Most of us have a lot invested in "niceness." We are disturbed when people tell us that our niceness is a facade for maintaining unfair advantage. It makes us feel anxious and defensive, and the most natural reaction is to deny that we even notice race!
Or, better yet, to start listing our friends of color...
(BTDT, and I'm ashamed to say I have the T-shirt...)
Minorities who point out White privilege are always called "angry" and/or "bitter." (Feminists get the same treatment when they point out male privilege.) On the other hand, Whites who point it out are often accused of wanting to be Black themselves, or of doing so out of "liberal guilt."
(Just in case you wondered, I don’t want to be Black, and I’m not a liberal---in the United States of America, 2008, I’m an all-out radical. Which is rather a pathetic state of affairs...)
Almost always, the “conversation” ends with: "Why don't you just forget the past and move on?!" Which is easy to say when you hold the "keys to the kingdom," in terms of economics and education and good health.
If I have learned only one thing in all my years of studying history and politics and engaging in political activism, it is this...
Niceness is the enemy of fairness.
Ultimately, if you are White, the question is not "Are you a racist?" Of course you are! So am I. You cannot have grown up in the majority culture and escape being one.
(Here's where some of you will jump in and start talking about Black racism. Different kettle of fish, since they are not in a position to impose their prejudices on you in any systemic way. Basically all they can do is say "I hate White people!" And honestly...who could blame them?)
The question is "What are you going to do about it?"
From our earliest days on this earth, we have been surrounded and nurtured by imperfect human beings, who seem to have some deep need to define themselves as superior to others. If this were not so, there would be no history of pogroms, war, and genocide. (Incidentally, there would be no advertising industry either...).
But we also seem to have a deep need to put the responsibility for racism anywhere but on ourselves or on the structure of our society. Again, Grace made a comment that I've heard a thousand times:
I don't think any of us can be held responsible for something that happened decades ago, and that we weren't involved in at all, for heaven's sake.She's right on one score---none of us can be blamed for the social structure we inherited. But the data are conclusive---we are not talking about "something that happened decades ago." We are talking about what is happening right now, and we ARE responsible for that.
De jure racism is technically no longer allowable, but de facto racism is alive and well and living in your/my head, your/my house, and your/my community.
If we can't admit that, we simply can't move ahead.
In that sense, racism is like alcoholism. You can't begin to get better until you admit there is a problem.
I need to note at this point that, for me, this is a spiritual issue. I am not here to discuss racism from a sociological point of view (though I've tried to offer data to prove that racism is alive and well in our nation) or a political one.
I'm here to talk about what God asks of us in this world---and I find that most of the Christians I know are suspiciously deaf when it comes to a couple of subjects (i.e., race and money).
I think it's way past time for Christians to lower our "defense shields" and talk openly and honestly about what it means to be White and Black (and Hispanic, Native American, and Asian/Pacific Islander) in America--and to talk honestly about the way that our faith both impedes our progress toward a just society and supports our efforts to achieve it.
Because I believe our faith demands that we look at ourselves as clearly and honestly as possible---and that part of our job is to usher in the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
We cannot usher in that Kingdom if we refuse to listen to hard truths.
Doxy's Note: Next week, I'll talk about Jesus and race. In the meantime, I've got two special things to post this week. Stay tuned!