Racism Means Many Things...

In talking about racism, I believe it would be helpful to distinguish between the following things:

#1 Systematized Racism (Bigotry): Social/political/economic structures that are intended to treat one racial group different than another.  Examples: Impinging upon voting rights of a particular group.  "Whites Only" signs that were placed everywhere.  Redlining practices.  Preferential hiring practices.  Refusing to investigate or prosecute lynchings.

#2 Individual Racism (Bigotry): Personal animosity and/or discrimination towards another person because of their racial background.  Examples: The use of racial epithets.  Violence against person or property. Ostracism.

#3 Systematic Racial Injustice: Social/political/economic structures that are not intended to treat one racial group different than another, but indirectly accomplish that end.  Examples: Educational systems that prioritize the children of wealthy and powerful families.  A justice system that dispenses justice to the poor much more harshly than to the wealthy.  Government subsidies to the poor that have largely gutted poor communities of their work ethic and their family units.

#4 Racial Pride: Being glad of one's own heritage.  Examples: Celebrating our culture through holidays.  Promoting the values of our culture to those of other cultures.  Learning about historical events from the perspective of our culture.

#5 Cultural Privilege: The reality that our society is made up of people groups from many cultures, but only one culture can be the dominant culture.  For those individuals within the dominant culture, they are both privileged, and often ignorant of their privilege.  Examples: The white, middle-class values of punctuality, industry, and self-reliance are a standard by which all people are expected to live up to, while the values of other cultures are downplayed and ignored.  Images of white people are considered 'normal,' images of anyone else are considered something 'less normal.'  The structures necessary for our society to function are created with implicit reference to white cultural norms.  The fact that #4 is indiscernible to our society when the racial pride of whites are on display, but somewhat radical when other groups do the same thing.

#6 The Legacy of Racism: The generational legacy of #1 (which no longer exists) and #2 (which is socially unacceptable, although still existent in plenty of individuals and communities).  Examples: Different racial groups have different correlations with poverty.  In particular the descendants of individuals who have suffered from #1 and #2 have passed down their pain, their anger, their legacy of deprivation, to their own descendants.  Additionally the family unit was greatly disintegrated in some communities which has lasting negative effects generationally.

(I don't know what the best labels are for the above, suggestions are welcome.)

Along with the above categories, I would add these thoughts:

1) The reason for the above categories is this, the honest* debates surrounding racial issues in our culture are often exercises in miscommunication.  One side is talking about #6 and #5 and #3, but the other side thinks they are talking about #1 and #2.  Or the other side sees #4 or #2 happening and equates it to #1.  I do think we need to be able to distinguish between these various realities as an aid to understanding what is actually happening, and as an aid to communicating about what is actually happening.  Bluntly, misdiagnosing a situation radically decreases your credibility to speak to people about these issues.

2) Race (as opposed to ethnicity, or country of origin) is a social construct, that is not rooted in any scientifically discernible reality. That doesn't make it less 'real,' but does point towards its roots in xenophobia and ethnocentrism.  This is true for all peoples…

3) Perhaps most importantly, we need to be able to distinguish between those responsible for creating these realities intentionally, those responsible for creating the realities unintentionally, and those responsible for dealing with these realities.  All human beings should be responsible for dealing with these realities (certainly all those who claim to follow Jesus).  Almost every human being is responsible for these realities in the sense that they have tacitly participated in them without any real reflection (this is true regardless of race and class).  But very few people are directly responsible for intentionally creating any of this.  Assigning blame to people who are not guilty of what you are accusing them of not only decreases your credibility, but actually hinders the process of finding and pursuing solutions.

4) Perhaps even more importantly, we need to make clear that many of the categories above continue to hold sway over our culture, and negatively influence the lives of whole communities.  As Christians we must not only acknowledge that these forces exist, but we must work to bring the light of the gospel into these dark corners of society.

*Many public debates around race are simply political posturing by people of all colors trying to gain power.  These are not miscommunication (i.e. failures at communication) because there is no real attempt at communication taking place.

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