Post-Racial America: Is the idea a dangerous fantasy?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Post-Racial America
Ferguson Missouri Night 1

Police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Many photos from Ferguson, including the two images with today’s column, have been uploaded for public use via Wikimedia Commons by “LoavesOfBread.”

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—I hope you will join me in thanking our guest columnists, this summer. I’m back, this week, to explore the values surrounding the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. Here is my first column …

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson was sent to Ferguson, Missouri, by the state's governor.

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson was sent to Ferguson, Missouri, by the state’s governor.

“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” uttered Barack Obama in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama was then a senatorial candidate from Illinois, soon to be Senator, and now twice-elected President.

Was his image of a post-racial America just fantasy?

This is a haunting question, given the tragic and still-unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white policeman. The shooting triggered peaceful protests, violence, a militarized police presence, gubernatorial intervention, national outrage, rallies, and much more.

The answer to the question is complex and variable. The meteoric ascendency and election of Obama to the Oval Office shows that, in some ways, we are a post-racial society. But the Ferguson events show that, for many, we are not.

What is the overall state of race relations? Polls taken earlier this summer give us a view. Consider this question from a CNN/ORC Poll.

What’s your answer to this question? “In general, do you think race relations in the United States are very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad?”

Race relations are in the eyes of the beholder. Answers to this poll question show just how variable and complex things are. White and Black Americans agree when it comes to assessments of “very good” or “fairly bad.” Eight percent of White Americans and 9% of Black Americans say “very good.” Twenty-three percent of White Americans and 25% of Black Americans say “fairly bad.”

The biggest differences occur with the “fairly good” and “very bad” responses. Almost six of ten White Americans (59%) say race relations are “fairly good,” with 45% of Black Americans saying the same. Only 9% of White Americans say race relations are “very bad,” with 21% of Black Americans saying the same.

Is the image of a post-racial America just a pipe-dream?

What do the events in Ferguson, Missouri, say to you?

In your view, what is the state of race relations in America today?

PLEASE, invite friends to read and discuss this series with you. Use the blue-“f” Facebook icons and small envelope-shaped email icons with this column.

King’s Dream: Are whites or blacks treated more fairly?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series King's Dream
Click the chart to visit Pew's site for the full report.

Click the chart to visit Pew’s site for the full report.

The value of universalism—meaning justice and fairness for all—is one of the 10 beliefs that nearly all Americans hold dear. On today, this 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington, would you say that blacks in your community are treated as fairly as whites?

Now that’s a very broad question, so let’s narrow it down and consider specific areas and institutions: police, courts, workplaces, stores and restaurants, local public schools, healthcare, and voting in elections. Would you say that blacks are treated as fairly as whites in each of these?

Researchers at the Pew Research Center asked these questions in a survey earlier this month, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary. In each area or institution, there are wide racial divides in opinions about fair treatment. For example, 70% of blacks say that blacks in their communities are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police, compared to just over a third of whites (37%) who say the same. Almost the same proportion of blacks (68%) says that, in the courts, blacks are treated less fairly than whites, with only 27% of whites saying the same.

How about treatment in the workplace? Over half of blacks (54%) say that blacks in their communities are treated less fairly than whites. Only 16% of whites agree. Similarly, 44% of blacks say that blacks in their communities are treated less fairly than whites in stores and restaurants, with only 16% of whites agreeing with them.

Generally, we see roughly the same amount of disagreement about fair treatment of blacks in local public schools, healthcare, and voting in elections. Blacks tend to see unfairness. Whites tend to see fairness.

Are you surprised by these racial differences in opinion about fair treatment?

How would you answer the question of fair treatment of blacks, compared to whites, in your community?


5th anniversary of OurValues: A small world after all?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 5th Anniversary
Brandenburger Tor aka Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Germany

This is Das Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, known in English as the Brandenburg Gate. Photo by Thomas Wolf, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Obama is in Germany today, meeting with the German president and chancellor. He gives a speech at the Brandenburg Gate almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy gave his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech there. The last time Obama was in Germany, 2008, he addressed a huge, euphoric crowd. Today’s official reception is grand, but the public reception is lukewarm, reflecting concerns about drones, NSA spying and other matters.

Germans also are an important audience for The column has an American focus, but the international readership of demonstrates that it really is a small world after all. We also have many readers from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Philippines, China, Netherlands, France, and Sweden.

Over 1,300 columns have appeared on One of the most popular posts featured Germany and its role as a model of a post-nuclear world. Here is it, in edited form:


Would you be willing to sacrifice your lifestyle if it meant we could end the use of nuclear energy? Six of ten Germans are willing to do so, based on a new poll. A majority (57%) say they want Germany to close all nuclear power plants in less than five years. Is a nuclear-free Germany a model of our future?

Along with a change in lifestyle, Germany plans to shift to 50% renewable energy by 2050. That’s an ambitious goal, and even if it’s attained, where would the other half come from? Natural gas is one source, but coal is another—and coal is the real enemy, says environmentalist George Monbiot. The human and ecological costs are far greater than the risks of nuclear energy, he argues.

Germany’s neighbor—the Czech Republic—is delighted with Germany’s plans to cut nuclear, looking to profit by selling them energy from coal-fired plants. Czech companies don’t face pressure to close their nuclear plants, and politicians are in favor of increasing the use of coal as an energy source, according to business reports.

This all goes to show that the German model illustrates the limits of a nation-specific energy policy. One nation bans nuclear energy and its citizens are willing to take a hit to their lifestyle. Another nation invests in nuclear and coal-fired energy. It’s the same thing when you decide to not use pesticides on your lawn, but your neighbor asks for a double dose.

The energy dilemma we’ve discussed all week goes beyond national boundaries. It requires a multi-national policy. And, that takes a level of cooperation that we have not seen before.

What do you think of Germany’s model?

Is it a model that you could support?

Or, is it futile given that other nations will do the opposite?

Please, Comment below:

Face of Climate Change: What do you think of the Lorax today?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Face of Climate Change
Dr Seuss cover of The Lorax book

Click the book’s cover to visit its Amazon page.

The Face of Climate Change is a campaign organized by the Earth Day Network to personalize environmental threats and dangers. Yesterday was the 43rd annual Earth Day, and I selected one of their photos to feature on Today, let’s consider another face: The Lorax.

Why the Lorax? When I picked up my son at elementary school yesterday afternoon, I asked him if the school did anything special about Earth Day. “We saw The Lorax,” he said. “But it was the old one. Not the movie version.” I figured he must have seen the animated TV special, which first aired in 1972 and now is available on DVD. The “movie version” he was referencing is a computer-animated film with high production values released last year. Both versions are based on Dr. Seuss’ children’s book by the same title, published in 1971—just one year after the first Earth Day.

Did you read the book? Or see one of the animated versions? The Lorax is a fable about the onslaught of industry and the plight of the environment. The Lorax embodies the environment; industry is the Once-ler. The Once-ler is a polluter who fells the trees to use as raw materials in his factory. The Lorax speaks for the trees. The Once-ler ignores his warnings and, having cut down the very last tree, must close his factory due to lack of materials. The Lorax departs, and the Once-ler is left to live alone.

But there is redemption at the end, sort of. The Once-ler gives the last remaining seed from the felled trees to a boy, hoping that he might replant the forest.

As you can imagine, The Lorax incited a great deal of controversy, seen by many as an anti-industry, pro-environment piece of propaganda aimed at kids. Controversy continued into the late 1980s when a regional dispute broke out in California, sparked by logging-industry officials who felt school children were being biased against them. Environmental scientists took the book so seriously that an original line in Seuss’s book about terrible conditions in Lake Erie was removed in the 1980s—two Lake Erie researchers convinced Seuss that Erie was on the road back to health.

Clearly, this is more than a tale for children!

If you saw or read The Lorax, what did you think?

Was this an appropriate film to show to elementary schoolchildren on Earth Day?

Are you doing anything this week to commemorate Earth Day?

Please leave a comment below:

Earth Day: What’s your face of climate change?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Face of Climate Change
Face of Climate Change from India

Click this image to visit the Earth Day Network site.

What’s the face of climate change? Perhaps an image of extreme weather? Or, you might envision the face of a small child in the developing world.

Today is Earth Day. The first Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970, organized as a “national teach-in on the crisis of the environment.” It was proposed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. He made his announcement to the U.S. Senate and it appeared in the October 8, 1969, Congressional Record. (Here’s a story about the origin and current breadth of this worldwide holiday.)

This week’s main question is: Forty-three years later, where do we stand on the environment? Please, leave a comment below. As you consider your response, here’s more information to get you thinking.

FIRST, what do polls show? Americans are still divided on the trade-off of energy production and environmental protection. According to a Gallup poll earlier this month, 45% of Americans say that “protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk or limiting the amount of energy supplies—such as oil, gas, and coal—which the United State produces.” But 46% say that developing these supplies “should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.”

SECOND, let’s personalize the issue: That’s the goal of the Earth Day Network in organizing “The Face of Climate Change” for Earth Day 2013. This is an invitation to take a photo and tell your story about how you see climate change and how it impacts you. You can upload your photo and story by visiting the Earth Day Network’s current front page.

I browsed the photos already on the site, especially those tagged the Photo of the Day. The one that caught my eye is small boy in Bilaspur, India, smiling and holding a sign above his head that says “The Face of Climate Change.” Here’s part of his story: “We are ready to protect nature with our small hands. Come with me! I am happy because my family is fighting against the sponge iron factory, which produces lots of carbon. If we win, it will help save our ecosystem! Please come fight with us!

The sponge iron industry, also known as direct reduced iron, is a rapidly growing sector in India, especially in the regions where iron ore is plentiful. But it uses coal in the process. The dirty production of sponge iron is causing extensive pollution and massive protests from those affected.

So, how far have we come in the past 43 years?

Which is more important: energy production of environmental protection?

What’s your image of the face of climate change?

Please leave a comment below:

U.S. Churches: Where will our eclectic tastes carry us? is popular. One in five Americans believe in the idea.CHURCHES REMAIN a dominant institution in America, despite a rising number of Americans who say they don’t have a religious affiliation. Both the religiously unaffiliated and affiliated believe churches do a lot of good. Large majorities of both groups say that churches bring people together and strengthen community bonds, according to a Pew poll last year. Large majorities also say the churches play an important role helping the needy and the poor.

But will our eclectic spiritual tastes threaten the church?

So far this week, we’ve discussed congregational mobility, trends in the demographics of congregations, trends in church attendance, and changing profiles of clergy in the main Christian denominations – all based on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

Today, we consider the increase in eclectic beliefs and practices, the long-term effects of which remain to be seen. Over one-third of churchgoers attend services in more than one church. One in four attends services in different faiths, according to another Pew survey. More than one in five Christians believe in astrology, reincarnation, and spiritual energy in trees and nature. Seventeen percent believe in in the “evil eye” (casting curses on others). Over the last twenty years, rising numbers of Americans say they have felt like they were in touch with someone who was dead, according to Gallup data discussed in the Pew report. A rising number also say that they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

In some ways, this eclecticism seems quite American—as the nation is a mix of peoples and beliefs, so too are American religions. By the same token, could rising eclecticism erode the religious foundation of the church? Can organized religion co-exist with the mix-and-match tendencies of the American people.

Do you have eclectic religious and spiritual beliefs?

What have you seen in your congregation?

Does eclecticism imperil the institution?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

U.S. Churches: What do we know about clergy? IS A TYPICAL AMERICAN PASTOR? The Rev. Albert Mohler is a Southern Baptist preacher best known as a lightning rod of controversy in news media. But he also looks a lot like a typical American pastor. He’s 53, white, Protestant and in his first marriage. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.SURVEYS REGULARLY examine the American people, particular demographic groups and particular kinds of occupations—but rarely focus on the ordained leaders of U.S. churches. All this week, we’ve been focusing on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which tells us aobut congregations—and about clergy as well.

What do we know about American clergy?

GENDER: Men vastly outnumber women in official pastoral roles. All Catholic priests are male, of course, but so are pastors of almost all conservative Christian churches, according to Leadership That Fits Your Church, the new book based on the nationwide survey. Mainline Protestant churches have the highest percentage of women who are ordained, which amounts to about 28% of all mainline Protestant churches participating in the survey.

MARRIAGE: Pastors in conservative Protestant churches are much more likely to be in their first marriage—85% of all conservative congregations. Fewer, but still a majority, of mainline Protestant pastors (62%) are also in their first marriage. Twenty-nine percent of mainline Protestant pastors have been divorced at some point; compared to 12% of conservative Protestant pastors.

Marital status differs for men and women among ordained Protestant ministers: While 71% of all men are in their first marriage, 37% of women are in theirs. Women clergy are more likely to have never married (about 12%), compared to men (1%). About one in four women clergy are divorced or separated, compared with 3% of men.

AGE: The median age of all pastors is 55. In 2001, the median age was 51. Catholic priests are the oldest, on average. The aging of clergy is a function of several factors. More people are waiting before entering the seminary or ministry. Fewer people enter the seminary or ministry right after college. Theological students in 2005 were ten years older, on average, than theological students in 1962. Another reason is that more clergy today are in their second careers, having had another occupation prior to official church leadership.

EDUCATIONAL LEVELS: Theological education differs by denomination. Well over nine of ten Catholic priests (94%) and mainline Protestant ministers (98%) hold advanced degrees. These include Master of Divinity, Bachelor of Divinity, some other master’s degree, or a doctoral degree in ministry or another field. A majority of conservative Protestant clergy hold similar degrees (53%), while over a third (37%) hold a certificate from a denominational training program, Bible college, or seminary.

Do these profiles match the pastor in your church?

What trends have you seen in your congregation?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.