Racism is such a sensitive issue that most people seem to go the long way around the barn to avoid it. This accusation, by former president Carter, that objections to President Obama’s policies are fundamentally racially motivated, pricked a few holes in my own private can of worms, so I thought I’d air it out a bit.
First off, I find President Carter’s assertion to be outrageous, inflammatory and irresponsible. He continues to add to the pile of reasons why I just don’t like the man. A supposedly bible reading man who is anti Jewish is an oxymoron, and testifies to a complete bastardization of the word of God. All that aside, I want to know: President Carter, how did you come to this conclusion? Did you take a poll? Or are you doing what I think we all do, look into ourselves to imagine how others may feel? Did you find latent racism lurking therein; some ingrained remnant of some early cultural childhood influences and presume this is how all ‘white people are’?
Sometimes I like to approach a subject somewhat autobiographically since our personal experiences are so fundamental in forming our perspectives. I don’t often find many people exposing themselves in this fashion, but I always like it when they do; only in these rare instances do I gain any understanding of the how and why of people’s thinking processes.
For those of us who are not psychic, the best we can do is contemplate how we feel in order to imagine how some one else feels. When I look into myself, I don’t find a basis for presuming racism is a monster hiding under a façade of politeness. This is not to say that I don’t find some racial ambivalence. It is, in fact, this ambivalence that forms my basis in my attempts at understanding the attitudes of African Americans etc. who demonstrate their own ambivalences to white people.
I often wonder if African Americans define themselves as ‘black’ among themselves as they appear to do in mixed society. I’m just wondering because I’ve never heard a ‘white’ person refer to themselves as a ‘white’ person. I think it’s usually a non issue, and from my perspective, the fact that African Americans have brought up the subject to me, has been an impediment to being able to simply accept them as an individual.
There is a song by Todd Park Mohr (Big Head Todd and the Monsters) ‘Groove Thing’ that asks the question ‘What color is the soul’; it says ‘evening is the color of the soul’. I say the soul (spirit of man) has no color; that is how I see it.
This Idea was planted in my head by my very white dad and his ‘evil’ protestant church before my memory kicks in properly. The phrase: “you, or I, could have been born of any race, nationality or in any country.” Seems to have been common, and predates the civil rights movement. “The soul returns to he who gave it” Ec 12:7 has implications about our true nature not being that of a physical body; and this has not been lost on people who have understood God’s message over time, regardless of however many people have shamed the title ‘Christian’ through their excuses and warped eisegesis used to make a child of God appear to be something less, and to justify inequality. The aggressive domineering ones make history, and are more likely to be the wealthy ones who play king of the mountain, and survive to impose their will on every one else. Who remembers the meek of the earth that have been mindful of God’s interest in his human creation, and had a fear of offending him through self glorification?
At this point I’m going to wax autobiographical, as an example of experience that leads to certain racial attitudes, and the introspection that becomes a basis for attempting to understand others.
I remember few black people in my early days in Anchorage Alaska. One in particular I remember was a friend of my dad’s at his local carpenters union; I must have been around four at the time. I remember sitting up on a counter with my feet dangling while he and my dad talked, he said something to me, laughed, poked me in the belly and laughed some more. I liked him. I don’t think I was cognizant of some difference about him. No one ever said there was, so I didn’t notice.
My brother came home from school one day with a little Japanese girl. She was having fun on our old creaky swing set, and I think she became my first childhood crush. Nobody told me there was something different about her.
The one person that I saw my dad with most frequently was an Inuit guy who made paintings of mountains, fish, bear and such, on pieces of moose or caribou horn that my dad would slice up on his band saw, which would be sold to tourists. This man was wheelchair bound, and this was the difference I noticed about him, because nobody pointed out that there was a difference.
In Alaska, before statehood, people lived off the land more than they are permitted to today. My dad could only work half the year as a carpenter, so food came from hunting, and he had a fish wheel he built on some small river that he mechanically maintained, but was operated by local Intuits who gave him a share of the fish it captured. Nobody said anybody was different; everyone was just trying to put food on the table.
My mother got drawn into the teachings of Herbert Armstrong and decided that my dad’s church was of the devil. She had been married previously, so she believed that she was not married in the eyes of God. She left him, and we went to the lower 48, and thereafter, my brother and I learned that *all people of other faiths were an inferior subspecies*.
I was 9 by the time a custody battle resulted in around a year of living in foster homes. Down the street from one, a Mexican family moved in. there were a lot of kids; some my age. I was glad for new playmates. My brother and I went over to get to know them. Their mother was great and I though the kids were my friends.
Later, some of their family came for a visit. I met my ‘friends’ and their cousins after dark one evening. I had been coming home from another friend’s house. They were acting strange. They surrounded me in a big circle, laughing. They started slapping me and pushing me back and forth in the circle, taunting and calling me names. After having their fun, they finally left me wreathing on the ground in pain from punched to the stomach, gasping to breath. I guess some one had to teach me about racism.
I use this experience as a visual when I try to imagine why an African American would hate me because of my complexion. I understand that this may be how they had been treated by some white people; but you know, although I know of white racism, I’ve never seen it except on TV, that is, beyond a few racial slurs on a few rare occasions.
My experience with racism has been being verbally assaulted and threatened when I wondered into the wrong neighborhood of a city. People of color walked through my neighborhood and no one bothered them. I’ve been knocked unconscious and robbed by a group of black teenagers. I’ve had racial epithets hurled at me from people I didn’t know, and African American men on buses and in school brought up the subject of racism and insisted on explaining to me the sinful nature of the ‘white’ race, which paradoxically dissuaded me from seeing or treating them like ‘just a person’. This created in me a racial ambivalence, but my early indoctrination from an essentially white protestant church etc., was such that I could not return a racial slur against those pouring them out on me.
This is not necessarily saying much about my personal character, that’s not my point. Actually there are a number of points that can be drawn from this. The first of which is the notion that it took the civil rights movement to teach white people to respect people of color as equals. However much I respect the goals and accomplishments of that movement, the notion is pure bunk. There was a cancer in American society of a cultural and educational nature that the civil rights movement addressed, and I can only see it as the will of God, and I’m thankful that Christians who could understand the simple words of Gal 3:28 led this movement, in particular ML King; but these words have been understood by many long before. I should add that ‘all are one in Christ’ I take as implying that those who are not of Christ still belong to God since God isn’t through dealing with anybody, and he will take them to himself at such time as he chooses. Who, then, dares to offend God by forgetting to be thankful, and copping an attitude of superiority.
The second thing I take from my own experience is that racism is indeed an educational issue. This means that the poison was introduced at some point in time, and it was taught from generation to generation. Conversely, if no one teaches a child that there is some significant difference which is indicated by variations of complexion, this notion probably won’t occur to that child.
I think that most people know that the nation of Liberia was created by the US as a place for former slaves to go if they wished to return to the land of their forefathers. I don’t know if many know that those who returned built plantations like those they had known, and they enslaved the local inhabitants as they had been, as their labor force. This says a great deal about education. We do what we know, and of course, we’re likely to abuse as we’ve been abused.
The third thing I gather from my personal experience is that those who have suffered racism frequently generate the very thing they hate and stand apposed to. Being pre-judged is what prejudice means, and treating people like ‘the enemy race’ becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is understandable, but it is a fruit of paranoia. It may be difficult to resist, but presuming racism is an endemic, built in quality, is also making a rash and racist presumption. I wish adults could be like kids; put a bunch in a room and they innocently interact without concern of racial variations; and this wouldn’t change if adults didn’t teach them differently.
Now I want to say something to counter balance what I’ve said about my experience with race, and it’s about a certain 30 second moment. I was a church pariah as a kid and teenager, socially awkward and suffering from extreme depression/emotional disturbances. I left school at the beginning of the 8th grade due to a nervous breakdown. No one in OWCG (Original World Wide Church of God) gave me a second thought. I had no where to go, and no friends, so I just wondered around on the streets.
I must have been 15 or 16; there was a Black church that I some times would walk near. When the people arrived or were leaving, they behaved towards each other like family. I’d see some mother like woman holding her arms wide pulling kids into a big monster hug with men joyously greeting one another creating a wonderful din of social interactivity. Every one neatly dressed, boys all spiffy and the girls all like colorful spring flowers. They’d disappear inside their church and sing songs that made me tingle, but added to my sorrow because what they had was nothing like my church.
One day I was drawn closer, virtually up to the walk leading to the door, trying to hear the singing better. From some where a well dressed black man appeared behind me and said: “you know you can go in if you want.” I felt shocked and embarrassed so I quickly excused myself and left, but he did for me what no one from OWCG ever did. In fact, who could enter an OWCG service without going through a trial of examination and humbling, groveling to ‘authority’? There was nothing of the sort here. Although I was a stranger, one of what he might have thought of as a hostile race, this man invited me in.
Thirty seconds of kindness has had more power in forming my perception of the African race than all the abuse I’d experienced. I’m inclined to think that the hateful ones were just loud and stood out, and taking them as representative would be an error. People of African extraction are people whose colorless spirit just happens to dwell in a black body, what the apostle Paul called a tent 2Cor 5:1, 5:4. I think Jimmy Carter has made a mistake in his judgment of his own race, perhaps because he looks inside himself and sees what he expects exists in every one of similar complexion; but there’s no intrinsic reason to make this so, it’s certainly not an inherited trait. Caucasians also have a colorless spirit that just happens to temporarily dwell in a white tent; so Jimmy Carter, I reject your assertion.