W. E. B. Du Bois wrote his prophetic words “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of color line” decades before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Yet those words allowed blacks to note how the removal of Jim Crow from educational institutions was slow in many parts of the country. Often among those responsible were Christian segregationists in Christian schools and colleges.
Between April 1831 and February 1832, two officials of the French government under Louis-Philippe toured Jacksonian America. These two officials—Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont—were on assignment to research prisons in the United States and later produced a report of their findings in 1833. But while traveling through America, Tocqueville and Beaumont were also carefully observing political and social life in the new republic. Both men published works on their observations. Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America (1835/1840) and Beaumont wrote a novel, entitled Marie or, Slavery in the United States(1835).
Most Americans are familiar with Tocqueville’s work, but Beaumont’s novel is less well known.
Merely speaking about this incident and mentioning racism resulted in the common backlash accusation of playing this mythical item. It is used over and over again by some white people instead of engaging in dialogue through sharing and listening, the choice is made to stigmatize and scapegoat those that disagree that America is mostly a colorblind post-racial nation. There are certain scripts that the white majority learns and rehearses through subtle socialization in dominant culture. Rather than doing the hard work of careful in-depth investigation of the matter, quick cliché dismissals are used to uphold the status quo. The status quo is silence about racism other than pointing out the overt cases, as well as getting into extensive conversation about reverse racism. While I have often gotten frustrated by these little remarks that dismiss black experiences without doing the hard work of listening and wrestling with another perspective, I decided that from now on I was going to “play along” with their game.
After years of wrestling, I settled in a predominately white church. My logic was this: if every white person concerned about racial justice leaves white churches, then there will be few women or men there to help. This Sunday, I worried that Ferguson or other police shootings of African Americans would once again go unmentioned in the sermon or a prayer.
Over the summer I participated in a panel hosted by MennoNerds.com on Race and the Church. The video has been available on youtube for a while, but I figured I would repost it here for those that might be interested in the far ranging conversation that we had.