Today’s entry is by guest blogger Dr. Charles Ridley, co-author with me on The Discipleship Difference and professor of educational psychology at Texas A&M University.
When Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States, pundits took to the airwaves touting the arrival of “Post-Racial America.” Exhibit A was our nation’s first African-American president. Approaching the end of Mr. Obama’s two-term presidency, that slogan has faded into the background. Bob Logan states racial violence is beyond the scope of anything he’s witnessed since the Civil Rights movement. Except for L.A.’s Rodney King debacle, I agree.
What happened? Was “Post-Racial America” a façade? Wishful thinking? An illusion?
I submit that critical race dynamics have remained woven in the nation’s social fabric. The nifty slogan was based on a fundamental miscalculation of the actual state of racial affairs. In my opinion, the problem of race is both simple and complex, different sides of the same problem, much like the two sides of a coin, both of which are necessary for a coin to be a coin.
On the simple side, the race problem is roiled by intense emotions such as fear, resentment, and hatred, along with pejorative attitudes such as privilege, entitlement, and intolerance. These dispositions are simple in that they are easy to understand. But make no mistake: Easy to understand does not equate with easy to discern or resolve.
Consider hate, for example. This powerful emotion entails a desire for annihilation of the target toward which it is directed. As Aristotle said, hate “wishes its object to not exist.” This understanding sheds light on Jesus’ comment about murder in Matthew 5: 21-22. Hatred is a deep-seated matter of the heart, but how does anyone really know what lurks in the deep recesses of other people’s hearts and minds? Hidden from public view, hate maliciously can lead to surprise and fatal attacks, whether its targets are African Americans in a Bible study or white police officers protecting peaceful demonstrators.
With this in mind, the simple side of our race problem originates as dispositional but concludes as behavioral. Hate crimes are a case in point. But let’s be fair: Racial hatred motivates some of the people but not all of the people. Many individuals of goodwill and across all races do not harbor such intense hostility. Unfortunately, we simply have enough haters to keep our country on race alert.
On the complex side, the race problem emanates from systemic and structural inequities in society. They play to the advantage of many whites and disadvantage of disenfranchised minorities. They exist across the entire spectrum of society, including education, employment, income, housing, judicial system, and health care, to name a few. They are often difficult to understand because the inequities are multilayered and often rooted in overlooked and unacknowledged historical policies and practices. Tracking their cumulative effects requires careful analysis.
Consider the disproportionate burden African-American women bear regarding death due to breast cancer. Are these outcomes accidental, incidental, circumstantial, intentional, or unintentional? Despite years of concentrated efforts to eliminate or reduce health disparities, we seemingly make little progress. So make no mistake: Complex problems cannot be solved by oversimplified solutions.
With this in mind, the complex side of our race problem foundationally is behavioral. However, its negative effects may or may not stem from intentional motives. So let’s be fair: Some of the inequities in society result from policies and practices historically rooted in outright bigotry—others practices are based on misguided, good intentions. To some extent, therefore, intentionality begs the issue: Eliminating inequitable outcomes, regardless of intent, is what really matters.
To conclude, our race problem is both simple and complex, not either simple or complex. This means that solutions must address both sides of the problem. They require the changing of hearts, changing of heads, and changing of hands. This incidentally is the formula for making disciples. As Christ followers, we cannot sit passively on the sidelines. Wise Christian leadership must move to the forefront with compassionate and critically-conceived solutions. To this end, the Bible reminds us of our responsibility to be agents of reconciliation, healing, and justice (see Isaiah 61: 1-2; Matthew 25: 34-40).
The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.
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