Christian Living The Arts

Racism: In Our Hearts and Not Just the South

The Witness

by Phillip Holmes, Co-Founder

Yesterday the New York Times released an article in The Opinions Pages entitled “The Good, Racist People” by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I thought was insightful and telling. Here is the opening paragraph:

Last month the actor Forest Whitaker was stopped in a Manhattan delicatessen by an employee. Whitaker is one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation, with a diverse and celebrated catalog ranging from “The Great Debaters” to “The Crying Game” to “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.” By now it is likely that he has adjusted to random strangers who can’t get his turn as Idi Amin out of their heads. But the man who approached the Oscar winner at the deli last month was in no mood for autographs. The employee stopped Whitaker, accused him of shoplifting and then promptly frisked him. The act of self-deputization was futile. Whitaker had stolen nothing. On the contrary, he’d been robbed.

The author goes on to write:

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

A half-century later little had changed. The comedian Michael Richards (Kramer on “Seinfeld”) once yelled at a black heckler from the stage: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Confronted about this, Richards apologized and then said, “I’m not a racist,” and called the claim “insane.”

The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.

But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.

You can read the rest here.

In America, we often want to isolate prejudice and racism to a particular time, place, or type of people. It’s amazing how many times I have been told that racism is only an issue in the South or that nobody is racist in the 21st century. What we fail to grasp is that racism is here and it’s not going anywhere, at least for now. Why? It’s a heart issue. It is a sin issue that will never be resolved by government policies, change in regions, or time.

However, racism will be completely annihilated at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:5). Until then we wait patiently, striving to obey the simple yet difficult commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ to love God, our neighbor, and enemy (Luke 10:27; Matthew 5:44,45). The Gospel calls, moves, and motivates us to do such.

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