Trayvon, Racism, and a Double-Edged Knife

*Posted by Joe Wooddell

I am saddened by the Trayvon Martin case. (Recall that Trayvon Martin died Feb. 26, 2012 allegedly by a gunshot wound inflicted by George Zimmerman.) I am also saddened by the racial divide in the United States. Since the facts of the case are still emerging (and since this post has very little to do with those facts), I shall postpone my own judgment. Along with Martin Luther King Junior, however, I long for a day when we are judged not on the color of our skin, but on the content of our character. Lord, hasten that day. In the mean time, racism is still alive and well in many places, which is a shame.

Listening to a call-in radio show the other day I heard a self-identified African-American man accusing the host of allowing the hosts race (white) to color (pardon the pun) the hosts view of the Trayvon Martin case. The caller basically accused the host of being unable to see the facts of the case objectively, because the host is white. The caller then implied that all white people are similar in this regard. That is, white people inevitably see the Trayvon Martin case through their own racist worldview, thus biasing their judgment. The host responded, So you think I see the case in a biased way, simply because Im white? Yes, replied the caller.

Thankfully, the host had the good sense to ask the obvious follow-up question: Do you think you see the Trayvon case in a biased way because you are black? No, replied the caller; I see it as a human being. When pressed, the caller admitted he might see things a little bit differently because he is black, but not nearly as biased as white people. When pressed further, the caller contended that he had a personal stake in cases such as Trayvons, because the callers brother had been murdered in 1974 in a racially charged incident. The host then rightly noted that such a personal stake potentially makes the caller more biased, not less.

Doubtless there are white people (and people of other races) who engage in the same sort of poor reasoning as the caller. In fact, I have known some. This is unfortunate. What the caller failed to realize is that, in accusing the host of inevitably being racist because he is white, the caller also was accusing himself of inevitably being racist because he is black. The racism knife cuts both ways. I cannot reasonably accuse you of being racist or biased because of your race, without also accusing myself of being racist or biased because of my own race; unless, of course, theres some good reason to think one race is inherently more objective (or less racist or biased) than others. If this is my contention, however that one race is, in fact, more objective (less biased) than others, simply because of the race itself then that notion itself becomes racist! Im more objective simply because Im white, black, etc. amounts to nothing more than I am superior to you simply because of my race, which of course is a racist notion.

We would be fools to think race never plays into the way we think of ourselves or others, but believers should prayerfully attempt to think less and less in this fashion. This is part of what Jesus was getting at in His command to love not only God but neighbor as well, including Samaritans.

Considering all of the above, I am making two points: first, no one is inherently more or less biased simply because of his race; second, God commands us to act lovingly toward all races. And while I have not actually argued for one further point, I would add that it is both desirable and possible to be reasonable, clear-headed, and more objective, not only about the Trayvon Martin case, but about anything at all. At least three things will help a person toward these ends: broad-based knowledge, good critical thinking skills, and a virtuous character transformed by the supernatural power of God through Christ.

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