I recently wrote about the racial discrimination housing laws of the 1940’s-1970’s (and I did a post on “How To Talk About Racism”). My point in showing those bits of somewhat hidden history is to help set the table for why some things are the way they are today when it comes to race. It’s naive to think that hundreds of years of socially accepted and socially promoted overt racism weren’t a critical factor in shaping America as we know it in 2013. We can’t say, “Well, slavery and the Jim Crow Laws (and housing discrimination laws) are over, so let’s not talk about racism in 2013” when a rational view of things shows that our country (starting with chasing out the Native Americans and continuing on into slavery and Jim Crow Laws) was built upon whites having all the advantages. While we have made tremendous progress since some of the darker days of our past, many of our existing systems got their root in this racist history, and they perpetuate racist thinking today.
Take racial profiling for example. It is statistically undeniable that per capita, there are significantly more people of color who are incarcerated than whites. Check out this sobering article from the Center for American Progress, which outlines 10 facts showing the criminal-justice system’s impact on communities of color, including how 1 in 15 African-American men are currently incarcerated, compared to 1 in 36 Hispanic men, and 1 in 106 white men, or that people of color receive longer prison sentences than whites for the same crimes.
This will be risky, but I’d like to try to connect a few dots to show how our past affects our present. To show that we cannot sweep racial reconciliation under the rug like it isn’t a significant issue the Church needs to be intentionally working toward.
One of the great “white privileges” white people have is we don’t have to think about being white. If we are pulled over by the police or are randomly scanned in the security line at the airport, we don’t have to wonder if it’s because we’re white. We typically aren’t pulled over and frisked because we look like a suspect in a nearby criminal investigation. We don’t have to worry about security guards in stores keeping a closer eye on us, or women clutching their purses a little tighter when we walk by. We can deny it if we want, but these are all (plus much more) things our brothers and sisters of color have to deal with on a regular basis.
And I think this is linked to the incarceration statistics, which I think are linked to the racist housing laws I wrote about in my previous post.
A stereotypical white response to this is to say, “Well, minorities committed those crimes, so they are simply getting what they deserve” and/or, “Well, this just shows that minorities commit more crimes than whites.” The truth is that minorities (and minority neighborhoods) are monitored much more closely than whites, so they are caught more than whites. And if minorities are caught more (and in the news more), then I as a white person am naturally going to think they commit more crimes by nature than whites, and are thus more dangerous than whites.
Which leads to racial profiling.
Before talking about racial profiling, I think it’s important to look at where this pattern began. Honestly, the safest assumption is that it began as soon as slaves were freed. Many whites overtly hated blacks back then and it’s not hard to believe that white police would have singled out and mistreated blacks on a consistent basis (we know they did), and that white citizens would have called the police more frequently for black behavior than white behavior.
So you take a population that white culture already hated and you funnel them all together into the same neighborhoods via housing discrimination laws. These laws then create social systems of underfunded schools and decaying urban job markets.
Some in these neighborhoods turn to a life of crime and are heavily focused on by police, but racial profiling assumes that all people of that skin color are an equal threat.
So tuck your purse tight when the black guy walks by.
But relax when you see the white drug dealer you don’t know (and don’t assume) is a drug dealer.
It’s a simple “in-group, out-group” concept. These are sociological terms that refer to favoritism played toward those in the group we are a member of, and the degradation of those in the group different from us. If a black person commits a crime or is rude to us, a white person will say, “Well, that’s natural/normal because they’re black (outgroup).” Whereas if a black person is successful and a “put together” person, a white person will assume they are an exception. If a white person commits a crime or is rude to us, a white person will assume they are an exception and do not represent all white people. And if a white person is successful and “put together”, a white person will assume that is natural/normal because that person is white (ingroup).
If you don’t think racial profiling exists, see if this video convinces you otherwise:
The fact is, if most white people are honest, and I will be honest here (in confession that I am not proud of), we do racially profile minorities. It isn’t right and I wish I didn’t do it and am taking steps for it to completely go away, but it is the natural (brain chemistry) response to being raised in a predominantly white town, an almost all white school, and an all white church.
So how do we break this?
There aren’t easy answers. The first, and crucial, step for whites is to simply be aware of it and to listen to minority voices. I’ve never heard a black person say that racial profiling or white privilege is made up or is fair, but I’ve heard plenty of white people say this and assume this. Most white people grow up in total ignorance of these issues, as I did. Our brothers and sisters of color face them on a daily basis, while we walk around oblivious. I wasn’t awakened to them until I read Divided By Faith as a part of a Cultural Intelligence class in seminary. My prayer is that these blog posts may serve as an awakening for others, as Divided By Faith was for me.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I know that the major step beyond awareness is to stop living so segregated from other races. To put our kids in diverse schools, to intentionally be exposed to diverse cultures, to intentionally live in diverse neighborhoods, and to intentionally create diverse churches.
None of these things are easy, but trying to reconcile ~250 years of racial conditioning on a country isn’t going to be easy. Ignoring it, denying it’s there, and continuing to let our brothers and sisters of color carry their burden alone would be though.
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If the following is true, wouldn’t certain predominantly African American neighborhoods be among the safest instead of the unsafest?
“The truth is that minorities (and minority neighborhoods) are monitored much more closely than whites, so they are caught more than whites.”
Hi anonymous, that is truly a really good question. It actually prompted me to write this blog today to help give clarity, I hope this helps, feel free to leave further comment under that post: http://www.atacrossroads.net/why-there-are-more-black-men-in-jail-than-in-jobs/