Monday, February 11, 2013

Put the Shoe on the Other Hand

In the Bible, Jesus offers his followers the timeless "Golden Rule" by teaching them to "Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you" (Luke 6:31 NET). We can all agree that is an excellent plan and forms the foundation of interpersonal respect and dignity that can cross ages, culture and sexes. It seems simple enough, and should not be complicated to the point that we excuse disrespectful, demeaning or marginalizing behavior. If it had been followed better earlier in America's history, by more of the population, much of the current racial angst could have been avoided. I know that I have many beloved friends that are apologists for the South and the southern society of the antebellum period, saying that "slavery was on it's way out"and "not all slave owners were 'Simon Legree' from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' with their people;" but the simple truth is that it remains doubtful the Army of the Potomac would have found the popular backing to invade Southern states had more land/slave owners in southern states heeded the admonishment to "Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you." There's no way around that reality.

Having said that, it seems human nature to avoid following Christ's directive no matter who you are or what "race" box you check in the census form. Concerning the issues and rhetoric regarding "race" in America, there appears two possible ways to look at the history, present and future of race relations: (1) correct the wrongs perpetrated on the group previously marginalized or victimized by offering that group emphasis and/or privilege now, or (2) recognize that the previous wrongs were the product of grouping people into categories and then treating everyone in that category wrongfully. I believe firmly that the great evil foisted upon society was not merely the victimizing of people ethnically from Africa, per se. It was the depraved tendency to think about people in terms of groups, ignoring the mystery of the individual, each being a "free soul" before God and being responsible to worship and obey him according to their conscience. For this reason, I find elements in our society that proceed from the 1st rationale (social justice through racial emphasis) to be very destructive. They are perpetuating the folly of focusing on groups rather than seeing how infinitely diverse people are regardless of skin color.

"Black History Month" (February) is a product of the 1st rationale. It supposes that by emphasizing the racial category of "African American," somehow it facilitates the benefits of pride among those in that demographic to presumeably "heal" from the wrongs of history, or raise awareness regarding the contribution of those in that category to significant moments in American history. If one is attempting to make the case that the contribution of Black figures throughout American history was artificially excluded because history books written in the 50's weren't yet enlightened enough to include them, I would concede that point. Historiography, prior to the civil rights movement finally exerting well-deserved influence on the content of textbooks, was regretfully thin in its reporting on the plight of Native Americans and the contribution of African Americans to significant historic events.

Nevertheless, such short-sighted omissions can hardly be called ubiquitous anymore. Cultural sensitivity is now the order of the day. While others might complain the the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, finding the white man wearing the "black hat" in every page turn, I have no gripe whatsoever with history books accounting for the events, experiences and contributions of EVERYONE regardless of race or ethnicity. Therefore, I find the current notion of "Black History Month" highly inappropriate. For whatever benefits some might suggest it offers, its pitfalls are not worth it.

BHM encourages the inherently lazy instinct to think of people in terms of racial categories. People are SO much more than that; infinitely diverse and each can be personally fascinating. It also is a corrupt reversal of the famous line often quoted from Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I have a Dream" speech in which he visualized a future in which people were judged, NOT by the color of their skin, but instead by the content of their character. BHM is a betrayal of this "dream" of his. Those that perpetuate it operate in stark contrast to MLK's deep desires expressed on the steps of Lincoln Memorial so many years ago. In addition, BHM ignores the Golden Rule, for it carries in it no regard at all for those that might want their own "history month," feeling excluded in February (this I say with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, for having a "white history month" would be the same depraved folly as BHM is).

All this frustration with BHM is also born of seeing it celebrated even in Christian circles. Of course I would expect such manipulative division in secular circles, where mobs wrestle for dominance in both societal milieu and political power; but it has no place in the Church, where the Body of Christ is supposed to be ONE, undivided and unstoppable, being one "race" in Christ. The Church is only interested in the "groups" of those converted to Christ, and those yet to be. Therefore, to separate out Christians based on the arbitrary whim and comparatively insignificance of skin color is to do violence to the unity Christ prayed for in John 17. Racial emphasis serves only to welcome sinful instincts, germinated by sinful men, into the pure and undefiled Church which is supposed to combat such dividing tendencies.

And besides, it runs contrary to the Golden Rule, for it fails to "treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you" by emphasizing a race, knowing that the offense would be quickly pointed out were another racial group (mine in particularly) to designate a month to do the same. Obviously I am not lobbying for the creation of a "White History Month." Such a thing would definitely be offensive, insensitive and unduly dividing of society and especially God's people. However, I am also asserting that Black History Month can lay legitimate claim to no more virtue than such a travesty would also have. On the one hand, those that celebrate BHM may think they're helping to reverse the injustice of historiographers' omissions, but on the other hand, if they were to place this "shoe" on another colored foot, they'd see that they're performing the same racial emphasis that they rightly hated so much in the past when it exclude them at the time.