Americans: On Racial Justice, the World Is Looking to You

Dr. Joseph D'Souza is president of the Dalit Freedom Network and of the All India Christian Council.
Dr. Joseph D'Souza is president of the Dalit Freedom Network and of the All India Christian Council.

I'm looking for the place that I was born, 

I'm looking for a way to fix what's torn, 

I'm looking for America.

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So goes the lyric from Switchfoot's Looking For America, a song — which features the black rapper Lecrae — from the band's latest album "Where the Light Shines Through."

Those of us who were not "born in the USA" are also looking for America. What happened to the hope and security this nation brought to the world? Where is the banner of freedom and equality she held high and proudly?

Policy considerations aside, imagine our exhilaration from across the world when in 2008 we saw both blacks and whites elect the first African-American president — only America could do it!

Yet such unity did not come at a low cost. When it comes to racial equality, America had to go to war against herself to overcome her painful history of slavery.

Abraham Lincoln — like William Wilberforce across the Atlantic — had to confront his own race to establish the law that abolished black slavery.

The lesson the Civil War taught us remains true today: unless the conscience of the oppressor is awakened, true equality and human dignity are impossible. The fight for equality has to be fought by both the oppressor and the oppressed.

The oppressed too have to rise up non-violently and fight for their rights. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought with his words and peaceful protests in the 1950s and 60s, therefore stands high and tall as the great American example for this kind of advocacy.

As tragedy has followed tragedy recently, remembering Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. might bring perspective to the way Americans ought to address the hatred and fear dividing them.

I hope the pain America has endured lately brings people from both sides of the racial divide together. However, there is no shortcut to the process of racial reconciliation.

America, and especially her leaders, must be vigilant, tirelessly seeking peace and not stoking the fires of hatred by engaging in a blame game.

The current problems of racial animosity in South Africa that surged once Nelson Mandela stepped down as president underlines the deep-seated effect racial hurt can have in the collective memory of a society. The Hindu-Muslim tensions plaguing India — my own country — also demonstrate how hurt can carry from one generation to another.

Racial reconciliation requires great patience.

I would like to present some suggestions from the lessons I've learned in my own fight for freedom and equality in India:

We first must understand that human nature is a mixture of both good and evil. In the battle for human equality and religious tolerance leaders must act out of the good side of human nature and not provoke evil.

I suggest American leaders make due allowance of time and space for this problem of racial division to find peaceful resolution. Words are not enough; only consistent action, proven over time, will bring lasting change.

I suggest we seek proactive integration of our various racial and ethnic groups. I have been visiting the US for several decades and know there is hope. I now see many inter-racial couples, families, and communities living at peace. Integration takes time, but it's not impossible.

I suggest we be patient and sensitive yet decisive in dealing with evil on both sides of the racial divide. Our hurts are real, yet law still matters and must be followed.

I suggest America continues to look at that which is hopeful in her society. Perhaps, if her leaders and politicians focused their energies on praising and promoting what is good, what is evil might lose its prominence and power? Instead, they expend all of their energy attacking one another.

Finally, I suggest America never compromise on its rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

America is much more than a modern political and social experiment; she was built on the notion that all human beings are created equal — a direct take from the Bible's teaching of the equality of the human race.

Lincoln and King believed in, fought, and died for this idea. May the American people never forget it. The world needs America to be America today more than ever.

Dr. Joseph D'souza is president of the Dalit Freedom Network and of the All India Christian Council, and a member of the Not Today Coalition.

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