Thoughts on Racism – 3
What it Isn’t (continued)
We have been tip-toeing through the minefield of today’s racial tensions attempting to identify more precisely what is and what is not properly called racist. So far we have argued:
Preference for the familiar is not necessarily racist;
Recognition of racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural differences is not necessarily racist;
Privileging of one’s own is not necessarily racist;
Rational risk assessment is not necessarily racist.
This leads us to our next point.
Fifth, unequal outcomes among racial groups does not necessarily indicate racism. All humanity is equal in the eyes of God. We all equally are made in God’s image, are of equal value, endowed with equal dignity, and our lives are equally sacred. Therefore, laws must be applied equally. Therefore, hate of anyone based on race, ethnicity, or culture is evil. Justice, in a just society, is blind. Lady Justice is blindfolded. She does not render judgements on the basis of class, race, sex, or religion.
All people, regardless of race or class, are equal in the eyes of the law, in the courts, and before human judges. Partiality or favoritism in the application of justice is strictly forbidden and repeatedly condemned in Scripture. God is not partial and neither are human judges to be. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all discrimination on the basis of race, color, and religion, to which amendments and Supreme Court decisions have added a number of “etceteras.”
However, an equal distribution of opportunities, goods, and services, of wealth and material things is not a concern of justice properly understood. It is not a goal of justice. Because the gifts, abilities, opportunities, and efforts of people are inherently unequal, the outcomes cannot but be unequal. Any attempt to equalize incomes and outcomes are inherently unjust and oppressive, requiring the suppression of opportunity and coercive redistribution of material wealth for some to the benefit of undeserving others.
For example, the National Basketball Association is 90% black. Does injustice require that its rosters represent the national racial distribution? Is the fact that 60 plus percent of the player are not of European descent evidence of racial bias? Should the government mandate that the NBA equalize its racial composition to “look like America?” Would any attempt to do so not involve an injustice against black athletes who are more qualified according to ability and skills to play in the NBA? Of course it would. Today’s injustice cannot remedy yesterday’s injustice.
Strictly speaking, the Bible is not concerned with the unequal distribution of outcomes if those outcomes are righteously obtained. The Bible is not concerned that some people are rich while others are poor. It is concerned about ill-gotten wealth. It is concerned about the powerful robbing the poor of what is lawfully theirs (Amos 4:1). It is concerned about powerful people bribing judges and manipulating the law so as to confiscate the property and deny the rights of the needy. It is concerned about the failure of the rich and powerful to show kindness and generosity towards the poor. It is not concerned about unequal outcomes per se, recognizing that such inequality is a permanent part of the human condition (Deut 15:11; Mt 26:11).
Sixth, discriminating choices are not necessarily racist. Discrimination is another largely undefined term. Is discrimination bad? Yes, most people would reflexively respond, hearing automatically “racial” whenever they hear “discrimination.” Racial discrimination, discrimination based on race is evil. Yet is discrimination per se evil? No. We all do and must discriminate all the time. When we marry, we discriminate against a whole world of people of the opposite sex in favor of the one we choose. Our discrimination in that case factors into the decision age, class, race, appearance, weight, education, and a number of other external characteristics, plus internal character qualities and personality traits. On the basis of some or all of these criteria we discriminate, choosing one and rejecting the rest.
Daily we discriminate as we choose what we shall wear, what we shall eat, where we shall drive, what we shall buy, and with whom we shall meet. Life is virtually nothing but a series of discriminating choices by which we accept and reject options.
What we should mean by “discrimination” is sinful, wrongful discrimination. Discrimination based on racial bigotry or class is evil. Discrimination based on prior prejudice against a group is evil. When we apply the law unevenly; when we treat people unfairly based on immutable external characteristics such as skin color; when we deny people that to which they have a right to expect of us; these are examples of evil discrimination and the Christian community stands fourfold against them. Yet having discriminating taste is not. We push this point to remind ourselves that words have meaning, careful word choice leads to careful thinking and careful distinctions, and helps us to avoid making false accusations.
Seventh, concern for national integrity is not necessarily racist. Different nations have different cultures. The Dutch have their windmills, wooden shoes, dairy farms and tulips. The French have their world-renowned cuisine. The Spanish and Italians have their beautiful Mediterranean architecture. The British have their habits of reserve and understatement. The Germans have their order and tidiness. Love of nation is a universal phenomenon. People everywhere love their country and its distinctive and familiar ways. They naturally and justifiably want to see these distinctives preserved. When immigration overwhelms assimilation, when the influx of foreigners threatens to alter the ways, the mores, the values, the ethos of a nation’s way of life, they understandably will want to limit and control that influx.
Does America have a culture? It does. Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008), in his important book Who Are We? (2004), likens the United States not to a melting pot, but to tomato soup. The original soup dating to the colonial era was the Anglo-Protestant culture of the early settlers: the English language, Christianity, English concepts of the rule of law, representative governments, the responsibility of rulers, the rights of individuals, equality, and the Protestant values of individualism, hard work, and a vision of mission to humanity (“a city set on a hill”). Immigration adds celery, spices, parsley and other ingredients that “enrich and diversify taste,” as he puts it, yet are “absorbed into what remains fundamentally tomato soup.” It is vital to many Americans that their culture, so defined, be preserved, and rightly and understandably so.
The culture of the United States is not the culture of Bogota, or Kampala, or Riyadh, or New Delhi. It is not racist to want to slow the immigration from non-western nations in order to assimilate those who are already here to the customs, ideals, traditions, principles, and laws of our American civilization. It is unfair to attribute the desire to slow the rate of immigration to that of the rate of assimilation to a fear of “the browning of America.” It is not racist to recognize that a multi-racial society is a novel experiment in the history of humanity. Tribalism is the norm from one end of the globe to the other. It is not un-Christian to recognize how fragile the foundation is of a nation that rests not on ethnic unity, not on so-called “blood and soil” nationalism, but convictions about governance. It is not un-Christian to fear the tribe-like divisions that are growing in our own day under the name of critical race theory and intersectionality. It is not un-Christian to fear that the ethnic-religious violence evident in the Balkans, China, the Middle East, Rwanda and throughout Africa, not to mention World War I and World War II, may one day engulf our own land. Consequently, it is a valid Christian concern to want carefully to grow the American population, adding foreigners at a pace at which they can be assimilated, and at a pace that will not destabilize the country and compromise its essential values.
Eighth, youthful banter is not necessarily racist. It may be vulgar. It may be cruel. It may be obscene. Yet it still may not be racist. This comes up because of the dredging up of statements of alleged offenders from 40 years ago made when they were teenagers. It also has been in the news because of the hazing of students that has highlighted physical or social features associated with race. Banter and hazing may be vulgar, cruel, and obscene, yet still not necessarily racist.
During my youth I was variously called “slinky” (because I was so skinny), “Mr. Green Jeans” (never did understand this one), and “rabbit ears” (because I was knocked off my pitching game by the taunts of the San Pedro High School baseball team). A kid with a big nose was heckled, “Would you rather have a million dollars or a nose full of nickels?” A black kid with an unusually large head was called by the other black kids “hog head.” They called another with a thin pointed head “ski-slope” because of his long, smooth forehead. A Mexican was called “beaner.” A fair-skinned white boy was “Casper.”
All of this is foolish. Much of it is insensitive. But is it racial hatred? Is it expressive of racial superiority? This is where we want to encourage people to lighten up a bit. Ever thus has male adolescent banter gone on and ever thus has it been indiscriminate. All races are perpetrators. All races are victims. All physical features are considered fair game. All of it is ridiculous but rarely was it racist and seldom does it require retrospective repentance.
(to be continued)