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Separate but Equal?

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a period of much civil and political dis-ease. The notion of blacks and whites being separate but equal as was ruled and upheld in the historic Plessy V. Ferguson case sounded good in theory but, things were far from equal. “Colored Only” water fountains and back door entrances to restaurants were to be expected at that time. These laws thwarted any desirable efforts for collaboration between races; rather, it became necessary for each race to retreat to their own facilities or whatever was being divided. In this case, division or separation on both sides created inequality. Integration, collaboration, and unity is the highest calling of mankind. It is what God himself required of His people. God requires that His people make every effort to be unified, peaceful and live together in service to each other. It was during this time that many black leaders arose challenge the conscience and to bring about this new vision and social order for American society.

Furthermore, the idea of being separate but equal did not prove to be fair or just despite the landmark ruling. The blatant disparity between the schoolbooks of some whites and blacks was atrocious. Why did the color of one’s skin matter? Why were blacks ultimately viewed as second class citizens?

The answer hid among the thorns of sin and hatred. This vice created psychological dynamics that before had never been studied. By denying black people access to what was arguably basic rights, certain levels of defense and methods of coping upended many in the black community. Many blacks lived in the balance of what W.E.B. DuBois coined as “double consciousness”. This term is used in one of his works The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois writes this description expressing his concept of double consciousness:

The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, --- a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of other, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, --- and American, a Negro; two worlds, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (Du Bois 10-11)

This passage taken from Du Bois’ work The Souls of Black Folk, hints at the idea that an individual with darker skin is born both with a curse and a gift. The curse, in my opinion, is a veil that does not allow the perspective of blacks to be valued but rather to be seen as inferior. Many instances of this place limits of opportunity on blacks who have great potential.

The idea of “double consciousness” is a reminder of the seemingly opposing views of being both “in this world” yet not “of the is world”. In other words, the believer like African Americans of which Du Bois refers to, also faces a sense of duality. The believer must be able to live with and among society while also maintaining their connectedness to God in the spiritual realm. What that means practically is that believers must carefully balance living amongst the two as the two are distinct on their own.

As I reflect on the past notion of being separate but equal and the eventual overturning in Brown v. Board of Education, it is objectively apparent that together we have gained much ground as a civil society. It is this momentum, despite the setbacks, but in light of the hope that captivates our private thoughts and turns our riddled past into a powerful divine message for our children to love each other, serve one another, and walk alongside the stranger unfamiliar. I am so glad that we have this hope in Christ. For far too long we have had to fight, but I hear the words of a popular song, “The battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s.” It is our faith that sustains us as we know we still have a long way to go. God Bless.

-Rev. Stewart

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