III. Reconciliation: A Time for Healing

Everything now ... is in our hands .... If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.

--James Baldwin, 1963

Whether one subscribes to the mythic view of America as "shining city on the hill," the grittier class-warfare view, or the more pragmatic economic self-interest perspective, the centuries-long subjugation of people of color is, in any case, morally and ethically indefensible.

From the mythic standpoint, one might argue that Americans are better than that--and that they should strive to live up to their reputation as fair-minded, freedom-loving, equality-conscious people. It is their birthright, after all, that there exist "certain unalienable truths ... that all men [people] are created equal, [and are] entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." When they fail to actively ensure that all human brothers and sisters enjoy the same liberties and opportunities, they betray that birthright. "This nation," Du Bois insists, "will never stand justified before God until these things are changed." Or, as King put it in Mississippi in 1966 a bit more pointedly: "[Our nation] has a choice. Either you give the Negro his God-given rights and his freedom or you face the fact of continual social disruption and chaos. America, which will you choose?"