are we a racist country?

“… A hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic — and if they looked a certain way, they were inferior. Today, kids again are being taught that the color of their skin defines them — and if they look a certain way, they’re an oppressor. From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal. You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country…”

In arguably the most talked about presidential joint address, contemporary rebuttal, the words of Sen. Tim Scott made us think.

To be clear, if you stopped by this day looking for a binary answer to the above question, allow me to immediately dispel your expectations. A binary choice answer is insufficient and incomplete. In fact, when we create binary choices — yes/no, racist/anti-racist, for-me/against-me, for example — we are ignoring the complexity of the issue.

Let’s discuss a bit further — as I believe this to be profoundly significant. Books have been promoted and popularized which are solely a series of binary choices. My sobered sense is such is a precarious gambit. 

When we reduce the sensitive, complex issue of racism to a binary choice, we are simplifying the issue. The binary disregards the validity of another. It assumes different perspective equates to either wrong or at best, an incomprehensible outlier. It ignores aspects and experience that don’t fit with our individual paradigm. And when we ignore what doesn’t fit, we fail to engage in the hard work of comprehending the difficult — the totality of the issue. We attempt to cut short the conversation… even though conversations make us think. We saw this in response to Sen. Scott.

With such a well-delivered message that the country is fascinatingly still talking about, pundits and personalities have had to find a way to deal with what Scott actually said… “Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants. It’s too important.”

And then, with few better ways to concisely say it, the name calling went nuts. The demeaning, schooling, awful Twitter tweeting went rampant. Targeting Scott.

I get it. His perspective doesn’t fit in the paradigm of many. That’s legitimate; the name calling is not.

But simply because Scott’s perspective may not fit with mine, it doesn’t make his nor my paradigm wrong; it doesn’t make it right either. It shows that multiple perspectives exist. As one who wants to grow in comprehension, I need to examine more than my or a likeminded perspective.

Those perspectives can be examined via conversation — interactive, respectful dialogue; those conversations prompt people to grow, opinions to expand, and hearts to change. Unfortunately, however, we have created paradigms that encourage us to cut short the conversation. That’s why the Intramuralist respected Scott’s message — the fact that he challenged the binary choice; he actually changed the conversation.

Note how the conversation changed the very next day…

On “Good Morning America,” Vice President Kamala Harris was asked if we’re a racist country. “No, I don’t think America is a racist country,” said Harris.

On “Today” a bit later, to Pres. Joe Biden: is America racist country? “I don’t think the American people are racist,” said the President.

Biden, Harris, and Scott each added more; none claimed racism to be nonexistent. They each acknowledged there is work to do and reform and healing that needs to be examined and take place.

But how the work is done, how reform is crafted, and how healing can effectively ensue will never result from shutting down conversation, shaming another, or by not even allowing another to think the way they do. 

Quick question: how many hearts have been changed via social media when one person opines, another respectfully chimes in with contrary perspective, and the original poster’s tribe members then jump in, swiftly bashing the perceived contrarian? How many are moved to change their opinion when the masses make sure another knows they are wrong?

The best conversations I have, friends — the interactions that make me grow, sharpen and make me think the most — are often with people who hold a different perspective than me… Please, Lord, let me never be so stuck in my own opinion…

Unquestionably, there are great questions in what work, reform and healing look like in regard to how race has affected our country, the progress that’s been made, and what healthy, God-honoring next steps look like. But the way the answers to those questions will actually be effective is by first allowing the conversation to occur.