About six months ago, I laid out a scenario, about a white woman going into a halal shop, and asked, “Is it racist?” I was unconvinced that it was, although I recognized a likely ethnic-based discomfort.
And I got three really fine, and well thought out answers:
Francisca, a “white woman living in Asia” noted that “most of the time what I get is profiling to my advantage (it helps that I’m the smiling type and people generally like my face). The scene is complicated by my Chinese-born husband, who regularly gets mistaken as my driver, my interpreter, or my employee…and gets treated accordingly…”
Uthaclena said: “I think that the use of language has become very sloppy; my 15-year old informs me that ‘racism’ is used for ALL SORTS of discrimination, incl. what I myself would identify as sexism. Racism implies to me more of a power-based form of discrimination: ‘I will actively prevent you from obtaining something that is your due because of your race or ethnic background.’ I think that there is far more BIGOTRY than there is out-and-out racism, ASSUMING something about a person because of their stereotypical traits.”
Then there was Anthony: “I think I read somewhere in the writings of N.T. Wright that when Paul speaks of Christ dismantling the barrier between Jew and Gentile, implied within that idea is that Jesus overcame the forces that contribute to tribalism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, etc.” I would specifically add sexism. My Biblical scholarship is lacking, but I recall Jesus being called out by a woman about his sexist attitude.
“This idea is also associated with Christ’s cosmic work: the overcoming of the powers and principalities which distort God’s creation and the healthy functioning of social institutions.
“I mention this, because a number of years ago I was at a Christian college where I and various staff members were involved in a study on racial reconciliation by Raleigh Washington & Glen Kehrein called ‘Breaking Down Walls,’ and it seemed to me that everyone was so very quick to disown racism that none of us had anything to really work on. It made me think that if the Church is going to effectively bring healing in this area it is going to have to make a distinction between racism as an ideology that some subscribe to, and racism as the fear, suspicion, or broken attitudes that blight all of us to various degrees as a result of being fallen creatures in a broken world.”
Boy, did I relate to THAT! Organizing Black History Month in predominately white churches, I have definitely seen that. Not incidentally, this notion of a post-racial country in the US, because the country elected a black President, I always thought was absurd. Our tribalism runs deep. We may not all be racist, but we aren’t finished creatures, either.
I recommend you read all three excellent comments.