Thoughts on Racism (2)

We are addressing the emotionally charged issue of racism in our Messenger, risking as we do inflaming the very emotions that we wish to cool. We have urged so far first, that a preference for what is familiar is not necessarily racism; and second, that recognition of racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural differences is not necessarily racist, sexist, or bigotry. This leads to our next point.
Third, neither is it necessarily racist to privilege one’s own. For example, we all do, and must privilege our own spouses and children. We favor them with our time, resources, affections, and whatever advantages or opportunities we can arrange. The Bible both assumes and requires that parents care not for every child, but their own children, and that children honor not every adult, but their own parents (Eph 6:1-4; Ex 20:12; 1 Tim 5:4, 8, 16; 2 Cor 12;14). We rightly and properly privilege our own families.
By extension, we privilege our extended family, our tribe, our region, our nation. We root for the home team. Our college is our alma mater. We love our native land. The Apostle Paul has “great sorrow” and “unceasing anguish” not for everyone, but he tells us for “my brother, my kinsman according to the flesh” (Rom 9:2, 3). Civil authorities are required to protect and promote the well-being not of the whole world, but of the citizens of that land over which they rule (Rom 13:1ff).
American civilization, it has been pointed out, has been characterized by “white privilege” from the beginning. Actually, it was narrower than merely “white privilege.” Rather, it was “Anglo-Saxon Protestant privilege.” When New York and New Jersey were added to the English colonies, it broadened to include “Dutch privilege,” at least in those regions. This ethnic bias reflects no more than the normal alignment of peoples all over the world. Every continent the world over preferences groups according to language, ethnicity, race, tribe, and culture. That is why borders are drawn as they are across the globe. The Poles are separated from the Hungarians, the Vietnamese from the Chinese, the Kenyans from the Tanzanians because of wars that established “privilege” within one’s borders for one’s race or ethnic group or tribe and excluded others. Early America was biased against Germans, Irish, Southern and Central Europeans, Catholics, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, and particularly Africans. Gradually the barriers and biases have come down. The capacity peacefully to assimilate each of these groups, to extend liberty and equality to each of these groups is a unique strength of American civilization.
America has been a land of so-called “white privilege” largely because it has been 90% plus white through most of its history. In this respect we could say that Asia has been characterized by yellow privilege, Africa by black privilege, Latin America by brown privilege, and Native American lands by red privilege. That 100% of American’s presidents have been white is no more meaningful that to say 100% of Africa’s tribal chiefs have been black. The same is true of 90% of America’s professionals, college professors, judges, and business leaders. Of course, they have been white. For 90% of America’s history, 90% of its population has been white. This is not to say that minorities, be they white (e.g. Irish, Jewish) or people of color (African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic Americans), have not been unfairly or unjustly denied certain rights or opportunities. They have. All such occasions are a stain upon our history. African-Americans in particular have had lingering barriers and bigotries to overcome, from slavery to Jim Crow, to today. Bigoted privileging is evil and degrading.
Still we want to say that the unsinful privileging of one’s own should not be lumped together with the evil denial of central rights, liberties, and dignities due to others, such as life, liberty, property, due process, franchise, the rule of law, trial by jury of one’s peers, and so on.
Fourth, rational risk assessment is not necessarily racist. When Jesse Jackson admits to feeling fear when a group of young black men approach him, while acknowledging not feeling the same fear when approached by a group of young Asian men, is that because of racial bigotry? When a young black man in the 1950’s in the Southern United States was approached by a group of young white men and admitted to freezing with fear, was that admission an acknowledgment of racism? or stereotyping? or bigotry? Or is it the truth that in both cases the fears arose on the basis of a rational risk assessment? When a disproportionate number of violent crimes are committed by young black men, is it racism or realism that fuels the fears? Not all white youth persecuted blacks in the 1950’s South. Only a minority did. Yet were the fears of the isolated black man justified? Did those fears arise out of anti-white bias or rational risk assessment, given the circumstances? Risk assessment based on an individual’s or group’s clothing, grooming and countenance may not be racist but rational. An individual from an ethnic minority encountering a group of skin-headed, tattooed, leather-jacketed, Harley-riding young white men may respond with apprehension, not because he is racist, but because he is reasonable. Those are scary white men.  Risk assessments based on crime statistics may not be racist but rational. Fears may be based not on race per se, but neighborhoods, not on skin color but concentrations of crime, not on ethnicity but external markers of tendencies.
Regrettably, when one is a part of a group that is guilty of bad behavior, the innocent members of that group experience the repercussions. Ask the advocates of “Critical Race Theory,” who lump together all white people as oppressors based on the history of slavery, segregation, and bigotry in America. Or to cite a different and more reasonable kind of example, an affluent white man driving through an impoverished neighborhood will be looked upon with suspicion. Residents may wonder if he is up to no good. They may even call the police. Why? Because the only affluent white men driving through that neighborhood are there to pick up drugs. There is a history of bad behavior by white men (drug deals) in minority neighborhoods. An Italian-American selling used cars or running a cement company may be suspected of having a connection with organized crime. Why? Because the mafia is dominated by Italians. The consequences for the innocent young black man walking through the white neighborhood, or the affluent white man driving through the minority neighborhood, or the honest Italian businessman running his business are regrettable. Yet the suspicions of onlookers should be expected and accepted at least initially (until proven otherwise) as rational rather than racist, as understandable even if undeserved.
Why are we bothering to make these four distinctions between what is necessarily racist and what isn't (and distinctions five through eight which are forthcoming)? Why are these distinctions important? Because race-based hatred is a terrible evil. Because race-based prejudice and bigotry are degrading denials of universal human dignity. Because the evil of racism is trivialized and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are diminished when the charge of racism is hurled about wildly and is confused with so-called implicit (that is, hidden) bias or petty micro-aggressions.  (to be continued)
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