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Could Someone Please Define Racist for Me?

racism sxc hu smallLet me say for starters that I don’t watch Duck Dynasty, don’t agree or disagree with anything about their statements for absolute sure (having no real context for it) save in the important right in our society to speak freely about issues. Were the network producers horrified to discover after all this time that the figurehead of the Duck Dynasty Family is a Christian, believes Scripture, upholds, at least in his mind, the moral standards heralded by the Church for 2000 years? No.

Am I frustrated by the domination of the public narrative by a small percentage of our community, whose whiny rage about everything Christian has got so many people scrambling to pacify them… including many Evangelical Christians. Yes.

Too many of us have begun to march to the secularist drum in our rules of conversation and in important definitions of terms like hate and love and, for the sake of this post’s discussion, racism.

Let me illustrate.

In a recent discussion over an Evangelical’s article about two different remarks made by Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty Papa, a respondent wrote:

“While I agree that they should not have suspended him, to say his comments was not homophobic and not racist is just mind boggling. Ok….for the sake of the matter lets not even talk about the gay issue. Let’s stick to the race issue. If you thought his comments about blacks was not racist, then ….wow…” (sic)

“For the sake of the matter” let’s forget about this respondent’s accusation of Homophobia—as if Phil Robertson’s puzzlement over homosexual interest and his paraphrase of I Corinthians 6:9-10 is evidence of a mental disorder. You do know that phobias are mental disorders, right?

This person is astonished that anyone would NOT find his remarks about his own personal experiences growing up in the South RACIST.

What Phil Robertson said was “”I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once,” he said. “Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”” (sic)

Now, perhaps his narrative is a lie. Perhaps it manifests narrow experience or a lack of social astuteness. Perhaps it demonstrates a naiveté about community relations at the time, but is it RACIST?[1]

What makes a racist racist? How is racism properly defined? Seriously. A word we rally as a ten-times-a-day accusation against someone in our vicinity should be clearly defined, right? We must KNOW what we are saying when we hurl it, right?

The article in Wikipedia takes a stab at it. It reads:

“Racism is generally defined as actions, practices or beliefs, or social or political systems that are based in the view that sees the human species to be divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.”[2]

Does anything quoted in the Robertson interview do any of this? No.

Now, if we use the criteria of “RACE” should one’s opinions about certain cultural patterns in another group be called racism? Prejudice, maybe, but racism? No.

  • It is certainly racist to deny a person equal treatment under the law based on racial heritage, but is it racist if my black Haitian friend (not to mention several of my African and Islander black friends) feels negatively about his experiences with the African American community?
  • If my American Korean classmate disparages his own immigrant parents, their homeland and cultural values is that racist?
  • If a mostly African American high school football team comes to play a mostly Caucasian team and takes the field chanting, “Down with Whitey!” “Kill the Crackers!” and “Trample the Honkies!” is that racist?
  • If the white Bulgarian community despises the white “Gypsy” community that moves to and fro throughout that country, is that racism?
  • Is it racism to assume certain characteristics about an individual knowing nothing about them personally except their race? …their culture?
  • If a Frenchman hates Americans as much as many people from India seem to love them are they all racists?
  • If the Muslims in Egypt hate and murder the Christians in Egypt is that racism?
  • Is it racist to deny Caucasians a right to speak openly about race issues, or to even have an opinion about them that doesn’t brand all cultures but their own as inviolate?
  • It is certainly racist to think that people of certain racial classifications are “less human” or “less worthy of basic human dignities” than another, but is it racist to acknowledge that cultural patterns exist?
  • Is it really racist to speak about discernible statistics concerning  various cultural communities in terms of income, testing, IQ, job performance, moral values, and social choices?
  • Is it racist to know that various communities have tendencies to like certain things, to do certain things, to think certain things?
  • Is it racist to acknowledge that some genetic inheritance may divide along racial lines?
  • It is certainly racist to have laws that apply to one racially distinct group and not another, but is it racist to take an economic stance of “personal responsibility” and to decry the “welfare state” as harmful to the poor?
  • Is it racist to criticize a president’s policies when that president has dark skin?
  • Is it racist to defend the sovereignty of a nation over its borders?

Some of these are… some of these are not.

Racism, while present in this world, is an unjust label with which to tar anyone who has anything negative to say about certain “protected” groups. We need to stop throwing it about at anyone who attempts to have a meaningful discussion about the differences between discernible groups. Not everyone from a group will fit every pattern from that group, but patterns do exist.

We are hamstrung in our ability to work through cross-cultural tensions by the ignorant bleating of “Racism!” every time such tensions emerge in event or discussion.

 


[1] Read my earlier post, “Is Prejudice Wrong?”

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism

[3] Media pic from sxc.hu

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