Racism is like a tide
I like to think of racism and white supremacy like a tide at sea. We need to actively swim against it, or we’ll get caught up in it. Worse than not swimming at all and letting the tide drift you into white supremacy, some of us actively swim with the tide of racism. Racism will carry us if we don’t resist, and we need to be conscious that some of our political and religious beliefs and action actually has us swimming with the tide.
The status quo, the present state of affairs, has a racist disposition, especially in the United States and in predominantly white institutions. If left on its own, it will drift us toward racism. Too often, we see racism and antiracism as equally opposing forces that need to be refereed between. See here, an Evangelical pastor articulates for us perfectly the belief in both Evangelicalism, but also mainstream White America:
…are a criminal or poor it is always your fault.
Because Christianity teaches both individual yet corporate responsibility, both humanity in the image of God yet deep sinfulness, the Bible doesn’t promote either simplistic view. It fully critiques both yet fulfills the best
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) October 11, 2021
Keller sees “antiracism” and “anti-antiracism” (whatever that is – I suppose he is using a euphemism for racism) as poles in political discourse, one that he can navigate for us. Never mind his misunderstanding of antiracism, Keller tells us that too often racism and antiracism are reduced to “ideologies,” or “cultural wars,” or “identity politics,” instead of matters of hatred and violence and dignity and honor. Naming the struggle of Black and brown people, speaking as a brown man myself, as a “culture war” issue is deeply offensive. My body contains a politics, politics is an embodied matter for me, not an abstract one.
We are ready to blame antiracists for our failures
After a disappointing election for the Democrats last week, many pundits were to assign blame for their failure in Virginia when Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe for governor. The race was largely seen as a precursor to the upcoming midterm elections, and now pundits and political operatives are prepared to opine as to why the loss happened. In large part, pundits were eager to name antiracist activists are the problem. Here’s Ross Douthat insisting that the hysteria around CRT is actually because of an ideological change on the left, not creeping white supremacy on the right:
“You can tell people that C.R.T. is a right-wing fantasy all you want, but this debate was actually instigated not by right-wing parents but by an ideological transformation on the left.”
I would remind Ross that the wave of antiracism we felt last summer was a result of a racist president normalizing white supremacy. It happened because we protested after we saw Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd. That is a response to blatant racism, which is in fact, a transformation on the right.
Maureen Dowd quoting James Carville in her column saying: “What went wrong is this stupid wokeness. Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Wash. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this takes Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools.”
It doesn’t matter that Biden never ran on these things, what we see is the insatiable desire to blame antiracists for the Democratic failure. That instinct to blame is a part of the tide of racism and white supremacy in the U.S.
What these pundits are saying is that if Democrats didn’t focus so much on racism, they may have won. If they courted white racists better, than they may have one. This mentality is so pervasive because of the force of the tidal wave of white supremacy in the United States. We are very quick to blame and scapegoat our failures on racial minorities crying out for their dignity. Some pastors and thinkers in the church blame antiracist activism for “polarization” that has diminished faith and attendance in our church. The consistent racist push is to say that resistance to the status quo of racism is detrimental to our country, our churches, and our families. We are very much ready to abandon antiracism. After enough time a lot of people fall away from antiracist resistance, and go with the flow again.
Beware the white moderate
Chares M. Blow tells us the real truth, though, blaming white anxiety for the Democratic loss.
“Some of the very same people who voted against Donald Trump because they were exhausted and embarrassed by him turned eagerly to Youngkin because he represented some of the same ideals, but behind a front of congeniality.”
Blow says that the tide against Trump’s style of racism died down when voters could just vote for run-of-the-mill racist. That our earnest effort against racism last summer and during the defeat of Donald Trump was because of the flagrance of the racism on display in those instances. Trump’s brand of racism and the horrifying display of Chauvin’s murder of Floyd was enough to activate much of the country, and even the largest corporations. But when the dust settled, the status quo resumed, and the tide of racism continued to pull us toward white supremacy.
We need to beware the white moderate, which Martin Luther King warned us against in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, as the primary obstacle to antiracism, much less than hooded Klansman.
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.’”
Too often white moderates believe that if they are not personally racist or prejudicial, or if they name their church or institution as antiracist, they are covered. But we cannot stop the fight against racism, the tide is too strong. We need a lot of power from God to resist the torrent of racism in our society, one that will sweep us all up. Here’s Jamelle Bouie:
“Racism does not survive, in the main, because of personal belief and prejudice. It survives because it is inscribed and reinscribed by the relationships and dynamics that structure our society, from segregation and exclusion to inequality and the degradation of labor.
The solution, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in the year of his assassination, must involve a ‘revolution of values.’”
We need the power of God to resist the power of racism
We truly do need a revolution of values. The tide of the world moves in such a way as to dehumanize people of color. If left unchecked, it will keep moving us in that direction. We need to counter that force with one that is much stronger and one that we are more committed to. It is an incredibly difficult task because of how strong and overwhelming the force of racism is in the U.S. We need more than just personal and political commitments to defeat racism, we need God on our side. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us moving.
Often, white folks want to appear as antiracist, without actually making a sacrifice to be. They want to signal that they are antiracist, performatively, instead of committing themselves to resist the tide. Jesus reminds us that following in the Way is much more costly than that though. It is no surprise that many of his disciples fall away. He reserves his harshest words for folks that want to appear faithful, but have no true antiracist outcomes. Performative antiracism–that is saying the “right” things, but not acting (and often recoiling) when it hits home–is what Jesus is referring to as a whitewashed tomb (Matt. 23) or as dishware that is clean on the outside and full of death and filth on the inside (Luke 11).
We can expect to be persecuted for following in the Jesus way, where the last are first, and the first last. As we seek to make the last first in our antiracist work, we can expect that suffer hatred and consequences. The work of antiracism is not pretty or easy and will bring suffering. We will hear cries of protest from those who are accustomed to benefiting from the status quo. We will be blamed for election losses, campaign failures, and any number of institutional failures.
But we follow a Crucified God who defeated death, through death. Jesus, faced with sin and death, took to the cross to wage war against it. On the cross, a revolution against death started. Racism today is a force of death, and we will need sustained resistance if we have a chance of defeating it. We need the power of the Cross and of God to make this very difficult work happen. If we let up, we’ll be pulled back by the tide. We need a communal and consistent effort to defeat this heinous power; we can’t do it alone, we need one another, and God. Lord, hear our prayer.