Racism and me
Race Issues | Are whites in denial if they say they are not racist?
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2016, at 12:58 pm
I am not a racist. There, I said it. I am starting to be wearied by the unrelenting pressure to admit to a crime I do not feel guilty of, even though, in a sense, it would be easier at this point to just say I’m a racist and be done with it. That’s what Joseph K. finally does in Kafka’s The Trial. One year after his arrest for a vague capital offense in which no specific charges or hard evidence are ever put forward, the beleaguered banker is so beaten down that he offers no resistance as they drag him off to his execution.
I realize that my saying I am not a racist is considered bona fide evidence that I am one. What’s worse, it is proof to all that I am prideful and unaware of my own heart. But consider Job, who after 20 chapters of allegations, says to his accusers: “As God lives … my lips will not speak falsehood. … Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days” (Job 27:1-6).
There is a hilarious scene in the movie Finding Nemo, where the clownfish Marlin—who has haplessly wandered into this dangerous den of abstemious great white, mako, and hammerhead sharks—is goaded by the AA-like support group moderator into adding his own confession to the testimonies of others who have preceded him at the podium. “How ’bout you, mate? What’s your problem?” queries Bruce the shark. “Me? Well, I don’t have a problem.” “Oh, OK,” says the shark snarkily, and the room chimes in condescendingly, “Denial!”
Are you, as a white person, in “denial” if you say you are not racist? That, increasingly, is the cultural assumption. It is the modern catch-22, from the eponymous World War II novel plot device in which a mentally unfit person can theoretically be excused from flying missions, but if he claims to be mentally unfit, he will not be excused because his very act of applying for it proves he is sane.
I meet people who are not racist who think they are racist because they have opinions. Or because they have made observations. Or because they are viscerally repulsed by certain unwholesome cultural practices. Society has made them believe that opinions, observations, and moral disapproval are racism. This is not racism. Though the word “racism” is not in the Bible, a close concept is James’ idea that we should not treat people with “partiality” (James 2). Leviticus concurs: “You shall do no injustice. … You shall not be partial to the poor [or black or white] or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (19:15).
If there are still racist practices among Christians or churches, they need to be repented of and stopped immediately. Two significant conservative church bodies—one Baptist and the other Presbyterian—made it a point over the last few weeks to confess their spotty past and present vestiges of racism in a heart-wrenching and formal way. Some observers said it was just so much political correctness. Some say such confession doesn’t matter when dealing with a perpetual and unappeasable debt. (A speaker at a white privilege conference I attended said the white man’s debt will never be erased—but that we must try anyway.)
C.S. Lewis wrote in The World’s Last Night and other Essays, “For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything.” The Lord calls us to be discerning about our times, and to watch what Lewis calls exaggerated “reactions” in the opposite direction. It is not humility but evil to coddle evil outbursts in society in the name of reconciliation.
If we really want solutions, two are obvious: On the personal level, let us love the people (black and white) God has put in our path. On the political level, let us vote out liberals who for 50 years have kept blacks in a new kind of slavery by enacting laws that contribute to family breakup and a generational cycle of welfare.
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.