by Ken Hamrick
There’s something insincere about any repentant admission that says, “Yes, I’m guilty—and so are you.” I do not admit to being a racist, and neither do I think most Americans—white or otherwise—are. Many are racists, but most—or even, all? Contrary to the popular Evangelical party line these days, that cannot be established. It is not enough to point out that racism is sin, and as such, it comes from the fall of man, which affects us all. All are sinners, but not all are racists.
Some good Christian black leader, whose article I’ve since lost track of, has explained that black people view things from a racial/ethnic solidarity—that when one is unjustly treated, all feel the pain. This, I think, illuminates the differences in thinking and explains why most white people just don’t get it when it comes to racial reconciliation. Simply put, white people (especially Americans) have generally left behind whatever racial/ethnic solidarity there was among us in generations past. We just do not think that way about the race to which we belong—at least, not most, since there are and may always be some who are racists. I don’t think Dr. Martin Luther King has been given enough credit, even by African-Americans, for the depth and breadth of the changes he helped achieve in our society. His campaign was directed toward changing the way that the mind of the white person (the oppressor at the time) works. His righteous rhetoric was like a sharp blade that served to start the process of cutting the ties of racial solidarity held by white people and by which they held themselves apart from and superior to black people. As Dr. King famously taught, a man should not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. Rather than preserving any racial solidarity, such ideals strove toward atomization—the dissolving of all identity except the individual identity. It is a prescription intended to bring about Dr. King’s “dream,” but it was prescribed for the oppressive race.
Fifty years later, and that atomization of racial identity among white people has become reality for the majority. Whenever the continuing existence of racial injustices or abuses are pointed out to the average white man, he usually responds defensively and from an individual perspective, “I’m not guilty of any of that.” The current frustration that many black people feel toward such unresponsiveness of the majority of whites is—I think—a side effect of the good course of treatment prescribed by Dr. King and imbibed by the “white culture” of America. The atomization of identity among whites has been achieved, for the most part; and now, the white man no longer judges even himself by the color of his own skin, but resists any charges that are not in accord with the content of his own character. Efforts to load racial blame, guilt or responsibility onto the shoulders of all white people find that the yoke of racial identity (or solidarity) has been broken and so such a load finds little on which to attach.
This is not to say that there are not still serious problems with abuse of the black race in America; but rather, it is to say that such abuses are not by the majority. And that majority finds it difficult to feel guilt for what the minority perpetrates (or for what the majority perpetrated in past generations). Indeed, we find it antithetical to the anti-racial thinking that we have become accustomed to. Racism is bad, we all agree—and instances of racial abuse, whether by individuals or by unjust systems, should be corrected and justice upheld. But if racial reconciliation requires all whites to admit being racist, or for individuals to acknowledge a guilt for the crimes of the race as a whole, then it will be an uphill struggle that unwittingly seeks to rebuild what was torn down (at such a high cost) by the civil rights movement thus far. Racial/ethnic solidarity among white people was not a good thing, and should not be promoted, even for ostensibly good reasons of aiding in racial reconciliation.
One more thought (added 1/10/15): There are evangelical leaders, both black and white, who are ineffectively pushing for whites to dive into this racial reconciliation idea. Appeals to conscience based on the guilt of the white race will not be effective. An appeal to sympathy based on the plight of the black race would be more to the point and more effective.
Ken Hamrick, 2015