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A more perfect Union in imperfect times

November 15, 2012

BY Brother Rogers
Guest Columnist

President Obama not only won his bid for reelection with a decisive win in the electoral college, he won a majority of votes in Oktibbeha County. This fact would make you think there are celebrations and high-fives happening all around us.

Not so.

Instead, to use my grandmother’s language, “in my circle” there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. The sky is falling.  Gloom and doom prevail. That is my impression for two reasons.

First, in this supposedly post-racial world where racial animosity no longer exists, I live in a white world. Second, whites in Mississippi overwhelmingly voted against Obama.

Perhaps I’m not the typical Mississippian, but my workplace is white, my church is white, my neighborhood is white, my weekly civic club meeting is white and most of my Facebook friends are white. Ironically, in the state with the highest percentage of African-Americans (more than one-third of the population) and in a county whose population mirrors that of the state, I live in a white world.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the beloved community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  My world is shockingly homogenous in an America that is becoming more diverse.

All of us like being around others who are like us, who think like us, who dress like us, who vote like us and who worship like us. That phenomenon is only natural and not likely to change.

But there is a danger in self-selecting to be around people whose political and religious views are the same. We get smug – sure that we are right and that everyone else is wrong.  In politics, it means we believe the hype and the spin that support our views. That is one reason why so many Republicans, especially those in Southern enclaves like our own, were genuinely shocked by the results of the 2012 election.

Another danger in our homogenous living is that we look down upon those who are different. Safe in our smugness, we stereotype the groups to which we don’t belong and judge them as inferior, morally and intellectually. I have seen Facebook posts that stereotype blacks as takers from the government and not contributors to society. In fact, the largest government program is Medicare, which benefits a population that is 85 percent white.

By the same token, Republicans get stereotyped as racists who don’t care about others. In reality, they are among the most charitable, most caring, most patriotic individuals in America. It is easy to stereotype, especially about race and politics. We must recognize this proclivity in ourselves and not engage in it.

Our nation as a whole is moving past the stereotypes in positive ways. In the not too distant past, a presidential race pitting a black man against a Mormon would have been unthinkable. In the not too distant future, I predict America will elect its first female president. 

In the meantime, there is still work to be done to bridge political and racial divides. We will never be unified. We haven’t been since our founding and don’t need to be. But we do need to expand our circle of friends and reach out to get to know people who don’t look like us or think like us. 

Not only will we be personally richer for the experience, not only will we make our community a better place to live, but we also will contribute in our own unique way to building a more perfect Union.
That’s something we can all celebrate.

William “Brother” Rogers lives in Starkville and works with the Stennis Center for Public Service. Contact him at brother@stennis.gov.

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