Jim Wallis and Tavis Smiley Discuss White Racism

Did anyone catch the Tavis Smiley Show on Friday, February 8th? Interesting exchange with Jim Wallis, blogger and author (most recently) of the book The Great Awakening.   Smiley challenged Wallis on his optimistic view of the potential of change in the U.S., especially in the coming election cycle, and it prompted the following which I think gets to the heart of some of the debate around whether or not change is possible:

Tavis: With a woman or an African American as the candidate, I can almost guarantee you that we’re going to have to wrestle very shortly here with the dark side, the night side, the underside of America because anybody who thinks McCain might not do it, Huckabee as the nominee might not do it, but a lot of other people are going to get involved in reminding us that she is a woman if she’s the nominee, and he’s Black if he’s the nominee. We’re going to have to wrestle with America’s night side, with America’s dark side. Having said all that, Jim Wallis is trying to convince me that we’re on the precipice of a great awakening. It doesn’t sound like it, Jim.

Wallis: Well, you know, I say in the book that white racism is America’s original sin and we’ve yet to repent of that sin. It poisons the body politic. We got demons. You’re exactly right. We’ve got some deep demons on race and gender and politics appeals to our better angels or are worst ones. I think we could go either way here, but I think there’s a chance to go now in a different direction. A new generation is begging, pleading, for something new and we’ll see.

I think the time has come to test and see whether this country is ready for something different and something new, but it won’t really happen just from the top. It’s going to be a bottom up movement, but it’s got to wrestle with those demons. The demons are real and they’ve got to exorcised. They’ve got to exorcised. This nation in 2050, most Americans will trace their history to Africa, Asia or Latin America.

White Americans are not ready for their minority status. You know, they’re going to have to be held by the hand and pastored a bit to move into a new America, but I think it’s time to deal with that, to finally repent of our original sin and talk about, well, for me, this is a gospel issue. It’s why I got kicked out of my little white church over this, as you and I talked about, a long time ago. [emphasis added]

It’s refreshing to my ear to hear someone from the left take on the religious right on their own rhetorical turf as it were.  And, I agree with Wallis’ assessment of the endemic quality of white racism, and I think he’s correct when he says that “White Americans are not ready for their minority status.”  I’m not sure, however,  that there’s anyone around who can “pastor” whites – in a secular or a religious  sense – through that, but it’s a nice thought.