Systemic Racism: “How can we be innocent when guilt is embedded into our history?”

"How can we wash our hands of the rotten fruit still being harvested while we enjoy the gain and spoils accumulated via the efforts of a program of dehumanization that is generational in its span? Time has ontological weight and events in our nation’s time hang guiltily around our collective neck." - John Ellis

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Definitely thought-provoking, and I appreciate that.

The piece is heavy on assertions... less heavy on support. It's true that God's relationship to eternity, as well as His view on the human race, means that sentences like "in Adam all sinned" are absolutely true. It's not obvious, though, that this supports only one philosphy of the human experience of time. ... or that the alleged Enlightenment view of time is incompatible, or even that the linear view of time attributed to the Enlightenment in the essay is really all that especially Enlightenment (I think it's older).

Further, the relationship between human solidarity in Adam and present day Americans' solidarity with the race atrocity offenders of centuries ago--on the basis of a supposed view of how time works--seems tenuous to me.

It's probably simpler, and a stronger argument, to say we tend to forget our historical roots and neglect the ways history influences the present. There's nothing especially non-enlightenment or non-secular about that. I think, too, that a case can be made that the biblical calls to wisdom demand that we not underestimate the role a long-term sense of responsibility has in a society's collective wisdom... and from that, its justice.

So... while I'm skeptical that all the passion and heat about "systemic" this and that can accomplish much good (it's too abstract), I'm also not for the idea that we have no responsibility at all today, as a people, for what we, as a people, did in the past. That feeds an inadequate sense of accountability for what we do in the present and how it will impact future generations. (If we reason that what happened centuries ago doesn't matter today, we're also tacitly claiming that what we do today won't matter at all to our great great grandchildren.)

So... is our view of time too "now"? Yes. Is it too "Western"/Enlightenment? I don't think so. There's nothing Western about forgetting the past and failing to consider the future. It's human folly, not chronos vs kairos.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Andrew K's picture

 However, setting personal guilt aside, how am I participating in a culture that has systemic racism in its history? And, keep in mind, not as an accident of its history but an integral, molding affect on its history. Participating in a nation with a history racked by systemic slavery while refusing to help ameloriate the rotten fruit of that sin is evidence that I refuse to be part of a corporate repentance and restoration that is necessary and, frankly, demanded by Kingdom ethics that call me to love my neighbor above myself.

What is "participation" in a culture or nation? Growing up in the rural Midwest, descended from Germanic immigrants who left their homes because of hunger and/or political unrest -- maybe some of whom fought and died to free African slaves? Scraping by in what's now the Rust Belt to provide for your family?

Does the wealthy black/Asian CEO in his New York penthouse overlooking Manhattan owe this "corporate repentance" as well, or just people with white skin? I think we know the answer to this....

I wonder why Paul didn't spend more time on his travels expressing repentance for the evils Rome perpetrated (or encouraging others to do so)? He was a Roman citizen, after all, "participating" in the benefits of the Roman Empire. Seems he should have expressed some corporate repentance himself....

Mark_Smith's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Definitely thought-provoking, and I appreciate that.

The piece is heavy on assertions... less heavy on support. 

Aaron seems to say this often here at SI. Let's see... this is a blog. Most posters aren't writing term papers for SOCIOLOGY 309 Racism in America. They are giving opinions, sharing thoughts, or just chatting virtually.

Besides, "citing sources" is so biased in a situation like this anyway. Sociological, Political, and Cultural "research" is very campy or "tribal". I don't know about you but I'm not an expert. I don't know "the literature" about these issues anyway. Quoting some article in The Atlantic, NYT, LA Times, or even a conservative source means nothing. 

Instead, share your opinion, That's what we're here for anyway. If you want journal articles, subscribe to JSTOR and have at it.

Mark_Smith's picture

It seems to me there are 2 questions to answer when it comes to race issues in America. The first is for Christians. What do I need to do when I see the obvious disparities between races in America, and between the rich and poor here as well? This disparity is present even in the church. Now, some people claim there is no disparity that "good hard work can't handle." That is shocking. But, assuming you do see some problem, what do we do. My opinion is we need to individually and collectively humble ourselves before God and one another and seek justice for all. Maybe take some time to read Amos again. Read Jonah in the context of a man from a wealthy northern kingdom who despises his opponents. It's really shocking when you see it that way. This humble repentance combined with action is not a one-time thing. It is an on-going project. More should be written by me on this but that is the basic idea.

The second question is for Americans in general. Something is clearly wrong in America. There is an income imbalance between black and white. There is a huge gap that is growing also between the haves and have-nots in general. Incarceration rates between blacks and whites for the same crime is quite different, especially for drug offenses. A large percentage of black men are not able to vote due to felony convictions.

Voting will take place in a few weeks. I have never waited more than 10 minutes to vote in my life. My polling station is a church not 5 minutes walking distance from my house. In Florida, DC, VA, and in several other urban areas, blacks will need to wait 1, 2, 3, 4, sometimes 10 hours to vote while a few miles away suburban whites drop in and go to vote. Easy Peasy. Clearly waits this long suppresses voting. Is that on purpose?

Education. There is clearly a problem here. I can tell you from personal experience that even poorly prepared whites are way ahead of blacks in literacy, writing and math. Why is this? Is it lack of money? Personal accountability? Black culture? The consequence of welfare? I've heard all of these suggested.  Whatever the reason, something is wrong.

Family. Do I need to say that single motherhood rates are going up across the board, but even more so in the black community? Single parenthood is the single greatest indicator of poverty. It's not even close statistically speaking.

Police Interaction. That is in the news nearly every day...

There is even more data available. But this is enough. Faced with this collective information, what do we do. My answer is not "guilt." Guilt does no good other than to win some fight and to make you feel bad. What do we do?

First, we have to agree there is a problem. Then we can move forward.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Andrew K wrote:

I wonder why Paul didn't spend more time on his travels expressing repentance for the evils Rome perpetrated (or encouraging others to do so)? He was a Roman citizen, after all, "participating" in the benefits of the Roman Empire. Seems he should have expressed some corporate repentance himself....

Amen and Amen.  My "job" as a Christian who is a citizen of the U.S.A. is to show the love of Christ to others, and be honest, just, and merciful in my own dealings.  It's God's job to judge history and people who came before.  All I can do is to do my best from this point forward, knowing I'll be judged for my own actions.  It's not my job to assign blame to myself or others for what was done in the past and not by me.

I don't know my genealogy that well, but what if I found out that everyone it included in the U.S.A. was an abolitionist?  Would that absolve me from collective "guilt" or does the fact that I'm white and not poor or in prison mean I'm somehow guilty anyway?  Seen from the other side, what if those brought here as slaves, or those seen as not collectively "guilty" for the sins of slavery since they immigrated here later had in their ancestry those who participated in slavery, or were guilty of other atrocities?  Should they atone for that?  How far back does that go?

It's a sucker's game to try to assign or make up for some collective "guilt" for things that happened in the past out of my control, and it's a game I refuse to play.

Dave Barnhart

Paul Henebury's picture

Andrew K wrote:

I wonder why Paul didn't spend more time on his travels expressing repentance for the evils Rome perpetrated (or encouraging others to do so)? He was a Roman citizen, after all, "participating" in the benefits of the Roman Empire. Seems he should have expressed some corporate repentance himself....

Paul was a Roman citizen after all.  Surely he participated in the oppression right?  Very well said. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Mike Harding's picture

I don't agree with John at all.  Personally, I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a black neighborhood.  My Dad had a fourth grade education, drove a truck, and drank liquor like a sailor.  My Mom did not graduate from high school and worked in a factory.  I went to a public school with other black students all my life.  I rode a church bus to Sunday School located at 60th and California ave.  I took the CTA bus on Fridays to attend boys' brigade.  Many of my friends were black.  I played ball with them, hung out with them, brought them to church with me.  The thought of racism never crossed my mind or theirs.  Slavery was a world-wide problem in biblical times and recent centuries. Our country paid an enormous price in blood to end it.  We have made immense progress via civil rights laws.  I am for policies that help the black population get off the democrat plantation.  Let blacks take their tax money and use it for schools of their choice.  This will do much to help end the cycles of poverty.  Make certain that there is equal justice under the Law.  Preferential treatment is just as wrong as prejudicial treatment.  Enterprise zones in our cities are quite helpful.  Helping black colleges succeed is an ideal goal.  Emphasizing the nuclear family in all our communities is a must.  Encourage black churches to preach the gospel; not the social gospel.

Pastor Mike Harding

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Mike Harding wrote:

Let blacks take their tax money and use it for schools of their choice.  This will do much to help end the cycles of poverty.  Make certain that there is equal justice under the Law.  Preferential treatment is just as wrong as prejudicial treatment.  Enterprise zones in our cities are quite helpful.  Helping black colleges succeed is an ideal goal.  Emphasizing the nuclear family in all our communities is a must.  Encourage black churches to preach the gospel; not the social gospel.

Indeed.  These are all immensely useful things that can be done in the present -- certainly much more helpful than flagellating ourselves for the past.

Dave Barnhart

G. N. Barkman's picture

...that no one has pointed out that the Bible has a few things to say about holding children accountable for the sins of their fathers.  (It's a no, no.)

G. N. Barkman

Mark_Smith's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

...that no one has pointed out that the Bible has a few things to say about holding children accountable for the sins of their fathers.  (It's a no, no.)

Are you living in a bubble, with all due respect? Do you think there are no present consequences from historical racist actions by the American governments and society, let alone present actions by government that are racially biased?

Bert Perry's picture

On one side, there is very real racism--I grew up in a town near Gary where a lot of people had moved during the 1960s, and they had some attitudes that clearly had roots in things like neighborhood busting and the like--and on the flip side, I can see the position that the worst issues that blacks face are self-inflicted and from the past 70 years--specifically the plunge in marriage rates and related social ills that started around 1950.  Given the expense in lives and money (murder/welfare/etc.), though, I'd love to be part of the solution, whether or not our society bears guilt now for the problems created before.

Really, my gut feeling is that it's something of a waste of time arguing over collective vs. individual guilt here.  The current situation is costing somewhere between half a trillion and a trillion bucks in welfare costs each year, hundreds of billions of dollars more in criminal justice costs, around 300,000 aborted babies each year and somewhere around 5000 murders.  Shouldn't that motivate us a bit, along with "basic human compassion"?

The trick is to figure out how create relationships with blacks who are not currently considering marriage in their romantic relationships, and then to persuade (not browbeat) them that it'd be a great idea for their lives.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.