COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., December 7, 2014 — In a Sunday interview with the New York Times, comedian Chris Rock said that he believes part of healing racial relations in America is by white people “owning” the actions of their ancestors. Why anyone other than the New York Times would take a comedian seriously is an open question but this much is certain: Rock needs a clue. He is wrong on several levels.
I am happy to own the actions of my ancestors. Like most Americans today, my ancestors immigrated (legally) to this country after the Civil War. One who did immigrate earlier fought in the Union Army. As late as the 18th century, one branch of the family were serfs. They all came here with one thing in common: to create a better life for themselves and their children. They worked hard and they succeeded.
Much, I imagine, like Cris Rock himself.
Liberals are consumed with guilt for the wrongs of the past. That’s what Rock is tapping into in his interview. Liberals like to think of themselves as forward-thinking progressives but they are really mired in the past.
For most Americans, however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Most Americans have nothing to be ashamed of. And even if they did, it doesn’t matter.
That’s right: It doesn’t matter. America is a place where people come who want to start over. A place where the sins of the past don’t matter.
In Europe, as elsewhere around the world, race and ethnicity still matter. Centuries-old grudges still define their politics. Basques in Spain; the Irish and Scots in the United Kingdom; Bosnians, Serbs and Croats in the Balkans; ethnic Russians in the Ukraine. The list goes on and on.
That’s not what America has been about. America has been about assimilation, about people uniting around ideals, not race and ethnicity.
There’s another reason as well that past sins don’t matter. The vast majority of Americans are Christian. Christians believe in forgiveness and redemption. Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we will shortly celebrate again this year, came to save us from our sins. Bearing the guilt of our ancestors down to the fourth and fifth generation is Old Testament thinking—as well as Old World thinking.
As Americans and especially as Christian Americans, the past holds no guilt. We made mistakes as all people do, we’ve sought to correct them and to move on. Chris Rock and all the race-baiters ought to do the same.
Slavery ended 150 years ago; the civil rights movement 50 years ago. Time to let it go.
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