The Kaleidoscope of Race

There was a recent survery that came out that stated that Blacks think race is more of an issue than whites. Unfortunately I lost the link I was going to use. (doh!)But i'm sure one of my more energetic and enterprising readers will locate it for me. ;)

Moving on to the main point.

In many ways our discussion on race is like describing what we see in a kaleidoscope. We're all turing our kaleidoscopes and seeing different patterns, but these patterns are defined by our experiences. The problem with using experience as a baseline is that it's not objective. People are notoriously bad at interpreting what they experience. Do DTR's sound familiar? Haven't you ever had a conflict that started over a misunderstanding? I know i've been in plenty, still getting therapy over a few...shudder.

In terms of race what I think is happening is that white people are looking down through their kaleidoscopes and seeing more colors. Black people and other people of color are looking up through their kaleidoscopes and seeing primarily white. Reality is somewhere in between and varies greatly depending upon what part of the country you're residing in. One's experience of race in the South is going to be very different than what they may experience in the Bay Area or in New York.

The trick is to understand how and where your experiences fit in the wider picture. This means that we need to set aside our kaleidoscopes and look at what the academics and other legitimate news/research sources are telling us about race in America. Once we have done our homework, we need to be willing to listen to one another. This means instead of trying to "school" or "educate" someone, perhaps we should "engage" and "discuss". This is an important step because in America most change happens from the bottom up. Women and African-Americans and other important social justice movements didn't gain traction until whites signed on too. That happened once channels of communication were opened between the groups. What this recent poll shows me is that those channels of communication are no longer working. There's a disconnect somewhere. Until we get those channels flowing again we won't be able effectively examine the structural and cultural issues that keep people on the bottom and out of leadership and moneyed positions. Finally, people let's have an honest discussion about class in America and the role it places in our understanding of race.

Many people are trying to engage in the race discussion in a thoughtful way, but lets be honest, it's easier to turn your kaleidoscope than to deal with the reality in front of you. You have more control over your kaleidoscope than actual, living people. Doh!


The Second Chance

So the other day I subjected myself to the treacly, christian, white privileged guilt movie called The Second Chance, starring Michael W. Smith. While it is very tempting to spend this post tearing apart this movie, someone else has done that for me here.

Instead lets examine what this movie says about Evangelical culture of late. A much more interesting exercise.

On the heels of the 90's christian men movement, there has been a growing awareness of social inequality and racial reconciliation within evangelicals. What this movie shows is an extension of that awareness and that white evangelicals are in their own awkward ways, trying to talk about these issues. But more than that we see that more and more evangelicals are trying to engage more with American culture. They are slowly but surely moving away from the specter of Elmer Gantry and fallout that book and later the movie caused. Evangelicals are no longer on the fringes of of the mainstream. they are attempting to move into the middle.

Part of this move to the middle is finally starting to trickle down into the Bible Colleges. The New York Times ran an interesting article on dancing at John Brown University . Apparently conservative colleges in the Bible belt are finally allowing their students to dance, within limits, of course. This is a shift that i had observed occuring at Fuller Seminary among their younger students. Many there were dissatisfied with their fundamentalist/conservative christian background and were more willing to engage in the contemporary culture around them. So that this shift is finally being recognized by a major newspaper is noteworthy.

Here's the most illuminating statement from this article:
"The students I met at J.B.U. were, for the most part, the kind of thoughtful undergraduates whom top secular colleges would be proud to have. They’re not Stepford students. In 2005, a political-science class at J.B.U. took a poll of 228 students, and while on most issues the students were conservative — very Republican, generally supportive of President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq — 43 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women said they believed there were circumstances in which abortion should be permitted. When presented with the statement that “homosexuals should not be allowed to teach in high schools,” only 33 percent agreed. That diversity of viewpoints was what I expected after hanging out with these undergrads for a week. Most were not having sex, but some were; most did not drink, but many did. Most were disapproving of homosexuality, but one student sat down next to me, introduced herself and told me the story of her lesbian love affair in high school. The only thing they all agreed on was that there was something special about their campus culture, even the parts they disagreed with."

There, you heard it from a Nytimes reporter, evangelicals are not a monolithic bunch. Nope, there is burgeoning diversity amongst the youngsters and this is a group that is paying attention to what's going on around them. And this is the group that are going to leading the church, once the boomers step down, doh!

So what does this mean in terms of the movie? Well in my mind, its a start. Hopefully evangelical movies and thought on race, social injustice and reconciliation will become more sophisticated, with more depth. 20 years ago movies like this were being made for tv, now they're being made for churchgoers. Made for tv movies have gotten a bit more sophisticated and the themes they started have leaked their way up to major motion pictures and impacted the wider culture. So, who knows, perhaps in a few more years this move will spark a more sophisticated dialogue among the evangelical leadership on social issues and theological engagement. Moving it from the academic and fringes to the mainstream.