Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.
Those of you who, like me, spent time in a mainstream Christian church are probably aware of the doctrine of “original sin”. Under that doctrine anyone “born of woman” is born guilty of sin and like all sinners will go to Hell when they die unless they repent and seek forgiveness. Now we have a new version of original sin for those of us who were born white.
America is living through a moment of racial paradox. Never in its history have black people been more fully represented in the public sphere. The United States has a black president and a glamorous first lady who is a descendant of slaves. African-Americans lead the country’s pop culture in many ways, from sports to music to television, where show-runners like Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels have created new black icons, including the political fixer Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and the music mogul Cookie Lyon on “Empire.”
It has become commonplace to refer to the generation of young people known as millennials as “post-racial.” Black culture has become so mainstream that a woman born to white parents who had claimed to be black almost broke the Internet last week by saying that she was “transracial.”
Yet in many ways, the situation of black America is dire.
“All of these examples in some ways are really misleading in what they represent,” Mr. Stevenson said. “We have an African-American president who cannot talk about race, who is exposed to hostility anytime he talks about race. These little manifestations of black artistry and athleticism and excellence have always existed. But they don’t change the day-to-day experience of black Americans living in most parts of this country.”
If current trends continue, one in three black men are expected to spend time in prison at some point in their lives. The Great Recession wiped out twice as much black wealth as it did white, and the raw numbers are even more stark: Post-recession median household wealth for a white family in 2014 was almost $142,000, down from $192,500. The median wealth for black households had fallen to $11,000 from $19,200. There are 1.5 million black men “missing” in America, because they are either dead or in prison.
Pull back even farther into history, experts say, and the picture gets starker. Black people were overwhelmingly excluded from the largest opportunities for wealth creation in the 20th century, from federally subsidized homeownership after World War II to the job training programs that created millions of middle-class livelihoods.
The Confederate flag still flies at the state capitol in Columbia, S.C. Black people across the South live on streets named for heroes of the side of the Civil War that opposed the end to slavery.
For many black people, Charleston is of a piece with the story of black life in America.
“Many of the conditions — housing, food, police brutality — they’re not isolated, they’re all connected experiences,” said Lamont Lilly, 35, a black journalist and activist in Durham, N.C., a city about 300 miles north of Charleston. Greg Tate, a black writer and musician, said black people could not help but feel that they are under siege in a society afflicted with amnesia about its own history.
“There has always just been a constant denial in America that racism really exists,” Mr. Tate said. “As James Baldwin says, there is just an incapacity of white Americans to look at themselves as bad people. We see with Dylann Roof there is already a rush to not only dissociate other white Americans from his violence but to distance he himself from his own stated investment in white supremacist ideology.”
The era of instantaneously shared images holds out hope for change. Cellphone videos of police officers shooting unarmed black males shock the conscience of Americans, the theory goes, just as TV footage of peaceful black protesters menaced by vicious dogs and water cannons in the civil rights era troubled white Americans of that time.
Yet many black Americans today lament facing struggles reminiscent of the last century. Highly militarized police forces patrol their communities. State voter ID laws, along with laws barring felons from voting, are widely seen as efforts to disenfranchise black citizens. Some scholars argue that mass incarceration and harsh policing tactics have replaced Jim Crow laws as a way to control the black population.
What a load of crap!
Ever been in a relationship with someone who cannot forgive and forget anything? We all make mistakes, but nobody wants to keep paying for the same mistake over and over and over. Even worse is when you have to keep paying for someone else’s transgressions.
I met a woman whose first husband was a lying, cheating, abusive deadbeat. I mistakenly thought I would have it easy because I didn’t intend to do any of those things. I understood I would need to prove myself and earn her trust, but I wrongly assumed that eventually she would see that I was different.
Instead I found myself paying the price for what he had done. That was five years I’ll never get back. I won’t make the same mistake again.
Sorry, Ms. Polgreen, but the Era of White Guilt is over. I am not paying penance (or cash) for stuff that was done by other people before I was born. This country has already been washed in the blood enough times.