I think it’s about time we put the idea of a post-racial America in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman. All three exist as mythical creations of the human mind with no factual support. We all know the post-racial America rhetoric. Get over it, we elected a black president. That was fifty years ago. Everyone’s on a level playing field now.

But the rhetoric doesn’t reflect our reality . Like a teacher erroneously using a permanent marker on a dry erase board, America still bears the marks of racial disparity and tension. Every week I see “relatives” in the grocery store who remind me of our checkered past–hello Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. With these ubiquitous images around, how can we believe we really live in a post-racial America?

This week I reflected on three things that reminded me of the mythical nature of a post-racial America. So I offer these three as reasons we’re not living in a post-racial America.

1) Because…Jeopardy

Yes, Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy. Three white students went head-to-head last week during the long-running game show’s college tournament. They were presented with some challenging categories in the Double Jeopardy round, ranging from “Weather Verbs” to “Kiwi Fauna”. Yes, Kiwi Fauna (Google it). “African American History” was also category.

This was perfect post-racial America material; three millenials who grew up with the post-racial America rhetoric (one of whom attends school at the University of Chicago, just blocks from Barack Obama’s Chicago home). Surely they’d knock out the African American history category early. It is February, right? This should have been a cinch.

Instead, African American history was the last category standing–the awkward guy at a social function. Maybe I’m speculating a bit here, but why was it the last category off the board? Contestants normally reserve obscure, problem categories for last. It seems these contestants were more confident in their ability to answer questions about Kiwi Fauna than their ability to answer questions about African-Americans.

2) Because…Prison

I know, pointing out issues in our justice systems sounds like a broken record. But tell that to the countless number of men and women who are broken by their records; men and women who are further dehumanized when we take away their right to vote, receive government assistance, and secure gainful employment.

Michelle Alexander points this out in her seminal work, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness:

Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal…We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

There are over 2 million people being held in prisons and jails nationwide (compared to 350,000 in 1972). One in three African American men is currently under control of the criminal justice system. Many of these convictions are for drug-related offenses. The natural explanation would be that African-Americans commit more drug-related crimes than whites. But studies have shown nearly identical rates of drug use and drug sales among blacks and whites.

Our prisons tell a melancholy story; a story that involves the lucrative privatization of prisons, disparity in sentencing across racial lines for similar offenses, and the dehumanization of anyone who has a felony record. It’s a story that can be buried beneath the post-race rhetoric we hear every day.

3) Because…Church

One of the indicators that we don’t live in a post-racial America is our homogenous church culture. Even if we could care less about the cultural and social references above, as Christians, this should bother us the most. We all know we’re reconciled to reconcile (see 2 Corinthians 5:17–21), but why is it so hard? We know what we’re supposed to do, but aren’t quite sure how to do it. Think about the number of conferences on reconciliation we hold each year, only to return to our homogenous existence at our home church. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of churches that reflect the Revelation 7:9–12, multicultural vision outlined in Scripture. I applaud them for their intentional efforts to pursue diversity.

For others who struggle with pursuing diversity, I think the issue lies in the approach. I once visited a large, predominantly African-American church in Los Angeles. I had the chance to sit down with one of the elders of the church and talk to him about reconciliation and pursuing diversity. He was a middle-aged man who wore the emotional scars of the Civil Rights era on his face. I’ll never forget what he told me. “John, we don’t have a problem with white people. They can always come here and worship with us.” I think that’s where the problem lies. We make reconciliation a “come here” issue rather than a “go there” issue.  How many of us are really willing to culturally displace ourselves to pursue reconciliation? Until then, we can’t complain about a secular culture that uses post-race rhetoric while demonstrating race-torn tension.

There’s Hope

I’m hopeful though. When it comes to a post-racial America, the line between myth and fact intersects at the gospel. The gospel is the only place where race, social, economic, and gender biases give way to truth and beauty (see Galatians 3:28). This is why churches have to get it right before anyone else does. The onus is on us. My prayer is that the reality of a post-racial America moves from the legendary land of Loch Ness and snow-capped mountains to the land of the free and brave—starting in our pews.