A DISTURBING CONVERSATION
Recently my wife and I were in Miami Beach for a few days of vacation. We walked over to a restaurant called Pollo Tropical for a meal and while I was in line a white man standing next to me began to talk. We were in a very multi-ethnic setting with all kinds of folks around. Now my wife Joan is African American, and I am white. Joan was sitting at a table waiting for me so this individual who began to randomly speak to me didn’t know she was with me.
Sometimes this happens, where you are standing next to people you have never met, and either you or they begin to make observations about life, or the weather, or the situation we are mutually experiencing. This man began to talk about race. His comments went something like this, “They’ve been treating me like a black guy for the last eight years and I resent it. Now it’s our turn. I drive a cab and I pulled over to pick up a black lady, but then she said, ‘oh never mind!” I said, ‘Why, because I’m white?’ She said, ‘No, that has nothing to do with it.” I said, ‘whatever!’ Now we get to do it back to them.”
Since this conversation sprang up rather suddenly I didn’t quite know what to do or say, especially since Joan was close by. When I suspect there might be racial hostility I become a bit hyper vigilant, which means I get real quiet and get ready to fight, even though I am too old to be doing such things. It comes from growing up in Newark I think. These comments coming from the mouth of a stranger were pretty revealing to me as well as being illogical, threatening, and sad.
I mean, the very idea that being “treated like a black guy” is a bad thing in his mind means he is admitting that black guys are being mistreated, although with the implication that the color of their skin makes them deserving of such treatment. If he thinks that is a bad thing why would he assume he has the right to mistreat anyone else? And who is the “they” he is referring to, except the obvious reference to President Obama having been the president for 8 years? So was he assuming this was a “racial” election and now white people have their turn to treat black people like “black guys?” I might have suspected there were some who thought this way but it was bracing to actually hear it from someone’s mouth.
I have been amazed at those who blame President Obama for an increase in racial hostility over the last 8 years, as if latent and incipient racism wasn’t boiling in people’s hearts already, and incited to some extent simply because the president is black. There is a definite feeling in some people that every racial incident and development, and the hostility within black communities against police brutality, is not only somehow caused by President Obama but fostered by him and that therefore white people have a right to be angry at black people and a right to blame their racism on the president.
Even if President Obama made a mistake in something he might have said about any particular situation, which I can’t help but imagine he and every single president we have ever had has done at some time, surely none of us can blame our sinfulness on him. Racism is hatred, it is also the idolatry of our own race or ethnic sense of superiority. So here you have the sins of pride, idol worship, and murder all wrapped up in attitudes within our hearts. Whose fault is it? “They wouldn’t feel that way if he hadn’t said that, or this, or done that, or this.” Surely if racism is sin then each individual has to own the responsibility of it for themselves and not blame it on the words or actions of others. At least, this is my understanding of how we are to take ownership of our own sins.
I am distressed when I read or hear other Evangelicals excusing sin in people who agree with their political platform and support that sinfulness by using a political opponent as a ‘scape goat. I am reminded of conversations of children who say such things as, “well, I wouldn’t have hit him if he hadn’t made me mad.” So, you have no responsibility for being violent, you have no responsibility for maintaining self-control, you are in fact helpless before the power of others to make you react emotionally, sinfully, and recklessly? That this is all too human doesn’t make it any less childish.
Now the book of Proverbs warns me against rebuking a fool but foolishness does need to be rebuked. I am concerned that we are in a time when lots of foolishness needs to be rebuked. There is to me a sense of danger in the air, as if there is an ascendancy of racial evil. May the Lord rebuke it. May the Lord also rebuke any rebuttal of my argument by bringing up any and all bad policy causes championed by President Obama, or faults of Hillary Clinton. I can be against racism without giving tacit approval to the ideas or programs of other political figures, which seems to be the accusation by some of my critics as soon as I seem to say or hint at anything that they think favors the president. It does cause me to suspect either their ability to read accurately what I have said, or suspect that their political agenda leaves them deaf to conviction.