prescription for racism, our chronic affliction|
Sept. 14, 2006
The Rev. Chester Jones
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Chester R. Jones*
Recent and ongoing incidents of racial bigotry and stereotypes reported and
portrayed in the media, particularly targeting racial and ethnic minorities
and immigrants, are poisoning the atmosphere and values of the United
States, while injuring the dignity and humanity of all people.
It is past time to stop this sinful insanity. But can we?
Lately, we?ve had to endure a series of hurtful racial-ethnic insults and
apologies by embarrassed public figures who, admittedly, should have known
Actor-director Mel Gibson, when arrested in a drunken rage, accused Jews of
Sen. George Allen of Virginia, at a campaign rally, called a young man of
Indian descent a ?macaca,? a species of monkey, although Allen claims his
gaffe was unwitting.
And former congressman, mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, a civil
rights icon, bitterly criticized Jewish, Korean and Arab merchants,
seemingly en masse, for exploiting low-income, African-American communities
by charging high prices for inferior goods and then taking their profits
home with them.
These gentlemen ? and they are not alone ? could have benefited from my
grandmother?s wisdom about using common sense, which she defined as ?that
sense which keeps all the other senses from acting a fool.?
In each case, public shock and dismay led to swift, contrite and multiple
apologies along with attempts to contain the public relations damage
unleashed by obsessive media coverage.
Such indiscretions usually reap consequences: Gibson lost some fans and,
ironically, a Holocaust-themed movie deal. Allen, a future presidential
aspirant, may lose votes. And Young, who described a real problem but sinned
in specifying and stereotyping its alleged culprits, lost a job he probably
never should have had: promoting the intrusion of Wal-Mart stores ? with
their low wages and lack of health insurance ? into inner-city black
These foolish faux pas have become achingly familiar to watch, and the
apologies are wearing thin. What also wears thin are the dubious denials by
transgressors that their errant statements manifest what they actually feel
Where is the balm?
Fear, ignorance, envy, chauvinistic pride ? these and other learned human
flaws can fuel bigotry and, when empowered, can catalyze the sin of
oppression. It is a sad part of who we are as a nation ? past, present and
But, to paraphrase the prophet Jeremiah, where is the balm in our modern-day
Gilead that can heal the sin-sick soul? Where do the sin and insanity stop,
and how can healing begin?
It begins with honesty, with offering a shining example of true insight,
confession and repentance because the truth can set anyone free, including
anyone suffering from racial bigotry and prejudice.
Sen. George Allen
It begins with the invocation of that popular but largely unheeded scripture
from Micah 6:8: ?What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love
kindness and walk humbly with your God??
Truth, repentance, justice, kindness, humility: these divinely prescribed
Christian values offer an effective antidote to our human flaws and to the
sickness of racial bigotry and oppression, if we would only nurture and
employ them in our public and private expressions and our dealings with one
Racial insults will continue to surprise and vex us, as long as there are
loosened tongues, exploitive political and economic agendas, backlash
against what some misname ?political correctness,? and misguided passions
around such high-stakes issues as immigration and national security. My fear
is that these slings and arrows of outrageous behavior may become
commonplace, and we may become inured to them.
After decades of struggle, we are only beginning to see progress in the
fight against sports teams and mascots that purport to honor Native
Americans but actually insult them instead. I commend our United Methodist
Commission on General Conference and NCAA college basketball officials for
setting examples of long-overdue respect and compassion for the dignity of
Still, other battles challenge us now or loom on the horizon. To no one?s
surprise, the recent congressional field hearings inviting public dialogue
on immigration policies exposed more hostility aimed at the immigrants who
cross the southwest U.S. border.
What the hearings did not yield were any viable, humane solutions. The worst
outbursts, crudely echoed by several despicable political campaign ads, were
those that irrationally linked undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin
America with our fear of foreign terrorists slipping across our borders to
do us harm. Such targeted paranoia can only leave innocent victims and
distract us from attending to legitimate security concerns and defending
ourselves against real terrorists.
Now comes word that the popular TV show ?Survivor? will is beginning its new
season this month with a format that pits white, African-American,
Asian-American and Hispanic ?tribes? against each other in a contest to
become the last tribe standing. The show?s producers are desperate to find a
plot device that will keep viewers tuned in, but this risky and uncreative
ploy may instead heighten racial tensions, chauvinism and separatism among
Again I ask, where does the sin and insanity stop, and where can healing
Churches must shine light
Maybe the answer will come when individuals, families, coworkers and
churches ? especially churches ? begin to dissect comments and controversies
to grasp their true meanings and motivations. Then they can examine the
inherent flaws in character and logic and find the lessons that can dispel
the darkest intents and impulses with the light of truth and reason.
Let us forgive but not forget because each racial faux pas represents an
opportunity to stop and work on the problem, to fix the missteps, and maybe
even change the dance so that we can stop tripping over ourselves.
Our congregations should take the lead in a new movement of change. They
should study and interpret Micah 6:8 prayerfully and exhaustively, and
strive to apply it to their every thought, word and deed. Then they should
use it as a plumb line to judge and correct every racial expression they
encounter in private or public, face to face or through the media.
We at the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race have resources
that can help churches in this effort, and we are eager to share them.
It is time to move in rhythm with our multiple partners to dance the sure
steps that God has choreographed for us as God?s people. It is time to move
from being mere spectators to being students who learn and live and then
teach Micah?s prescription for all people.
It is a simple but challenging prescription that bears repeating to public
figures and the public at-large: ?Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly
with your God.?
*Jones is top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or
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