I have always struggled with responding to racist people. With the ever-growing use of the internet and the generally unrestrained nature of communication over it, my struggle has only worsened as I have become exposed to even more hate. Having lived in many different places, I have come to appreciate that racism has many facets. However, at its core is a simple belief: that other races are inferior to others and have natural inadequacies and flaws. For example, racist non-black people generally believe black people are dumber, more short-sighted, lazier and more violent than other people. When I hear or read such things, my immediate reaction is always a feeling of anger and an urge to try to refute these claims using clearly laid out and logically sound arguments. Yet, no matter how many times I do that, I never feel satisfied or better. I am solely lured into a draining cycle of hurt and disappointment.
While on a good day I can slam down any racist individual through debate, even then I never seem to make any ground with him/her or, indeed, with myself. A racist person could say I am stupid because of my skin colour. I could turn that argument on its head, and say that a supposedly more ‘civilized’ and ‘enlightened’ individual who thinks that mere skin pigmentation and variant bone structure could possibly render an individual inherently inferior to another, is him/herself equally stupid. But where does this really get me? Nowhere. Have you ever debated with somebody, and you were so convinced that you were right, but he/she just couldn’t concede? And then you suddenly realized the futility of it all and just let it go? If you have, you are very familiar with the dynamics of a debate with racist people. The outcome is usually the same: hurt, disappointment, and anger.
But I just had an epiphany.
A mental vision of Martin Luther King Jr flashed through my mind recently. It happened while I was at church, and there is a great significance to that.
As a Christian, I sometimes receive the same vitriol that I am subjected to as a black person. “Christians are simple-minded, backward, and primitive,” is a common one. “They believe in fairy tales and myths,” is another. Again, my immediate reaction here is to become a Christian apologist and to very quickly become embroiled in arguments about scientific laws and the origin of the world. Very soon after that I get to the point where I cannot really convince anyone about the validity of the Christian message, and neither can I be convinced otherwise. I reach another dead end. Even though defending Christianity and defending my skin colour are two different things, there are lessons from the one that can be applied to the other.
When I read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, having heard all about the book’s brilliance, I was struck by its simplicity and power as a Christian apologetic piece. As I read it, I realized that while it would utterly be demolished even in an introductory philosophy class, it was still very effective. I think I realize why: The book simply did not take the classic ‘disinterested’ angle – a common concept in the ‘rational’ circles where a person can supposedly rid himself of all feelings and partiality when debating a matter. “Do not put your heart into it,” they say. To think of it, honestly, a human being is never completely disinterested or ‘objective’ – ever. People want rational proof that there exists a ‘God’ who has set down laws for mankind to live by. I do not have a ‘rational proof.’ Mere Christianity does not have one. But that book will not convince you by appealing to your reason or intellect. It will move your heart. Not the delicate organ that pumps blood through your body. But the heart that makes you human.
Racism – much like atheism – can use clever-sounding and condescending rhetoric to prop up its thinly-veiled ugliness against opposing views, but it is only a sand castle that can sometimes crumble under the tides of…
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr
…love – that ultimate irrationality. Love is what overcomes racism. I am not saying that a racist person will miraculously become non-racist through love. I am saying that love is the best weapon against racism. Indeed, it is quite an irrational proposition: To love a person who sees a kaffir/nigger in me? A person who says I am primitive? A person who thinks black people are animals? A person who believes black people screw up everything? Yes, to love that person. To start seeing that person as merely a victim: a victim of a powerful force of hate at work in this world, constantly reinforced my institutionalized illusions of superiority and inferiority. To feel sorry for a racist person – a victim of self or otherwise inflicted sores of hate and insecurity. To feel sorry for the soul that hates the very expression of black pride. To fight hate with love. To drive away hate with love.
I have silently cringed at friends saying things that make me feel ashamed of my skin. I have felt like tearing out the very skin that some people have verbally attacked me for. I have felt uneasy seeing fellow black people fighting racism with racism. I have felt angry. I have felt hurt. I have felt sad. I have asked God why. I have done that many, many times.
I am tired.
I want to love. I want to ignore and smile. I want to pity the racist. I want to love the racist. I want to love myself. As I am. As God made me.
title image from http://readyforlife.kera.org