I think it’s safe to say that every person of good will finds racism and its various expressions repellent and reprehensible.
No good person wants to see innocent people discriminated against, victimized, abused, or worst of all murdered by those who insist on acting on an incoherent creed of supremacy and hatred. And when I say that, I truly believe that I’m describing most people. Most people care about their fellow man enough to detest racism.
So if that’s true, I think it’s a safe bet that we’d all like to find meaningful solutions to resolving that insidious influence in our communities and in our countries which means that fundamentally, the majority of people are on the same side.
When it comes right down to it, we want the same thing. We want equal opportunities for everyone, we want irrational hatred dispelled, and we want people to live in peace regardless of their racial background. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., a person should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
But in order to truly find meaningful, constructive solutions, we have to understand the problem. We have to properly and accurately diagnose it. Just like any illness, if you want to find the right medicine, you have to accurately diagnose what is wrong and if we don’t, we’ll just cause more damage and unfortunately, I think we’re seeing a lot of that happening as this issue gets swept up in an appetite of escalation.
We so easily get caught up in trading in a currency of injustice by refusing to respond in measure and equal proportion. Some people like to say, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. Actually, it doesn’t. It leaves everyone with one good eye. That’s the whole point of that biblical teaching. It’s to ensure restraint. It means that if someone steals your car, you don’t find justice by firebombing their house.
Long before we ever get to the more difficult teachings in the Bible like, love your enemies and turn the other cheek, or the teachings of mercy, at the very least, we have to learn to learn what justice is by responding proportionately. If someone steals $40 from you, justice demands $40 is returned. Not a thousand dollars - an eye for an eye.
But the discourse in the media or online is about escalation and revenge. Nobody seems to be having rational conversations. This is not how reasonable people respond to real problems in the interest of finding meaningful solutions.
For those of us that do want to take the difficult high road in seeking those solutions, the best place to start is by defining the terms we’re working with. Language is the means by which we understand each other and we can’t have peace and harmony unless we understand each other.
But what we see happening far too much in debates that have a political ingredient is the manipulation of language to prevent sides from coming together and I see a lot of that taking place in the debate around racism and racial justice.
And that’s something we need to be especially attentive too because accurate understanding of words creates wisdom and knowledge and knowledge is powerful and liberating to those who have it. So what does it tell you when people in powerful positions, whether in the media or in political activism, deliberately work to confuse our language? It shows that they want to confiscate that power. The less power the majority of us have, the more easily we are manipulated for someone else’s ends.
And as much as I’d like to explain that further, that’s not what this video’s about so I’ll just leave you with an encouragement to read an essay by Josef Pieper called “Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.” It will help immunize you against that kind of manipulation.
So, let’s start with the definition of racism. Because that’s a serious word and a serious thing to accuse someone of. But we see people in politics and in the media brandishing it casually and recklessly which again, leads to confusion about what it means.
Here in Canada, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau made a statement about the issue recently by saying that anti-black racism is happening in Canada everywhere… every day. Which leaves me with the impression that if it were that pervasive, you couldn’t lave the house without witnessing it.
Well, to know if that’s true, again we have to come back to a consistent understanding of what the word racism means. Racism is the tendency to act antagonistically towards people of other races because of the belief that your race is superior. The ingredient of racial superiority is essential to the definition.
Now if that’s an accurate definition, and I believe it is, then I think it’s one that a majority of people can get behind in denouncing. What’s also interesting to note about that definition is that it means that racism is a sin of not just actions, but underlying motivations.
The actions of hostility towards someone of a different racial group from your own have to be motivated by the belief that your racial group is inherently superior and therefore has the right to abuse or mistreat those from the supposedly inferior race.
And that’s important to understand because the worst crimes of racism that have been committed in modern history were instigated after establishing policies and enshrining ideologies of supremacy. That’s what Hitler’s Germany did with respect to white supremacy in contrast to other groups, especially Jews. Long before they started exterminating Jews, they were teaching white supremacy in German schools.
They weren’t just acting out of emotionally motivated hostility. It was premeditated based on a false ideology that believed in a mythological past in which a pure Aaryan god-like race existed and that all other ethnicities were diluting the gene pool and spoiling human potential.
It was these beliefs that they used to justify the murder of millions of non-whites.
So with that definition understood, if we consistently compared everything we’d be tempted to denounce as racism to that definition, I think it would dramatically simplify the debate and potential conversations that could take place.
Because one thing I see happening far too often is people wanting to describe every instance of a person from a racial majority mistreating someone from a minority group as racism. But in order to know it was an act of racism you’d have to know the intent of the person committing the injustice.
So let’s use an obvious stereotypical example that also happens to be a focal point for the current outrage. A white police officer uses excessive force on a black civilian. When we see stuff like that it understandably provokes a lot of anger and we want to denounce it in the harshest terms and accusations of racism might satisfy that anger.
But it’s not an accusation we can make until further investigation is made and sometimes even then, it’s impossible to establish because you have to know why he’s using excessive force. You’d have to know that he’s doing it because he hates black people because he believes his own race to be superior and based on the observable facts, you can’t know that’s why he’s doing it.
Maybe he has a mental illness, maybe he’s irrationally motivated by PTSD, or maybe he’s just an asshole which is bad enough.
And I’m pointing this out because Christians, which is a group I speak to a lot on my channel, should know this. Judging others is a serious sin in Christianity, but there’s an important distinction that is often misunderstood when we say you shouldn’t judge others.
That doesn’t mean you can’t judge the wrongdoing of others. If you see someone abuse or even kill another person, you can judge that action against what you know to be wrong and denounce it accordingly.
But that’s not what Jesus meant by not judging others. He meant that we can’t judge their motivations or their culpability because we don’t know why they did what they did. To judge them based on that is to go beyond the facts and think the worst about somebody on insufficient grounds.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes this tendency like this. He says that to esteem someone’s wickedness as certain from slight indications is a mortal sin because it shows contempt for one’s neighbor. [i]
Something else I see as a bit problematic when these occasions for reflection arise is the insistence that everyone stands with black people (or whoever the victimized group is) by endorsing or even supporting a particular movement or group that claims to represent all black people.
Problem with this is it assumes that black people are one homogenous group that you can stand with simultaneously. It paints all black people as exactly the same with the same interests that you are now advocating for. It disregards the individual which is the only way to address your neighbor according to the teachings of Jesus and treats them as merely a part of a category or group which is common symptom of racist ideologies.
For example, if you say you stand with Black people by endorsing the protests, even the violent ones, than how do you reconcile that with the many black people who have been victims of those outbursts? People like David Dorn who was a retired police captain trying to protect his friends store from looters who was shot and murdered.
People like this father in Detroit who’s been working to fix up this home for his family only to have it burnt down by rioters.[ii] People like this elderly woman who’s shop was destroyed and looted by those who supposedly were standing with black people. [iii]
The solution to racism isn’t genuflecting to political movements who want to categorize individual people as if they were all to pave the way to claiming to represent them without asking for their permission.
As overly simplistic as it is, the solution to racism begins with refusing to think of yourself and your racial group as superior to others. In other words, don’t be racist yourself. And then, once you’ve mastered that, always give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt.
That’s the first step to loving them. We have to learn to love the individual outside and apart from the superficial categories that political parties and the media insist on grouping them into so that they can indulge their infantile narratives. That is the path to true peace and harmony.