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14 August 2017

The subtler type of racism.

We’ll catch, and oppose, the more obvious forms of racism. The subtle sort tends to slide.

Once again I bumped into an odd phenomenon; one I briefly mentioned in my article on white Jesus. In short, it’s racism; the type people tend to get away with because it’s subtle.

But first, a big long bit of backstory.


Robert E. Lee, 1863. Wikipedia

Robert Edward Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the United States Civil War. (The army started burying soldiers on Lee’s front lawn during the war, as a way to stick it to him; it’s now Arlington National Cemetery.) He was one of the better generals in the war… and arguably it’s because he was such an effective general that the war lasted way longer, and killed more, than it ever should have.

Y’might be developing the idea I don’t think much of Lee, nor the reputation the American south has granted him in the 150 years since the Civil War. You’d be absolutely right.

When Lee joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the man swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet he participated in armed rebellion, supporting a separatist nation whose primary reason for existence, as stated in their new state constitutions, was to perpetuate slavery. Southerners imagine Lee was a noble man, conflicted because he didn’t want to shatter the union his own wife’s grandfather had created. (Her grandfather? George Washington. Yes, that George Washington.) Even so, Lee couldn’t bring himself to fight his fellow Virginians. Or at least that’s how he justified his treason to himself, and plenty of southerners have perpetuated this myth.

Sound harsh? I’ve been accused of that. But even by standards of the day, Lee’s behavior is inexcusable. Washington had recognized the immorality of slavery and freed his own slaves. His adoptive son had freed some slaves, and his slaves also expected to be freed at his death, but that didn’t happen. Hence Lee held these hundreds of people in captivity, kept them in shacks on his land, worked them without pay, and had ’em flogged when they displeased him. As general, he permitted his troops to enslave any free blacks they encountered. And of course they killed American soldiers so they could continue these offensive practices. He never spent an hour in jail for it; he was graciously given amnesty. If anything I’m being generous too.

Southerners are slowly starting to come around to the fact Lee is an embarrassing part of their history, and not someone to be celebrated. The reason it’s so slow? The white supremacist movement.

From the end of the war till 1877, white supremacists were suppressed by the army. That ended after the Republicans stole the 1876 presidential election. Seriously. Back then the Republicans were liberal and the Democrats conservative; the Republicans were the equal-rights party and the Democrats were super racist. (From the 1930s to ’70s, they gradually traded worldviews. Still a lot of non-racists among the Republicans, but after Democrats passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many of the “Dixiecrats” joined the Republicans and brought their toxic views with them.) Democrat Samuel J. Tilden had unexpectedly won both the electoral and the popular vote, and Republicans were horrified. So they struck a deal: If the Democrats conceded the election to Rutherford Hayes, the Republicans would pull the army out of the south, and whatever happened thereafter, happened. What happened was a useless one-term president, and southern Democrats creating racist “Jim Crow” laws which made life hell for southern blacks for a century. White supremacists repainted the Civil War as a noble but failed cause. That’s when all the pro-Confederacy idols cropped up. Yes of course it’s civic idolatry… Confederate style.


Idol of Lee on his horse Traveller, erected in Charlottesville in 1925. Wikipedia

Including the idol of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was commissioned in 1917, built in 1925, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Back in April the city council decided to sell it, and rename Lee Park as Emancipation Park. White supremacists have been fighting this plan ever since. Including a big rally this past weekend at the University of Virginia campus, where one of the white supremacists ran a car into counter-protesters. Some of ’em were waving Nazi flags right alongside their Confederate flags. Nazis are another group white supremacists are trying to repaint as a noble but failed cause.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had tweeted,

I don’t care for everything Huckabee tweets (I don’t share his sense of humor at all), but I liked this one so I shared it.

Didn’t take long before I got these two responses:

  • “[It’s wrong] for ANY race to think they are superior to another. There are racists on both sides.”
  • “No worse than black racism. Racism is racism. There no runner-up prize.”

And someone who tried to pivot to a discussion of black people’s sins. See, when you can’t defend your own behavior, deflect as best you can.

“Don’t forget there are black racists.”

Of course black racists exist. I’ve met a few. When I went to college in Sacramento, I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. Worked for a black newspaper. And every so often, someone would come into the office who was a little bothered there was a white guy in there. Shouldn’t the jobs at a black newspaper, they figured, go exclusively to black people?

I tell this story to people and they respond, “Ah, that’s reverse racism.” Nah, it’s just racism. “Reverse” suggests maybe I oughta be the racist here. No I shouldn’t.

Some of the racism came from members of the Nation of Islam. Its leaders have notoriously taught that white people were invented 6,600 years ago by a black scientist named Yakub, who bred people till they turned into white devils. (I’m not kidding.) True, many whites have acted profoundly devilish towards blacks and Muslims, and not just in the past. But their Yakub myth guarantees whites and the NOI aren’t gonna reconcile anytime soon.

And some of the racism came from people who had awful experiences with whites in the past, and didn’t expect me to be any better. Kind and friendly to me to my face, but I overheard ’em when my back was turned. Sad to say, it wasn’t my first experience with this type of racist: My relatives are just the same. Friendly in public, racist in private. The people they know are “one of the good ones,” but everybody else is gauged by whatever offensive stereotypes they persist in believing.

Still, Huckabee’s comment is pointing out how white supremacy is evil. So why’re people suddenly bringing up black racists? Yeah, black racists exist. It goes without saying. Why do these people so strongly feel the need to say it anyway?

It reminds me, I told the commentators, of a little kid who’d just been caught disobeying. Maybe the parents told him, “Stay out of the cookie jar,” then caught him with his hand in it not two minutes later. As kids do, his defense was, “But the other kids were in it too.” Not too dissimilar from Adam pointing the finger at Eve when God caught ’em eating from the wrong tree. Ge 3.12

I hadn’t accused any of my followers of white supremacy. I’d simply agreed with Huckabee’s statement. And their response wasn’t, “That’s right, white supremacy is evil.” It was, “Don’t forget not all racists are white.” It’s the reaction of someone with their hand in the cookie jar.

Is that the button I pushed? Of course it is. These people identify with white people so strongly, they feel they need to respond to any objection to white misbehavior. They’re speaking up for their race. I never asked ’em to (and certainly don’t recognize them as any such spokesperson). But they felt it necessary.

Pity instead of defending themselves, or joining the condemnation of a sinful fringe group, they chose to point fingers: “Don’t forget their sins.”

Yeah yeah yeah. But let’s return to yours, shall we?

Passive racism.

There are a lot of racists who are entirely sure they’re not racist… solely because they don’t hate other races.

Because they assume hatred is how we define racism. Racists hate. Ergo if you don’t hate, you’re no racist. And they don’t hate other races, so they’re clearly not racist.

They don’t love ’em either. But all they care about is they don’t hate them.

So they figure they’re not racist. Even as they quietly discriminate between one person and another, for better or worse, entirely based on the stereotypes they hold about different races, ethnicities, nations, religions, and cultures. That’s why my family members believe they’re not racist when they totally are. Our current President is the very same way.

At the foundation of all this is total depravity: Humans are self-centered. We primarily think of ourselves, and not so much others. We don’t love our neighbor as ourselves; we love ourselves, and don’t hate our neighbors, and figure that’s just as good. We love ourselves, our own, and however far we care to extend “our own.”

For some Christians, they love their fellow Christians. Or at least their fellow Protestants, or fellow Evangelicals, or fellow conservative Evangelicals. Or pretty much their own denomination. Or not even that; just their church. Or not their church either; just the people in their bible study. Well, a few of them.

For some Americans, they love their fellow Americans. So long that they’re “real Americans,” by which they mean Americans who share their politics. Or who “act American,” by which they mean act like them… or to be blunt, act white. Because white is “normal” and “regular,” and everything else, not so much.

Once we finally define those boundaries, whether they’re wide or narrow, we humans figure we’re in competition with everybody outside the boundaries. Us versus them. Our team versus theirs. Needy versus wealthy. Progressives versus conservatives. Christians versus Muslims—sometimes teaming up with the Jews, sometimes not. Whites versus nonwhites.

Usually we’re competing for power. Sometimes political, sometimes economic, sometimes for attention and resources.

So when white people get accused of racism, they defend the team, and counterpunch at the other team: “What about the black people?” After all, if we’re in competition, we’d better not be the only group getting a yellow card. Black folks have their racists too!

Yep, that’s the mindset behind their slogan, “All lives matter.” It’s their tone-deaf response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was created to address the very real problem of institutional racism: When a black kid is walking down the street, far too often white cops don’t think of him as a pedestrian, but as a perpetrator, and take it upon themselves to find out if and what he perpetrated, and way too often it ends with a dead kid. All my life I’ve walked through neighborhoods at night, and never once been questioned by police. My black friends? In high school they got questioned as they were waiting for the morning school bus. Police departments need to train this mentality out of their cops, and some do… and some don’t. Hence Black Lives Matter. The “All lives matter” slogan would make sense if all kids were hassled by the cops. It doesn’t; it’s really just white idiots who don’t understand the issue, yet still want their equal time. If it’s not about them, they wanna shoehorn themselves in there somehow. It’s more selfishness than racism.

But it does come from racism. The passive stuff. The subtle racism. Closet racism. Whatever you care to call it: When people don’t love people of other races enough to identify with them, come alongside them, love them, and surrender their power and privilege if only it might help them.

It confuses people because they realize something’s wrong with this mindset, but they can’t pinpoint the problem. They figure since they tend to see it among conservatives, it must be a form of conservatism. It’s actually not; I’ve known liberal and progressive racists who are insultingly condescending towards nonwhites. The jerkish behavior has nothing to do with politics, although it becomes painfully obvious when politics come up. It has to do with the absence of love. They don’t love their neighbors.

So call it what it is. Out it whenever it’s practiced. Rebuke it.

If Christians find ourselves in any position of privilege whatsoever, we’re meant to use it to help others So do love your neighbors. Speak out. And, in case you don’t figure these people legitimately are your neighbors, love your enemies and opponents too. That’ll work just as well.