Here's three things I learned about racism in March:
1) A lot of people who say they don't have a racist bone in their body should make an appointment to get their pancreas checked out.
2) People who get very triggered by phrases like "white supremacy" and "white privilege" are very comfortable saying phrases like "China virus" and "Wuhan flu."
3) We probably should not let racist people define racism for us, or decide what is racist and what isn't.
It may be that the trial of Derek Chauvin is bringing this out in me, with all of the details of the crime and the trial in the news, or the video being back in rotation. It just feels as if the very definition of racism is being redefined, or at least questioned. For many people watching the trial, it seems like a clear case of racism, from the callousness of Chauvin to the human life he was snuffing out to the neglect from others on the scene. But for others, it's not so clear. Those people say we can't know what was in Chauvin's heart, and after all one of the other officers was of color, and Chauvin had a Black friend once.
Something similar happened with an announcer at a state tournament basketball game between Norman High and Midwest City. In reaction to a peaceful protest during the national anthem, an announcer battered the crowd with F-bombs and racial slurs. Later, the man blamed his verbal attack on the teenage girls on his blood sugar spiking because of diabetes. Now, I'm not a doctor, so feel free to take my opinion on this for what it's worth, but I did do a cursory search on WebMD, and racism is not listed as one of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. It's probably more truthful to say that his blood sugar levels are responsible for him saying out loud the things that he often thinks or for him being unable to contain the hatred that lurks in his heart. Either way, it seems like the kind of thing, shouting the N-word at students involved in peaceful protest, to be specific, is the type of thing that we used to all agree was pretty racist.
One of the sure-fire ways to stop accusations of racism cold is to point to one's friends or relatives of color as evidence of the impossibility of racism in one's heart. Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted tried that defense after he tweeted "So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?" To some, this might be pretty innocuous, since the virus did originate in Wuhan, China. Many of his defenders, as well as defender of the former, twice-impeached president, have pointed this out, that it can't be wrong to simply state the origin of the virus. That's why it was called the Spanish Flu, right? Except it wasn't, and the Spanish Flu didn't start there. In addition, Asian-Americans have been warning us for the duration of the pandemic that these types of rhetoric are causing an increase in violence towards them, their families, and their businesses. To continue to fuel that violence seems to suggest racism, but then Husted insists that he has many Asian-American friends and neighbors, as do his children. He defended his comment by saying, "I was just pointing out that this is an international crisis, in my opinion, that the Chinese government is responsible for and I wanted an independent investigation." Once again, I did some research here, and my findings indicate that the latter statement would fit into a tweet just as easily as the former. It's true. Not only that, but the countless Asian-American friends and neighbors that Husted used as human shields against the bad press that his racist garnered wrote him a scathing letter about his words. In the letter, which he apparently still hasn't read, they very graciously educated him about the impact of his words on their families.
This is a real issue for blended families. There is the idea that relationship with certain minorities comes with some kind of racism immunity or get-out-of-racism-free card. Being invited to the barbeque doesn't come with the freedom to get drunk and try to take over the grill. People get into relationships for a whole variety of reasons, and very often those reasons are self-serving. It's not ridiculous to imagine someone getting into a friendship or even more intimate relationship with a person of color just to create a smokescreen to blur their racist behavior. And this doesn't even have to be a conscious effort, either. It could be a totally subconscious part of the already internalized racism. We saw some of this dynamic in the fallout from the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah, in which they exposed, in remarkable restrained terms, the racism that Meghan experienced while connected to the Royal Family. Many people have noted the problems with Harry saying that he was unaware of the problems Black folks face. For many, it seems like the kind of talk that should definitely come up while a mixed couple are courting each other, but I would give Harry the benefit of the doubt, if only because his actions have shown a desire to rise above his initial ignorance. On the other hand, many people have also criticized his brother's statement that the Royal Family is not racist, even while he aspires to an English throne adorned with African gold.
It all depends on the definition of racism. If people decide for themselves if their words or actions are racist, they almost always reshape the definition in such a way that in includes everyone else and excludes themselves, regardless of the truth, like some gerrymandered district of racism. We need to listen to people who know about racism, either academically or experientially. The best chance for this to happen is in our churches, and yet too often we neglect to talk about race and racism there as well, or, worse, we make excuses for it in ways that we never would for any other sin. Because it is sin. Whether you want to call it partiality or oppression or injustice, racism is a dangerous sin that has the potential to infiltrate and destroy not only the heart but the church as well. Our definition has to include and emphasis that aspect of racism, so that we can stop blurring our vision and see clearly enough to call it out, in ourselves first and then in our communities.