Friday, August 04, 2006

On Racism

There's some very penetrating discussion of racism going on over at Crunchy Con. Rod Dreher discusses the complexity of racism in the South:
I once heard an older white Southern lady criticizing a Yankee interloper who was being mean to some poor blacks in her town by threatening to tear down their church, which was on property he just bought. The lady said that that sort of thing just isn't done in a town as nice as hers. She said, and this is a direct quote, "We've always been good to our nigras." Now, that's a classic example of racist white paternalism. Yet this older lady was involved in a campaign to save the church, because she was genuinely angry over the matter. Here was a white woman who was doing something concrete to help black people in need, but her heart was impure, and she couldn't even see it. Was she a racist? Somewhat so, yes. But when the chips were down for her black neighbors, she put herself on the line in a concrete (and effective!) way to help them.

...Come to think of it, I was at a meeting at that black church one night in which the congregation was trying to figure out how to save their church. Who should show up but a retired elderly sheriff who, back in the civil rights era, organized a so-called White Citizens Council to intimidate black civil rights activists. But there he was, in his old age, coming to a black church to offer his support and assistance to his black neighbors in their fight to save their church. Was that white man racist? What does it mean to be racist? Is it a matter of what you believe, or what you do ... or both?

...the way we think about race, religion and prejudice in this country is vastly more complicated than most people want to acknowledge. The older I get, the more I think about growing up in my own small Southern town, and how incredibly complicated race and human nature is, and how important it is to seek understanding before seeking judgment.

Some more interesting observations I've plucked from the comments. A Philip Mitchell writes:
I've also lived through the wonderful irony of my parents--who used to make comments I considered deeply racist about African Americans--joining a predominately African-American congregation, and having close friendships grow out of this. A couple of years ago, I recall their utter outrage at the way some white cops treated an elderly black couple from their congregation who were pulled over for going one mile over the speed limit in Arkansas.
Another comment:
My family being southerners themselves, I also noticed the complex way they were about racial matters. My grandfather might mention something that might seem a little bigoted, in a subtle way, about blacks and hispanics, yet several of his children married hispanics,he had black good friends,and worked with both races in his job as a cotton gin master, and yet some times...... well, you, who have seen this kind of thing, understand what I mean. He cared about his friends of color, and yet,some part of his upbringing, somehow remained.
Rod again:
Last night at bedtime, I re-read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything that Rises Must Converge" and "The Enduring Chill," both of which have been mentioned here in recent days. I continue to be amazed at the piercing insight O'Connor had into the character of a certain kind of enlightened liberal Southerner, whose right-thinking on the subject of race relations masks a corrosive and corrupting, even inhuman, pride. It's hard to think that O'Connor's deep insight here was not an attempt to put her own temptations on the rack: in those stories, the protagonists, Julian and Asbury, are both intellectuals stuck living at home with their conventionally prejudiced small-town Southern mothers, upon whom they visit all kinds of scorn. O'Connor, partly as a result of her poor health, was stuck at home with her mother Regina, who, if you've read O'Connor's letters, was not the ideal conversational partner. But O'Connor -- assuming that in writing about Julian and Asbury, she was writing about herself -- was enough of a Christian to know that she had to overcome those temptations, and learn to love people despite their sins and failings, because a sense of moral superiority (and the fact of moral superiority; neither Julian nor Asbury was wrong about his mother's racism) served to conceal serious sin from the person who looks down his nose at the poor dumb bigot.


Post a Comment

<< Home