Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thoughts on America, race and religion ... from 88 years ago

Sorting through some books, I came across this passage from 1928's Youth and the New America, by social activist and Methodist preacher Garfield Bromley Oxnam. Setting aside some of the unfortunately dated language and focusing on the spirit of Oxnam's message, it's interesting to juxtapose (1) that this was written nearly nine decades ago with (2) where we stand in America today, on so many fronts.

There are some Americans who think of the racial problem in terms of the Negro or the Oriental, but the racial question is infinitely larger than that. Of it H.G. Wells declares: "I am convinced myself that there is no more evil thing in this present world than race prejudice; none at all. I write deliberately — it is the worst single thing in life now. It justifies and holds together more baseness, cruelty, and abomination than any other sort of error in the world." The yellow races, the brown, the black, the red, are rapidly coming to self-consciousness. Approximately a third of the world population is white, nearly a third is yellow, and a little more than a third is black or brown. This means that there are two colored persons for every white person. The question we face this hour is whether or not, in the light of Christ's teachings which reveal a common Father and declare that all are brothers, we can work out this racial problem in conference and good-will, removing thus the danger of conflict.

There is a school of amateur anthropologists in America who, in flaming scareheads, picture the rise of the colored races and the eventual extermination of the white peoples. They have gone so far as to insist upon the supremacy of a small section of the white race, and to urge its development for the purpose of assuring its rule of the world. They insist upon "Nordic race superiority." This school is supposed of men whom President Glenn Frank, of the University of Wisconsin, sarcastically calls "facile journalistic camp followers" of the real scientists, and are not to be taken seriously by any student. In the approach to the racial problem the young American must turn to the responsible inquirers in the field and beware of these pseudo-sociologists. By what scientific evidence do you justify the assumption that you belong to the superior group?

... Is not the place to attack the race problem right at home, first by studying our own minds, uprooting prejudice, and seeking to develop the attitude necessary to cooperation? And then, is it not the duty of young Americans, Christians, to work out practical steps whereby understanding may grow, contacts of friendship increase, and the fine art of living together emerge?

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