Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Content of Our Character

In the past couple of days, the topic of race and racism has been everywhere. I first noticed it when ESPN baseball analyst and former Reds second basemen, Joe Morgan, brought up the fact that there are no African-Americans on the Houston Astros. To be honest, I hadn't noticed or even thought to look. Morgan, for his part, wasn't crying racism. Instead his point was that fewer blacks were playing baseball as kids, so the number in the Major League was dwindling. And being a black former ballplayer, he was disappointed that not as many were following in his footsteps.

At about the same time came some remarks from Air Force football coach Fisher DeBarry which caused an uproar. After a humiliating loss, Coach DeBarry noted that the opposing team, "had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did. It just seems to me to be that way. Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run extremely well." From that point there have been all kinds of cries of racism and hatefulness. Now, I doubt Coach DeBarry is a racist. More likely he's just repeating common folklore perpetuated by black and white alike. Blacks are fast, white guys are slow... that kind of thing. Stupid stereotypes are what they are. And these are spread and joked about no matter how shaky the foundation in truth. The movie White Men Can't Jump played off that stereotype a number of years ago.

Isn't it funny that so many folks can't shake the fear and distrust of other races? It's a very touchy subject. Mel over at Actual Unretouched Photo had an interesting post about a 3 year old bi-racial child she babysits for. The child felt the need to tell her that his Dad is black. Now there are a lot of other things going on in that child's life, but for some reason race was on the boy's mind. It had suddenly become important.

Growing up in the sixites in a small midwestern town, it was years before I saw anyone of another race. These days my boys attend school in a different small midwestern town and have known kids of other races since they entered kindergarten. I remember my boys asking why one boy's skin was a different color, but a "That's the way God made him," was a good enough answer. My boys harbored no hatred -- just a little curiosity.

I was talking to my youth group last night about this whole idea. Twelve kids, aged 10 to 16. And they all seemed to be a bit confused by the topic. The thought of hating someone for skin color or even going to a rival school seemed pretty silly to them. We talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looking forward to the day when a person wouldn't be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. One 13 year old girl who attends our youth group sparingly spoke up and said, "Why would you hate someone before you get to know them? I have friends like that and I just don't understand it." I didn't have a great answer for her.

As a white guy, if I was walking down a dark city street and saw a group of six black teens wearing gangsta clothing approaching I would fear for my safety. But by the same token, if those six teens were white and sporting the same attitude I'd fear for my safety as well. The only difference I'd feel is that the black teens could be more likely to hate me because of my skin color. But that's just a generalization too. My real fear would be being outnumbered by a group of people who seem proud of their love of violence.

In the comments to my last "real" post, Gary Means told about the racist teaching he encountered in an Oregon church back in 1972. I know I've read Philip Yancey's recollections of growing up in a racist white church in the deep south of the sixties. With all my heart, I hope these stupid ideas have faded from the Church. But I know better. People are too in love with what they've always believed to consider the truth, let alone see the truth.

And I think it comes down to the fact that Dr. King's dream for a colorblind society is still not reality. We humans like to categorize people into groups. And we don't simply use race. Sometimes it's ethnicity. It could even be hair color, vocation, school district, age, or favorite sports team. We love to pigeonhole people. After all if we can judge a book by it's cover, then we don't have to put forth an effort to get to know them. We can dismiss giant chunks of the population who don't meet our qualifications. No need to talk to them or consider their plight.

I see this attitude outside the church and inside the church. I've already posted extensively how I see churches give sparingly to a Central American church, but think nothing of dropping large amounts of money on their own luxuries. I see folks want to reach out to suburbanites and ignore those in the inner city except for token efforts. And I still see some folks who have some racism come to the surface on occasion. But I'm done making excuses for these people. No more, "They don't know any better." Or, "That's the way they were raised." Or even, "They're too old to change." As humans we cannot harbor hatred toward people of other races. And as Christians we must be the first to look at character instead of skin color.


Shelly said...

How does it happen that you have two sets of comments?

I enjoyed this post. As a fellow midwesterner, I grew up the same. But now in the southeast, things are VERY DIFFERENT.

rev-ed said...

I'm not sure how there are two sets, Sal. I just noticed this week. The Haloscan comments are the only ones able to be accessed on the main page. You have to pull up the individual page to reach these. You are only the second (non-spam) commenter to use these comments since June!

Anyway, how are things different for you now?