Lewis has not deemed that a concern for the community. “Athleticism is the one true merit based system”, you often hear.

    Mr Lewis wrote: “collusion to carry out their systematic practices to deny people of color equal access under the law.” –What a laugh. Site examples. If racism is so terrible, shouldnt we at least demand evidence. Calling people racist because some groups under perform, isnt evidence of grand collusion. Maybe delusion. This man is a professor in Bible studies? He even states:”… those who profess Christ as Lord create more damage than any overt act of racism…”when “they” deny equal access. This sort of babble is what people have come to expect from the public school system. Again, complaining while amongst those he sites as racists. What else could be the reason, God forbid, for only 3 black professors and so few minorities? Is he held accountable for screaming fire?

    “I somehow still long for; hope for; pray for a day of reckoning for those who violate the delicate hearts and spirits of people who yet endure racism, discrimination, and hatred in its many disguises. I shall wait perhaps as long as forever.” — Is this the sort of positive christianity he was thinking of? Vengeance? Sounds like a freshman Literature student. When you surrender your kids to others teaching them about the Bible, this is what you risk. Wont have my kids taking Mr Lewis’ course.

  4. First of all, I’m all for increased diversity at our school. Using only my fingers, I think I can count the number of black, Asian, and hispanic students that I have. Since I have about 90 students, this means that fewer than 12% of my students are non-white. What are the factors that keep us from increasing those numbers? Marketing/messaging? Admissions? Socio-economic barriers?

    Second, I agree that we can’t just ignore the issue of race. This is not something that we can just stop talking about. We simply can’t sweep it under the bed or into the closet and then hope nobody looks there. Nope. It’s a problem in this country, and we, those blessed with educational opportunities, have known all about it at least since de Tocqueville pointed it out 160+ years ago.

    My issue with what you’re saying here, John, is that I don’t see any solutions or proposals. Specifically, how would you like to see HCHS attack this issue? Do you think that a more diverse faculty will somehow lead to a more diverse student body?

    Further, when it comes to on-campus diversity, what are we really talking about? Is this only about race?

    My other question is this: What’s wrong with the microcosm argument? Roughly 15% of the country is African-American while 11.1% of the Supreme Court is African-American. Would the Court be somehow more effective if it were comprised mostly of minorities?

    Of course, as you point out, the problem may be that there aren’t enough qualified black justices to really fill up the benches. Why is that? What are the barriers that we need to overcome to ensure equal access to education Pre-K through J.D.?

    Finally, this weekend I was ruminating on my own whiteness. As I sat in church, I wrote this (forgive me for being a bit too personal):

    “I am a white man. What do I know about race and culture? I am a white American. What do I know? My music can be traced to Africa — from Wilco to Depeche Mode to the Smiths to Bowie to Springsteen to Dylan to the Beatles to Elvis to the blues greats (Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson) to the improvisation of Coltrane, Davis, and Parker, back back back to the spirituals of Negro slaves whose only debt to me is that I gave them cause to sing to a God that may have been quite foreign to them because they were ripped from their homes from their families from their culture (language, art, music) ripped. That’s me. Am I just a rip off?”

    That being said, I’ve taken up classical music lately, and I’m pretty sure that Mozart was beyond (the) pale!

    Thanks for the post, John.

  5. Please dont over-simplify about slavery. “ripped from their homes”? Black Africans were enslaving their own people way before any white man set foot on that continent. You cant find something more constructive then pledging your embarrassing and patronizing “Im sorry” for actions you never committed?

    Mozart is beyond the pale?

    • Simply because Africans had been enslaving each other prior to the Europeans doing it does not make the fact that people were kidnapped and shipped off to a foreign land any less true, heartbreaking, unfortunate, etc. I’m not oversimplifying the issue of slavery; rather, I’m pointing out one aspect of it — that the music that has defined “white culture” in America can be traced back to this particular practice of the slave trade. Sometimes when I consider that, I feel like I’m ripping off their culture because I lack my own.

      As for Mozart…”beyond (the) pale” was a play on words.

      Beyond Pale = Very light skinned (as he is generally reported to have been by his contemporaries). My point? He’s Euro and white like me.

      Beyond the Pale = Outrageous or unacceptable behavior. Mozart was generally considered to be a bit of an eccentric.

  6. Stephen–“because Africans had been enslaving each other prior”. I never said European slavery of africans wasnt true. Comprehension, Sir. Over and over you hear the moral indignation about what everyone but africans had to do with slavery. There is almost a fairyland image of what pre European Africa was like. It would amaze you how few kids know that slavery existed prior to the bad guys arriving. The moral outrage that follows one part of the story is hard to listen to when a large part of the story is left out. They should go after the oil money that some African tribal leaders hoard. Talk about income disparity. The worst in the world is outside of Western countries. Yet very little cries.
    You also said:
    “Sometimes when I consider that, I feel like I’m ripping off their culture because I lack my own.”

    There are volumes dedicated to your culture. If listening to a groups music is “ripping them off”, what do you call those same groups using your medicines, satellites, electricity, computers, pianos, paper, clothes, language, telephone, airplanes, cars, houses, foods, hair dyes, contact lenses,etc? When you are done obsessing about the foot notes of others , maybe the reams of paper documenting technological advances, medical improvements, and general inventiveness in every field you can think of, can fill the void you have. Ripping people off? Are you serious?

  7. Denton- In fact, European culture has greatly borrowed, “ripped off”, or culturally diffused African Cultures and Eastern Cultures in general. Here is the list where many of your “American Advances” have come from. Please feel free to check my facts.

    medicines: first started in Arabic cultures who also discovered that germs cause decay
    satellites: that would be Russia. One word Sputnik.
    pianos: Italian. A larger derivative of the harpsicord, derived from the Dulcimer (Perisian in construction), derived most likely from handheld stringed instruments vaguely related to the guitar… which was also an Arabic creation.
    paper: Chinese in orgin. Unless you consider papyrus… then that would be Eygptian.
    clothes: America is a large clothing center. But we stole our styles from Europe. See Gucci (not exactly American. Try Italian.)
    language: Borrowed from the British then dumbed down since many of America’s early citizen’s couldn’t spell. Hence centre to center. Colour to color, etc.
    airplanes: Planned by by Leonardo Da Vinci c. 1450’s. Italy
    cars: Once again Leonardo’s idea. Also tanks.
    foods: So the world eats McDonald’s. Hamburger’s came from Germany. In fact most “American” foods are foreign in nature. I’m sure you don’t need a list on that.

    So as you can plainly see America in terms of culture is strangely not worth talking about. We’re big. That’s about it. We have made great innovations in Medicine and technology. What’s new? You stood on the shoulder’s of giants (Newton, English). So while yes Africa is taking factors of American culture, America has been ripping off from other culture’s since c. 1650. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. I personally enjoy a good hamburger while listening to aborigines playing on the dijareedoo (Australia) occasionally.

  8. Reality doesnt speak to what you wrote. All these things that were “stolen”, how well have they been applied in their “native” countries? Say Mozambique, Iran, or Haiti. Thank you.
    And while you enjoy that hamburger, remember, that adds to high blood pressure too. Not just certain white ethnic groups accomplishments/oppression.

    Please read again what I wrote and what Herbert wrote. You got your heart beat up over something you are obsessing on, not what was written. Let me guess, Catholic school teacher.

  9. Carson, you crack me up. 🙂 Stirrin’ the pot– awesome! I love you guys: John, James, Stephen, Eddie– I’m blessed. And James a Catholic school teacher–LOL!!!
    I have a nickel to throw on the counter: I’m confident I teach students that some would call minorities, but don’t ask me how many, because I don’t see them that way… you would be asking me to see them through a lens that I do not use. Ask me which ones do their homework, ask me which ones score A’s on tests, ask me which ones who live out the ideals of Christ and/or of leadership… then I can tell you about those students. Do we have a student body that is as ethnically diverse as my visits to WalMart [don’t hate me because I shop there!]?–No. Am I challenged when Eddie starts his speech going on about DuBois and Carson because I don’t share that base of knowledge?–Yes. Is that a bad thing? No–I have so much to learn from you. I am excited about the future; I am excited about our students. If our biases [and everyone is biased] lead to injustice, then we need to heed the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Or maybe we just need to listen because we can… our own form of ‘music’ appreciation, whether it’s the blues or classical.

  10. Jim:

    But don’t you think Christ wants us to see the beauty of being different? Even if that is racial differences? Our race does shape us in different ways — true; but, there is a beauty in being different. I do think you stated this though with your comment about Du Bois. I am honored to challenge you, man!

  11. Eddie, absolutely I see the beauty in diversity. In my classroom I repeatedly “preach” the value of our differences, highlighting how it is even manifested in our created order– just consider the tetradic synapsis and the intermingling of chromatidal elements in the formation of our gametes… God VALUES, nay, AUTHORS diversity. Ecologically God’s creation shows evolutionary advantage to diversity within a species in a changing world. Theologically Paul preached about the human body– one body, many diverse parts working together in harmony, so,yes, I see the value of people who are different from myself.
    My point is not that I’m oblivious to the differences, as if we are some boring bunch of clones; on the contrary, I see us as a marvelous stew.
    We grew up differently; we bring different life experiences to the filters of our perception. My people fled European oppression under the Cromwellian genicide and started colonies in Texas’ coastal bend. I am infatuated with my ancestry, and have walked the green pastures of the Dingle spending each night in the next village. You have your own ancestry, as does Stephen, as does John. But I don’t think our roots define us; I don’t think melanocytic density is any form of indicator aside from propensity for melanoma. I think each of us have an obligation to be courageous in who we are.
    Is racism alive and well [sic]?
    I fear so.
    Does that have to define us? I hope not.
    My response is not so much whether there are racists around us from all ethnic groups– there are. My point is, why do we have to give them our power? Why do I have to look at my students as black, or white, or yellow, or brown? Why do I have to know how many kids are Italiano? or Czek? or Mayan? I would rather THEY know their ancestry, and bring that into the present.
    My concern is that in trying to remedy the problem, we inadvertently exacerbate it by creating the mindset of racism where there was not one. Maybe I’m just a clueless “craic-er” in the bourgeoisie. 🙂

  12. “… there is a beauty in being different.”

    Yes, and there are ugly differences. Its being allowed to not only join in on the group hug of compliments but also the complaints of those differences. We know that complaining has been relatively one sided for some time. Some peoples decision to deal with those unpleasant “contributions” to diversity, is to stay away from it. Now, will that be recognised as a right to do so. Or will we continue to force on others our idea of what is beautiful and desired?

  13. Also, Jesus made a fairly bold statement on different races. By starting a conversation with the hated Samaritans, he could be considered a first in terms of equality under God’s eye. Also, the tale of the Good Samaritan, the “good people” of the day left a bleeding naked man in the ditch. Again the hated Samaritan was the one to feed, clothe, nurse, and house the man. Sure we can complain about race all we want, but I really don’t want to complain with Jesus. He has a habit of getting his way done in the end.

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