Who is a racist?
In the wake of the election results, there are a lot of people who feel fear that our country has gone backwards and that somehow racism had receded and now, because of one man, it has reemerged. I understand why, but as I see it, what is happening is that we are waking up to where we have been for quite some time. It’s difficult for some to accept, but really, wouldn’t you rather know? You see, the Great America that we thought was, has never been–or at least it has never been fully actualized. The America that we long for has always been and, for some time to come, will remain a hope–a vision statement–for what we could be. Sure, America has been great for some people. But, in many instances, that greatness has been at the expense of others. Individuals can dispute that for personal reasons, but it’s a fact. Let’s not pretend anymore. And perhaps that is the best thing about how things turned out; we can’t pretend anymore. Hallelujah!
Now does that mean that everyone who voted Trump is a racist? Heck no! But only a liar can dispute the fact that some so-called racists used his rhetoric as a rallying tool to come out of the shadows. If that offends you, don’t blame me, just ask David Duke, one of many self asserting racists, who want their share of the credit for the Trump presidency. So while I agree that not all Trump supporters are qualified racists (I know some fundamentally good people who have their own logical reasons for choosing Trump–some of whom are African American or some other minority.), I would say that they could effectively be considered racists by association. But that still doesn’t answer the question of what makes someone a racist.
My short answer is laziness. Racists are lazy, because they are unwilling to do the inner work required to see a world that is larger than they are and that their work is to find their place in it; not to kick other people out of it. In my opinion, this is true of all of the “ists”who close their eyes to the broader perspective offered them by genuinely encountering others. Unqualified fear of someone we see as other is fear of learning; which again, in my opinion, is laziness. This not something I say lightly. I have actually had conversations with a self-proclaimed white supremacist; at nineteen, I engaged a customer wearing a “Happy Nigger Day” T-Shirt on Martin Luther King Jr. Day who went out of her way to taunt me into reacting as she imagined a “nigger” would; and I’ve been in the woods in Mississippi where no black person would be and had two white guys stare me down while one proceeded to tell me why he hates “niggers”.
In each case mentioned above–by God’s grace–I found the strength to listen to these people try to articulate their view of the world, before offering them a different view. In each case, the people’s arguments did not hold up and even they showed some sign of doubting their previous assertions. With the exception of the woman with the T-shirt on, there was even an attempt to apologize and one guy even teared up. None of this would have been even remotely possible had I taken the lazy route–had I said to myself, “these people are fundamentally flawed creatures.” Even though their initial approach to dealing with me as the “other” was to put me in a box, I learned from my religion that people are not meant for this. Jesus teaches us to treat people the way we want to be treated. The step above that is treat people the way they want to be treated. No matter how different we are on the surface, I believe we can all find some of ourselves in those we call other. There is nothing more surface than race. There is no depth there. That’s why I say that racists are the laziest people on earth.
The Otherest Other There Is
I titled this post “Can You Be Racist In the Dark” because it has been my experience that if we close our eyes to surface differences we will often find that most of us have more in common than we imagine. That’s something that Brian Rocheleau, one of my collaborators on the upcoming event highlighted below and creator of The Blind Cafe, discovered once he started hosting concerts and meals in the total darkness. With this experience, he awakened to the fact that in the darkness, surface differences dissolve and somehow people just experience each other as people–not all of the contingencies we put between ourselves and the people we call “other”. This was something that I too learned in the total darkness.
The first deep encounter I had with God was in total darkness. After being told about this idea of a God who at a whim would strike people down with lightning for an incalculable number of offenses, I decided that rather than live in fear of this God I would confront “Him”. I would seek my answers directly rather than rely on “he said she said” ideas of who this God was. I heard in the church that we were supposed to go into a closet to pray, so I went into one in my grandmother’s bedroom and had it out with God. What I came out with was a way of engaging the unknown that has served me well to this day.
One of the ideas of God that I learned in seminary was the concept of God as “Wholly Other“. In other words, God is unlike anything or anyone we can find in Creation. From this line of logic, nothing compares to God so you can’t understand God by anything that can be perceived. Now, I can’t say if I completely agree with that idea, but there are parts that I can say have proven true in my life. For one thing, I learned that the reality of God is beyond my imagination. God does God’s best work in unseen realms. So if I want to know God, I have to get comfortable with the unknown–things that at my present level of awareness and consciousness I just can’t access. So a clue for me that I need to start paying attention is when I hear myself starting a sentence off with, “I just don’t understand how…” I don’t think it’s any different with people who for many reasons are “other” than God who I accept as “The Otherest Other There Is”.
Out of the Darkness…Light
Out of that encounter with God in the physical darkness, I came to realize that all inner illumination is preceded by a confrontation with darkness of some kind. There is something about not being able to see ahead that triggers an internal resource that most of us don’t know that we have until the situation calls for it. Consider all of the tales of survival where people who formerly had nothing to do with each other began to depend on one another. It was because of the darkness–the inability to see what’s ahead–that their inner light illuminated their consciousness to the point that they could see how they could work together.
Let’s face it, no one knows what’s ahead after this election. Whether you voted for Trump or not, we are all in the dark. The only thing that’s obvious right now is that we are “other”ing each other and being divided. Protestors are out denouncing the election–even some who didn’t vote (I don’t get the whole “I didn’t vote but I’m protesting” thing), so-called racists are out trying to make themselves feel better by putting other people down (that’s just sad and apparently even Trump agrees), friendships between people who voted differently are being strained (when we could be the ones offering hope), and people on either side are unwilling to listen to each other. Talk about darkness! Talk about not being able to see what’s ahead! Talk about an opportunity to start shining our inner lights and dissolving the belief that differences breed division. The fact is that we have a lot more in common that we are not seeing. And all we need to do is close our eyes to see it.
So to answer my own question, no, you cannot be racist in the dark–not when you’re heeding its call to become the light.