December 28, 2007

Separate and Unequal

Here's my response to the discussion started by Dave Long's December 21 interview.

If you’ll bear with me for just a little bit, I need to get a little academic. There’s a little teacher in me ;-) Please don’t skip to the end and see what I say there before you read the academic parts. I feel it’s necessary to get where we have to go together. Thanks for your patience.

So here goes.

Firstly, a definition of racism. Most scholars agree that racism is prejudice + power. That is to say, racism is having a prejudice or discrimination based on race, plus the power to enforce it. There are three main types of racism that we rub up against in America—active, passive, and institutional. Please note, these definitions are not mine. These are some that I’ve found and synthesized over more than a decade of study and exposure.

Active racism is conscious racial actions perpetrated by the majority race on a racial minority. We see this in racial hate group activity, using racial epithets, and telling racist jokes.

Passive racism includes the unconscious racial responses like laughing at racial jokes or believing in the inherit superiority of the majority race, which is white in this country, and making choices that benefit your race based on that belief/assumption. We could talk about white flight or the now-popular urban renewal efforts (or gentrification).

Institutional racism can be seen in makeup of the systems, policies, or power structures of institutions. If these systems, policies, and power structures benefit the majority race, they are considered racist. Today in American, we don’t see the more blatant institutional racist practices of separate water fountains but we do see holes that still exist in history books about the contributions of black inventors and innovators in America.

Both passive and institutional racism are invisible really, and might not seem racist at all since they are not accompanied by burning crossing as such. No one was left dangling from a tree at the end of a rope and no one was left out in the cold because they were denied housing. But they are harmful all the same.

Dr. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College Centers for Women calls bundles passive and institutional racism into a term she calls ‘white privilege.’ You can read more about it in a 1990 publication here.

Here are some of the points she raises in her white privilege article:
1. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
2. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
3. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
4. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

A colleague of mine and fellow author, Chris Rice, writes about both white privilege and white blinders in his joint work with the late Spencer Perkins. About white blinders he says:
"Some of us close our eyes and pretend there’s no problem. Others stand by and watch as people are treated unjustly. But most of us lack the peripheral vision to see what’s going on around us. ... Four hundred years of slavery, forced segregation and discrimination have left a stubborn residue within us all. For blacks, the residue is anger, bitterness, and blame. For whites, the residue is racial blinders. If you drink polluted water you’ll catch hepatitis; if you were born in America, as I was, chances are you’re wearing those blinders."

Many books are available. I’ve listed a few links to nonfiction authors on my site. If you only read one nonfiction book on racial reconciliation this year, I’d suggest you read More than Equals by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice.

Okay, I did all that academic stuff to make sure we were all on the same page (or at least a little closer to it) before I say what I really have to say in response to the comments on Dave Long’s interview.

When we look at what is going on in Christian publishing, what I see, from a pure definition standpoint, is racism. Whether you want to call it that or not. That’s what it is. It’s a strong word and nobody wants to say it. I don’t know any white person in America that will raise their hand and say, call me a racist, please.

I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad, or beat anybody up or feel good about myself ‘cause yeah I called a white person racist today. That's not my style.

There is talk around these days in evangelical America to change the labels we use. I say let them stay. If we’re going spend energy meeting and discussing to change anything let’s change the world through the way we relate. Changing the labels of racism will do as much good calling me an African America (a title I think is a just a bandaid on the wound for meaning in America; in other words, it's okay to call me black).

Yes, what we're dealing with is racism. And those who are in power in the American racism scheme of things, by definition, are racist. White brother/sister, I implore you, grow a thicker skin or something so we can move past the whole label thing and move to the real work. And believe me there real work to be done.


We’ve got some major walls to tear down. Satan wants the walls to stay up. We can say, well that’s the way it’s been for so long. It’s too late to change things now. Or even worse, it’s beyond us. If it was beyond us, then why did Jesus pray for our oneness in John 17.

We’ve got to be about the business of recognizing the walls in publishing, in urban ministry, in foreign missions (how many black missionaries do you know), in adoption services, etc. etc. etc. We’ve got to tear them down by God’s grace and power.

Christ’s followers have got to start talking frankly and in a concerted, educated fashion about race. Knee-jerk, emotional responses are yesterday’s response. I’m talking to black AND white brothers here. No more platitudes and niceties. No more 'well you know how they are.' Some deep sharing has got to take place. Some major repenting and forgiveness has got to take place. Yes, there may be some screaming, crying, shouting, hand-wringing, whatever, but mostly I truly hope there will be some honest dialog.

This dialog has got to be free of malice and done out of a love that brings us closer together even though we are so very different. We’ve got to commit to continue to dialog, commit to keep talking even when you make me angry, even when you make me ‘wanna holler.’

This dialog is got to be peppered (yes, highly seasoned) with a sincerity and sensitivity that can only come out of being close together in a committed interdependent sometimes-sacrificial but always empowering relationship.

The truth of the matter is we are separate and unequal. We Christ followers have been for a long time. And I'm not just talking about the separate Sunday worship thing. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 didn’t change people’s hearts, it only changed the laws.

Truth is, I don’t have any answers. And I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. Prayer is key. Maybe there should be some fasting involved too. And while we pray and fast, we can talk.

Talking gets us closer to an answer to whatever our problem is. Now, what can we do to get us closer to a fix for our problem of separation in Christian publishing? One tool we can use online is a forum or bulletin board system. Something that we can use online to give us the ability to thread conversations. Judging from the responses to Dave’s post, that kind of online tool would be helpful. So in January I will be making a switch to a new platform for It will include a forum, my blog, and maybe a few more resources on biblical racial reconciliation.

Thanks once again for your input. May God’s grace and peace guide us toward healing in The Answer.


sally apokedak said...

thanks for this post, Linda.

I'm in the middle of a move now (terrible timing, but when the pillar of fire moves, what can you do but follow along) so I'll read it over again in a day or two and maybe interact with it. Just wanted you to know I read it and appreciate it.

If I do have anything to say about it, I'll try to make my next comment considerably shorter than my past comments. =0) thanks for tolerating my long, long posts. There seems to be so much to say on this issue.

Kim said...

I live in south central Alabama. I found your blog through Marilynn Griffith's site. This post is powerful! I read the interview from Bethany, and it was shocking to me. Such things shouldn't be.

My husband and I are active in the Answers in Genesis ministry, and they have an awesome book about One Race from the flood. (if memory serves its called One Blood)It really puts race into biblical perspective, and it is beyond me why that is so hard for so many people to see. are all sinners in need of a Saviour. I truly look forward to helping to break down these walls and make a difference. I'll be doing a lot of reading right here.

Thanks for a terrific post!!


l. l. hargrove said...

Kim, thanks for dropping by and for the book suggestion. I'll be looking for it.

Glad to have your support with breaking down these walls before us. You (and others like you) are an answer to prayer.

(Sally, blessings on your move ... keep following the pillar. we'll reconnect later).