“I’m not a racist.” It’s a phrase we usually hear someone say right before they say something racist. But at the same time, most everybody wants to say that about themselves. I can’t imagine anyone jotting down a list of self-characterizations and happily throwing “racist” into the mix. It doesn’t seem to be a label that anyone desires.
I’m not a racist, but I may be something worse. I’m a pastor’s kid who grew up in an inner-city church and had every opportunity in the world to make lasting connections with African-American kids my age in the neighborhood, but never did.
I’ve gone to a Christian high school and a Christian college. I’ve learned every reason why racism is disgusting and destructive. I’ve watched my fair share of movies that discuss race relations in poignant ways that I’ll never forget. I’ve read news clippings that cause me to lose faith in humanity because of the persistent racism that still exists in our society.
The sad thing? All of this has done little to deter me from generally avoiding relationships with black people. I’m not going to insult anyone by using “I have a few black friends” as proof that I’m not contributing at all to the problems of racism that are still in our society.
That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never responded to any of the many emails and Facebook messages inviting me to go serve in neighborhoods that would involve cross-cultural immersion and opting instead for what is comfortable and familiar. That doesn’t change the fact that my picture of where I want my life to go often involves settling down with my white wife in my white neighborhood and sending my 2 1/2 white kids to their white school.
A question to consider: can a racist really do more to spread racism than I can? Racists are not exactly respected. I’d like to say racists are not the voice of mainstream America (we do have a black president, after all). It’s tough to make the same claim about religious America because many do associate the religious right with racism, but the bottom line is this: racists have little to no credibility outside the minds of other racists, right?
On the other hand, the current generation of Calvin students (myself included) is something that has a far greater chance to actually influence how the world’s next generation thinks, acts and feels about racial issues. So what does it say that even the “cream of the crop” still often ends up uncomfortable around black people or even lacks the concern and exposure to connect with them?
Fighting against not being racist is a different battle than the fight against racism. Those who truly fight racism are hardly concerned about whether people think they’re racist or not. I don’t claim to have the antidote to racism, but I can assure you it isn’t found through technicalities, definitions and ideological systems of belief. Like any other widespread, hugely damaging, parasitic problem in the world, racism can’t be combated simply. It involves massive, sweeping change.
So, if nothing else, let’s do our best not to act like we’ve paid our dues and done our time in the fight against racism because we’ve mentally acknowledged that white people aren’t better than black people. The fight against racism ends when people don’t jump to a single conclusion based on skin color and instead look at each and every person as a child of the Father. If we want to call that what it is, we’ll run out of synonyms for the word “difficult” pretty quickly.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.