Racism and Economic Injustice Against People of Color in the US

Biblical and Theological Grounding

WHEREAS, the prophet Isaiah spoke out:

Woe to those who make unjust laws, / to those who issue oppressive decrees, / to deprive the poor of their rights / and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people (Isaiah 10:1-2a NIV); and

WHEREAS, Jesus taught the foundation of the law and the prophets was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself and he made clear that everyone is our neighbor; and

WHEREAS, Jesus proclaimed the essence of his ministry when he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / because he has anointed me / to bring good news to the poor. / He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives / and recovery of sight to the blind, / to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18 NRSV); and

WHEREAS, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed God’s condemnation of economic injustice, saying:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, / and oppress all your workers. / Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight / and to strike with a wicked fist. / Such fasting as you do today / will not make your voice heard on high. . . . / Is not this the fast that I choose: / to loose the bonds of injustice, / to undo the thongs of the yoke, / to let the oppressed go free, / and to break every yoke? / Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, / and bring the homeless poor into your house; / when you see the naked, to cover them, / and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:3b-4, 6-7 NRSV); and

Background and Motivation

WHEREAS, this condemnation applies directly to the reality of racial injustice and economic inequality in the US; and

WHEREAS, the US has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations; and

WHEREAS, in 1967, when Jim Crow segregation was wounded, but still alive, median household income was 43 percent higher for white, non-Hispanic households than for black households, yet by 2011, with legal segregation eliminated, that figure had risen to 72 percent (Ned Resnikoff, “Race is the elephant in the room when it comes to inequality,” MSNBC, posted 03/13/14, updated 05/23/14. Available online at <http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/washingtons-silence-the-racial-wealth-gap>); and

WHEREAS, despite steadily rising overall wealth in the US, the “wealth gap” between whites and African Americans went from 12 to 1 in 1984 to 19 to 1 in 2009 (Ibid.). Significant disparities exist at all income levels. So, for example, in the bottom fifth of households, poor whites have an average of $24,000 in assets. Poor black households have, on average, $57 in assets, for a ratio of 421 to 1. In the middle income level, the ratio is 5.2 to 1 and even at the highest income level, white households have, on average 3.2 times more wealth than black households (Tim Wise, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equality (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010), 69-70); and

WHEREAS, “African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be employed in low-wage jobs and twice as likely to be unemployed,” even when the job climate is good. In addition, on average, black men remain unemployed seven more weeks than white men and black women are out of work five more weeks than white women (Ibid., 66-67); and

WHEREAS, while median income for Asian Americans is higher than that of whites, Asian Americans earn less than whites at the same educational level (Ibid., 95) and many Asian Americans still live in poverty; and

WHEREAS, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the sharecropping and tenant-farmer system, the convict slave-labor system (See Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Anchor Books, 2008)), thousands of lynchings, KKK terror, and other historical practices prevented the accumulation of wealth and property by most African American families and the legacy of those systems of oppression still affects many families, recent studies show that ongoing mass disparities between whites and blacks in the US can be directly attributed to current racist policies and practices:

One study showed that African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans have more than a one-in-three chance of suffering discrimination in any given job search, concluding that roughly 600,000 blacks, 275,000 Latinos, and 150,000 Asian Americans face job discrimination each year (Wise, 88).

In studies of service-industry employment, research showed that even when researchers sent African-American testers who were more qualified; white applicants were more likely to get an interview (Ibid., 90-91).

A Princeton study using black, white, and Latino test applicants who were trained to have the same communication styles, physical characteristics, and demeanor found that white applicants were far more likely than applicants of color to be called back. It also found that even white men claiming a felony record were slightly more likely to be called back than black applicants with no criminal record (Ibid., 88-89); and

WHEREAS, the deliberate de-industrialization of the US in the 1970s and ’80s led to massive job losses among people of color, who had only gained access on a large scale to good-paying blue-color jobs. This is directly linked to the re-impoverishment of a large proportion of African-American households, to urban decay (as incomes and tax revenues plummeted) and the dramatic rise in the jail and prison population (starting around 1980). People of color (especially African American and Hispanic men) became an unneeded surplus labor force and mass incarceration became one of the primary solutions to that problem; and

WHEREAS, widespread discrimination against people of color continues in the US in housing, education, health care, and the policing and criminal justice system; and

WHEREAS, we need a vision of a beloved community, founded on social and economic justice and motivated by self-giving love. This vision includes removing the power of police oversight and discipline from the police themselves; substantially reducing sentences for minor crimes and dramatically reducing the prison population; eliminating the “prisons for profit” system; providing genuinely equal education opportunities for all; creating an economic system that provides for an equitable distribution of wealth, with much larger programs to assist developing nations; reinstating and strengthening voting-rights protections; and strengthening investigation and enforcement against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and healthcare; and

WHEREAS, racial injustice and inequality still constitute the cornerstone of US economic and social policy and practice; and

WHEREAS, intense and ongoing systemic and institutional racism is still the greatest barrier in the US to building beloved community;

Therefore, be it resolved, that The United Methodist Church advocates, encourages, and will support a new multiracial, mass movement for racial and economic justice in the US; and

Be it further resolved, that every annual conference in the US support anti-racism training for every active clergy member and for all members of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and district committees on ordained ministry, and that this training be offered as well to other key leaders among laity in each conference. We note that anti-racism training must address white privilege and focus on intentional struggle and advocacy against racism in our churches and in society at large. So-called “diversity training” or “sensitivity training” is insufficient; and

Be it further resolved, that every annual conference, district, and local church should be engaged, intentionally, in being an anti-racist church, not merely on paper, but in action. Church bodies at every level should seek to educate themselves on the extent of racism in business, education, government, housing, and healthcare and find ways to advocate for the elimination of specific instances locally and nationally.

Resources on Racism and Economic Justice for People of Color:

Tim Wise, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010).

Joseph Barndt, Becoming the Anti-Racist Church: Journeying Toward Wholeness (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011).

Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (New York: Basic Books, 2005).

Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Anchor Books, 2008).

ColorOfChange.org — “we keep our members informed and give them ways to act on pressing issues facing Black people in America.”

ADOPTED 2016

See Social Principles, ¶ 162A.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.