Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rgarding prejudice and racism...

Two comments left at my post linking Sara Robinson's essay deserve an answer. Underlying both is a thread of resignation suggesting that working against the corrosive effects of prejudice and racism is an endless, perhaps hopeless exercise in futility. This is a notion that I can agree with. I wrote as much the first year I started blogging in Discrimination is alive and well, everywhere

...during a tour of Korea, hosted by the Army Medical Service Corps, I learned first hand that Koreans were no less prone to prejudice than we were. Not only did they discriminate among GI's of color (which they had learned, of course, from the military itself, watching how military units were segregated by color during the Korean conflict) they were also able to discern among various Asian racial groups, pointing out those who looked Chinese or Japanese or Korean, even among their own population! I learned that their Declaration of Independence began "We declare ourselves to be an independent nation and an independent race..."

My sad conclusion early on was that prejudice in all its forms seems to be an inborn characteristic of mankind. I reared my children with deliberate efforts to vaccinate them against the poison of prejudice, but sometimes I sense that the lesson is still not learned. I do understand at a visceral level how tough the battle can be to stay clean of this bad thinking.

Sometime in the seventies white people were politely but firmly invited out of "the movement" as black leaders were able to say in so many words "thanks but no thanks; this is our issue, not yours" which, when you think of it, is another form of the same thinking. I could go on for hours about this subject, but nothing would be added to the store of knowledge that would change any minds. I can only point to others who are still manfully fighting the demons and hope that in time the landscape can change for the better.

Having said that, I must add that my concern for the subject has been embedded in my character for a lifetime.

There have been changes, to be sure. I now have to face young black people who take one look at an old white man and immediately conclude that I am of the generation that their parents and grandparents told them about, so I must be one of them. Surly, presumptive, ignorant, smart-assed attitudes that pop up in my face as the result of that prejudice make me want to become something I am not, say things that could shame them instead of winning respect and trust on today's terms, not because of anything I might have done in the past, but how I behave and respond in the present. And that's not easy for someone who was in the street before some smart-alec was born. But that has become the discipline of these later years.

As for the question of black-on-black issues, or the effect on other groups...Asian, Latino, whatever...those issues are important as well. But I'm not them. For whatever it means I can only claim credibility as a white man because that I who I unmistakably am. Anything else is an artificial construct. Interesting to talk about, but not where the rubber hits the road with me.

Yes, it has to do with "social justice." By definition that is where it fits the social and political models. But for me, the impulse runs deeper. It is an exercise of Christian faith, something like the story of the Good Samaritan, but different. Christendom in today's world has a magnified opportunity to let the Light shine. And I don't think enough Christians grasp that reality and have yet to embrace what it might mean, really, in global terms.

Of the three main faiths that have come from the children of Abraham--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--only Christians have a clearly stated mandate to love enemies, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation to resolve conflict. I can imagine hairs rising on the necks of Christian readers whose impulse to talk about "justice" instead of "mercy" this evening...this the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. But that is precisely when we need to stir up our faith. Not when we know we are right, but when we know we are being commanded to do something we want to resist with all our being. I dare not go on with that line of discussion other than suggesting that a Christian contribution to conflict resolution in the Middle East (or anywhere, for that matter) is to bring to the table the notion of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In contrast to that massive challenge, overcoming personal prejudice seems a lot less important. And a lot more desirable, maybe?

This is a poor answer to those two comments. But it is the best I can come up with. I don't want to make my thinking normative for everyone. But I won't stop pecking away at what I think is a better way to live out my understanding of faith. This is what I wrote last year at this time...

It took only five years, but the effect of terrorism on America is becoming a measurable success. We have been transformed from the world's avatar for peace, democracy, freedom, economic success and political stability into however those ideals can become corrupt.

Instead of peace we stand for war.

Instead of democracy we stand for the support of monarchies, autocrats and the suppression of popular opinion.

Instead of freedom, we stand for domination. Most humanitarian efforts are administered by Americans in military uniforms instead of civilian clothes.

Global portfolios are not graded according to how well they lift poor people out of economic hardship but how good the ROI looks this quarter, this year, of for the latest five-year trend.

The previous post repeats these words in a social and/or political context. I record them here in the context of faith.

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