Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Letter to Mayor Ray Nagin

Dear Brother Ray,

On certain occasions, I am allowed to write a letter from here, and I think that this is such a time. I've been told about some things you said yesterday, a special day for me, I must admit. Let me quote:

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country...

"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans -- the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

Brother Ray, may I suggest a greater reluctance for speaking for God? Brother Pat's been doing that a bit much lately, and it's no wiser for you.

But I am certain that you were speaking out of love for our people, and for that you are to be commended. And I am certain that now you are full of mixed feelings. Part of those feelings involve self-blame as you realize how unwise your choice of words were. And you are probably also feeling some anger over those who have seized on your words to intentionally make you look foolish. I understand. I have been in that position myself.

But more to the point, let's discuss racism. One of the great mistakes our people have made is to believe that only white people can be racists. The conventional wisdom is that racism can only exist when the racist has power to oppress. Our people, through much of our history in America, have been powerless. Therefore, we were incapable of being racists.

Now, that may be the common opinion, but it is one that is not consistent with the words of the Lord Jesus. I urge you to read the Sermon on the Mount. Observe how we are directed to the heart, and the attitudes that cannot be seen. All people can be racists: white or black or red or brown or yellow. The Lord sees our hearts.

That, my friend, is the issue you stirred up when you spoke of a "chocolate New Orleans." Now again, I know, you are very concerned for the future of your city. We are concerned up here too. But you err, my friend, if you think that these words are wise. They are not. What if the mayor of Pascagoula said that his city was destined by the Almighty to be a vanilla city?

If I can be indulged to quote myself, I would urge you to consider these words, and see if they are in accords with what will no doubt be called your Chocolate City speech:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

May God bless you, Ray, and grant you wisdom in all things.



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