A fundamental theological concept of my training as a white American evangelical was the idea, better articulated by Paul in Romans 14-20, that there is a war within each of us between those things that are good and that we want to to kiss but don’t, and those things that are not good that we don’t want to kiss, but still seem to find a way to kiss. Or, to borrow words from a more recent evangelical prophet, Rich Mullins, in his song Hold me jesus: âAbandonment does not come naturally to me. I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than take what you give that I need.
I recently reflected on this concept while observing the battles around Critical Race Theory, a framework that argues that racism is structurally embedded in our deeply held institutions, policies, and myths. There is a movement among policy makers, religious leaders and talkers to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools, as the concept has become the last bogeyman of culture wars.
This is all confusing to me, because Critical Race Theory gives us “nice whites” everything we ever wanted when it comes to anti-racism. Almost.
I grew up in the countryside of East Texas, most culturally From South region of the state in the 1980s and 1990s. By the time I entered public schools, a whole generation of students had experienced integration, and the process of desegregation by “the white flight.” And the creation of new private schools were only just beginning in more populous areas like Tyler and Longview. Although still predominantly white, the racial makeup of my school and the circles I ran in more or less resembled the demographics of my city. This created the backdrop against which I and many of my friends tried to make sense of a world where what we understood as “racism” existed in the past, albeit in the recent past from our parents’ worlds. and grandparents.
“We are not racists, we said, we like everyone. âOur mission was not to be the bad guys.
In the church, we have made sense of this world in many ways. First, our definition of âracismâ allowed two types of people: bad racists and good non-racists. We knew that Jesus wanted Christians to be the âright people,â and that is what we strived to be. “We are not racists, we said, we like everyone. âOur mission was not to be the bad guys.
Second, assuming that “racism” was for the most part finished, or at least in its final agonies, we sought to complete the work being people of action. When a person of color told stories of marginalization, our response was not to sit with them in their pain and hear what they were really saying, but rather to sort it out: do? âOf course, we already had the answer to our own question in mind. We would just be nicer and encourage others to be nicer, and that would help matters.
Fix things and be nice. Be nice and make things right. It was our battle cry.
This is why the visceral reaction of the Gentile whites against Critical Race Theory is so baffling. Critical Race Theory holds that being a good or bad person is really irrelevant in the fight against racism.
Blacks are incarcerated at much higher rates than whites for the same crimes whether I am a nice white person or a hateful white person.
I think I’m a good person but my kindness did nothing to eliminate the conditions in which Hispanic Americans were twice as likely to be infected and three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
My relative kindness or meanness doesn’t change the wealth gaps that are the result of years of redlining, mental health struggles among Indigenous people caused by generations of forced displacement, or the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse could miss out. officers holding the gun he had just used killed two people while Tamir Rice lay in a grave for playing with a toy gun.
Of course, it is usually better to “be nice” and “like everyone” and can make it easier to fight racism. While Critical Race Theory does not guarantee that we will be seen as nice people, it frees us from the burden of needing to be. And here’s why: it gives us the second thing we’ve always wanted – something to do.
If racism isn’t just hating someone of another race, but rather a complex system of structures, national myths and policies that benefit one group at the expense of others, as critical race theory postulates, so that’s good news for us, nice white people, because by listening to the voices and following the leadership of those for whom racism has the most effect, it gives us a job to do: Dismantle structures. Expose the myths. Change policies. It is not an easy job, but it is simple.
If we are truly determined to be “good people” and want to take concrete action to undo the damage caused by racism, then why are so many of us so determined to eliminate a framework of understanding that makes these possible things?
“Critical Race Theory gives nice whites everything we’ve ever wanted, except for the thing we care about most: control.”
I think it’s because Critical Race Theory gives nice whites everything we’ve ever wanted, except for the thing we care about most: control. When they describe racism as a matter of structures, myths, and institutions rather than personal feelings towards someone with different skin tones, the common response of many whites is, “Wait, you can’t. simply redefine racism! That sounds like a valid answer, but the subtext is really, “We have already defined what racism is, and it has worked very well for us so far.” “
It turns out that defining racism as a personal arrangement was by design. At the very least, the perpetuation of this common definition serves a purpose, which is to absolve us of guilt. If we can define the terms and frame the conversation, then we become the good guys, because we define what is good, and who determines how the scourge of racism is fixed. We get the power, which is exactly what Critical Race Theory exposes.
To use a common phrase from my rural East Texas Baptist upbringing, it’s time for us to stop âwhitewashing the benchesâ and let go. Evangelists have told us to give up our control, and what we give up when we walk down the aisle is nothing compared to what we earn. I think this can be true both on an earthly and eternal level. A more Christ-respectful world is possible when we place our power, including the power to define and frame conversations, on the altar.
Craig nash lives in Waco, Texas, and works for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. He is a graduate of East Texas Baptist University and George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor. He is active in the life of the University Baptist Church in Waco.
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