Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Changing Reality Starts With Race

Aaron always offers special insight into the issues of Memphis, and it's particularly instructive since he's one of those highly coveted young professionals who has moved to our city. We thought his comments to our post yesterday deserved to be highlighted here:

It takes time to reverse the momentum that has dragged Memphis in the wrong direction for years. That negative momentum has been fueled and driven by oppression of one culture by another. Although it's not nearly as measurable or tangible as in years past, its aftershocks will be felt for years.

There are two cultures here that don't mix very well.

One culture needs to seek forgiveness and provide tangible evidence of providing a way out for the culture it oppressed. This same culture says to the other, “Move beyond your past and seize the opportunities.” Sure, just tell the lion at the zoo to not let that barrier keep him from realizing his true capacity to roam. There are a lot of socio-economic barriers that have been raised as a result of the residual cultural infrastructure that exists here. You don’t see it if you visit Memphis, but you do if you move here.

It's this rift between two cultures that is absolutely revolting to the outsiders coming to Memphis. And nowhere is it more obvious then when an outsider family goes to a public school and is suddenly transported back to the segregated pre-Civil Rights era.

You can talk about all the great ways that people claim race relations have improved, but the public school system is the reality check. It tells the whole story to a family coming to move to Memphis. There is the change that people desire and preach and then there is their action to back it up. Let’s face it- it’s completely socially acceptable within the churched culture here to segregate your kids. How’s that for a selling point for our city?


Memphis is plagued by hypocrisy - a putrid stench to the prospective working professional and to the Memphian that has smelled it their whole life and is aching to get out of it. This hypocrisy is the running joke with one of my Australian colleagues.

A culture that preaches forgiveness and tolerance and yet continues to promote segregation by placing its children into private schools. How do our children learn racial tolerance and harmony if they don't grow up together? Most of the parents that I have met who do place their kids in Memphis City Schools are non-religious folks. What does that say about what people believe? Does God only live in private schools? Why is it that the “non-Christians” are more Christian in their convictions (or at least actions) than the “true Christians.”

Yes we need more high tech jobs, low tech jobs and such. But for people to sink their roots down and commit to a community we need racial harmony and congruity. The church here needs to live out the principles and actions and align their beliefs with their actions.

On the brighter side, times are changing.

As more outsiders move in, the melting pot is starting to stir again especially in the Midtown areas but it's slow and even slower within the native culture. But it’s happening and I have met Memphians that are equally disturbed with this incongruity. But wait! MCS are terrible and not safe. Right? Not true. That's a smokescreen or code word for the MCS being mostly populated by blacks. There are some great MCS schools out there!!

As you see racial reconciliation continue to unfold, this city will become a beautiful vibrant place - inside and out. It already is a beautiful little city but it's the culture, the tension and the manifestations of this rift that start to wear on those of us who are new to Memphis.

Let’s start with a Forgiveness Garden perhaps on the grounds of Auction and Main.
This is the area visible from the trolley route where slaves were traded and the property has been for sale for along time. H-m-m. Why not get churches to donate money to jointly buy, run and maintain the site? Why not host inter-racial worship services on Mud Island on Sunday nights?

People will stay and not leave as the day-to-day gritty realities around us begin to fade. And they will fade as harmony is restored between the cultures belief system and it’s actions.


LeftWingCracker said...

Race is crucial, but so is economic class. The poverty in this city, which IMO drives a LOT of the aberrant behavior, separates us almost as much as race.

It is the gigantic disparity in income, especially in the last few years, that has hurt as much as anything. This is a city that was built not only on cultural and racial stratification, but economic as well.

Let us never forget that Dr. King was not assassinated until after he began to speak about the ECONOMIC divide in America.

Just sayin'...

Aaron said...

Indeed the two are intimately linked. One is the cause the other it's symptom.

Anonymous said...

When we talk about segregation or the rift or the divide in Memphis, let's look at both sides.

There are business and professional groups for blacks. There are black social organizations. There is a college devoted to black students. There are churches and schools that are mainly black. There are those who believe that only a black can represent the blacks in District 9.

What is wrong with this picture? Racism is racism, and it does not matter what group is being racist or discriminatory, it is all damaging and wrong. It is definitely not Christian or any other religion.

Parents still teach their children to be racists. We have to break the cyle and I don't see that a flower garden sponsored by the churches will solve the problem. Some of the churches are part of the problem.

To attend a forum on race is not usually productive as it seems to lay lots of blame,offer lots of excuses with few to no solutions.

I would be thrilled to particiapate in a professionally guided, nonreligious discussion on what offends and pleases people of different races or nationalities to understand more how to relate.

In turn, maybe others could learn what confuses or frustrates me about trying to get along with everyone and not knowing what the rules really are,as no one is communicating them to me.

Let's have some honest dialogue for a change. I do have a lot of questions that have never been asked or answered because there has never been an opportunity.

I am a native Memphian who moved away as a young adult.
Circumstances forced me to return as a mature adult and it has been a totally shocking experience. Memphis needs to get out of its time warp and move forward.Only we can accomplish that change.

Anonymous said...

the poverty line in this city and the race line are parallel, less than an inch apart. if you are talking poverty in this city you are talking about blacks. many people feel easier about talking along poverty lines. the poverty lines in this city are due to wealth accumulation at the expense of blacks.

aaron - i do not know what ethnicity you are but you seem to get it. i have read many of your comments and with few exceptions are always on the mark.

anonymous - hopefully you see this as a challenge to your assumptions and not a personal attack. "There are business and professional groups for blacks. There are black social organizations. There is a college devoted to black students. There are churches and schools that are mainly black." the business and professional groups for blacks were started due to segregation. a black could not join the established professional organizations due to discrimination, so they started there own. what's wrong with that? what professional organization has reached out and tried to unite with black organizations? meaning accepting the membership and board representation and looking at policies, mission and vision from a different view. women also have there own professional organizations for the same reason, i.e. discrimination.
the college you refer to are historically black colleges, for the same reason stated above. blacks could not go to school with whites so they started their own schools. what's wrong with that? most colleges in the south are historically white, because they would not let blacks enroll. the difference is blacks have always been willing to go to school with whites but whites rarely want to go to school with blacks, especially a majority black college. i like many other people went to grade school, high school, undergrad and graduate school all with less than 5% blacks. nothing was wrong with that in the minds of the students, faculty or staff.

if you really want to have a discussion on race, look at commongroundmemphis.org for new class and discussion times.

food for thought, blacks are not monolithic. blacks have different opinions about things so if you get an answer to your proverbial questions it will be from the perspective of that individual not "blacks" in general. perspectives will differ according to a myriad of factors including, age, gender, socio - economic status and life experiences.
a good example is the current "sweetie" gaffe by presidential candidate obama. some women found it offensive others not. some women were vehemently opposed to this type of language in a professional setting others felt it was an innocent term of endearment. women also are not monolithic.

good discussion

Anonymous said...

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