Beyond Prejudice: Race

Of all the various types of prejudice out there, race is the most difficult to discuss in public.  It is the most polarizing, and most intractable of all types of prejudice.  Yet, I have had a change of heart on the subject since I first started crusading for racial diversity in the church.  Truth be told, I have had several changes of heart, enough to keep a transplant doctor busy for life. 🙂

There have been times when I felt like the end of the problem was within reach, and would be experienced in my lifetime.  On other occasions, I felt like there was no solution to the problem and it is just a part of human nature that cannot be altered.  Today, I am a bit more optimistic.  I have come to believe that the problem is not what we think it is.

When we think of issues dealing with race, we automatically think of racism.  For the sake of this post, I am going to ask you to expunge that notion from your mind.  I have come to believe that the vast majority of problems we have with race have very little to do with classical racism.  Classical racism is more about biology than cultural dissonance.  It is a belief that ethnicity is the key factor of genetic excellence.  That, in turn, suggests that genetic excellence is the key to taxonomical superiority.

On the surface, this is not as bad as it sounds.  Taxonomically, I am superior to my dog.  My cat, on the other hand, might beg to differ, but she would be wrong.  In a sense, this feeling of taxonomic superiority on the basis of genetic makeup is at the heart of classical racism.  Classical racism is not evil.  It is just a matter of bad science.

You would have to know me personally to know just how hard it was to key those last couple of sentences.  I have operated under the assumption that racism, in and of itself, is a great evil that needs to be defeated at any cost.  I know I am not alone in feeling this way.  But I am now, firmly convinced that is the wrong perspective.

First, there is the practical matter of defining racism as evil. Once something so common is defined as evil, it becomes untouchable.  You cannot reason with an evil person.  you cannot turn a person from evil to good by the power of your reasonable argumentation.  Evil does not yield to reason.  Once something is deemed evil, the only way to deal with it is to isolate and exclude it from your life, or kill it like an exterminator kills termites.  Even animal activists don’t try to reason with termites.  They just hire someone to exterminate them.  If classical racism is evil, then we should be at war, not at WordPress.

As a practical repercussion to labeling racism evil, no one is a racist.  To admit to being a racist is to admit to being evil.  Sure, everybody knows a few racists, but no one is, themselves, a racist.  The problem can only ever be an intellectual exercise.  Trust me, my mind gets more exercise than my body ever will. I am not in this to win the gold medal for mental gymnastics.

No!  I am convinced that we have to remove racism from any kind of moral judgement if we are to address it.  There is a difference between bad science and evil intent.  I am not unaware of racism’s dark history.  But we must divorce ourselves from our emotional reaction to an emotionally charged subject if we are ever to make any progress.

One of the ways I suggest we do this is to stop using the word, “racism” or “racist”.  These are fighting words.  They have lost all connection with biology, and have just become a part of our common vernacular of hate speech.  I suggest a slightly less emotionally charged term like, “race-based prejudice”.  That is more accurate for describing the social malaise of the modern era.  We all have prejudices.  It is unfortunate that some of those prejudices are triggered by race, but there is no getting around it.  That does not mean the situation is hopeless; far from it.

I may be showing my naiveté, but I do not believe there are that many classical racists left in the world.  They are in the same category as Flat-earthers.  They’re out there, but they are few and far between.  Our race-based prejudices have nothing to do wit genetic excellence.  Frankly, most people do not have the education to be classical racists.  Prejudging someone based on the color of their skin is not classical racism.  It is just another type of prejudice, like religious prejudice.

A key difference, however, is that religious people actually hope they can, by reason or artillery, change the mind and nature of someone who is religiously wrong.  There is hope for conversion, either by the word or the sword.  We do not just evangelize to save souls, but to make them: the lost others, like us.  In doing so, we validate ourselves.

Racial prejudice can never succumb to the best efforts of evangelism.  We are born with our ethnicity.  Our skin tone was mostly written on our DNA long before we could spell DNA.  If people are truly prejudiced against certain skin tones, then all is lost.  Love it or hate it.  The world will always be filled with a variety of skin tones, none of which is selectable.

I, however, do not believe race-based prejudice has anything to do with skin tones or ethnicity.  The reason the war against race-based prejudice has gone so badly is because we are fighting the wrong war.  We do not understand the real problem.  Once we do, I believe more people will gain the optimism that has so recently come to me.

In the next installment, I will describe what I believe to be the real problem.  Stay tuned.

David Johnson


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