I was recently at a presentation given by a speaker who has done some excellent writing about the church. At an evening session she got into a discussion about racial issues and shared an experience she had at an elite northeast school where a white student confused two black students who looked nothing alike. Then she played a short video that showed Samuel Jackson going off on a white commentator who confused him with Laurence Fishburne. The subtext was that white people think all black people look alike. Really? That’s where you go with it? That is certainly where Samuel Jackson went with it. His rant was amusing in a mocking sort of way, but it was an unnecessary ambush on a hapless reporter who couldn’t defend himself once the charge was leveled. What was the purpose of Jackson’s rant? Why did the speaker who I admire think this was a good illustration?
Confusing two actors is not something unique to black actors. People confused Dustin Hoffman with Al Pacino. They thought AnnaSophia Robb in Terabithia was Dakota Fanning. People even confuse Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe. I have had people of every color confuse me with other people who look nothing like me. It happens.
This same speaker later joked about a website that deals with “Stuff White People Like.” I looked it up. While it strikes a few funny notes, it is built on the idea of ridiculing white people for things with which most white people wouldn’t even relate. It relies on stereotypes and bad information – precisely the thing the speaker was saying needs to stop if we are to have unity. I don’t understand why she thought it was a good illustration for a talk dealing with unity. How can this do anything for unity?
Maybe people who are buying into this need to get out more with regular white folks. The perjoratives of the “gets it” crowd are tiring. What do they “get?” At least let us in on it so we can laugh together. Most of the white people I know are pretty self-effacing. We can listen and learn from not only the past offenses of our culture, but our own insensitivities. We can sit down to listen, love and learn. I have become much more aware of the damage that can be done to people marginalized by dominant culture. But frankly, it is hard to listen to someone with an understanding ear when they are repeatedly poking their finger in your chest. It is no way for people in the church to communicate peace. We should not speak to one another in the broken language of our divided culture.
Peace. That is what unity looks like. It is worth doing everything possible to create peace. For Jesus, it meant going to the cross. For us? Paul gives us the following…
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
If we are going to have substantive discussions that lead to unity, we are all going to have to take Romans 12 seriously.