Racial Reconciliation: Why Most Whites Just Don’t Get it

by Ken Hamrick

There’s something insincere about any repentant admission that says, “Yes, I’m guilty—and so are you.” I do not admit to being a racist, and neither do I think most Americans—white or otherwise—are. Many are racists, but most—or even, all? Contrary to the popular Evangelical party line these days, that cannot be established. It is not enough to point out that racism is sin, and as such, it comes from the fall of man, which affects us all. All are sinners, but not all are racists.

Some good Christian black leader, whose article I’ve since lost track of, has explained that black people view things from a racial/ethnic solidarity—that when one is unjustly treated, all feel the pain. This, I think, illuminates the differences in thinking and explains why most white people just don’t get it when it comes to racial reconciliation. Simply put, white people (especially Americans) have generally left behind whatever racial/ethnic solidarity there was among us in generations past. We just do not think that way about the race to which we belong—at least, not most, since there are and may always be some who are racists. I don’t think Dr. Martin Luther King has been given enough credit, even by African-Americans, for the depth and breadth of the changes he helped achieve in our society. His campaign was directed toward changing the way that the mind of the white person (the oppressor at the time) works. His righteous rhetoric was like a sharp blade that served to start the process of cutting the ties of racial solidarity held by white people and by which they held themselves apart from and superior to black people. As Dr. King famously taught, a man should not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. Rather than preserving any racial solidarity, such ideals strove toward atomization—the dissolving of all identity except the individual identity. It is a prescription intended to bring about Dr. King’s “dream,” but it was prescribed for the oppressive race.

Fifty years later, and that atomization of racial identity among white people has become reality for the majority. Whenever the continuing existence of racial injustices or abuses are pointed out to the average white man, he usually responds defensively and from an individual perspective, “I’m not guilty of any of that.” The current frustration that many black people feel toward such unresponsiveness of the majority of whites is—I think—a side effect of the good course of treatment prescribed by Dr. King and imbibed by the “white culture” of America. The atomization of identity among whites has been achieved, for the most part; and now, the white man no longer judges even himself by the color of his own skin, but resists any charges that are not in accord with the content of his own character. Efforts to load racial blame, guilt or responsibility onto the shoulders of all white people find that the yoke of racial identity (or solidarity) has been broken and so such a load finds little on which to attach.

This is not to say that there are not still serious problems with abuse of the black race in America; but rather, it is to say that such abuses are not by the majority. And that majority finds it difficult to feel guilt for what the minority perpetrates (or for what the majority perpetrated in past generations). Indeed, we find it antithetical to the anti-racial thinking that we have become accustomed to. Racism is bad, we all agree—and instances of racial abuse, whether by individuals or by unjust systems, should be corrected and justice upheld. But if racial reconciliation requires all whites to admit being racist, or for individuals to acknowledge a guilt for the crimes of the race as a whole, then it will be an uphill struggle that unwittingly seeks to rebuild what was torn down (at such a high cost) by the civil rights movement thus far. Racial/ethnic solidarity among white people was not a good thing, and should not be promoted, even for ostensibly good reasons of aiding in racial reconciliation.

One more thought (added 1/10/15): There are evangelical leaders, both black and white, who are ineffectively pushing for whites to dive into this racial reconciliation idea. Appeals to conscience based on the guilt of the white race will not be effective. An appeal to sympathy based on the plight of the black race would be more to the point and more effective.

Ken Hamrick, 2015

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6 comments

  1. jimpemberton

    Great point! The reason that whites in general don’t feel guilty about the racism perpetuated by some is not because the civil rights movement hasn’t worked to change the culture, but largely because is has worked to de-racialize most of us.

    • Ken Hamrick

      Thanks, Jim. On this topic, saying anything different from the party line is a risky limb to go out on. I wasn’t sure how it would be received. So far, 100% of responses (yours) has been positive!

      There are evangelical leaders, both black and white, who are ineffectively pushing for whites to dive into this racial reconciliation idea. Appeals to conscience based on the guilt of the white race will not be effective. An appeal to sympathy based on the plight of the black race would be more to the point and more effective.

  2. parsonsmike

    Ken,
    Good points.
    But it seems that while the majority of the white culture has been de-racialized, the black culture still thinks in terms of race.
    We see the weird and seemingly hypocritical response of the black community to a few deaths of its brothers by white police, but almost nothing about the many more black-on-black murders. It seems hypocritical to whites and/or nonblacks because we don’t think in racial terms. We don’t ‘circle the wagons’ over perceived racial slights or attacks because we look at people as individuals not as members of a ethnic race.

    Certainly there remains too many white racists, as one is too many. But as long as the black community segregates themselves, and circles their wagons, they help fuel the fire that drives most white racists. And from their own racial rhetoric, I wonder if they themselves are not more racist than they think?

    Here in the SBC, we see a movement to overcome tribal bias and strife, like Calvinists and Traditionalists. The goal is not to segregate one’s self or one’s group but to instead to seek to promote unity upon shared understandings. But many prominent black ministers speak of the Black Church, which is an exclusionary term even as it is an inclusionary term. They belong to a church I can not be a part of. This term itself promotes division in the One Church. It promotes division in the Body. It panders to the enemy who seeks to divide and destroy us.

    We will never be a color blind society if one group of us will not let go of its colored vision.

  3. Christiane

    I think it was Maya Angelou who made a very interesting point about there being one way she would know when the racial divide became less observed in her own life . . . . it would be when someone finally introduced her as an ‘important American poet’ instead of an ‘important African-American poet.’
    I guess it took a poet to help me understand this, when I had grown up in a country where black folks were focused on ‘black pride’ and white folks wanted to acknowledge them readily as ‘African American’.
    . . . I suppose it is well time that we set aside ALL labels that keep us from celebrating ‘the dignity of the human person’ in their OWN right, as a person.
    I get that. I may see it more clearly because my own father was an immigrant, and he was the best person I have ever known in spite of all that he went through when he first came to our country. He would have been proud of the American flag that draped his casket.

  4. parsonsmike

    Comments closed over at SBC Voices.
    But I have a word for the atheist Chris Roberts:

    Chris R.,

    Oh please… (-:
    Its not like you have an unreasoning mind and can’t think.

    Since you can think, lets play a little game, a hypothetical type game.

    Lets put forth a hypothetical and then draw some conclusions from it, and of course these conclusions would be just as hypothetical.

    Lets say that there is a God in Heaven, and the Bible is His Word.

    If that is true, we might conclude that you indeed are a like a dog returning to your vomit, and like a washed sow who prefers the sty, a fool, and a hell bound person.

    But if these things are based on a hypothetical that isn’t true, then they mean nothing, right?

    So lets play another version of that game. Lets put forth a hypothetical that Chris Roberts is well loved by the martian rulers who started this earth colony, and if you call him names, they will send little green gremlins to disrupt your life.

    Ooooh thats a scary threat! I don’t think anyone will be scared by such a ‘threat’ since it is based on an absurd hypothetical, do you?

    But, oh please, you are offended by name calling and threats of hell? Hahahaha…NOT.

    No you want a place at the table here, to be viewed as a person with worthy ideas, while you trash what most of us believe in. The idea that you might be ignored is what bothers you.

    Respectful? You aren’t even close.

    You have an empty philosophy that you refuse to discuss while you trash what most here believe.

    So my advice to my brothers and sisters in Christ is simply not to engage you on any matter of the faith, since your goal is NOT to learn of it but to TEAR it down. Since your goal of truth is based on a lie. Since you, as shown by your disrespect of our Lord, actually hate what we stand for.
    Since you are a tool of our enemy.

    Have a nice day Chris.
    mike

  5. dr. james willingham

    A part of our problem today is that there are some who wish to play the race card, because it enables them to keep conflict going. And their aim by the conflict is to stay before African Americans as leaders of dissension and separation. There are people who want to bring this nation to a civil war, whether by the racial issue or, now, by the sexual issue. The first is unlikely, because Blacks are making it, that is, some Blacks are making it just like some Whites are. The other factor is that many Blacks are not making just as many Whites are not, a planned thing by certain people who stage manage what goes on in the public perception. The problem of Black irritation is aggravated by the criminal element which has been continually increasing due to the drug problem, and the same is happening to Whites. The biggest problem is powerless churches, because the theology and the nature of the prayer required are real unknowns among believers.

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