Tag Archives: prejudice

How We Emerge

Racism, prejudice and stereotypes are a problem. Most, if not all persons, would agree that they produce more conflicts than resolutions, offer more questions than answers. We need only watch the evening news or visit a news website to hear about yet another incident of violence incited by race.  But, no matter how many times a crime is committed because of prejudice or explained away due to stereotypes, we will not talk about ridding ourselves of race. We seem unable to connect the dots, draw the conclusion or make the decision that the foundation of these practices and beliefs needs to be eradicated.

Race is not good for humanity, our personal identity or that of others. We can’t explain racism without discussing America’s history of enslavement of Africans. We cannot practice prejudice without assuming the worst about others. We cannot employ stereotypes without making assumptions that are rooted in unfounded and inconsistent generalizations of entire populations of people groups.  But, what troubles me most is that this has become our truth.

We have become the stereotypes though caricatures and we believe the prejudices about others and ourselves. We believe in race and its social hierarchies, not needing to be told what our social color does. And we have become instructors in our own oppression and self- denial. No one has to tell us that we are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige. We tell ourselves and we teach our children these social colors. We become witnesses of race because we have not truly looked at ourselves.  But, we will not find ourselves until we are able to face ourselves, not as we are seen by others but as we are seen by God.

It is only then that we will challenge race and its progeny, that we will stop repeating what is said about us and begin initiating our own views.  It seems that we have grown comfortable as the victims of race and perhaps, this is why a race- less life might be considered threatening. Victimhood has become our identity and we are victims whether we view ourselves as oppressed or oppressor so long as we remain in this racialized society. No one lives unscathed. But, when we stop thinking in prejudice and speaking in stereotype, we will have find our minds and our voices. It is only in losing race that we emerge.

Confessing Our Prejudices

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

~ Matthew 7.1-2, New Revised Standard Version

There are some things that we don’t want to pray about, that we choose not to enter into dialogue with God about. For some of us, it doesn’t seem appropriate or relevant. We speak to God as if we know what God wants to hear or have determined over the span of our relationship what God can handle. We talk as if God needs to be protected from our sinful experiences or that we can hide parts of ourselves from God.

God’s ears are too delicate, only able to handle our praise and adoration. God is dainty, delicate, simple even. It would be too much to tell it all. This is why our prayers are preplanned or memorized, why we only talk to God when in need or at our wits end. It is because we believe that there is a way to talk to God and that there are times when talking to God is most appropriate and understood. There are things that should and should not be said to God, some subjects that are off limits because it would be embarrassing for God to hear or serve as an embarrassment to God. It could suggest God’s impotency, lack of control or awareness of human affairs. Thus, it would be disrespectful to raise these issues while in conversation with God.

Or, we don’t enter into conversation with God about particular issues or concerns as a matter of will. We don’t want to talk about it because we have no intention of and no desire to stop. We don’t want to admit them or confess the need for assistance in their cessation. Our reasons vary: We didn’t create them. They didn’t originate with us. We are sinful. But, it doesn’t matter who gave them to us; instead our energies should focus on the fact that we possess them. Instead of throwing them away, we have kept them. But, we can offer them to God in confession.

Still, some of us will point to Jesus and say, “The Lord knows my heart.” Yes, the Lord does but do you know it? Are you acquainted with the issues of it? Prejudice is one such issue that we might view as irrelevant to our Christian faith though it does impede its faithful practice. Many of our prejudices we have gleaned from American culture, picked up from conversations or received through family traditions. And we are guilty of passing these prejudices on to others.

Our society tells us that we should judge. It’s natural, human even and our assumptions could save our lives. But, our prejudices assume more than a potential threat to our lives or livelihood but guilt or innocence, front and center or marginalized, in or out. Our prejudices tell us who to love and to hate, who to keep and who to throw away, who to bless and who to curse. And there is no Christian commandment or directive or law for this. It is wrong, sinful and it is not Christ- like.

Thus, today, God, I confess the willingness with which I assume and think the worst of persons who are not members of my culture and the ease with which I assume that “my people” can do no wrong. I confess my hubris and arrogance and ignorance, my wanting to be right and to be found with the “right” people. I confess my anger at the seeming injustice that persons of other cultures represent without knowledge of their participation in any act that has oppressed or harmed another. And I ask that You would renew my mind, show me the truth and teach me how to look not at the outward appearance but at the heart of those that I encounter. I make this request in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Is Not A Spectator Sport

I am often dumbfounded at the number of persons who live their lives as if mere spectators. They talk about their lives as if they are not active participants but onlookers, as if narrators instead of characters. They share their experiences with race, racism and prejudice as if to say, “Do you see what racism or prejudice just did to me?” There is no attempt at confronting or challenging race, pursuing justice or even ensuring that it never happens to them again (Note: Becoming a racist or practicing prejudice should not be considered as a deterrent.). And though a lively discussion with endless examples may ensue, there is no examination of the act itself. There is only talk and more talk of what race has done to us.

And each time something racially motivated happens whether in our circle of influence or in another part of the country, we tell our story– if only in our heads. We stand with the crowd and look at the injuries instead of seeking out a place to heal them. No one moves to stop it. For all of our experience and thereby expertise, we are no better at handling matters of race. Consequently, the wound remains open and festers with each new instance of “race”- based hatred or discrimination.

We behave as if we are afraid to challenge an issue on the basis of race, as if we live by the whims of race. We use the general racial description of “they” when we know the name of the individual who verbally assaulted us or where the incident of prejudice took place. We can identify it and yet we don’t.  We don’t go to the individual instead we say that it was all of “them.” “They” all are the same and if given the chance, “they” would do the same to me as this individual has. We don’t confront the institution and hold them accountable for their actions. Instead, we talk about it on the sidelines or in the stands.

For all of our discussions about race, what resources do we own that would assist in our understanding of race and the eradication of racism? What personal responsibility have we taken to shake its foundation in American society, in our neighborhoods, on our jobs, in our schools, in our churches, in our homes, in us? What books have we read or movies have we watched that would aid in its demise? If race and thereby racism and prejudice are rooted in ignorance, then why won’t we simply get to know each other? If it is the product of hatred whatever its form, then why not practice love? It is simply because we don’t want to get in the game.

Judging Prejudice

“The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” ~ Kate Chopin, The Awakening

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” ~ Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

One of the hardest things to fight against are the prejudices that have been imbedded in our minds, that arrive on our lips as conclusions unchecked.  They need no introduction because we know them and we know why we know them. These prejudices have been around so long, it would seem like getting rid of a family member or a close friend if we ended our relationship with them.  They are a part of a story, real or imagined, that we have been told or that we tell ourselves.  

Prejudices can serve as one of the ways that we define and distinguish ourselves from others. The differences that we see or have been taught to see in others are a way that we tell ourselves a part from others.  Who we are is defined by who they are not and vice versa. This can be a problem when someone does not fit the mold or breaks away from it as our identity may become threatened.  These prejudices then begin to hold our world and sense of self together.

These prejudices might seem harmless or perhaps serve as the means by which we protect ourselves. If the latter is true then, we’re not about to let our defenses down.  Our prejudices make the world and its inhabitants seem less mysterious and consequently, less threatening. They are what we know, often introduced to us by those we love or have come to respect, through personal stories that might involve experiences with a person from the cultural group being prejudged.  There is an intimate connection to them and no longer holding the prejudice would feel like ending a relationship, breaking a trust or questioning the wisdom of someone we love or admire. 

But, how do our prejudices impact our relationship with God and God’s creation?  How do our prejudices influence our identity as Christians?  How do we make sense of God’s unconditional love while maintaining these beliefs?  How does our allegiance to social prejudices change the story of our faith?  Certainly, God is able to prejudge us and has as sinners but this prior knowledge did not prevent God from offering His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrificial lamb for our sins.  How would you judge that?

Ten Things Race Cannot Tell A Person About You

Race often goes before us, introducing one to others before she or he has even entered the room.  As soon as the social coloring of a person’s skin is determined, assumptions are made and the experience is rated and ruined before it has even begun. Race is often the deciding factor for the necessity of a genuine relationship, the possibilty of understanding or an assessment of personal safety. Race sets the agenda, determines the amount of effort we will give to it and the results of our engagement.  What is often not addressed is that all of them are the same–negative.  For race, opposite cultures do not attract and just as soon as both are in the room, there will be conflict.  “It is only natural,” race tells us.  But, truly, it is only socially.

We are socialized to maintain this conflict and to create difference even when there is none.  We are trained to separate, to take sides and to form competitive cultural teams.  We learn to compare ourselves to others from our heads to our toes, from the school house to our own houses, from birth to death.  We learn the social coloring of a person’s skin and immediately decide whether or not the relationship is worth pursuing, discern if one will be able to reach an agreement or if one should even risk being in the presence of another. We turn to race for every occasion as if omniscient and we tailor our reactions to its declarations.

But, the information that race provides about an individual is always general and stereotypical.  It cannot provide personal information but gives details that are specific to the racial group and leads persons to obvious historical assumptions that do not allow for meaningful dialogue and often prevent the formation of genuine relationships. The information that race provides is most often misinformation. And when race or the social coloring of a person’s skin gets our attention, it points to our lack of awareness of the actual person. If when we look at a person, our first sight of them is race, then we have not looked at the her or him at all. We have surrendered our sight to the lens of race and turned to race to tell us what it sees.  Sadly, we have eyes but we cannot see (Psalm 135.16). We have knowledge but it is useless in getting to know the person standing in front of us as there are some things that race simply cannot tell you.

1. Race cannot tell you the person’s name.
2. Race cannot tell you where the person is from.
3. Race cannot tell you the person’s likes and dislikes.
4. Race cannot tell you where the person grew up.
5. Race cannot tell you what the person’s favorite color is.
6. Race cannot tell you the person’s birthday.
7. Race cannot tell you what makes her or him laugh or cry.
8. Race cannot tell you what the person believes.
9. Race cannot tell you what the person thinks.
10. Race cannot tell you where the person lives.

Race does not help us to get to know each other; instead, it ensures that we remain strangers.  Get to know each other by living the race-less life.