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Monday, August 15, 2011

"Basically good" and "I'm not a racist, but..."

No one wants to see the sin in themselves. We don't like to look at our brokenness square in the face. We tend to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt because we know our own struggles.

Our perception of our own racial prejudice is a perfect example. We fail to fully understand or accept our own privilege and prejudices. It is the "basically good" syndrome. As in, "I've never stolen or murdered, so I'm not a real sinner...I'm basically a good person." Likewise, white folk are quick to point out that they are 'colorblind,' feeling that since they never use racial slurs, or committed hate crimes, that they are doing pretty well (See post: I am George Zimmerman).

If we were in the business of ranking sins, this system might work out for folks, but we know that "there is no one righteous, not even one." In the same way that any sin is a constant threat to our souls, so too must we constantly battle the privileges and systemic advantages we receive based on race.

White folk will say anything to make sure they are not labeled 'racist.' Yet, the phrase "I'm not racist, but..." is inevitably followed by hurtful and ignorant words. Perhaps folks think that simply stating their lack of prejudice somehow makes it so.

But it's simply not the case. There is far too much racial smog breathed everyday for any of us to be free from prejudice.

Moreover, racism is not just about our prejudices or how we actively treat one another. It is about who holds the power in an institutionalized system that rewards some skin colors over others (see post: Dr. Tatum's Definition of Racism). Just as we live in a condition of sin, we live in a condition of racism.

It's not that one commits individual acts of hatred, but rather we understand that white folk benefit from an accumulation of advantages that over the past 400 years have given some a major leg up and has kept others pushed down. And it continues to compound itself today. White folk still get hired easier, make more money, have better access to health care, have better homes to live in, passing these benefits on to the next generation.

And so what is our response? Do we give up, resigned to the pain of a broken world? Of course not! We continue to work out our salvation, easing the burdens of the marginalized, and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.

Take a moment to examine the how systems of racial advantage affect many aspects of life. Which ones can you personally take steps to combat today?


  1. Really appreciate this post, Katelin. It hits home for many reasons I won't list here. I wish we could all just ADMIT that we all carry prejudices around with us. Maybe our society could open up more to the topic if it were actually more socially acceptable to admit this and begin to work through it/be conscious of it. I feel like it's far too often a horrible thing to admit you possess prejudices when the reality is that we all do regardless of race/social class/upbringing/etc.!

  2. Yes! So true! Great thoughts. Thanks, Shannon

  3. On behalf of Neil: 
    "I'm reminded of Jesus telling his disciples in Matthew 21 that if they had faith, they could command the mountains to move. If the disciples didn't have enough faith to accomplish such a thing, how can we imagine we do? Compared to the ocean of God's goodness, we're probably lucky to dip a toe in. The flip side of that, though, is God is powerful enough that even a wet toe can accomplish incredible things."

  4. So we are often blind to our own sins...but on the other hand, we can also be our own worst critics, condemning ourselves for each misstep  The goal is to find the holy balance, recognizing our shortcomings, while having grace for the journey.


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