I wrote these thoughts in an email to family members, and then I decided to post this portion of the email here as well:
In the past month, some of you know that while I was at an SDA gathering, I overheard a racist conversation about the moral degeneracy of American Indians. I’m still trying to figure out how to address one of the participants, but I know I’ll be sharing a bit (e.g., this article [look for the 85 stat] + thoughts on the moral degeneracy of the US ethnic cleansing efforts) with a certain teen who also heard the comments (these 2 book also fits the conversation–Disruptive Christian Ethics and A People’s History of the US). American white culture has no moral high ground to talk down to anyone, let alone members of First Nations. My lack of direct intervention in their conversation demonstrates my own moral shortcomings; not what Sophie Scholl would do (WWSSD?). [i had mentioned this film about Scholl earlier in the original email]
Dominant groups like to overlook their flaws while focusing on supposed flaws of those outside the dominant culture. “They” are drunks. “They” are lazy. “They” are greedy. “They” are sex addicts. “That whole group is X, and my group isn’t.” Stereotypical prejudice.
The article linked above mentions rape as a tool of war. A recent example: “Christian” Serb forces used rape camps to demoralize Muslim Bosniaks during the last Bosnian war. 20,000-50,000 (or more) women raped by “Christian” soldiers. White people, Europeans, North Americans… It’s ridiculous to hold ourselves up as virtuous while pointing out the flaws in others. I had to roll my eyes (and follow-up later) about a visiting speaker who in his sermon extolled the virtues of American culture with roots in northern Europe… when the quote he used was from the same period as slavery. Why are we (Christians of Euro descent, CEDs) so blind?!
And speaking of possible blind spots and racism… Some still insist there is no such thing as white privilege here. We (CEDs) have such a hard time seeing it, like a fish trying to see water. And I’m not claiming to have eyes entirely wide open either; I’m on a learning journey too. The rejoinder that all kinds of people of various backgrounds “make it”–even the president is African-American–so privilege doesn’t exist misses the crux of the cultural phenomenon that is white privilege. Quick example, white is the default; what George Bush did in office wasn’t attributed to his whiteness, but Barack Obama has to be careful about being forceful or else the media writes about “the angry black man” (but that example opens up a whole batch of cans of worms). I believe we (everyone, not just CEDs) would all benefit from prayer and reflection on the fundamental attribution error, which is in no way limited to racial issues.
Christians are no better than anyone else. White people are no better than anyone else. North Americans are no better than anyone else. Adventists are no better than anyone else. Middle class people are no better than anyone else. Males are no better than anyone else. Peace activists are no better than anyone else (one study found that peace and justice activists in one denomination have higher rates of domestic abuse than than the general population of that denomination). [these characteristics were chosen by me because they are descriptions of me] We all have the same fundamental human nature, though I agree that the interplay between culture and genetics and history means we are not identical at micro or macro levels. Nevertheless, we share the same fundamental human nature with the same capacities for good and for evil.
Next time we feel better than someone–either an individual or a people group–let’s remember that we share a common humanness with them (unless the individual has an inactive amygdala or limbic system contributing to true sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies; and then that’s something beyond the differences of traits–personality, character, virtues and vices–that make up the geography of human individuality. in that case, yes, your genetics has arguably made you a more moral person than the axe-murdering sex fiend who is biologically incapable of experience empathy, fear or remorse. so congratulations on that; let the moral gloating commence).
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2).