I still remember well the day that the agency director called me into her office. I had never been called into her office before, but after the ongoing war that characterized this organization, I could only imagine what this was about. It was far worse than I even thought, and for one of the few times in my life, I was speechless as she accused me of racism. I had never been accused of such a thing before or since. It was one of the most absurd accusations that I had ever heard. After all, the people I spent my life around were people of other ethnicities (and of course, now I live in a completely different culture surrounded by people of Latin American heritage). The story gets more convoluted after I went to apologize to the person I had supposedly offended. As I apologized and talked to her, it was clear that she had no idea what I was talking about. She had never been offended and actually appreciated the camaraderie between us. Instead, someone else was offended on her behalf and so what we had were two Caucasians accusing another one of racism against an Asian who never saw it as racism. Truthfully, I left that organization a few months later a deeply hurt, offended, and bitter person. This story is not about publicly decrying personal grievances, but about looking at the issues that this story represents, something that we can see in our society today.
Visibly, the issue of race is a combustible topic in our culture, capable of setting our society on fire both literally and figuratively. To deny its existence is nothing less than willful ignorance. At the same time, the handling of such a critical topic must be done so with compassion, care, and integrity. Unfortunately, recent events, both amongst secular constituents and professing Christians, continues to compel more dialogue. This has even prompted some evangelical leaders to come together and issue The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel last week(1). That statement gives people the opportunity to add their name to the statement and many have. However, reading through one will also find that there are many who simply used the opportunity to sign as a way to stand against the statement, often filling it with hateful, vile, and offensive rhetoric without any substantive information. It’s a sure sign that what is being done (by everyone, not just Christians) isn’t working to conquer any racism that may exist.
The current rhetoric involved in waging these current cultural wars is one of hatred characterized more by emotion and less by facts. The environment is being provoked by a few given the authority to encourage and inflame the situation. Unfortunately, such one-sided discourse yields little and instead is distinguished by the following:
Lacks Perspective: First, the conversation lacks perspective. More concerned about being correct, compassion is not the direction of our dialogue. The result is that few people take sufficient time to understand the perspective of the other and why the may feel as they do.
Lacks Grounding: The events are so emotionally-charged that they are not grounded in reality. While emotions cannot be denied on such a topic, they must be rightly grounded otherwise they mislead the discussion away from its root cause.
Lacks Information: Propelled by that emotion, less time is given to the understanding of facts and logic. While writing about last year’s Nashville Statement, one person posted on my social media account that it was nothing more than the opinions of a bunch of racist white guys (it’s interesting that in attacking a statement about sexuality the person’s only response was they were racist, not homophobic or something else more logically related). That pinpoints a key problem with any resolution: the basis for arguments is name-calling and irrational connections.
Lacks Respect: This sort of name-calling, labeling, and irrational arguments is simply disrespectful.
Lacks Orientation: Finally, each of these aspects culminates together to take away a proper orientation in the debate about race. When these factors are the characterization of the discussion, those who assert racism will do so at almost any instant, even when further information would reveal that to not be the case. This is further complicated by the ongoing rhetoric that divides everything along the lines of race. It causes our culture to think along those lines as well resulting in even greater division and greater opportunity for racism to continue.
These factors are contributing to the problem and do not permit a solution to be found. Instead of solving any problem of race, they are inciting it.
As I close out this part of the article, I confess that I’ve spent much time pondering how to write about this issue and even still I’m not quite pleased with the completeness of what needs to be said. Provoked by the comments and hatred I’ve read this week though, these conversations need to be had on a deeper level. I know that the first accusation that will be thrown my way is that I’m just another white guy writing about a topic in which he has no experience. I’m not going to pretend to know anything to the level of division and violence that occurred during our U.S. history. Yet, I do write as one who has experience with other cultures and races, one who is concerned about the dialogue taking place, and who has been on the receiving end of racism as well. So far though, I’ve only written to address the problem. Next week, I will come back and address some of the solutions we must instill.
(1) If you have not read the recently released statement, you can visit statementonsocialjustice.com.
Photo “Social Justice” courtesy of user nicholasnojiri and Flickr.