Am I a Racist?

Last week, Tony Jones, blogger, pastor and Theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch, was involved in what he referred to as a “kerfuffle“. That’s a strange word (which means a disturbance or fuss) to use, considering the ass-kicking he took over some remarks he made in  couple of speaking engagements. Rest assured I’m not here to add to Tony’s discomfort. I’ve seen him speak several times (and even met him once) and he seems a decent, caring guy. No, today I’m about four things I’ve learned from this “kerfuffle”:

  1. The old “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” has more than a bit of truth about it.
  2. This time, it was as much what was said as how it was said.
  3. Sometimes, you just need to keep your mouth shut.
  4. I may not be a racist, but I have racist tendencies.

Let’s take them in order.

  1. The old “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” has more than a bit of truth about it. If you read the post in question, you know what I mean. It came off kind of whiny, like he was saying “I’m on your side, stop picking on me!” I’m sure that wasn’t his intention but, as we all know, the road to hell…
  2. This time, it was as much what was said as how it was said. With this dust up, it has become painfully obvious that’s impossible to say “I’m not racist” without sounding a little…, well, racist. Look, if you’ve gotten yourself into a situation that requires you to say “I’m not racist”, it’s a good bet you’ve said or done something that comes off as racist to the people in question. And, as I said in Got Privilege, “The days when white folks got to determine what is racist are gone, if they ever existed in the first place.”
  3. Sometimes, you just need to keep your mouth shut. If Tony had just done this, he wouldn’t have gotten raked over the coals the way he did, since any uproar over the first incident he described was well in the past and, in the second, Dr. Cleveland never mentioned him by name. In fact, nobody ever called him a racist, but rather some of the things he said. If I were to give Tony any advice on this, it would be that sometimes, you might want to just think it and not say it. Even better would be taking an honest look at these critiques and see if they might have a point. But, one step at a time.
  4. I may not be a racist, but I have racist tendencies. I say I’m not a racist because the definition of “racism” is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and I don’t do that. But, as Dianna Anderson said on her Faith and Feminism blog, “I am white. I grew up in America. Because of that, I am racist and I benefit from racist structures.”

Look, no one likes being called a “racist” or any of the other pejoratives that make up profanity for progressive Christians. But, Anderson gets it right. In the United States, being white means there’s a lot of shitty stuff you don’t have to deal with. If you’re a man, that goes double. As a white man, I can rest peaceful in the knowledge that the system works (for me, anyway). A lot of folks in the country can’t say the same. 

In responding to one of the comments on his offending blog post, Tony said “let’s work on dismantling those (racist) systems” and he’s right. I’m thinking a good place to start might be with me.