When you were a kid did you ever laugh at a racist joke? Or one that made fun of blonds? How about a gay joke? A Polish Joke? Make fun of a handicapped person? How about a joke about Southerners — maybe even people from Alabama?
If you did, (and I suspect most of us did), is that the sort of thing you would do today?
I believe one of the big problems with the use of the terms racism and sexism is they tend to encourage the thinking that a particular bigotry is a permanent trait. Someone who is caught on tape uttering the N-word is a racist forever.
The thinking is similar to that of another famous ism–alcoholism. With the most serious drinking problems, alcoholism is a trait that is with a person for life. That is not necessarily the case for racist, sexist or other prejudicial behaviors.
I believe the terms racism and sexism promote the idea of diseases and if you get them you will always have them. That holds little promise for our future.
I simply do not agree with that thinking. I prefer to think of racist behavior and sexist behavior as states, rather than traits, of prejudiced behavior. Then, I can look for the conditions that create the behavior and the conditions that can prevent, reduce or eliminate the behavior. Rather that thinking racism is a disease white people catch with no cure, or sexism is a disease men catch with no cure, I want a more hopeful approach to understanding and changing our world.
In the last blog, I argued renaming is not explaining. My first point today is I believe racist, sexist and other prejudicial behaviors are states and not traits.
In my opinion, another problem with using racism and sexism to explain racist and sexist behavior is the distinction makes it easy to compartmentalize people and create us-them relationships. I don’t have racism, those people do. I do not have sexism, those people do.
I am deeply concerned. I truly believe us versus them will be the end of us if we don’t learn to think we.
I see myself as a human with flaws. I have prejudices. I believe everyone has prejudices. Where those prejudices occur they build us-them divisions.
My task is to understand prejudices in the light of my faith and work to overcome prejudice rather than deny it. Under present circumstances I do not feel racial or gender prejudice but under some circumstances I might activate those prejudices — most likely in subtle language usage or an attitude, not in some highly overt manner. I need to be alert to the possibility of prejudice. If I am confronted I need to examine my life, be honest and if appropriate, work toward correction, rather than denial.
I will conclude my musing about social justice next week. If you are wondering why I am placing so much importance on this topic; I see justice as critical for the actions of my faith. From a scriptural view, both the Old and New Testament are clear:
Micah 6: 8 … And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Isaiah 1: 17. Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed. Take up the
cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Proverbs 29: 7. The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
In my reading I discovered the Greek word dikaiosune can be interpreted as righteous or as justice. Thus, some interpretations of the Beatitudes would have Matthew 5:6 read : Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
I cannot speak for people without faith – but it seems very clear to me — justice should be very important to people of faith.
Until next week,
Peace and patience as we wait,