We would like to believe that we live in a country that espouses the best of human values. For even with the sharp differences that characterize our economic, social, religious, cultural and political environment, the United States boasts a country that has at its core a respect for the dignity of each person, the belief "that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Respect for each person in our society lies at the heart of who we are as a nation.
We have been friends for some time now, an African American and a white man. Despite our cultural, religious and, yes, even political differences, our friendship has been forged on shared core beliefs. We take pride in being Americans, we believe in the basic goodness of the human person, we have faith in God and his providence, we believe in the importance of education and hard work in achieving real success and we desire to build a world of justice and goodness.
How we each go about our life's work may vary, but there is a shared sense of purpose about the kind of world we want to live in and pass on to those who come after us. These are the values that have cemented our friendship over time and we have become better individuals because of our ability to understand and to share our differences.
In reading the Oct. 5 Post-Gazette news story "Obama Not Much Trusted in Border County," on voter attitudes in Fulton County, we both experienced the same response of shock, disappointment and outrage, albeit from vastly different perspectives. Charles Sipes, a 68-year-old man living in Harrisonville, Pa., was quoted as saying, "This country was based on white people, not blacks. Blacks belong underneath, not on top."
While most other interviewees did not share his sentiments out loud, many expressed these same kind of fears related to the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama for no other reason than he is a black man.
Our response is in no way political. We are advocating for no particular candidate here, but pointing out that Mr. Obama's candidacy for the highest office in our country has unleashed in the public eye what is all too often painfully real but hidden away in many human hearts.
Racism is a scar upon our country's soul. How many millions of slaves suffered unspeakable horrors because of this great evil that went unchecked for centuries? How many persons of color in our country's history have been victimized by the intolerance and hatred of others who saw nothing of a person except the color of their skin and judged them as inferior and inhuman?
There are many who think nothing of African Americans sacrificing their lives for our country through military service or working in a variety of service industry jobs that support our way of life, but who do not believe that they have the capabilities for management or leadership.
There have been many voices in the course of our history that have called us to task on this stain on America's soul, sometimes booming ones like Martin Luther King Jr. in a way that led to radical and systemic social change. In their 1979 pastoral letter, the American Catholic bishops wrote that "racism is a sin; a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."
Yet there are some who profess their commitment to God and church, espousing their deep religious convictions, but who hide behind the good name of the church while harboring deeply racist attitudes and beliefs. These are totally incompatible with the beliefs of almost every organized religious denomination in our nation.
We are both involved in educational and social programs that aim at changing these attitudes especially with our children and youth. But despite all the efforts to eradicate racism and prejudice from our culture and from the human heart, so much still needs to be done. The article in Sunday's paper only made that point painfully clear.
One white man in Fulton County may have made this outrageous remark about one black man who happens to be a United States senator running for president. But this is 2008, not 1865. These remarks are simply unacceptable in a society that aspires to greatness. But do these attitudes really cause every person of good will to respond with a deep sense of moral outrage? Do we work vigorously to contradict every worldview that promotes hatred, discrimination and prejudice, especially teaching our children the immorality and despicable nature of racism?
In truth, we know that these are not isolated attitudes espoused by a handful of uneducated folks in Central Pennsylvania. All too often they exist in every community, in our own families, our churches, schools, social groups and neighborhoods.
To think that there is even one person who believes that "this country was based on white people and that blacks belong underneath" is more than enough to make us hang our heads in shame.