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The Audacity of Hoping for a Real Civil Rights Future



Tom Hoopes - published on 05/17/15

Unlike Obama, the movement's great leaders knew why life matters

Hope is what is truly needed in America’s race relations promise. Hope doesn’t riot. Hope doesn’t give up. And hope doesn’t abort its future.

Mama said it best.

Mama is a character in Lorraine Hansberry’s play Raisin in the Sun — whose 1961 film version starring Sidney Poitier is well worth watching today.

Poitier plays Walter Youngers, an ambitious young black man who wants to rise up in society, but finds that society keeps forcing him back down. The world tells him that he cannot work where he wants and he cannot live where he wants, all because of the color of his skin.

When his wife gets pregnant, the child looks like just one more impediment to the family’s plans.

She plans to abort and Walter says nothing, allowing the logic of despair to hold sway.

But his mother speaks up. Here’s the text taken directly from the play:

“MAMA: I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was. (Pause. The silence shouts.) Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them — (she rises) I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one. …. I’m WAITING.”

Watching race relations devolve into anger and rioting, first in Ferguson then in Baltimore, Americans feel a lot like Mama these days.

Facing the recent crisis of race relations it feels like we are right back in the original time setting of that play, and we are still waiting.

We are waiting for another leader like Martin Luther King Jr. to speak the hard truth of hope to the culture of easy despair.

Hopelessness is easy to come by. Americans, white and black, voted for President Obama in part because they expected him to be the transformational civil rights leader the country needed: the successor to MLK.

But a McClatchy poll in December showed a majority of Americans disapproving of Obama’s handling of race.

Race Relations Arguably Worse in ‘Age of Obama,’” reported the paper. Racial disparities have not improved under Obama: Blacks earning less money and graduating from college at lower rates. The unemployment gap has widened under Obama: black unemployment is 11.1% compared to 4.9% for whites.

And “We are more racially fractured and fragmented,” James Peterson, director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania told McClatchy.

What happened? What did MLK-era black leaders give the black community that Obama has not? Ironically, Obama cannot give the main thing he promised: hope.

Mama put her finger on the reason: Abortion cancels hope.

The Christian faith informed his whole outlook on life of MLK-era civil rights leaders, and Christianity is unparalleled in delivering hope. The cross, the instrument of death that became a symbol of life, is the greatest – and often the only – hope available to oppressed people. It is the hope that today’s suffering will yield life later.

Abortion is the opposite of the cross.

The cross says my suffering will bring resurrection, and even if I should die, my death can bestow life on others. Abortion says that new life will bring me suffering, and that I need to kill someone else to bestow life on myself.

Obama’s extreme pro-abortion position is absolutely incompatible with a message of hope.

The embrace of abortion by so many black leaders is very literally destroying the hope of the black community.

Abortion is three times more prevalent for blacks than for whites. That means blacks are three times more likely to feel profoundly threatened by the new lives in their midst rather than encouraged by them.

And the prevalence of abortion in the black community has meant that many black people who should be with us are not here.

Imagine what they might do, if they were here. Imagine what the black community would be, if it followed Mama’s advice and refused the logic of abortion.

The pro-life black leaders we are missing would see their children as the hope for the future, an attitude which always pays dividends. Leaders of faith and hope would hold whites and blacks to the standard of the cross: Of sacrifice for the future. They would see the future of their country not in the destruction of infants but in the securing of opportunities for their infants.

They would demand an end to white privilege and they would demand an end to rioting, both.

The great Martin Luther King Jr. did so much for race relations in America by sharply challenging white privilege while holding his own community to a high Christian standard.

Pray we haven’t aborted the ones who would bring his vision into the 21st century.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

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