“It’s 2016,” it is often said, “How does racism still exist in America (or the world) today?”
The notion that racism still exists puzzles many, and recent tragedies–from unwarranted police killings to a mass shooting in a humble, church prayer-meeting–have only served as a revelation to the fact that such attitudes not only exist but may, in fact, be far more prevalent than any moral person would be like to admit.
The Myth of Progress
It has been 60 years since the Civil Rights Movement began. The movement accomplished much in its time, but these recent events appear to highlight that it did not accomplish enough. At least, that’s how some have been interpreting recent hardships.
Few have suggested that we may have actually started to go backwards with regard to our view of race relations. Such a proclamation would go against the narrative of human progressivism, and such a view would be difficult to tolerate for some today. Race relations, however, certainly got better in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement (e.g., explicit, institutional segregation no longer exists). Rather than say that the Civil Rights Movement did not do enough, a more appropriate analysis would be that its processes simply stopped. We have failed to understand that our methodologies for confronting racism, at some point in history, became flawed such that the process came to a halt.
That transition likely occurred not long after a certain fateful, April 4th day in Memphis. At some point after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the fight against racism went from being a principled movement against a moral travesty in America to one of mere outrage against racists.
Especially with the murder of the leader of the civil disobedience movement, anger became more than understandable. In the light of the witness of women and men such as Dr. King, racism could be understood for what it was. The motivations behind racist ideologies were revealed as capriciously hate-filled. So, the furor against racism had an empirical, rational, and even a theological foundation.
Fast-forward to the present, though, and consider the typical media coverage of similarly tragic events. The majority of them would appear to focus on a simplistic manifestation of outrage. In other words, there are no arguments or principles upon which those in the public square found their discontent. The cry is one of “unfairness” without a strong basis as to why the treatment is unfair. The reason is largely assumed rather than proven.
Most people join in the outrageous chorus because of the way they have been educated in their history classes. As an example, when studying the Civil Rights Movement, most of the education surrounding racism involved depicting images of “whites only” signs and the brutality of fire hoses being turned against peaceful protestors. The implication, then, was that we shouldn’t be like those bigoted monsters because the photographs so appealed to a deeply held, moral sensibility.
The case against racism was being made primarily through an emotional appeal without any sort of genuine rationale. The result for most people, now, is that they respond primarily with their emotions whenever the subject of race arises. They only utilize emotional appeals because emotional appeals are the only weapon they have been given to combat these injustices.
So, when these tragedies of racial hatred and violence occur, people quickly get up in arms on their social media accounts. Unfortunately, the responses appear to center mostly on sentimental responses of “how could this happen” rather than a rational investigation of “why does this happen.” Even more unfortunately, this tends to result in knee-jerk emotional responses and poorly conceived policies that attempt to solve the problems with farcical solutions, one of which is vengeful violence.
When the solutions are a farce, however, they will wind up becoming like a gunshot wound that has only been covered by a bandage without first receiving treatment. The bullet remains lodged in the flesh; it continues to do its damage; and the resulting infection only makes the injury worse.
Our current approaches to ending racism appear to be exacerbating the problem. Rather than reconciling, our society seems to be dividing ever more sharply.
Of course, when I decry outrage as an effective means of alleviating the issue of racism, I am not saying that indignation in the face of racism is neither warranted nor justified. I mean quite the opposite, in fact.
A moral person should experience exasperation over injustice, but to respond with mere outrage leads only to violence. The United States’ media appears to have played at least a small role in aggravating the culture’s anxieties. As these tragedies continue to happen, the media has obliquely seemed to revel in the chaos as it typically means higher ratings. This came to a head in the disastrous violence that took place in Baltimore last year, and the stakes have only gotten higher as a shooter took aim at police in Dallas a month ago. The twenty-four hour news cycle perpetually streamed b-roll footage of burning buildings while police officers decked out in riot gear marched into large crowds.
We are captivated by the spectacle, driven by emotion that ultimately prevents us from moving past the justified sense of infuriation toward healing.
More than Outrage
A recent controversy provides a microcosmic case study for how people typically respond to these sensitive issues. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) recently hosted a post by an older, white woman who attempted to express how she overcame her own personal anxiety when her daughter sought to marry a young black man. One media personality, whom I greatly respect, responded in a way that promotes the myth of progress:
Im sorry, @TGC … what year is it?? Appalling: ‘When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband.’ https://t.co/oUV7FAIifW
— Kirsten Powers (@KirstenPowers) August 10, 2016
In order to make genuine progress, we need to get over the notion that the year somehow reflects where we should stand on race and other justice issues. What we need is actual conversation and dialogue that doesn’t demonize people as everyone attempts to understand the myriad perspectives on these difficult, sensitive topics.
Gaye Clark’s article on TGC was taken down at the author’s request as she sought to repent from the apparent prejudice extant within the piece. At least one African American pastor was disappointed that the piece was taken down due to the much needed conversation that it wound up starting, one that could help lead to reconciliation.
Rather than blush at a failed attempt at moving beyond prejudice, learn from, and then build upon the incident, many lambasted Clark with merciless condemnation. In particular, the perspective on the controversy coming from one source on the Left generated a self-righteous dismissal of Clark as well as the concept of using a religious/biblical argument against racism.
Vox belittled Clark for having to “work so hard to rationalize accepting a black son-in-law” as if moral/ethical truths pop out of thin air without any need to be grounded or justified. Such an assumption underscores why we don’t see progress in race relations, perhaps even why we might start to call our current plight one of regression.
The Vox article openly mocked “the idea that accepting a person of a different race would be a major feat requiring point-by-point instructions and a mandate from God.” Missing from that article, however, was any contrary explanation whatsoever as to why people of different races should treat one another civilly, much less show genuine love toward one another.
The Importance of Making a Case
Last week, I posted about some of the steps we can take toward healing racial tensions and indicated that the foundation of God creating humanity in His image serves as possibly the only true grounding for human dignity. Without such a grounding, wherein lies the reason as to why our consciences have become so sensitive to the dehumanizing of other people?
The rough history of eugenics in the United States highlights the fact that generating a response from a secular/Left-leaning/evolutionary worldview comes with extreme difficulties since it, generally, excludes the existence of a transcendent moral law (and Law Giver). The Left is left with Marxist, materialist explanations centered on utilizing resources to shift the balance of power from the enfranchised to the disenfranchised. Ultimately, the arguments and methods used by the marginalized differ very little (if at all) from the arguments and methods of those who wish to hold onto their privileged status.
Of course, some will argue, and argue rightly, that Christianity has been used to perpetuate injustice as well. Yet, whenever Christianity has gone astray, there exists a self-corrective element that secularism does not have: a transcendent source of good against which it can fact-check its sense of morality.
The secular Left constantly seeks to make appeals to an ethical understanding of right and wrong, but they tend to do so from a postmodern understanding of truth that shuns absolutes. Ridicule and sophistry, then, replace a rational discourse directed at finding Truth and applying that Truth to real life circumstances. To even ask the question, “Why shouldn’t I be a racist?” becomes ghoulish and intolerable. Such a smug disregard first stunts our growth then starts to turn the tide against moral progress. Assumptions override our accomplishments.
More and more, I am becoming convinced that this jettisoning of Truth in favor of a Marxist, materialistic worldview marks the reason why racism, not only still exists in the United States, but actually seems to be getting worse. The secular Left assumes morality is of a self-evidentiary nature because in order to make a sure, lasting case for the truth of their ethic, they would have to start making appeals to a transcendent authority that they have already disavowed.
And so, racism goes on and grows.