I recently came upon the antiracism belief that individualism and merit are “racist.” Antiracists refer to them as “American white values.” The racializing of individualism and merit-based achievement seem to be exclusive to those who share the antiracist worldview. More and more people are eagerly embracing the tenets of critical race theory and antiracism as a public posture that exemplifies the noble pursuit of “racial justice.” I want to highlight what should be obvious– the fad of racializing everything, even a long-standing virtue as individual merit, is further eroding our already-fragile civic ties while trivializing real racism.
One of the problems with antiracism is its practice of condensing the complexity of unique individuality into shallow representations of “race.” This antiracist position refuses to see people– as people. There’s nothing distinctive about individuals in antiracism’s anthropological methodology. Antiracist ideological convictions demand advocates ignore the intrinsic worth of people in favor of a racialized preconception that divides people into two classes: oppressed, (blacks and other non-white “minorities”) and oppressors (white people). Shelby Steele called this reductionism a form of racial blindness. He wrote,
People who are in the grip of [racial blindness] … always miss the human being inside the black skin…Your color represents you in the mind of such people. They will have built a large part of their moral identity and, possibly, their politics around how they respond to your color. Thus, a part of them–the moral part–is invested not in you but in some idea of what your color means. And [if] they see you– the individual–they instantly call to mind this investment and determine, once again, to honor it. They are very likely proud of the way they have learned to relate to your color, proud of the moral magnanimity it gives them an opportunity to express.
Critical race theorists and antiracists are structuralists. They refer to people collectively, and persistently stress the influence of societal factors to explain the socio-economic failures of blacks and other minorities. This explains the preoccupation with “institutional racism,” “systemic racism,” and “structural racism.” Conversely, people who reject this idea tend to be more individualistic: they tend to emphasize personal responsibility, merit, work ethic, and intelligence– the very things antiracists reject as impediments to oppressed minorities. Racial structuralists believe the American social ‘system’—or our societal institutions, patterns of relationships, and the organizational dynamics of status—provides some people with advantages while others with disadvantages. Blacks also suggest that social determinants lying outside of individual control—such as their race, gender, age or the socioeconomic status of the family in which they were born—significantly influence whether they will thrive. This disposition continues to hold significant currency on black identity and in antiracist identity politics, dictating action– but more so inaction– in black communities.
Consequently, from a socialist critique, these external influences that obstruct black prosperity are forms of evil (sins). Various forms of inequality, for example, have permeated social systems and institutions that continue in lieu (or irrespective of) the consequences of human actors. It’s rarely acknowledged that these “systems” are almost entirely biological, meaning that they are created, staffed, cultivated and reformed by people who can and do influence these systems, for better or worse. If people want “systems” changed, they should start by changing the hearts and minds of people who comprise these systems first.
From a Christian perspective, Marxism-inspired antiracism isn’t a valid framework of anthropology, soteriology (liberation) or economic critique. Essential to antiracism’s orthopraxy is the redistribution of goods, services, opportunities, wealth, and income from mainstream America to blacks. This reallocation is based on outcome inequity, stemming from what antiracists call the continuing effects of “historical injustices.” The intention to import, coerce, or manufacture “racial justice” where it’s believed to be absent for some– at the expense of others– is defined as the “virtue” of ‘justice’ within antiracism.
The continual focus on the structural “sins” of white people is contingent upon the repetitive emphasis of the proposition that blacks remain victims. If structural problems continue, then blacks will continue to be victims. This is why antiracists intentionally focus on structural influences and structural remediation rather than individual choices and behavior, which they see as misplaced responsibility and victim-blaming. On the individual level where antiracists don’t often venture, blacks– like others– are responsible for personal decision-making that lends itself to autonomy, not the nebulous “system” of discrimination as is redundantly claimed. Moreover, maintaining the belief that this obscure system is responsible for both black suffering and its cure is a contradiction that makes little sense. The “system” that is the source of black problems is also supposed to be the agent of black salvation (liberation)? Small chance. It also transfers the obligation of penance and absolution onto mainstream America rather than placing accountability onto black individuals where it should be– the necessity for proper, meaningful correction and improving self-esteem that overcomes feelings of inadequacy. Transferring the responsibility of problem-solving from blacks to America rigidly reinforces and petrifies helplessness– and ultimately worthlessness– in the very people antiracists claim to want to help.
Does this sympathetic form of “liberation” through socially engineered coercion and reparation create or improve black dignity? No. Does it contribute anything meaningful or substantial to black development? No. Though tempting, traditionally religious people, especially Christians, must reject this sort of guilt-based framework and interventionism outright. At its core, these policies constitute theft and black dependency. It nurtures resentment, perpetuates blame, even deliberately assigning it to people who are guiltless. It also contributes nothing to black maturation, progress, or Christian identity formation. Social policies that validate existential impotence through “redistribution” (stealing) from one group of people, however noble the cause is rationalized to be (“racial justice”) is still stealing and is by definition, unjust.
Additionally, this kind of intervention, preferential treatment and entitlement based on race does not help its intended targets because it refuses to demand any contribution toward their own uplift and advancement, such as delayed gratification, individual initiative, moral or civic obligation, and a higher level of social expectation. Helplessness becomes a commodity. Antiracists would rather have blacks maintain their position of presumed helplessness, reinforcing social inferiority. Social intervention (structural remediation) requires blacks to conserve their helplessness. Black powerlessness, lowered expectations, social, and moral mediocrity are encouraged and rewarded. That’s not Christian at all. In fact, this antiracist position is a stumbling block for Christians (Rom. 16:17-19).
A constructive Christian conversation about discrimination always centers humanity and dignity in being created in the image of the trinitarian God, not race. Our race, or more specifically, our ethnic composition– a blessing from God– augments human dignity but isn’t conditional upon it. That stands in distinction to antiracism; a constructive, Christian conversation should maintain that important distinction throughout.
Part of this anthropology contains the consequences of the Fall, including the ministry of Jesus, in whose image we are renewed (Rom. 8:29-31, Rom: 12:1-2, 2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Cor. 5: 15-17; Gal. 2:20, Gal. 5:24, etc.). Having been renewed by Christ, our focus isn’t on the antiracism methodology that reinforces racial discord and partiality but is guided by the spirit of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation (Deut. 1: 16, Matt. 5:23, 43-48; Matt 18: 15-17, 21-22; Gal. 3:28, Eph. 2:13-16, James 2:1, 8-9, etc.). It’s to understand that in transcending artificial racial limitations, there’s no tiered structural methodology that separates people into belligerent factions– racializing values that reinforces separation, or that seeks to invert the traditional “power structures,” causing more strain and resentment. Antiracism and its cancel culture, doesn’t allow opportunities for repentance, forgiveness, grace, love or reconciliation, which taken together is actual justice– available within the Christian paradigm of redemption and brotherhood.
This is one of the areas in which constructive Christian conversations prevail– communicating, with respect to this binary, that blacks and whites are equal collaborators working toward biblical justice, a characteristic of the coming Kingdom. There’s no disproportionate responsibility placed on whites to labor toward justice while blacks wait helplessly but expectantly. It’s not an agenda-driven model in which whites, “shut up and listen” and forced into agreement as blacks berate and condescend to their brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ– assigning sin and guilt from generations past. The Christian values that achieve egalitarianism or brotherhood reject racial determinism, helplessness, stigmatization, racial partiality, and such. Christian conversations should communicate that in the body, blacks and whites engage in mutuality, and are both responsible live out redemptive truth in ways that challenge and overcome the secular orthopraxy of antiracism, which is just another form of racism.
Reconciliation has to be our first priority before we offer our gifts, including ourselves, to God. Unlike the modus operandi of antiracism “racial justice” programs, which manipulate and burden whites with the responsibility of working toward reconciliation, I would offer a different suggestion: that blacks take the first step in the process of racial unification in the Church via the redemptive process of forgiveness. Black identity has internalized and cultivated a significant amount of bitterness and racial resentment toward whites– some of it understandable, much of it not. Antiracism reinforces these feelings.
However, Jesus was very clear that the obligation of his followers is to upend the normal cycle of reciprocating anger, antipathy, and hostility. There is no denying that blacks have been hurt, some even damaged; there should be no disagreement about that. Slavery and segregation in America, though not unique, were considerable moral indiscretions and have been a civic and historical impediment to cultural unanimity. The residual of white racial chauvinism, though legally outlawed, continues to guide far too many hearts and minds. Black resentment and feelings of racial self-consciousness that precipitate an unearned moral authority (Voddie Baucham calls this ethic Gnosticism) and entitlement continue to dictate the theater of racial pretention. These issues must be addressed.
But, as disciples of Christ, particularly for black folk in the church, I think the obligation is on us to initiate reconciliation that begins with forgiveness, not through manipulation or coercion but with humility, courage, love and grace. Of course, it is and will be a difficult and painful process. If it were easy blacks would’ve have done it already.
Mercifully, God cancels the debt caused by sin. When Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer they ask God to forgive their transgressions, as they in turn forgive those who have sinned against them (Matt. 6:12). This is intentionality, and the two are entwined. If God is merciful and forgives Christians for all manner of sins, there is a moral and religious obligation to extend to our brother and neighbor, despite their color, the same act of mercy, however difficult (Matt. 18:23-35). Despite any and all protestations against that fact, Christian blacks have no excuse. Forgiving those who cause (or caused) pain is difficult to do; there is very little argument against that. But as challenging as this is, this is what it means to be a Christian—to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to seek reconciliation with others so that believers are careful not to trivialize the redemption and reconciliation paid for via the bloodstained cross of Jesus Christ.
Blacks are capable of this. In actuality, the capability of Christian blacks setting aside their racial pride, past hurts, and current frustrations to initiate the process of forgiveness and racial reconciliation in the Church is existentially empowering. Taking the first painful, humble step of forgiving past grievances, acknowledging pain and anger, and admitting self-doubt– in other words, confessing uncertainties and sins, is to live in the freedom from hatred that defines (Christian) self-determination and a renewed life in Christ. Deciding to reject the time dishonored practices of complaint, grievance, and holding white brothers and sisters in Christ accountable for acts of cruelty (real or imposed) in favor of forgiveness, and inaugurating the process of approaching the altar of God together– reconciled and in mutual edification– is to recapture a black anthropology firmly rooted in the dignity and equality of the imago Dei.
Part of engaging in the reconciliatory process means disallowing judgmentalism (Matt. 7:1-12). One valid application of the proscription on judging is that it provokes people to set aside what happened in the past as they contemplate what actions to take in the future. Further, Jesus urges his listeners to guard against faultfinding with whom one interacts or has a relationship, even if the person is culpable. This is to deliberately interrupt a blameworthy cycle that ensnares individuals and society, maintaining division. The moral and ethical foundation of Jesus’ nascent community then, but certainly now, is required to reject the emotionally satisfying temptation to belabor past indiscretions, injustices, and other offenses that would lead to cumulative judgment and rationalized condemnation of people and groups. This holding pattern of resentment, retribution, and recrimination is descriptive of the racialized mindset and practice with respect to racial discrimination– perceived and real– and the opinion that systemic racial discrimination continues by the sin-stained hands of white supremacy. It bears emphasizing– Jesus’ teaching does not deny that injustices have been committed nor does it advocate the forgetting past injustices. Jesus is suggesting, however, to make these injustices, however painful, irrelevant to the obligation to move forward toward reconciliation. This is what Christian blacks need to do despite the emotional discomfort it produces if healing, reconciliation, and interracial relationships are to be redeemed in American churches (and American culture).
Self-examination is required prior to highlighting collective faults in others, which makes people defensive, resentful, and disinterested in reconciliation. Once we have removed that which distorts our vision, we will be able to see and judge with the spirit of sobriety (the golden rule) to approach our brother in helping mitigate or remove his faults rather than condemning him for them. Jesus’ subversive teachings undercut moral superiority and more specifically, an unearned moral authority of antiracists who use the flaws, indiscretions, and the past mistakes of others as an opportunity to improve collective self-worth of blacks by covering their insecurities and validating their self-esteem. Christian blacks and whites alike desperately need this.
But, if Christian blacks– individually and collectively, took the initial steps to make past histories (and history) of racial victimization immaterial to initiating this restoration, blacks could co-engineer a chasm-closing bridge of interracial, multiethnic relationships in the church. Specifically, this necessitates blacks letting go the prospect of whites ever feeling guilty enough regarding racial injustices, historical or otherwise, and apologizing to the depth and breadth of black satisfaction or demand. It means coming to the realization that whites will never, under any circumstances, feel the kind of self-condemnation commensurate with black pain and frustration. Blacks initiating love-saturated forgiveness will end the need to seek retribution for past misdeeds. Habitually condemning or berating white people over racial indiscretions– supposed or real, does absolutely nothing to improve the quality of black lives. Neither does it advance interracial interactions and relationships– inside or outside of churches. In an attempt to demonstrate what racial/ethnic conciliation and forgiveness is and should be, Christian blacks should acknowledge, however painful, that what happened in the past is indeed the past, and for all intents and purposes should not be distinctively relevant to our contemporary time and our futures together in the church of Christ. This isn’t to minimize or excuse the past, it’s an attempt to overcome it.
Jesus makes clear that he envisions a community in which the desire for righteousness (as opposed to self-righteousness) and justice (as opposed to “social justice” or “racial justice”) is satisfied for everyone. This community is contingent on the cessation of oppression, persecution, guilt, manipulation, coercion, and all assertions of individual or group superiority that stifles the other’s desire for righteousness and justice. This has huge implications for blacks and whites in American churches, because it entails foregoing the paradigm that leverages black power and identity politics against white guilt and obligation. It also directly rejects any sanctimonious and compartmentalized notions of social and/or racial justice that defines, pursues, demands, and celebrates “fairness” at someone else’s expense, detriment, and inconvenience. Jesus exhorted, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Here, Jesus implies a sense of the universality of righteousness rather than secular or anti-Christian notions of righteousness and justice being truncated (intentionally or not) for some at the expense of others (social justice, racial justice, etc.). Jesus is indicating that the kind of righteousness that he is familiar with and the kind of righteousness his listeners must desire and pursue does not conflict with or mitigate another’s desire and pursuit of righteousness. Rather, it is one of mutual satisfaction. Tod Lindberg, in The Political Teachings of Jesus writes:
No individual’s satisfaction could come at the price of another individual’s failure to obtain satisfaction or the denial of satisfaction to the other. If someone’s desire for righteousness necessarily conflicted with another person’s desire for righteousness, then the generalization Jesus proffers, namely, that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . shall be satisfied,” would not work out. Jesus holds out the prospect of reconciliation of each individual’s desire for righteousness and universal fulfillment.
Black people possess the competency to retire their fixation with an identity composed of grievance and victimization. Consequently, blacks should aspire to embrace an identity centered in Jesus Christ for their own benefit, cultural change, and for the American Church’s advancement. But for this to happen, blacks must humbly admit that they are suffering from a moral and existential oversight. They know that they are children of God; they have forgotten that they must also be disciples of Jesus in view of covenantal theology. Blacks have ignored or have forgotten that to be Christian disciples entails being conscientious of the fact that they are part of the multiethnic brotherhood of Jesus Christ.
Christian blacks and whites must reject the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of antiracism. It doesn’t augment nor can it be synthesized with Christianity. It’s a false religion and gospel that distracts Christians from that which has the power to change minds, hearts, and systems– the redemptive gospel of Jesus Christ.