At the beginning of our nation’s history, many white Christians used racism to justify slavery for numerous reasons, but white Christians were also instrumental in ending slavery as well. Shouldn’t they be given ample credit for it? That Wallis, as a Christian, doesn’t spend more time on that inescapable fact – that his brothers and sisters in Christ were instrumental and unique in ending slavery – should be concerning to all Christians who seek racial harmony in the church.
As part of the promotional tour for his new book,America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, Jim Wallis conducted an interview with Religion News Service (RNS) to discuss the content and thesis of his book. The interview touched on why Wallis wrote his latest book in addition to a number of other issues including, oddly enough, reparations.
As mentioned in my review of America’s Original Sin, I think Wallis’ definition and “proof” of racism, including his approach to ending – or at the very least, mitigating the practice and effect(s) of racial discrimination – are shortsighted and thoroughly one-directional. For Wallis, and other Christians who share his perspective on race, the task of ending racism and minimizing racial disparities – the mere existence of which, despite any and all nonracial variables that blacks contribute to these disparities – is the sole responsibility of white people.
In my view, this assessment is condescending as it stigmatizes all blacks with the narrative of perpetual helplessness. It places blacks in continual need of white intervention to do for blacks what blacks are, as the narrative intends, incapable of doing themselves. But it also maligns all white people, including white Christians, as racists who are fully invested in the maintenance of white supremacy and “privilege,” regardless of any and all actions that contradict such disparagement. To view blacks as lacking ingenuity and self-determination, while castigating all whites as racial supremacists bent on the continued racial subjugation of blacks, offends common sense and isn’t very Christian.
During the interview, Wallis takes several steps further away from common sense but more importantly, away from a Christian-infused platform that leads to racial reconciliation. Wallis’ perspective does very little to help the church, or the country, transcend racial divisiveness. As a matter of fact, I think much of what he’s encouraging Christians to do actually increases white resentment and contributes to black grievance entitlement, neither of which has offered anything meaningful to the “conversation on race.” Christians should want serious and consequential conversations about what the church can and should do to overcome racial bigotry where it exists, not wasting time with the pretense of looking busy while accomplishing very little or nothing at all.
The answers Wallis gives during the course of this interview, similar to much of what’s written in his book, gives the impression that Wallis seeks applause and congratulations for saying the right things about “racial justice,” rather than contributing to the much needed, difficult and honest conversations that both black and white Christians need to hear in our pursuit of racial unity.
For example, when Wallis was asked about why racism is the central problem in America, Wallis responded in part by saying:
“When privilege and punishment are the results of skin color, our stated values and culturally captive religion are revealed as our greatest hypocrisies. And the marginalization of people of color in our society, including millions of children who remain our poorest in the world’s richest nation, would still make the biblical prophets scream.”
You know what else would make the biblical prophets scream? The millions of parents, regardless of color, doing irresponsible things that contribute to the high numbers of children living in poverty. I think the prophets would also be concerned about the numbers of black children born to irresponsible and unmarried black mothers and fathers. The biblical prophets might also express unease in regards to how our country discourages marriage among poor people, relegating the unmarried poor, including the children they will have, to a prolonged experience in poverty, supplemented by government dependence.
I agree with Wallis. There are too many children subjected to poverty in this country. But I suspect he explains this by blaming racism or some other external forces rather than, at the very least, a combination of both external forces and individual choices and behaviors.
Wallis offers the obligatory lament of “privilege and punishment being the results of skin color” to explain and condemn the racial demographics of those imprisoned. But his complaint doesn’t carry much weight. So “privilege” and “punishment” have nothing to do with attitudes, thoughts, ideas and behaviors of those deserving of each?
In this distorted worldview, whites have privilege only because they’re white and blacks are punished only because their black. What privilege do poor whites in West Virginia, Mississippi and Oklahoma have that Asian Americans or African immigrants don’t? Reducing privilege and punishments to skin color and nothing else is silly and insults the intelligence of those listening.
As a parenthetical, I don’t understand this trend of using the phrase “people of color” in reference to blacks and other minorities. Notwithstanding word order, this is the same as referring to minorities, specifically blacks, as “colored people.” This is part of the incoherency of the racial language used by the political and religious Left. “People of color” is noble and virtuous, but “colored people” is an epithet.
Interestingly and confusingly, Wallis was asked about the idea of paying reparations to blacks.