Soul has no Color

Last night, my wife & I had the privilege of watching the incomparable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 72 years strong, perform an incredible concert.  Her opening act was comedian Jonathan Slocumb, whose job was to pump up the crowd for Aretha.  In honoring the Queen of Soul, Slocumb reminded the Wisconsin State Fair crowd, which came from all walks of life, as depicted here, that Soul has no Color.” 

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The comedian’s profound statement, which he based on one’s soul being internal, and therefore not based on skin color, reminded me of my 9th grade Social Studies teacher, who happened to be an African-American teacher in a high school filled with mostly Jewish students.  When it came time for her to teach the section on race, she started by saying that she hated teaching that topic and though she would follow the curriculum by teaching us about the then current definitions of Caucasoid, Negroid, & Mongoloid so-called “races,” she wanted us to understand that she believed there was only one race: the human race.  For many years after that profound and unforgettable lesson, whenever I had to fill out forms to identify my race, I checked the “other” box and filled in the blank, “human.”

Needless to say, race and racism are complex issues, often encumbered by ever shifting definitions of race.  Prior to Loving v. Virginia, when the Supreme Court struck down anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, as unconstitutional, many states defined race (particularly African-Americans) by percentage and these definitions varied from state to state.  Indeed, the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court established the concept of “separate but equal,” was based on Louisiana’s definition of a “black” man which included Homer Plessy who was classified as an “octoroon” since his ancestry was 1/8 black, and therefore he was forbidden to sit in the “whites-only” section of the train.

More recently, one must wonder why there was so little outrage when the data was recently released revealing that the life span gap between whites and blacks, while narrowing nationwide, increased significantly in Wisconsin.  As the City of Milwaukee’s Medical Director aptly put it,

What you have here in Wisconsin is an environment which is not healthy for children of color, and this is the main driver of differences in life expectancy.

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Thus, while there are certainly racial disparities all over the place, many of which are abhorrent, and must be addressed through systems change, I yearn for the day when we can look beyond the color as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it so well, 

I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Because, soul has no color.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

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Hope: Essential, but not Sufficient for Systems Change

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, those who recognize that the status quo is never fully satisfactory for most of us would do well to analyze the essential elements of progressive systems change.  At the very core of Dr. King’s message is a message of hope.  After all, when people lose all hope, they give up trying to make progress, or worse yet, engage in desperate acts of terror, because they have no hope of making progress without the use of such horrific means.

In his first campaign for President, Barack Obama captivated a majority of Americans with his message of hope.  However, those who listened carefully to that message also understood that hope alone does not achieve progressive systems change. Indeed, he started using the theme of hope in his 2004 Senate campaign.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?

Indeed, in his victory speech after his Presidential re-election in 2012, President Obama made clear that:

I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

To those who felt downtrodden by the struggle for justice, Martin Luther King made clear:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

As I have written previously, in addition to hope, the following elements are critical to advancing systems change:

  • Truth
  • Education
  • Organization
  • Litigation when necessary, and
  • Persistence

Most of all, using all of these elements strategically and effectively will capitalize on the power of hope to effect progressive systems change.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.