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Higher Purpose Forum is working with several organizations on a project titled “New Possibilities for Race Relations in the U.S.”  The following is a simplified abstract of a paper the author prepared for a project meeting on August 14, 2021.  We eagerly invite your comments.

To effectively address racial challenges in the U.S. we must proceed from a correct diagnosis with clear terminology. In this context, I believe it is important to differentiate between “racial prejudice” (or “racial bias”) on one hand and “racism” on the other.

I propose the following differentiation:

“Racial Bias” is a passive, prejudiced misperception.

“Racism” is an active assertion of non-acceptance.

Racial Prejudice = Passive Misperception

Racial prejudice exists on a universal basis. It is one of many self-centered, unhealthy and destructive pathologies in the heart of any individual alienated from God.  As such, racial prejudice results from an inability to see others from God’s viewpoint — especially those visibly different from oneself.

It is clearly that case that the more readily perceptible racial differentiations are, the greater the bias/prejudice that are likely to prevail in our perceptions of one another. Hence racial bias is likely to prevail more extensively between black and white races than between races whose color differentiations are less obvious.

Racism = Assertive Nonacceptance

Racism” is less universal than racial prejudice.  Racism is actually a learned behavior built off racial prejudice.  As a subjective behavior, racism is learned from parents, colleagues, and other providers of social cues motivated by attitudes of cold-hearted non-acceptance.

A heart of non-acceptance on my part means that I deny your identity as a son or daughter of God with value equal to my own.

The racist attitude supports the assumption of superiority to, or hostility towards, individuals with racial characteristics different from one’s own. Relationships thus affected may be physically or emotionally abusive. The greater the authority allowed to those holding such attitudes, the more extensive the damage those individuals can do. Accordingly, racist behavior is illegal in the United States.

QUESTIONS

What is your opinion of these definitions, and this differentiation between “racial prejudice” and “racism”?

What is your reaction to the observation of “an inability to see other’s from God’s viewpoint”? Is that a useful framework for you? Why or why not?

How do you react to the proposition that the problem of “racial bias” or “racial prejudice” is a universal trait, carried by all people, regardless of race?

How do these explanations fit with your own self-assessment? Do you accept the charge that, like everyone else, you are racially prejudiced?

Have you ever acted like a racist, asserting your non-acceptance of a person(s) because of their racial difference?

Do you have an alternative understanding that you can propose?

Please share your thoughts below.

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Chris Noble
Chris Noble
2 months ago

I generally agree with these definitions, except for “God’s viewpoint”, which is outside my agnostic world-view. However I should also point out that this definition of racism is quite different from that of many active supporters of “Antiracism”, as defined by Ibram Kendi. For Kendi, ‘racism” is systemic activities that don’t result in equitable outcomes between races; it is not individual bias or prejudice. So we have two radically different definitions of racism. Finally, the definition of the word “race” itself is not universal. To many people, race is a finite set of distinct boxes that individuals can be categorized into, such as “Black”, “white”, “people of color”, “native American”, “Asian” etc. But to other people, race is a continuum of the mix of each individual’s family tree and personal affiliation, and the categories either don’t apply or are only relevant to the self-identity of each individual, not to some… Read more »

Henri Schauffler
Henri Schauffler
2 months ago

An important topic to bring up, @jamesedgerly.

The main problem we face as a society and in our culture in the US is that certain groups and media entities want to call everything they don’t like, “racism.” This is a misdirection and an attempt to tar-and-feather – culturally speaking – anyone who does not agree with their perspectives on culture and politics.

Many on one side call someone that disagrees with them a “racist.” Then the accused attempt to retaliate by calling their accuser a racist. The term has essentially lost all meaning culturally.

I wish I could propose a solution to this dilemma, but until someone can lead a movement to reclaim the cultural use of certain terms, especially, “racism,” I fear we are sentenced to a cesspool of accusations and counter-accusations.

Scott Simonds
Scott Simonds
2 months ago

To follow up on my first comment. The third observation is you stated that racism is illegal in the US. That’s not really true. A commonly used example is about bail. Bail is set without racial bias, legally. However, most white people can post bail and move on until their day in court. Many black people cannot post bail and it’s not uncommon for a bondsman to refuse to post it for them because they consider the suspect a flight risk. That puts the suspect in the position where they either have to stay in jail waiting for a hearing, or agree to a lesser charge and go back to work. That guilty plea goes on their record and could start a viscious cycle of job refusals and petty crime to survive. This dates back to the slavery era because white people had property and assets. They were engaged in… Read more »

Scott Simonds
Scott Simonds
2 months ago

My take on your piece is this:

1) Separating unconscious racial bias (prejudice) is different than outright racism (conscious acts of violence, whether physical or otherwise). That’s a good point and important distinction. Prejudice should not automatically be associated with with white supremists. Nor should black advocates be automatically associated with socialists and communists. And people with passive prejudice may unwittingly be doing harm to “the other”.

2) In the summary you used the term “alienated from God”. That’s a loaded phrase unless you qualify it. Who is alienated from God? If I’m a practicing Christian, am I alienated from God? Am I absolved from racism because there are black members in my congregation?

Faith has brought people together in community on the one hand. It has also created boundaries along ethnic lines on the other. The church remains the most segregated institution. It’s important to state that all of humanity is alienated from God. 

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