"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

08 November 2012

More (probably stupid) thoughts on racism...

A friend (and the youth minister for my teen's youth group) posted an article on facebook today in which a bunch of teens were saying all manner of ignorant, racist, and rather inarticulate things about the re-election of Barack Obama to the White House.  I posted back to her this:

 Americans are so weird about race. We're afraid to mention it. We want to say it doesn't matter. We have "white guilt" and we forget that there are other races than just black and white.... race does matter but not in the ways we want to think it does. It matters in the wonderful scope of human cultures and foods and stories we can enjoy and explore. It matters in the sheer fun of foreignness. It matters in who, statistically, gets what diseases and to my cocky littlest kid who thinks its funny that he doesn't sunburn as easily as his white-boy older brothers. It does not matter in who makes a good president, employee, neighbor or friend. I just fail to see how our country misses that memo.

Most people responded that they were "heartsick" or otherwise saddened by the post.  (To clarify, she posted this to show the state race relations among those who are young enough to know better, rather than having been indoctrinated into the racism of the past.  She was not endorsing the racism, rather she was pointing out that it still exists.)

And the more I got to thinking about her post, the more I want to say: "of course racism still exists!"

Racism in America is no longer cool. 

That's a good thing.

But because racism has gone so rapidly from being a social norm to a social stigma, we've not had a chance as a culture to process out our real thoughts.  We've had institutions, people, society and such all jumping at the chance to re-educate our racist selves, whether or not we actually are racists, without regard to the fact that real racists won't respond to this sort of re-education.  In short, we've not eradicated racism so much as driven it underground.

And so it is no longer kosher to notice race.

And so it is no longer kosher to say "how cool! You're different!"

And so it is no longer kosher to ask "what is it like to be you?"

And it is no longer kosher to wonder "what is out there that is new, exciting, foreign to my worldview?"

Its probably no longer kosher to say "kosher" because it might be offensive to Jews.  Or liberals.  Or the politically correct thought police.

Because we've come to express equality as sameness.

And it becomes scary to wonder about difference.

And because we've made race a no-man's land...

and so thoughts are thought in isolation.

And there is no safe place to ask innocent questions, make mistakes, step unknowingly on toes, and learn something in the process.

And every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and Jane, is subjected to anti-racism training whether they want to grow in this area or not, that feels like an accusation, that requires an investment of time resources that may seem unavailable, that is forced on them from the outside and that, therefore, like it or not, breeds resentment which in turn breeds racism. 

I am thankful that I have a couple of Asian friends who allowed me to safely ask my impertinent questions when we adopted a Korean child.  I know friends who have children of African descent who are thankful for friends who have offered them similar safe havens for questions about culture, language, life, and yes hair (or in the case of my Asian kid, ears... oh, nevermind).  They don't assume I'm some sort of ignorant racist, they assume I'm a white person with white person hair (and ears), who had never eaten kimchi, never tied a hanbok, and never been asked in my own country whether or not I spoke English. 

I'm thankful for the chance to be that safe friend when people ask me stupid, seemingly racist, innocent questions about my Korean child who does happen to be good at math, and martial arts, and is admittedly on the short side, hates his hanbok like most Korean boys... but doesn't like kimchi and doesn't speak Korean and his English is just fine thanks.

Sometimes we have to air our ignorance to grow.  That's called humility.  And sometimes we have to put up wiht others' ignorance and assume the best, that's called relationship.

And the reason the anonymity of the internet causes real racism to bubble up is that so few people have had the chance for humility and relationship where they can process out their thoughts in a healthy way.  

I'm not sure how to cure the problem, except that the society learn to extend to one another a "freedom to fail."  I guess its a start.  I guess.


  1. Good post. My hubby is the whitest white guy who was ever white, who had the joy of marrying into a Black/Latino family. In the privacy of our own home he makes mistakes, purely innocent mistakes that I alert to his attention. "I" know that he meant nothing by a comment regarding primates and some figure who is black, but others will assume he's a horribly oppressive man resting on white privilege.
    We need those safe places to ask stupid questions or make mistakes and be gently informed that other less forgiving folks make take that turn of phrase the wrongly.

  2. Thanks, Mari, for your valuable contribution to my thinking out loud process. I have to chuckle a little, as one of my earliest conscious thoughts on race was wondering why my grandmother was so vehemently opposed to a certain person's interracial marriage. On the one hand, anti-racism training is just indoctrination without relationship... but how do we challenge people to real relationship as a culture? Not sure. How also do we learn to hear past the words to intent (as you note).... to sort curiosity from ignorance and malice from social awkwardness. We teach our son to have a sense of humor about things... some of it is kind of funny if its divorced from ill feelings, like in interracial marriage "What color will your kids be?" Really... 1. I'd think "somewhere on the spectrum between me and the person I love" would be a suitable thought for anyone and 2. I'm white, married to a man who is super-duper-white and we have a Korean kid. Never would have guessed that on our wedding day. But people really ask that question, and sometimes they are being jerks and sometimes they are just innocently curious, and people who have no foundation in a healthy view of race relations don't have tools to tell the two apart. ***more thinking out loud***

  3. Since this is a really LARGE discussion, including what you have said and what you have not touched, please allow me to comment on only a SMALL part. You said:
    But people really ask that question, and sometimes they are being jerks and sometimes they are just innocently curious, and people who have no foundation in a healthy view of race relations don't have tools to tell the two apart.
    It seems that a lot rides on the caliber of response they receive. If the "innocently curious" receive a civil and friendly and informative response, they may well go off with a less innocent and a more favorable and a more thoughtful attitude. And if the jerks are met with the same kind of response, they will certainly be disarmed and unable to continue any rude attack in the guise of "just askin'" or they risk alienating their audience. And you know they always want an audience. Someplace I heard something about a gentle answer. Now where was that?

  4. Turneth away wrath. Indeed.
    Which brings me to the blog post I logged on to post.

    But for what its worth, adoptive parents have similar experiences with awkward, nosey, weird, and ambigously intentioned questions. I try to behave myself, mostly.

  5. Racism is an emphasis on race. Discrimination or not depends on ones preference. Black and white in this country is all that matters because of a historical context. We tend not to include others because their affinity is little to no significance. The South was the racialists, and Black American culture is mainly from Southern origins. Race is real, regardless of postmodern genetic theory and numerology. I am not racialist because white caucasian people are all not a collective of commonality simply because of race. When black america understand that the afrocentricism has alienated them from their own country; then their culture will make a come-back. The old race chart of negro, caucasian and mongolian is needed as i see you have dificulty relating what race is. You might find that Caucasian means more then 'white'. And negro gentic prominance is not dodged by blacks--allthough a complex surely exists. As for mongolians; not all Asians are. There are cultural things as well. Such as: Hispanic is not a race; but a culture. Mestizo is a racial mix..so that could fit the description of race. As you know we do not concider white hispanics to be culturally white. Yet culturally white(anglo) isn't what its cracked up to be anyway. When a black disavows delinquent mannerisms; they are called white. This all may be past-tense due to a cultural change that continues. In the 90's 'wiggers' started, and were rejected by blacks...and whites. At the same time the epistomology of that term shows an outlook that thinks blacks are a stereotype.