- We are a broken, fallen, and sinful human race. Racism and all kinds of other prejudices are symptoms of our structural, corporate, and individual sinfulness.
- It is part of human nature to find (need?) other groups to feel superior to and to blame for our misfortunes. These attitudes are often justified theologically, but often have economic roots, or just may be the “way things are” in a particular culture.
- Sometimes this racism leads to horrific evil such as genocide of indigenous peoples during the Colonial period, slavery of the African, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Nazi concentration camps, Balkan ethnic cleansing, and much more.
- Sometimes even “good” people are guilty of racism, even good Christians. This simply points to the fact that any human being, at any point in time, and in any particular culture, is shaped by that culture’s worldview, which is certainly fallen, racist, and erroneous.
- Bottom line, then, no one gets a pass. There is no culture, no country, no race, and no point in history where some form of racism and ethnic prejudice did not exist and manifest itself. White, Black, Brown, Yellow. Dark skin, light skin. Rich, poor. Those on the inside, those on the outside. All are guilty. Let’s talk about guilt.
Second, and here is where Pogo applies, I have looked in the mirror and found the racist – the problem. No, I am not a hate-filled racist. In fact, I consider myself a pretty open-minded, cross-cultural kind of a guy. I was raised in a cross-cultural situation and have pretty much worked in such settings most of my life.
See, I grew up in a country (Chile) where there were no Black people. This was during the 1960s, so my Chilean friends often reminded me of the race riots in the United States, where “they treat Black people so badly.” They also liked to tell me there was no racism in Chile. Well, there were certainly no Blacks to dislike, but, ironically, my friends always spoke of African-Americans in condescending and paternalistic terms. And, there was most definitely racism against the indigenous peoples of Chile and significant prejudice against rural people, and especially the poor. They had plenty of their own brand of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic prejudice. No one escapes guilt.
My first true encounter with racism was while we were on a furlough in Fort Worth in 1966. I attended seventh grade at what was then a predominantly white school with a Hispanic minority (boy, has that changed!). There was one “Negro” boy in the eighth grade. My locker partner moved away after the first six weeks, so I was due to get a new partner. One morning while at school a bit early the vice-principle approached me in the hallway (she knew me personally since I had registered in late summer).
“Terry,” she said with a serious look on her face, “would you mind sharing your locker with a little Colored boy?” I answered, “No, of course not.” She was obviously greatly relieved, thanked me profusely, and walked away thinking, I am sure, that she had dealt with that delicate issue successfully. Surely, my missionary parents wouldn’t throw a fit as other parents might. I do remember thinking as she walked away, “That was a strange question. Why should I care?” It was only years later that I got it. By the way, I was also friends with a bunch of the “Mexican” kids in school, something I realized later I was probably not supposed to do.
Having said all that, I can look in the mirror and see a man still struggling with a variety of prejudices, false assumptions, stereotypes, and unfair conclusions. No, I am not a “racist” in the hostile and vicious sense that most people think of. But, there are plenty of race, ethnic, socioeconomic, cultural, and lifestyle related issues I find myself dealing with. Proud of it? No. Happy about it? No. So, how do I deal with the racist in the mirror?
One, I work hard at listening and learning to empathize (not condescending pity!). When I have sat and listened to some of my closest friends tell me about growing up African-American in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there is no way I can begin to comprehend what they experienced. Having to constantly look over my shoulder? Nope. Heart pounding when the police pulled me over for driving in the wrong neighborhood? Nope. Lay on the floor while a cross burned in my front yard? Nope. When I listen I try not to get defensive, accuse anyone, or excuse anyone. I simply realize that this really has been their experience, whatever may be the sociological realities or political interpretations. That helps me gain a modicum of empathy. (Still, I am sure that some will read this blog and still think "Man, he doesn't get it).
Two, as you have already seen, I just fess up. Admit it. We are all – White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, men, women, whatever, given to biases and prejudices. Give it a name. Confess it. And work at overcoming it.
Three, I realize (and point out to other people) that in this society we White people are still the dominant race and culture. That may or may not be true forever, but that is not the point. The point is how we can move as individuals, as a society (as a church!) to true justice, diversity, and inclusivity, and do it without paternalism, condescension, and tokenism. Not easy. We often get it wrong. A life-long journey. Worse, when an injustice is fixed in one area, another pops up. That is the nature of a fallen creation.
Now, one thing needs to be clear. I am not necessarily talking about guilt feelings. Too often people get hung up on feelings (“I don’t feel guilty”). Well, I don’t usually feel guilty about all this, either. I do realize, however, that there is true guilt and I grieve over the situation, over the injustice, and over my part in possibly perpetuating it.
When will there be no more Charlestons? Only when Jesus returns to consummate his kingdom and reigns over all. That is not reason for despair, but for hope. In the meantime we work for peace and justice. We work at overcoming racism and prejudice (go ahead, name yours), realizing that some reconciliation is possible now, but full reconciliation of every tribe and every nation is still to come.