I would really like to believe that the suffering invested in the civil rights movement has paid dividends in putting racism behind us. That is delusional, of course, yet it’s curious that some of the racist stuff we see comes from those who claim it’s not a problem anymore. Instead, racism has evolved into a myth perpetuated by a “woke” left that shoves a biased, white-guilt-laced Critical Race Theory down our we’re-past-all-that throats. That’s also why Diversity-Equality-Inclusion programs should really be titled Leftist-Socialist-Marxist.
Henri Nouwen was right: Evil, societally and personally, is often “hidden, complex, and elusive.” What brings this home to me is when I’m talking with nice folks and they suddenly reveal a darker side.
Doing census work a few years ago, I’m talking to a really nice grandfather. Somehow in our pleasant conversation the subject of researching genealogy through DNA testing came up. He said his son took a test. “And you know what the best thing about that was? He didn’t have no Black blood in him!” And this gentleman said that to me as easily as if taking a breath.
In another chat with an older man, we start talking about landscaping. He tells me of a sign he used to have on his back fence: “NO TRESPASSING. ARE YOU GOING TO LISTEN TO ME IN ENGLISH OR DO I HAVE TO SPEAK TO YOU IN 12 GUAGE?” The menacing image of a pump-action shotgun underscored the point, in case the trespasser was enrolled in an English as Second Language class.
I wonder if either of these men would have considered themselves racist. They probably agreed with Dr. King about being judged by the content of character instead of skin color. It was just that in their minds, the odds were that non-whites had a greater likelihood of lesser character.
I also wonder how our conversations would have been different if I were Black or Hispanic when I spoke with them. Probably a lot shorter. Definitely not as easy and free-flowing.
Why is racism a disease that persists and metastasizes in so many disguises? Is it a fear of the other? Is it a threat to a more privileged way of life? Regardless, there are all sorts of mental/religious gymnastics possible to keep up the “I’m not really a bigot” delusion. When the Methodist Church split in 1844 over slavery, the ones who formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, probably didn’t consider themselves racist either.
Honestly, it’s a lot easier to just accommodate the delusion. I didn’t follow-up the racist remarks of the two gentlemen. I rationalized that it wasn’t the time or place, that it would have been fruitless, and that it would have been awkward/uncomfortable. I didn’t ask why they felt the way they did. Maybe, deep down, I don’t want to face reality.
But Jesus did. Even though “Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other,” he had no problem talking in depth with a Samaritan woman (John 4). The disciples (who of course didn’t consider themselves racist) were “shocked” at the sight. They were afraid, however, to ask him why he was doing such a thing. Maybe they instinctively knew that in doing so, Jesus would expose a part of their character that was decidedly not kingdom-worthy.
The only way to puncture a delusion is to confront it, in others but also in ourselves. Lovingly but also honestly.