On Racism & Other Indifferences

It’s easy to ignore what we’re not familiar with. We maintain comfortable indifferences to what we don’t understand or can’t explain. We see the world through our specific filters and assume everybody should think the way we think. If we take a real look at some of the issues that plague our communities, it usually boils down to this one thought: We live too indifferently and too selfishly.

This pervasive way of thinking affects the religious and non-religious, where people in both camps and others between either, construct world-views that justify their way of life. As a Christian, I have a tendency to do this as well. So I constantly ask myself questions of why I think the way I think and do the things I do.

I watched a TED Talk on racism by Mellody Hobson, and it’s caused me to think a little bit deeper on racism and other indifferences I live with on a daily basis.

For the longest time, I’ve been pro-life. I believe that human life begins in the womb, not when a baby is born. You won’t find me picketing abortion clinics or railing against pro-choice proponents. But that is what I believe and stand for. I can get indifferent as a Christian when all I care about is that one stance, and then completely ignore the peripheral issues that speak into such a layered issue like abortion.

One of those layered issues is the orphans of our time — children in the foster care system. As a parent now, I’ve had a number of conversations with my wife about possibly being foster parents and maybe even adopting someday. Those conversations haven’t gone very far, because I’ve been hesitant to take another child into our home and deal with the possible ramifications of that. Basically I didn’t want to deal with the messiness of raising a child that wasn’t my own.

My church has done an amazing job of reaching out to the foster care system in Portland. I’m seeing what is happening as a result of our continued efforts, and it’s been chipping away at my indifference. Foster kids are our modern-day orphans, without fathers and mothers, they move from house to house and are dependent on the government to make sure they are well-taken care of.

As a Jesus-follower, my stance on abortion demands that I have open arms of compassion to children who don’t have the privilege of having mothers and fathers. If I am passionate about the one issue, I need compassion for the other.

Just this last week, it came out that Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team, made discriminatory statements about black people. Granted his private conversation was illegally recorded, and said recording was made public, it turned the sports-world on its head. Most sports commentators were quick to speak out against Sterling. A couple days into the whole ordeal, there was enough public outrage that many were calling for the guy’s head.

In all the muck-up of what went down, the best piece I read was by a former basketball player who had the courage to ask some hard questions and not just crucify someone for their blatant racism.

It’s actually quite easy to point the finger at someone for what they’ve said or done something wrong, and ignore the fingers pointing back at our own hypocrisy or indifference to racism. You have to be much more nuanced and careful when you put into practice the standards you preach to others. That is what I felt was lost in the varying conversations about race through the Sterling fiasco. It was interesting hearing multiple sides of the same story.

Some felt like this was another attack on white males in America, and that minorities were merely side-tracked in their disdain for this man. Many people I know believe that racism isn’t an issue anymore. We have a black president and racism is long dead. The same people who think this way, have never been randomly searched by cops, or racially discriminated against in the workplace, or have ever been treated unfairly because of their skin color. They’ve never felt what it means to be a minority in America, and how much minorities have to overcome.

Others felt like Sterling was the worst person on the face of the earth. They were quick to say that this man needed to go away, and that the NBA should take back ownership of his team. They believed swift and harsh punishment was necessary to rid the league of this man. The same people who believe this to be true, believe that most people who aren’t like them are racists, and believe that people who think that way are evil and backward, all the while completely disregarding the personal experiences and stories that crystalized those perspectives in those very people.

I have a number of friends who to my face have said, “Ashish when I look at you, I don’t see color.” When I was younger, I believed this to be my ticket of acceptance and belonging. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that these and other racial micro-aggressions make up much of what a majority-cultural sub-group forces upon minority-cultural sub-groups.

I’ve been quick to not affirm that statement any more, and equally slow to pass judgment on my friends who talk this way. Sometimes though, the frustration boils over and I distance myself, and I’m reminded that I don’t completely fit into a world where I will always be a minority.

There’s been a rallying cry to end modern-day slavery. It’s been a drumbeat for some time now, and many groups, organizations, and churches have jumped on the bandwagon. So many people have joined the fight to end slavery.

I don’t know what it was, but I never completely came around to processing the issue and galvanizing myself to it. It might have been my own compassion fatigue, but I was so weary of jumping onto another bandwagon of social awareness and blanketing my social media feeds with another thing to rally support.

I remember watching as people had so much to Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram about ending modern day slavery. If I were to be completely honest, I didn’t really see anything come of it. I wanted to join in on the crusade, but as I looked carefully, it seemed that most social justice campaigns really were just awareness campaigns that empowered and propped up those who led the charge; and most everyone else joined the cause, to feel good about themselves and appease their social-justice-awareness-conscience.

I confess I have a jaded view… but I’m beginning to realize my own indifference and numbness to something that affects so many. I realize now more than ever, that modern day slavery is a real issue just like so many others, and however hypocritical or short-sighted certain social justice campaigns may be, they do bring to light specific issues that we need to start talking about.

As Christians some of us choose to defiantly bulldoze our way through injustices and prejudices and force the issue. Others of us choose to ignore it and pretend we live in a world that has moved on. There are elements of right and wrong on both sides of any given issue, and more than ever what we need is an open and honest dialogue. We need people who have humility and candor, and are willing to talk, not people who simply discredit and further indifference within our religious ranks.

It used to be that whenever issues of poverty, social injustice, inequality, prejudice, or suffering came up, that Christians were the first to initiate change. I still feel that we are quick to respond, but we are often unwise in our response. When it comes to the issues relating to war, poverty, economic-inequality, LGBT issues, same-sex marriage, divorce, foster-care, blended-families, racism, modern-day-slavery…etc., we often find ourselves numb and unable to process each carefully and critically. We might be well-versed in one and completely dumbfounded with all others; and this is to be expected. We are quick to throw stones, and slow to realize our own hypocrisy while we throw them.

I am left with a simple thought… I don’t have to have all the answers in the world, I just have to be willing to face what comes my way with openness, honesty and humility. I have to work through the criticism that comes my way, and be quick to remove blind spots that affect how I think or live.

You might be wondering where all of this is heading, and if you’re still reading this long post, you’re probably also wanting something out of this…

If I were to sum it all up this is where I’ve landed:

  1. If our Christianity doesn’t demand us to stand up for the powerless, the downtrodden, or the unlovely, it is a pharasaical religion at best, and unlike anything Jesus ever taught or supported. When the message of Jesus only props up the powerful and well-connected, it maintains status quo and loses the prophetic impulse to animate the scandal of the gospel, which is the irresistible grace of God.
  2. Every story is unique and special and good. Some people’s stories have more joy than pain, and others more pain than joy. Through it all, we have to remember that behind every story are layers of emotions, feelings, contradictions, beliefs, and actions. We have to be honest about our own stories and have grace and love for the stories we come across.
  3. Don’t make the mistake of believing everyone else should think like you do. Choose instead to embrace people’s unique stories and point them to Jesus. A community’s ability to empathize is enhanced by its diversity and willingness to see from another’s perspective.
  4. Our silence or indifference to the injustice or brokenness or suffering around us, keeps us numb to the beauty and wonder of God’s work of redemption. If we believe in a God who redeems broken lives and took our place on a Cross for sin, then we have to see the world through the eyes of his redemption.

I’ll finish this extremely long post by asking you to read Romans 12. It beautifully sums up how we should bedo and interact as Jesus followers.

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