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.
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.
I think another term that needs to be defined in this discussion is “Cultural Differences”. In many cases, the attitudes and actions that people ascribe to racial prejudice can actually fall under this category because we are simply not aware of how people, outside our own cultural sphere, have been raised differently from ourselves. The different expectations in relationships between a German and an Italian person are not that different than those between black and white or Asian in many situations and should not necessarily be categorized as racial prejudice.
Thanks for this interesting comment, that points to an issue much bigger and even more challenging than “race”. To understanding these underlying issues you refer to, Higher Purpose Forum is now using the term “Tribal” differences. Using the term “tribal” captures culture, as well as identity, physical behaviors and physical characteristics, personality, etc.
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 »
The United Nations sought through its creation in 1948 and its thirty articles to define and to protect human rights to bring lasting peace to the world after the horrors of WW2. This was the best answer to ending human conflict that politicians of the world came up with. In 1945, after the surrender of Japan, the Soviet Union supplied men, training and weapons to Communists in North Korea that began imposing harsh control over their people. In 1950 the Korean War broke out backed by Russia and China later stepped in. Both of these countries are part of the UN Security Council. Can you imagine, what hypocrisy! Though this is not part of the conversation, my point in bringing it up is this: Politicians have not ended human conflict and certainly have not legislated racism out of existence. You will not find the word God within the UN Charter… Read more »
Thank you for this important contribution. 1) Yes, the problem with the phrase “God’s Viewpoint” has been pointed out by others as well. We need to be more universal with these terms. 2) The problem with definitions is the reason for this essay. Thank you for sharing Kendi’s definition, which is widely accepted. We are developing an understanding of four different perspectives on racism. Each has their own definition. Ultimately we must evaluate each definition. 3) For the reasons you point out so well, we believe that “tribalism” is a much more useful framework for understanding that has happened with race in this country than race. People’s loyalties and character are more defined by tribal allegiance than racial identity. And as you know, tribalism (rather than race or nationalism) remains a driving political force in many parts of the world. I hope you can read and comment on one of… Read more »
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.
Thank you for your interesting description of the current cultural/political arena. Yes, the term “racist” seems to have become a weaponized tool in the culture war. It is startlilng how freely it is now being wielded.
Our discussions within HPF have led us to believe that a much more relevant and useful description of race related tensions in this country is to understand it as tribalism rather than racism. Of course, tribalism is a world wide phenomena. If we can advance this understanding, and learn how to harmonize tribes, then perhaps a clearer undertanding of the use of the term “racism” will emerge.
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 »
A very important point. I wonder if we might get a lawyer to help us refine this point. The practice of racsim is illegal, but as you have explained, the consequences of historical racisms and underlying racist bias still have huge impact, whether illegal or not.
I have experinced something similar in my own life. I have been a member of a controversion, deeply misunderstood and widely discredited religious movement. Religious persecution is illegal in this country. However, decades of my life and my own character have been profoundly impacted by the subtle bias and mistrust people felt towards me. There is no way for laws to control that condition.
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.
Yes, the problem of “alientation for God” is universal, but you say the terminology is loaded. Another term in this essay that has been criticised is the reference to “God’s viewpoint”. I wonder what a more universal way of expressing this condtion might be?