Thursday, June 16, 2016
LET ME SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS
I’m about to go to a meeting and at this meeting there will be discussions going on about racism. This will be a rather significant meeting since it is the annual meeting of my denomination and the discussions are going to lead to various actions, reactions, and attitudes. What will be thought, said, or done is going to be consequential though there will be cynics who will dismiss much of it, as cynics do (and this will be from all sides of the issue). There will be those at this meeting who will belittle, dismiss, or evade as those who suffer from “racial discussion irritation” tend to do every time the subject comes up.
There will be some people at this meeting who will expose the formation of their thinking and attitudes concerning the issues of race as being politically driven, and will interpret everyone who might oppose them as being politically driven as well. Thus they are dismissive that there is any “real” issue of moral, spiritual or Biblical substance. They will voice the idea that there might be some justification to the discussion if it just wasn’t put into the vocabulary of social justice forgetting that such vocabulary owes much of its content to the Biblical prophets.
This usually comes from a conservative political side, which has cooked a stew of interpreting racial issues, complaints, cries for justice, and analysis of racial incidents as simply political in nature. They have often interpreted the voicing of racial concerns as only things to be manipulated by liberals or democrats and not actual moral, ethical, or spiritual matters. Such manipulation has happened of course, but it does not invalidate our own personal, congregational, or denominational history and involvement in our national racial narrative.
This pattern of dismissal was true during the time of slavery, and the struggle for civil rights. According to this narrative black people have never had any real issues or complaints; everything was manufactured by abolitionists, or Northern agitators, or communists for their own purposes. The proof positive of this was always to find a Negro who expressed resentment about people bringing the issue up when they claimed to be pretty happy in the system (slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, apartheid). Oppressed people have sometimes had difficulty not only understanding their oppression (the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt), but feeling free to tell the truth about it.
There is an interesting dynamic in racial discussions that tends to be fairly constant, although stretching across different demographics. This dynamic is the tendency to assume that one can live in America and be aloof from the conversation. The issue of race in America is a national artifact, it is part of our collective history, has created our present culture, and affects every single person residing in this country. The way we react or fail to react to the artifact of race and inter-racial conflict adds to the artifact.
Because race as a created social construct played so heavily in the creation of America it is very difficult to walk around in public without people assigning you to a racial category. Whether or not anyone told you how and when it happened, certain privileges and complications go with that designation. The designation can be solely in another person’s mind, and the privilege or hindrance associated with their designation can cause one to have a blessing or be cursed. Sometimes this designation ends up being fatal. An example of this would be “driving while black” or being profiled and creating a confrontation that leads to violence. There are always exceptions and negative designations are not universal, yet our history reveals tendencies depending on the lightness or darkness of skin color.
Majority culture people who have had the possibility of living a segregated life and not actively mingling with other kinds of folks sometimes act as if they can intellectually observe all this discussion from afar, as if they have not been the recipients of racial privilege due to racism. We often enter racial conversations as if we can be neutral, can walk away from the issue if it bothers us too much, or think that we bear no responsibility for the national culture and how it affects minority cultures. Unfortunately we seem to get away with it too often, but it is an illusion that besets obtuse individuals who do not realize how offensive and destructive to relationship healing that they continue to be.
We have met Europeans who have immigrated to the U.S. in the last decade or so who claim that none of these problems are theirs, that they are somehow not involved. We have met Africans who have reacted exactly the same way, and might insist to any white racist that they are not African-American but African and should be treated differently, and react to African Americans as if this American fight is not theirs. Again, to enter into this society is to enter into a society one of whose major and significant historical and cultural artifacts is the color of your skin, not your language nor your tribe nor where you are from and not how long you have been here. It is part of the mess in which we step and gets on everyone’s shoes. You might deny it but the stink of it goes with you.
Since only those people in denial think they can escape it the only realistic way through it is to deal with it, to think about it, to discuss it. That discussion will inevitably be with those of “another” people group, as least if one actually wants to make progress in coming to any kind of reconciliation. Many of these discussions can be painful, opening up wounds to heal them.
There are those who believe that “it is best to let sleeping dogs lie.” Some might believe that those problems from a past era are over, might even be regrettable, but why bring them up now? Again, this presupposes a certain sense of denial about current racial tensions and injustices and betrays a lack of concern or sense of responsibility about the past. Some people think silence is a mark of peace or even a way to maintain peace and unity when in actuality it is too often a resignation (on the part of some), to the idea that progress and healing cannot be pursued or accomplished. To others it is a convenient hiding place from dealing with their sin.
I am looking (and I am looking for it first in myself) for a discussion in sincerity, conducted with honesty, of truth telling. I am looking for humility, a conversation of hope, filled with mercy and readiness to forgive and be forgiven. I am looking for a hatred of sin, not just that of others but our own, and a great rush to repentance and revenge. Revenge? Yes, the kind that the Apostle Paul spoke of when he wrote the Corinthians about how they had dealt with sin in their church in 2 Corinthians 7:11. I don’t think the reference concerns revenge against a person, but a revenge against sin, uncleanness, and against the Devil. My hope is for a godly sorrow that leads to a great zeal for repentance, holiness, and justice among us; not to harm anyone but rather to heal our souls and our church.