The Pink Elephant in the Room


My first two years after law school, I lived in Jackson, Mississippi. For those who haven’t been to Jackson, let me say that it is possibly the most rigidly segregated city I have ever been to, and certainly the most segregated place I have ever lived. Very few white folks live in Jackson proper. No, they’ve all fled to the suburbs – Clinton to the west, Pearl and the rest of Rankin County to the east, Ridgeland and Madison County to the north, and Richland et al. to the south. There are a few scattered upscale neighborhoods in northeast Jackson where whites can still be found, although I’m not sure how long that will last. There’s Fondren, the burgeoning gay neighborhood (don’t tell the Chamber of Commerce!). And then there is the only other section of Jackson where white people live in large numbers – Belhaven.

Belhaven the neighborhood surrounds Belhaven College, a tiny Methodist liberal arts college known for its music program. The streets are wide and tree-lined, the houses are older and have the character lacking in more recent housing developments – you know, they’re not cookie-cutter, they have hardwood floors and crown molding, the works. The residents are a mix of younger professionals and older professionals (20s versus 30s and 40s). Belhaven extends across Fortification Street, a major road that cuts the neighborhood in two. Well, I guess I should say that in my view Belhaven extends across Fortification. More discerning, or perhaps just more racist, Jackson residents condescendingly refer to the section of Belhaven located on the “other side” of Fortification as “Belhaven Heights” (accent on “Heights”). As far as I can tell, this is code for “the part of Belhaven where black people live.” The houses themselves are the same.

During my two years in Jackson, I lived in three different dwellings. Two of them were in Belhaven Heights, one was in Belhaven proper. My first apartment was on Morningside Street, just across Fortification. Then we got a new roommate and moved to a house on Riverview Drive, which was several blocks west of Fortification Street. Most of the residents on that street were young professional types. But because that street was more “transitional,” there were also poor African American residents, particularly in a run down apartment complex on the next block. The rent was also really reasonable for a just-renovated three-bedroom house with a screened-in front porch.

Several months after we moved in, around September of 2002, one of my roommates got engaged and wanted to move in with her fiancé, so my original roommate Kim and I moved again, this time to Belhaven. It wasn’t the location of the new apartment that attracted us – it was the most reasonably priced place available on short notice. Because we wanted out of our lease at the Riverview house early, I took responsibility for listing and showing it to try to secure a new tenant.

It was a nightmare. I listed the house as located in Belhaven, and people would call, ask exactly where it was, and hang up when I told them, or better yet, give me a horrified, “oh, I could never live there,” as if it were the bowels of hell instead of a nice, quiet residential street where, God forbid, black people without checking accounts lived side by side with white people. One man came to see the house for a female friend of his who was moving down from Tennessee. By that point I was tired of the questions about the neighborhood, so I said, “look, let’s just be honest here. The difference between Belhaven and Belhaven Heights is that more black people live here. So anyone who’s racist probably wouldn’t want to rent this house.” His response: “Do they walk down the street?”

I don’t remember what I said to that because the question was so outrageous it was the only thing that stuck in my mind.

Fast forward three and a half years. I have moved to D.C., a city which has one thing in common with Mississippi – there are a high percentage of African American residents. This is what I am accustomed to, having lived most of my life in Mississippi and Louisiana, the two states with the highest percentages of African American citizens. I live in a neighborhood known as Capitol Hill, which begins, predictably, very close to the Capitol and spreads east toward the Anacostia River and also north up to about H Street, NE. I took my first apartment there sight unseen because I had no money to travel to D.C. in advance of my move. During my first year in the city, I met my husband David, and when our leases were up in June 2004 we moved into another, much larger and nicer, apartment in Capitol Hill. At least, that was where I thought we moved. (Check out this map: we live five blocks to the east of Lincoln Park, which you can’t see on the map, on the corner of 18th and East Capitol).

By now, my residential M.O. is clear and well-established: I choose to live in “transitional” neighborhoods to save money on rent and to live in larger, nicer places than I could otherwise afford if I insisted on living in very upscale areas. This started when I was in law school. See, when I was in college, I lived on the “good side” (i.e., the white side) of campus – and my car was nevertheless broken into. Between college and law school, I spent a summer in Brooklyn living on a street that was, most would say, questionable in terms of safety. I found that it wasn’t so bad, that the risks were more negligible than most people thought they were, and that I even liked being in a place that was more diverse, both racially and socioeconomically. Why should I pay more for less when I could pay less for more? I spend far less time walking around outside than I do inside my home, so a nicer place means more to me than a nicer neighborhood.

Apparently, I am somewhat of a freak for engaging in this type of calculus.

At the end of this month, David and I are moving to a three-bedroom rowhouse in another transitional neighborhood in D.C. called Eckington, perhaps even more “transitional” than the one in which we currently live. Again, because we are leaving before our lease is up (for bar exam reasons), I took responsibility for showing our place to get a new tenant. I guess I had forgotten my experience in 2002. Or maybe I thought people in D.C. were different. Or maybe, because I’ve lived in the same type of neighborhood for so long, I just didn’t think about “it” at all. But here I am again, having precisely the same experience a second time and getting even more annoyed and frustrated than before.

People have been incredibly rude about the location of our place. Apparently, the fact that it’s two blocks from the Metro (a BIG deal to me given long cold winters) does not make a damn bit of difference to entitled baby yuppies who want it all and want it now. The fact that it was renovated a few years ago and is by far the nicest place I’ve ever lived leaves young white women who are scared of black men unmoved. And the fact that the rent is half of what it would be in Georgetown or Dupont Circle – not a factor.

The trajectory of my Craig’s List postings went from “accentuate the positive” to “a few code words” to “let’s see how I can say this without really saying it” to “fine, dammit, I will just be honest.” I hoped to screen out those who would rule the place out before seeing the inside before they even picked up the phone. Because I am really afraid I might curse at some folks and call them racist on the phone. Oh, they use their code words correctly: “the neighborhood looks a bit run-down,” “it’s definitely a different feel on the inside than on the outside,” and my personal favorite, “I want to be able to take an after-dinner walk and feel safe.” (This from a graduating law student from Penn!) But let’s be honest here – this is about race. It’s the pink elephant in the middle of the room that none of these callers, who probably all consider themselves liberal Democrats because this is, after all, the District, can bring themselves to talk about. Maybe they can’t even bring themselves to think about it because the cognitive dissonance would be too much. I just know that the feeling they engender in me is utter contempt and disgust.

If telling this story has a point, it’s to raise consciousness. This is how residential segregation happens. It is embodied in the snap judgments we make about how “run down” a neighborhood looks or how we feel about it based on who we see walking around outside. Are these folks bad people for wanting to live in neighborhoods where everyone “looks like them” or where their subjective comfort level is met based on highly questionable judgments? Maybe not, but to the extent they consider themselves progressive, I would say that they are not living their ideals. Maybe I’m just as bad or worse, because I am part of the wave of upper-class folks moving into previously poor neighborhoods, driving up prices and driving out the previous residents. Where do they go? I’ve often wondered. In D.C., the answer is Prince George’s County, Maryland. That’s where African Americans live. Whites live in Fairfax or Montgomery Counties, or further out to the west and north. I do not know this statistically. I know it anecdotally, from talk of where the “good schools” are to watching who takes the Metro where. D.C. isn’t much better than Jackson. The same attitudes toward residential integration prevail. And it doesn’t seem like anyone cares enough to try to change them.

The inevitable question will be, isn’t this a class issue rather than a racial one? As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a cop-out that attempts to obfuscate the extent to which race is inextricably bound up with class in this country. Willie Horton won George H.W. Bush an election in 1988. Was that commercial really just about crime? Anyone who can answer yes to that question with a straight face is kidding themselves.

From slavery to Jim Crow to our current uneasy silence, we have certainly come a long way in America. But if persistent residential segregation shows anything, it is that true equality and racial justice is still, and may perhaps always be, an elusive dream.


29 Responses to “The Pink Elephant in the Room”

  1. Ernest T. Bass Says:

    Hey Sandi, I think I could have been reading the real estate section and known you had written that ad w/o seeing your name!!!

    I’ve got to run, but I have a quick story from my homoracial hometown when I started a Habitat for Humanity affiliate there. I was eating lunch with a state representative and saw the dad of one of my basketball players. I went over to talk to him, and he asked what I was doing having lunch with the politician. I told him about what I was doing with Habitat for Humanity, and he said, “What do you need that for? You don’t have any n*%&ers around here.”

    I was dumbfounded my own self.

  2. Ernest T. Bass Says:

    By the way, I couldn’t remember my password so I signed in under an old blogger name.

    It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T.!!!

    Really, it’s Al.

  3. Whitney Says:

    Al. LOL. Seriously. I was like, WHO is that?

    Sandi, I had an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience when I moved to Mississippi. Let me first say that I was no stranger to racism. I grew up in small-town Oklahoma. Nevertheless, we had a significant number of black students at my high school and most of us were friends. We played together, were in extracurriculars together. We literally grew up from age 5 together. But there were still race problems in my little town. It was hard to understand. And while my family was not given to overt racism, I heard things that embarrass me now. I’m proud to say they have come a long way since my childhood.

    THEN I moved to Ocean Springs. One day, I was going in to Gulfport for who knows what reason, and at the corner of Highway 90 and whatever road it is that splits Biloxi and Gulfport, there were a bunch of white supremacists waving the Confederate flag and shouting about racial purity. I was absolutely appalled!! I as so upset by it that I’ve still never gotten over it; it made me so angry. Until that point I’d never understood why the fight over waving the Confederate flag. I really thought it was a significant symbol of our Southern history. But then I saw these horrible people using it as their symbol of being white–and therefore better than anyone else–and it made me sick. (These are the same people, of course, who think Jesus Christ–who they claim to follow–was a of European descent instead of Middle Eastern.)

    I don’t know where this is going except to say that I understand why the attitudes you’re encountering are so discouraging and infuriating. One of my very best friends is a black woman from Atlanta and some of the stories she tells me are just nuts. We’ve talked about the blatant discrimination she’s experienced and it always just makes me want to hit someone; she and her family are hands down some of the best Christian people I’ve ever known. And it has absolutely nothing to do with their skin color. (By the way, she also told me that she hates the term “African American” because it’s so “white.” She said, “Please, just call me black!”) What’s amazing is that our society is so much more accepting than twenty years ago. I know it isn’t perfect, but I think we are slowly moving forward. I see little children and teenagers who don’t even think twice about skin color. They truly do not care.

    And one other thing: I don’t get the “do they walk down the street” comment you mentioned. That’s about as insulting as you can get, it makes it sound like wild animals are roaming free. I’m surprised you didn’t say something, um, well, um…not nice.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  4. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I really don’t think it’s a “race” thing so much as a “class” thing. There are plenty of trailer parks full of low-income white folks that drive down property values.

    The current class structure is for the most part a result of past racism. However, I don’t believe for a second that it’s racism keeping that structure in place. I do believe that there is a sense of entitlement along with a “victim” mentality and lack of hope that keeps this structure in place. It’s not that “the Man” is keeping people down, but the belief that “the Man” is keeping people down. It’s a lot easier to blame “the Man” or the system for your current status than accepting the fact that you may have to work a little harder to overcome your circumstances.

    Don’t get me wrong… I’m not blaming people for being born into certain circumstances. What I do blame people for is saying, “I was born poor, and it’s someone else’s fault, so pay me.” People can choose to be a victim or overcome adversity. Far too many people choose to be a victim.

  5. Whitney Says:

    Of course I agree with you about victim mentality. No one is entitled to anything, even if they, for reasons I’ll never understand, truly believe they are.

    But acting like you are too good to live somewhere because “they walk down the street” is also absurd and is almost certainlyl racist, and I know you agree with that.

    There is a balance to be struck. I know how much you abhor racist attitudes, so I just wanted to clarify lest anyone think that you don’t care.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    From where I sit, I’d agree that hard work and a resilient spirit is the way to go, but I’d add that this instruction rings hollow when delivered from the “haves” to the “have-nots.”

    I don’t really use the word “poor” to describe my childhood, but it wasn’t too far off. I found my dad’s W-2 from 1977 after his death in 1994. He made under $12k that year, which at age 57 would have been his highest annual salary to date. He was laid off by management a few years later because they could hire someone younger for less money, so this may have been his biggest year for making money. He had three kids in 1977: 18 years old, 16, and 7 (me), and a wife that started working part-time as a church secretary that year. We rented a tiny (900 square feet?) 2BR/1bath house with no central heat/air and few amenities. We always ate and had clothes to wear, but nothing fancy. When he died, he almost had enough life insurance to cover the funeral. My mom “hopes” to retire this year when she turns 70.

    I’m not complaining. And as I said before, I’m a believer in hard work and resilience, and I hope a practitioner, too. But I can add that from my perspective I never really cared to hear from the more “privileged” their advice on how to live my life. Not that they couldn’t be right or much more intelligent than me, but they couldn’t really relate to me so I just didn’t want to listen. I suspect those much more disadvantaged than I would feel the same hearing it from me.

    What I’ve found they DO appreciate from me is love. True sympathy. Compassion.

    So why am I sharing? I don’t think any of these class/race/socioeconomic problems improve with words. If it were possible to improve them with words, it would be from within (MLK, not JFK, could mobilize the Civil Rights movement). That an inspirational leader would arise within every poor/disadvantaged community to motivate the masses would be great, but I think there are more options than just waiting for the right rhetoric to emerge.

    I propose love. The victim mentality is not only a vicious cycle, but quite natural (seeing that being born into difficult circumstances makes one a victim of circumstances). To escape the mentality, I propose encouragement in whatever form is best. Love [WARNING! More religion on Sandi’s article day!!!] is interested in “bearing one another’s burdens” which, according to Paul, fulfills the law of Christ.

    Bottom line: I don’t think telling people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is that effective. It seems to be good advice that is rarely heard. Climbing in my crap with me with a shovel works better in my humble opinion.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey Whitney! Commenting at the same time it seems!!!

    My comment wasn’t made thinking Joe doesn’t care. I know him well enough to know better than that, and I didn’t read his comment that way at all.

    My comment was meant to discuss practical matters of what to do to help. How to make things better.

    Take care,
    Ernest T. Bass

  8. Whitney Says:

    Al, we’re on the same page for sure. Now…I’m waiting to hear about Erica’s birthday. Would you please hurry up?? 🙂

    I have the patience of a two year old.

  9. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’ll post something either tonight or tomorrow that gives the birthday overview!

    I’m at the wrong computer, so I have to wait at least until I get home after class tonight!!!

  10. juvenal_urbino Says:

    There is a victim mentality among some. There is a sense of entitlement. Jesse Jackson is perhaps the loudest exponent of those feelings. And there is definitely a lack of hope. (Though I think “loss of hope” is a misleading metaphor. They didn’t carelessly lay it down somewhere and forget where they put it. They didn’t give it up willingly. Forces external to them actively killed it.) But to suggest continuing racism doesn’t substantially help hold the current class structure in place strikes me as blinding oneself to, as Sandi’s title put it, the pink elephant in the room.

    Without getting into a discussion of how living in generational poverty affects people’s sense of who they are and what’s realistic for them to hope for, and how that in turn affects their economic decisionmaking, I’d point out in a general way that the class structure created by 400 years of past racism already has a good deal of momentum all its own; it tends to perpetuate itself (even in the theoretical absence of continuing racism).

    It’s like an enormously massive, enormously powerful machine. It doesn’t just stop the instant you cut off the power to it. It runs down gradually. The more momentum it has, the longer it takes to run down. We haven’t even completely cut off the power (continuing racism) to this socioeconomic machine. It was only 40 yrs. ago that we finally made it truly possible to significantly reduce it. For a machine as massive and powerful as institutional racism, a machine that’s been running for 400 yrs., 40 yrs. is not going to stop its momentum. It’s still running pretty hard, just on its own kinetic energy.

    And I’ll agree with Al — though this isn’t exactly what he said — that it’d be a lot easier to hear middle class, white, American Christians point out victim mentalities and senses of entitlement in others if they, as a class, weren’t so utterly consumed by those things themselves.

  11. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Oooooh, Juvenal’s back!!!!!!!!!!!

    Victim mentality and sense of entitlement among white/middle-class/American Christians… Not only did I not say that exactly, but I wasn’t even “thinking” that… But that is a very, very good observation. I wish I would have said it…

  12. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I’ll grant that everyone cries victim once in a while, but I’d hardly call the white middle class “consumed” with it.

    Entitlement is another story altogether. All classes squawk about entitlement, and I think it’s disgusting from anyone.

  13. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I’m just discussing the issue here. I’m not pointing or wagging my finger in any direction. I fully understand your point, but can we not TALK about the issue without being accused of preaching down to folks?
    No one seems to dispute the fact that victim mentality and a sense of entitlement plays a role in the problem. The only dispute is whether or not I, as a white, middle-class, Christian male should even broach the subject. Just because I’m not poor, I can’t have an opinion on poverty? Just because I’m not a racial minority, I can’t formulate thoughts on race relations?

  14. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Joe: Of course we can talk about it, formulate thoughts, have opinions, etc. And I definitely don’t want to come across as a thought censor.

    But you ask if we can’t talk about it w/o preaching down to folks.

    Well, that depends. If our talk sounds like preaching down to folks, then no. And I’m just saying, from the vantage point within the sewer, hearing “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” by someone driving by in a Lexus seems to be perceived as preaching down.

    I wasn’t jumping on you. I’m just adding that I believe talk really is cheap, and the (deserving, if you will) poor in this world need help more than sermons.

  15. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’ll grant that everyone cries victim once in a while, but I’d hardly call the white middle class “consumed” with it.

    Not the white middle class in general, but, as I said, the white Christian middle class, who have existed for the past 25 yrs. in a persistent victimization state. Everyone is always out to get them.

    The government. The news media. The music industry. The movie industry. The ACLU. The universities. The scientists. The atheists. The Muslims. The Europeans. The “elites,” whoever they are. The judiciary. The Democrats. The gays and lesbians, feminists, [going back just a few more years] blacks, and pretty much anybody else in America who thinks they ought to have the same rights that white, middle class Christians have.

    For 25 yrs., white, middle class Christians in America have been in a permanent siege mentality. To hear them tell it (at the top of their lungs), they’ve been victimized by everybody. I don’t think “consumed” is too strong a word, at all.

  16. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Just because some folks on the religious right squawk about a lot of issues that equates to a “victim” mentality?

    When I think of a “victim mentality” I equate that with attributing reponsibility for one’s own lot in life to someone or something else. Someone with this mentality may have legitimately been a victim at one time or another, but rather than letting go of that state of mind and moving on, they cling to that victim status.

    I agree somewhat with your “siege mentality” characterization (although I think you applied it too broadly), but I think there is a significant difference between that and the “victim” mentality I was talking about.

    p.s. Good to see you back around the blog.

  17. Sandi Says:

    Wow, the last time I checked there were 3 comments and then there were 16!!!

    This is really such an interesting issue to me that I was hoping that people would get into it a little. Interestingly enough, I left out a small part of the story that I will share now, if anyone is still reading.

    When I was in law school and living in my first transitional apartment, I had a car stolen from my driveway. At the house on Riverview Drive, our neighbor across the street was a crack addict who knocked on our door at 6 a.m. on a Saturday once to ask for money. My roommate Brandy paid her off from time to time so that no one would break into our house and steal our belongings.

    Since I’ve been in D.C., my car has been vandalized on no less than four separate occasions. On two occasions the little triangular window by the passenger-side back window was broken. Last year our passenger-side mirror was torn out and our windshield wipers were torn off (not the blades, the entire arm). And then on Tuesday, the very day I posted this article, I call my husband before I get on the Metro to come home and he’s in the alley talking to the police, because three little boys shut off the power to the building and put a huge crack in our windshield by throwing rocks at all the cars. (He thinks they were about ten years old. The destructiveness starts young).

    I felt like I owed an apology to every single person I had thought was a racist for turning their nose up at my apartment. Even though I know my larger point is right, the truth is that I have been a crime victim probably at least partially because of where I have chosen to live. (Interestingly, the one place where nothing happened was in Brooklyn, but maybe I just wasn’t there long enough).

    More in a minute.

  18. Sandi Says:

    With respect to the “victim mentality,” I think Juvenal said it very well.

    “Without getting into a discussion of how living in generational poverty affects people’s sense of who they are and what’s realistic for them to hope for, and how that in turn affects their economic decisionmaking, I’d point out in a general way that the class structure created by 400 years of past racism already has a good deal of momentum all its own; it tends to perpetuate itself (even in the theoretical absence of continuing racism).”

    These are exactly the kinds of points that I made in my senior thesis on affirmative action. The three mistakes that people make in their thinking about race are: (1) failing to comprehend the ways in which and the extent to which past racism has shaped the present; (2) failing to recognize how prevalent racism still is; and (3) assuming that it is possible to eliminate racism. (that last being especially controversial because it sounds so nihilistic).

    While I was writing my thesis, the senior leadership program I was participating in had a session on race relations. I sat there dumbfounded as all four of the guest speakers, two black and two white, each claimed that race was not an issue anymore. It upset me so much I had to leave the room and go collect myself. But that incident taught me that a lot of people are willfully delusional about this issue. They don’t see it because they don’t want to see it. It’s considered whiny or passe. Just like it’s considered whiny and passe to talk about sexism. But guess what — just because it’s not talked about doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    I remember an article I read by a woman named (I think) Peggy Macintosh, who made a list of all the ways in which she was given unearned advantages as a white person. I’m not sure how to post a link here that works, but an excerpted version of this essay is available at

    I think that her list really puts in everyday language the ways in which white people count on a certain set of assumptions being made about them and are given a pass on a lot of things because of their race.

  19. Sandi Says:

    Crap, the whole link didn’t get posted. Trying again:

  20. Sandi Says:

    Okay, very annoying. The remainder of the link is “acking.html”. Don’t know why it would not post the whole thing.

  21. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Thanks for the love, Joe.

    I still don’t see much daylight between the victim mentality you describe and what I hear from white, middle class, American Christians. They do use all those groups I listed previously to “attribut[e] reponsibility for [their] own lot in life to someone or something else.”

    Are you making a distinction between attributing responsibility and attributing causality? IOW, are you saying the victim mentality holds that not only did outside forces cause my lot in life (causation), but it’s up to them to fix it (responsibility), while a siege mentality doesn’t include the latter?

    (For the record, Sandi, seeing “acking.html” made me think of Bill the Cat. Thanks.)

  22. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I think you make a pretty good distinction, but let me add another.

    People with a seige mentality feel like they are under attack.

    People with a victim mentality feel like they’ve already lost the battle.

  23. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Interesting. I can see some difference between the rhetoric/activities of white, middle class Christians and generationally poor blacks in those terms, but not just a tremendous difference, and I’m not sure how meaningful it is.

    That’s because, fundamentally, what you’re talking about is a difference in the perception of time. One group perceives the battle in the present perfect tense; the other in the past tense. I find that more or less to be expected, given the actual difference in “battle time” between the two groups: 25 yrs. vs. 400 yrs., respectively. Also because it’s largely a matter of hope, as we’ve both mentioned before. White, middle class Christians still have hope of being able to do something about their siege; generationally poor blacks, in large part, do not.

    I don’t think either group’s perception of their situation is unreasonable. Nor do I think either group’s level of hope is unreasonable, based on their experiences and situation.

    White, middle class Christians DO have hope of breaking out of their supposed siege, because they are, in fact, the largest voting group in the country, the most educated, and, as a class, the wealthiest. All those things bode very well for one’s odds of succeeding in America. They are in control of their situation, and have good reason for knowing they are in control of it. It is reasonable for them to see the battle as still ongoing, and to continue to have hope for victory. They would be foolish or just defeatist to see things otherwise.

    OTOH, generationally poor blacks have extremely good reason for having no hope of ever changing their situation (of seeing the battle as lost, or, at best, unwinnable, and therefore turning their attention elsewhere). They have no economic resources, no education, are an electoral minority, and have a long history of being prevented from voting at all (in some places, a history that comes right up to the present). For all but what is a tiny sliver of socioeconomic time, they have been legally, institutionally, and personally barred from accumulating any of those resources.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for them to have no hope left of ever getting out of the gutter we’ve held them in for 400 yrs.; of ever turning the tide of the battle, or of feeling they are in control of their situation. It makes good sense for them to give up on us, our economy, our educational system, our legal system, and our political system, and turn their effort and energies to things that lie outside those systems, where they feel that might have a chance of succeeding; or, more tragically, simply giving up on ever being able to improve their lot in life. Not only is it reasonable for them to have no hope left, it might be foolish or naive of them to cling to it.

    So, all in all, I think I continue to stand by my statement that white, middle class Christians are much too consumed with their own victimization (or siege, if you prefer), to be telling anybody else — much less the black American poor — that their problem is their victim mentality.

  24. Sandi Says:


    Amen, hallelujah, preach it!

    It’s not that anything is ever determined 100% or that no one ever rises above the station into which they were born.

    But, most people will listen to the voices that tell them what it is reasonable for them to hope for and strive for. You often find that the people who do rise above were given a great deal of encouragement by their parents or some other mentor or relative and told that they could be anything. There are rare folks born with herculean inner strength who can overcome anything. But they are just lucky — just as people like me who are very easily discouraged are sometimes born into circumstances that allow them to flourish anyway. It’s all a game of chance, and I’ve never felt that it was fair to reward people for circumstances mostly beyond their control or, even worse, punish people for them.

  25. Terry Austin Says:

    Juvenal Jurevicious wrote: “White, middle class Christians… are, in fact, the largest voting group in the country, the most educated, and, as a class, the wealthiest.”


    I’m not sure how educated Jesus was (I think he went to trade school?), but those other two “attributes” of white, middle class Christians don’t reflect much on the way Jesus lived, do they?

    Considering he eschewed political power (for which we thirst) and was essentially homeless (and I’m wrapping up construction of a too-nice home in a too-nice neighborhood), I find myself as a Christian not looking much like a true disciple.

    Really, seriously: Is Western Christianity salvagable?

  26. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “Really, seriously: Is Western Christianity salvagable?”

    No, of course not. We should all stop trying.

    Eastern, Northern, and maybe Southern Christianity may still have a chance, though.

  27. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I think, Terrence, you’re running up against one of the differences between the Gospels and, say, Paul’s letters. I’ll just mention it. Duane, no doubt, can speak to it much more intelligently than I can.

    In the Gospels, Jesus’ focus is very short-term. He doesn’t seem to be thinking in terms of a community of followers that will need to perpetuate itself for decades, much less millenia. Taking what Jesus said and making it work on a longer time scale (i.e., through a church that can perpetuate itself) is Paul’s (and others’) task.

    Sometimes I think we’d do well to remember that Jesus died young. It seems his plan all along was to burn brightly and briefly.

    That’s not to say wealthy Christians shouldn’t be more cognizant of their obligations to the poor.

  28. Terry Austin Says:

    Juvenal, thanks for the thoughtful response.

    Joe, thanks for, um, a response.

  29. Whitney Says:

    You’ll have to forgive Joe. Sometimes he posts things that he knows he and I will think are funny, but doesn’t really consider if anyone else will think they are. He’s just a little boy sometimes (and that’s just fine with me–because I truly think he’s funny). I hope you know he was just being goofy.

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