What does racial reconciliation mean in a country that elected a black President?

It was a pivotal, watershed moment that our nation elected its first black President. A moment everyone could celebrate, whether or not they voted for Obama. It was significant. At the same time, I think it's given some people in America a reason to hail so much of the progress we've made while ignoring a great deal of the pain and division that still remains. I fear it's made some people complacent, and dismissive of how much further we have to go in order to achieve a just society in which all forms of racism are no longer a factor.

The challenge is that the black-and-white, overt racism that we saw of course during slavery but more recently through Jim Crow segregation has pretty much been eradicated. Much of what we have to combat now is more subtle, institutionalized, and therefore more insidious. It shows up in the huge economic disparities between racial groups, in the prison system that incarcerates almost an entire generation of black kids (and to an increasing extent, Hispanic kids). Our prison system has become a kind of legalized Jim Crow segregation. Young black kids are being arrested in disproportionate numbers, and they're being sent to prisons often for nonviolent offenses, and in those experiences they essentially become criminalized. When they come out, they can no longer vote in many states, and they can't get a decent job. That puts them on a pretty destructive path.

So I think we have a long way to go, and part of the challenge we face as a country is agreeing on what our ultimate vision is. Is this a country in which we become colorless? I would argue that's the wrong goal, because there's a lot of richness in our cultural heritage that's often tied to race and ethnicity. Instead, I think we should be striving to become a nation in which neither punishment nor privilege is tied to race or ethnicity. I realize that's a very high bar, but I think that's the ultimate goal. Our prison system, as it currently stands, and the extraordinary gap in the incomes and assets of black families and white families, show that we're not there yet.

Visit the Patheos Book Club for more resources on Mobilizing Hope, including a book excerpt and an online discussion.