Racism: our nation’s original sin

I have decided to come out of retirement for an occasional column. I figured if players like Michael Jordan could do it in basketball and Brett Favre in football, so could I.

In this column I write about racism. Racism is our nation’s original sin. Original sin, according to a Christian theological doctrine, is humanity’s state of alienation from God because of Adam’s rebellion.

Original Sin is anything that violates the ideal relationship between God (or the Universe) and humanity. It moves all things out-of-kilter. Interestingly, original sin is sometimes called ancestral sin. And that’s what happened when our ancestors, the founding fathers, adopted the three-fifths compromise.

The Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution. It was an agreement reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 between the Southern and Northern states in which three-fifths of the slave population would be counted for representation purposes. That compromise in not recognizing the full humanity of the slaves is our nation’s original sin. It has distorted everything in our history ever since.

Now, I am not saying that we as a nation have not made progress in overcoming this sin. Think Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke the baseball color line when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base on April 15, 1947. As the first major league team to play a black man since the 1880s, the Dodgers ended racial segregation that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades. The example of Robinson’s character and unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation, which then marred many aspects of American life. Go see the movie “42” which tells the story of Robinson’s struggle in breaking baseball’s color barrier. Robinson’s breakthrough contributed significant energy to the Civil Rights Movement.

And, of course, in our own time, we have elected President Barack Obama, our first African American President. There is no doubt we have made progress. As Martin Luther King told us, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

But we have a long way to go. Three stories in the news recently have made that crystal clear. The Supreme Court’s decisions on affirmative action and the Voting Right Act; the Trayvon Martin/William Zimmerman murder case; and Paula Dean, the restaurateur and TV food personality’s, insensitive racist comments.

In essence the Supreme Count punted on the affirmative action case, sending it back to a lower court for further consideration. In Fisher v. the University of Texas, the justices upheld the major precedents regarding admissions that count race as a factor – but they also told the lower court to urge universities to develop race-neutral alternatives in order to achieve diversity.

On the Voting Rights Act, in a split 5-4 ruling in “Shelby County Alabama v. Attorney General Eric Holder,” the majority of justices struck down Section 4b of the law, declaring unconstitutional, the formula used to identify which state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination were required to get pre-clearance before changing their election laws. In so doing the Count gutted the centerpiece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, despite the Act’s near unanimous renewal by both Houses of Congress and the signature of Republican President George W. Bush in 2006.

This decision was a devastating setback for civil rights and a blow to our democracy. “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” To me this sounds disingenuous given that many red states are further restricting voting rights and that the Congress is in gridlock and can agree on almost nothing.

Racism is certainly the background coloring (no pun intended) the obsessive wall to wall coverage by the media of the Zimmerman murder case. The deceased Trayvon Martin, of course, was black and William Zimmerman who shot him was a light-skinned Hispanic.

Paula Deen admitted to using the “N” word long ago. But her apologies were just as insensitive as her original slur. It has cost her. Her culinary business empire is crumbling. The Food Network has dropped her shows. So has Smithfield Hams. Home Depot, Walmart, Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas have also cut ties with Dean. Sears, J. C. Penney and Walgreen have dropped her branded merchandise. She lost a new book deal. She has lost millions.

In the Paula Deen case, is all this abandoning her justified? I don’t pretend to know, but I do know that this ruckus is rooted in racism. Our nation’s original sin is still much with us.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column previously appeared regularly in the OBSERVER. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, “The Spirit at Your Back” is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/