We have a racism problem in this country.
As a white male, I’m sad to say that I’m a part of that problem.
If you have been paying attention to the news during the last week, you know that a young white man named Dylann Roof killed 9 African-Americans during a church prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof reportedly hoped the murders would start a ‘race war,’ telling the people at the church, “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”
When I heard about the hate crime, I had a bunch of different reactions: shock, disbelief, sadness, and anger. Amidst my reactions, I started to think about the different strategies people use to try to solve the problem of racism. I also started to think about church, and how white Christians try to solve the problem of racism.
Many white Christians (myself included) care deeply about the problem of racism. However, the solutions we propose for the problem of racism are usually individual and relational.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Remove hate in your heart. Develop interracial friendships. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
The problem with individual and relational solutions is that racism isn’t just an individual thing. Individual racism grows out of two other forms of racism: institutional racism and cultural racism.
Institutional racism has to do with social systems and organizations that create policies that lead to inequalities and disparities among racial groups. Examples of institutional racism are racial profiling in the justice system, housing discrimination, and educational disparities.
Cultural racism has to do with societal beliefs and customs that promote the cultural norms and behaviors of one culture (e.g., White) as superior to the cultural norms and behaviors of another culture (e.g., Black). Examples of cultural racism include belief systems that support white supremacy and privilege.
Dylann Roof committed a horrific act of individual racism. But a person doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to carry out a hate crime. Individual racist acts grow out of interlocking systems of institutional and cultural racism.
And when it comes to addressing institutional and cultural racism, individual and relational solutions have limited effectiveness.
Discussion: What do you think about the tendency for white Christians to rely on individual and relational solutions to racism? What do you think about the intersection of individual, institutional, and cultural racism?