I watched a video the other day of a passionate young adult working to prove that racism is a very real problem that must be dealt with. By the time it appeared on my Facebook feed it had been watched hundreds of thousands of times.
Actually, he did a good job identifying problems that do exist and areas in our culture that need to be improved. The problem is HOW he was making his viewers aware. He basically said repeatedly in different ways, “You’re a racist!” He was bold and passionate.
Before we proceed let’s assume his information was 100% accurate and his heart was in the right place.
I still think he, along with many others, are making things worse.
Here is why.
There is an important piece to the maturation process psychologically – identity. Professional counselors and educators have been aware of this for a long time.
If an alcoholic is trying to improve, it’s one thing for him to admit he has a problem. It’s something else to have him come home night after night to a spouse that calls him a “worthless drunk.” Counselors long ago realized that berating and name calling doesn’t help. In fact, it makes it worse. Being made aware of a problem is very different than being told your problem is your identity… repeatedly. The wife may hate that he is an alcoholic– and at the same time reinforcing it IS his identity more deeply into his heart and soul!
In education, it’s the same way. If you have a young child who struggles with math, it’s one thing to identify there are places he needs extra attention; it’s another to remind him repeatedly he is “stupid.” You can absolutely point out an area in which he needs to improve, but ratifying in him that being “stupid” is a part of his identity will do more damage than good. He may even actually come to believe it is who he is, accepting it even deeper into his identity.
Moreover, social uniqueness (identity) is formed by what you are for AND by what you are against, from religion, politics, national identities, even artistic preferences. Identity IS divisive and being unique is a basic human desire. What’s important is HOW we approach uniqueness. Racism (used broadly), by practice, is not only preferring a unique trait, but also believing the PEOPLE who have or prefer other unique traits are somehow less valuable or even worthless. Our culture has ignorantly tried to throw out both sides of this by pretending to be blind to differences in general. Trying to say there is no gender, color, intellectual or athletic gifting and the like is silly and limits the beautiful diversity of humanity. For example:
People need to stop saying things like “kids don’t see color.” Yes, they do. They just aren’t bothered by the difference. In fact, they can openly talk about it because a difference in skin color is a vastly inferior issue to the friendship they have. What needs to be elevated is the priority of love.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.
We don’t want to live blind to the complex beauty that is humanity, or be afraid to see differences in each other. However, the binding agent of this uniqueness is love.
Lastly, abhorrent name calling, violent marches, and belittling trigger the primal fight or flight instinct. There are countless articles and research papers showing that people struggle to learn when they are deeply angry or afraid. Every well-intentioned video or article that provokes the primal fight or flight may be highly effective click-bait (meaning a lot of people see it) but will not help move hearts toward love and respect. In most cases as your blood pressure goes up, your ability to reason goes way down.
So, what do we do?
In my home: I will not label my kids as a racist, idiot, bully or the like. Even if I think their values are wrong. That’s not their identity and not who they have to become. That said they are unique and absolutely can improve themselves in many ways. Not everything they like or dislike will be right, but that has no bearing on their value as a person. In Christianity, human value is not subjective but objective. I will teach them there is space to love people deeply and talk about differences, even debate them. As a Christian, I tell them all humans are made in the image of God and have immeasurable value– from the unborn baby to the elderly dementia patient, from those born in the heart of India to those born in the heart of Kansas– and we should treat all as Christ sees them over how we may feel about them. So, in our home we may challenge each other’s ideas and prefer different music styles, but love remains.
Identity: People are eternally valuable creations of God.
Objective: Teach my children to approach a complex world the way Jesus did. You can challenge people, wrestle with ideas and ideals, but you cannot take away their transcendent value. You don’t have that power.
In our culture: The battle is won by education and in relationships. I decided to do a little “research” and spent an evening watching interview after interview on YouTube of people who overcame racism. I couldn’t find one that overcame racism with more physical or emotional violence. The victory was always won through relationships and education. If the objective is to win HEARTS– tangible forgiveness, mercy, and love are far more powerful than taking up arms and stone-throwing. If you want to change hearts, don’t work to prove there is hate without also working to demonstrate how it can be overcome. Don’t divide people further, build a bridge to speak into their life.
There are a lot of people in this world I disagree with and I actually enjoy a well-mannered debate. Yet, I do not have any power to remove someone’s value. Even if I disagree with them. In my opinion their value is assigned by the Creator.
He loved people so much that he sent what was dearest to him, his son, to die, so that they may be rescued. The very people he knew had wrong affections and values.
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I’ll let pastor King be my final thought…
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.