We have been going through a series on “Defining Racism in the 21st Century” where I have asked for guest posts from caucasian bloggers who have chosen to engage with race as an issue (I believe this is important since in this country Caucasians have the privilege of ignoring or minimizing these issues).
So here is our next post from Steve Shenk the pastor of the Buffalo Vineyard Church. You can also find Steve blogging at Damascus 9 where he writes on issues related to the church, the culture, and theology. So without further adieu:
Racism in 21st century America is real. It is a problem. However, it is no longer the problem that it once was; it has changed into a different sort of problem. More specifically, our society has moved from categorizing people on the basis of their skin color, to categorizing people based on class.
This doesn’t mean that people no longer engage in racism in its purer form, but rather that, as a society, we have moved a few steps away from racial discrimination, and towards a different form of discriminatory practice. There are, of course, plenty of counter-examples of discrimination based purely on race. Generally, however, our society has come to view this kind of behavior as inappropriate.
Also, this doesn’t mean that people of different races are treated equally, they aren’t, but rather that the reasons for the discrimination are significantly different. Ethnic minorities are treated differently by our society, but, in large part, they aren’t treated differently because they are ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities are treated differently because they are largely more impoverished, less educated, and belonging to a ‘lower-class’ cultural group. The discrimination is toward the class; the class is proportionally tilted towards ethnic minorities.
This is what is commonly known as ‘structural racism.’ Individuals may not be acting out of racist motives, but the system obviously does not treat all races equally. Statistics bear out that different ethnic groups exist in very different circumstances with respect to incarceration rates, education rates, literacy rates, employment rates, etc. This is so, not primarily, because people today treat different races differently, but because of the legacy of historic racism upon minority communities.
It is this shift that is behind the ‘multi-culturalism’ seen amongst younger generations. When people of diverse ethnic groups share a common socio-economic status, they actually have more in common culturally than they do with others of their own ethnic group. It is common enough to see ‘multi-cultural churches’ that are full of young, professional, middle-class, city-dwellers. The only problem is that they aren’t multi-cultural. They are indeed multi-ethnic, but they are also mono-cultural.
So this is where the rubber meets the road: we have become willing to accept people of other races into our circles, so long as they “aren’t like other white people,” or “aren’t like other black people,” etc. We pride ourselves on our acceptance, but we haven’t really dealt with the heart issue of loving our neighbors (or our enemies). We have friends of other ethnicities, but we are scared of people from the projects, or the trailer park, or the suburb, or the condo.
It is not black and white that need to come together, but rather it is the dividing wall of hostility that need to be abolished, wherever that wall might be. It is the impulse to divide, the impulse to alienate, the impulse to pull away from what is difficult, and to shrink back from what is different; that must be brought to the Cross of Jesus and left to die, so that His life can be birthed in us. If we make the issue about race, then we have missed the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ point to the lawyer is precisely this; the ‘neighbor’ whom we must love is exactly that person we are trying to avoid being a neighbor to. The lawyer had someone in mind when he asked Jesus, “just who is my neighbor?” We all have someone in mind when we ask this question. “Surely, Lord, you don’t mean this person? …or that group?” The parable of the Good Samaritan says back, “Yes! that is precisely the person I mean! …that is precisely the group you must be a neighbor to!”
If we are to become the people God intends, then we are required to live cross-culturally, in precisely the cross-cultural relationships that we find the most distasteful. Whether that be the poor, the illiterate, the rich, the mentally ill, the sacrilegious, the businessman, the soccer-mom, the liberal, the conservative, the Roman Catholic, the Fundamentalist, the black, or the white. If we would call ourselves His apprentices, we must, indeed, learn to love even our enemies
So what do you think?
Is class a greater hurdle than race?
If class is greater than race do we ignore the legacy of historical racism??
Can a highly secularized society such as ours live out the Christlike ideal of loving our enemy? How?