Wednesday, June 24, 2015

AMERICA IN DENIAL

The slaughter last week of nine African-American Christians at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, seems to have had an impact on all Americans.  The picture of a young skinny white killer seemed contradictory.  He looked like a frightened child; he wasn't a tattooed skinhead.  Yet his racist Confederate paraphernalia told the story.

He had been welcomed into the church and sat for an hour through a Bible study before cold-bloodedly shooting his victims.

This horrible event seems to have awakened much of white America to the racism that lies very close to the surface of our culture.  After repeated news stories of police killings and abuse of black people, this slaughter seems to have finally brought forth an admission of this horrible American trait.

Or has it?  We have heard many expressions of sympathy for the families of the victims and for the members of Emanuel Church, but will that sympathy last?

We've latched on to some easy "solutions" to the problem.  There has been a nationwide outcry against the Confederate battle flag flying at the South Carolina capital - the same flag held by the killer in his proudly posted picture.  The governor of South Carolina and most of the state's legislators have agreed that the flag must come down.  Other states have spoken of removing it from public display as well.  Even Wal*Mart!  I agree it's about time, though actually it's about 150 years late.  No matter what its defenders say, the flag is a symbol that represents racism and slavery as many, both black and white have noted, though I have heard little mention of the fact that it also symbolizes rebellion against the United States of America; it is a treasonous symbol!

And then there are the cries for more and stricter gun regulation; of course, these cries will have no effect on a population living in fear.

I must say that I am pessimistic of any real change in America's situation.  Racism will continue.  There will be more cases of police racial profiling, of hate crimes, of injustice toward minorities, and yes, there will be more racist-motivated murders.

Because racism is in an integral part of our nation's history and culture.  And the reader's reaction to a statement like this is probably denial.  Surveys and polls inform us  that the majority of white Americans still do not see racism as a problem.  Inane denials that I heard 60 years ago are still being uttered today:
          "Some of my best friends are black (or colored or N_____s)."
          "I don't see color."
          "I'm not prejudiced."

And of course, the protests:
          "One lone incident does not mean we are all racists!"
          "What about black on white crime?"
          "What about black on black crime?"

The latest one:  "We mustn't politicize this tragedy."

What is so grievous is that Christians - people who claim to be followers of the One who commanded us to love our neighbor - are often the ones who are most caught up in denial.  While we may admit that racism exists, certainly "we have no part in it."

Some have referred to racism as America's Original Sin.  While I may not go that far, I believe that it ranks right up there as a contender for the title.  It has been with us from the beginning, with slavery and wars of extermination of native Americans.  Perhaps it is part of our American DNA as some have expressed.  And certainly it is not isolated to our nation.


I believe that racism - that fear of "the other" or the feeling that I am somehow superior to him - is an aspect of our fallen nature and that it dwells in some form or another in every one of us.  And we live in a fallen world of which America is a part.

Every one of us - I am speaking as a member of the white branch of the human race -  can find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of racism.  At the far end of this continuum we can find those who are members of the hate groups:  skinheads, neo-Nazis, Klansmen or "lone wolves" such as the young murderer of Charleston; and there are plenty of these.  But the rest of us, even those who consider ourselves "liberal" can find ourselves somewhere along this line if we'd bother to take an honest look.

I believe that it is time for the (white) church in America to stop "being conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2) in its racism.  It is time for us to stop saying, "we have no sin" and stop "deceiving ourselves" (1 John 1:8).  I believe we need to - we must - examine our own hearts for the racism that lurks there.  We must repent and confess it to God, as well as to our fellow human beings.  We need to ask God not only to forgive us, but to continue to show us where we are racist in our thoughts and actions.  We need to ask Him to, by the power of His Holy Spirit, cleanse us of this sin, this chronic disease.

We cannot on our own eliminate racism from our nation but we as the church of Jesus Christ can move toward cleansing it out of our midst.  Only then, I believe can we expect to see a real change in our culture.

Father, we confess that we your church, have been guilty.  We and our fathers have sinned in our racism, our lack of love, our hatred toward those who are different than we are.  We have compounded our sin by our denial of its existence.  We have compounded our sin by our tolerance of it in our churches and among our fellow believers.  Forgive us.  Open our eyes.  Cleanse us we pray.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes yes yes! Well said Grandpa! <3 Dani

Godless Cranium said...

It truly is a tragedy and I enjoyed reading your post.

I wonder if the church (all of them) will ever take down their pictures of a European Jesus and admit that he wasn't a white European?

Your post reminded me of the study that shows we all use stereotypes and unconscious bias:

"The answer, Williams argued, is unconscious discrimination. According to Williams, the research shows that when people hold a negative stereotype about a group and meet someone from that group, they often treat that person differently and honestly don't even realize it. Williams noted that most Americans would object to being labeled as “racist” or even as “discriminating”, but he added, “Welcome to the human race. It is a normal process about how all of us process information. The problem for our society is that the level of negative stereotypes is very high.”

You can find the article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-the-lines/201204/studies-unconscious-bias-racism-not-always-racists

It's too bad that this is so and I hope we as a species continue to move away from bias and racism. I think education and reinforcing positive stereotypes are the real answer and that prayer isn't.

But that's just me. *wink*

Good post Bill. :)

John Kulp said...

Thought provoking post Bill.

We have come far. When I came from the North to Arkansas in 1963, lynching of young black men was not pursued as a crime by local police. Today we have the first black president of the United States, something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Yet racism obviously still exists, and I have my own brand. I consider myself to be a liberal, and I look back with pride that I took an unpopular stand for civil rights in Arkansas in the 60's. However, the anniversary of Selma this year brought me a realization that I have some level of the liberal "uncle Tom" syndrome; the subconscious view that blacks are innocent childlike folks who need to be protected by white liberals. The courageous black MEN and LADIES who stood tall and proud for their civil rights, as they were beaten and murdered in Selma and hundreds of other places in the South in the 60's, didn't need my help. Thinking that they did is a form of racism.

I think the core problem that remains is deeper than racism. The technology that I spent my career as an engineer building has had a very dark result. It has created "designer news" cable channels and half-truth internet sites where any person of any view or extreme position can focus, reinforcing and isolating people in "tribal silos" of "private truth" with others who share that view. "Emotional intelligence", the desire to understand and empathize with the positions of people you don't agree with, is vanishing from our culture. People like the young murderer in Charleston can too easily close themselves in a silo with others of the same view based on their internet "private truth" and escalate that view to hatred and violence.

The obvious answer is a return to open dialogue between people of differing views, but that is becoming very difficult today. Silos of private truth breed distrust, judgment, fear and anger. I am a liberal in a conservative world. That is difficult at times, but I stay because in my group of friends my presence reduces the level of isolation that would occur if I were not there.

The early church had blacks and whites, roman soldiers and jewish zealots, rich and poor, bondservants and bondservant owners, jews and gentiles; all worshiping together in love and unity, focused completely on the gospel. I join you in your prayer that the church in America may return to that mindset and display the power of God by leading our culture in love and embracing diversity in our worship of Jesus Christ.

Kenneth Mullins said...

In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it this way: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart . . . [E]ven in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

I think America as a whole and the white church especially needs to repent. Even if we aren't racists, we are complicit by our silence. And that repentance needs to be individual and corporate. And out loud.

After our repentance, we need to stop lying to ourselves. As another commenter said, even the most liberal of us probably has some streak of fear of the "other", no matter how irrational. We need to admit when we think things that we know are wrong and correct ourselves with the truth.

And then we need to talk to each other in order to (1) get to know people who are different than us, whether that difference is race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and (2) correct those we know who are wrong in their thinking and actions

KenMullins said...

May I suggest that perhaps what is usually labeled as racism may in fact be different world views. In particular there are three viewpoints that cause us (white western males) to be called raciest:
1) Individualism – The idea that each person is responsible for their own fate. My opinion is that liberals tend to over emphasize the community aspect while conservatives tend to over emphasize individual responsibility.
2) Meritocracy—You have to work for and earn everything you have. In America--more than anywhere else in the world--you can be born in poverty and become a multi-millionaire based solely on your hard work and God given skills. My opinion: Whites (both liberal and conservatives) tend nurture and value education and entrepreneurship, while minorities do so to a lesser degree.
3) Equality—we are all equal before God, therefore we should treat everyone the same. While there is value in treating everyone the same, we should not expect a child from a single mother living in a ghetto to perform at the same level as a child from an advantaged background. My opinion: if we lower our expectations most children will never rise above our low expectations, but if we set them too high they will not be able to reach them and give up.

Bill Ball said...

So Ken, Is Ayn Rand now required reading for Klan membership?

Lesley Duckworth said...

Loved this post and also loved the comment by Ken Mullins on worldviews. He makes some excellent points that are absolutely true. To get to the bottom of the problems, I believe that we must start to admit that we are different. Our worldviews and cultures and the way that we are raised (family structure, discipline etc) are different. African-Americans will readily acknowledge this while white folks are as you say in total denial. I also have the friends who go into the "I don't see color and I have black friends" mode and this gets so old. Have there ever been a society that had multiple ethnic groups as ours does that successfully assimilated? My idea is that while we preach diversity that we should actually practice it. We should learn to accept the differences and embrace them instead of pretending they aren't there. As for me, I love in a community where there is only one or two black families. I never went to school with any black people until high school and then there were not that many. I don't have black friends and really don't even know any black people. So my point is that I really don't understand things. I don't understand how they are discriminated against in regular society as I have just never seen it. So what does that make me?

Amy said...

Thanks for having this conversation and offering an open place to have it! Let's hope this conversation continues on a national level for some time. There are many good comments and I can tell people are starting to think deeply about this.

Primarily, I view this as an 'other' point of view. Americans do tend to be very individualistic. However, that doesn't explain all of it, we can be individualistic and still respect and honor people who are different from us. It is more than a black white issue. Just insert hispanic, African, Asian, poor, rich, male, female, educated, non-educated. Any difference. (As a side note, I hear of many young males extremely angry and lashing out at young women asking to be treated equally. This is very unsettling).

So then we should ask, why are we uncomfortable with differences? Why do we not honor people different than we are? I've heard talk of a character crisis in our country. That such viewpoints are learned, not naturally inherent. Most likely it is a combination of things with a dose of fear included.

My kids always laugh at me trying to find the positive in everything. My hope is that we all learn to exam our hearts for as you say, the racism or fear lurking in the shadows. And that we strive every day to love our neighbors as ourselves also realizing, with a true knowledge, that God does not see our differences, we ARE all one in his eyes, not male nor female, Jew or Gentile, free or slave, and we should not see differences either.

Our goal should be to be closer to God, not further separated from each other.

The challenge is not everyone, with a faith in God or without, agrees or acknowledges this. So I pray every day to forgive myself in seeing this separation between me and others, to see humanity as one, to teach my children to honor and respect others and to show I am Christian thru my love. It may not solve our country's 'character crisis' but perhaps my small ripple effect will impact at least one person. Have to start somewhere.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks Amy

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

In response to Ken's comments:

1) I doubt minorities see this world view as racism but as conservativism. I can see how you can think that "liberals tend to over emphasize the community aspect while conservatives tend to over emphasize individual responsibility". This is basically the attitude that people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Whether or not they're kids. Or have boots.
However, I don't think scripture really supports the idea of "individualism" as being Christ-like which is more about submission, giving and unity. And I see a very communal attitude among Jesus & the disciples and in the early church.

2) I am sure minorities see this world view as racism - I sure do. Any statement that compares one race to another is pretty much racism.
Plus you really missed the boat!!
** very few people anywhere "work for and earn everything you have." Business owners don't put in the roads or utilities to their businesses. People can get free primary education even if they don't own property (and get it dirt cheap even if they do). Investors don't work at all for dividends and capital gains (and pay a lower tax rate on both). And I could go on and on.
** you can be born in poverty and become a multi-millionaire based solely on your hard work and God given skills" may be theoretically true but so rare now -- very few middle class people can afford college these days, let alone poor people, and jobs that pay well are still few and far between. Someone with an entrepreneurial mind has a chance but that is incredibly unique and benefits greatly from development from a like minded individual which may or may not be available in every community. Not to mention, s/he still needs to know how to run a business, which, trust me, few people know intrinsically.
** sorry, but saying that "Whites (both liberal and conservatives) tend nurture and value education and entrepreneurship, while minorities do so to a lesser degree" is a pure racial stereotype! On what basis do you judge one person's intentions as being lesser than another's? Are there studies on which you base this statement? Or is it just your impression based on your view of the results?
Instead of "whites nurture and value", you could have written "families with higher incomes and/or who have jobs with flex-time and/or not working multiple jobs each and/or with both parents in the home (especially if one stays home) have the money and time to spend nurturing" and developing. These options have been proven in multiple studies. Here is where helping each other as we've been commanded to might give these families more time to spend with their kids. And, if a parent is under-educated, their intent and time might not be enough so you could have put "parents with educations are better able to contribute to the furtherance of their kids educations". Again, I point you back to the cost of education. No matter how much you "value" it, the cost is exorbitant.

3) I think folks would see this world view not as racism but as incomplete. You are absolutely right about everyone being equal before God and I even think you are on the right track regarding expectations. I would add in the expectation you alluded to in (1).
However, I think the problem is more than expectations--I believe we need to do everything in our power to make sure that the "child from a single mother living in a ghetto" receives the same educational advantages as the "child from an advantaged background". Not to mention make sure s/he has enough food in early childhood as its proven to help with both brain development & attention span.

In summary, I'm sure most at the receiving end of comments such as these are smart enough to know which is based in conservativism, which in condescension towards the uneducated, which in racism. But I'm not so sure the speakers always are.