Finding Common Ground

Dr. Martin Luther King said it forty-five years ago: “At eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.”

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama lately eloquently reprised those words in his landmark speech about race in America. His refreshingly frank and thoughtful remarks on how racism continues to corrode American communities acknowledged the anger of those in the white community who “worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas.” Or, as many see it, their jobs stolen by new immigrants, legal or otherwise.

Islanders lately have been acknowledging some of their own racial fears, made manifest after a fatal car accident. A young local graduate, later found to be going far too fast after drinking far too much, died. An unlicensed driver from Brazil, though not at fault, suffered physical injuries, untold anguish and a barrage of anger from some in the community who are simmering with resentment.

Senator Obama noted in his speech that racial anger all too often distracts attention from solving real problems: “But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

The Vineyard community takes pride in its history of open-mindedness on issues of race, its place on the Underground Railroad, its long-standing African American community. Yet here too is in many ways visibly segregated, including among faiths.

Sunday evenings is the meeting hour for a Brazilian congregation with a big, just-built church on the Island. Its members celebrate with flair, offering their few non-Portuguese speakers real-time translation through headphones. Everyone is welcome, church leaders told the Gazette staff who reported on the church’s new home in last week’s paper.

Some of the World Revival Church’s young congregants have said they were not such churchgoers in their home country. But these Brazilians find in churches here a social community that softens the isolation many otherwise feel on the Vineyard, where the need for, say, Portuguese translators for Brazilian schoolchildren elicits a bitterness often not expressed in polite company.

Senator Obama urged all Americans to realize the American dream need not be a zero-sum game: “Investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.”

Nobody of honesty can overlook this larger challenge. Whomever we may support in the Presidential contest, whatever faith we may hold, Senator Obama’s words would be well considered in America and on the Vineyard: “What is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”