People are getting energized about the idea of a brown Jesus, it seems. This question is a lot more complicated people expect it to be, for several reasons. Don't expect that all of your assumptions about this discussion are true. They probably are not.
1. There is a long, fact-challenged tradition within European art that presented Jesus as blond-haired and blue-eyed and within film using English actors with a similar look. This tradition is almost certainly incorrect, for two reasons. Even today, people from the Middle-East do not tend to look like that. Furthermore, it was probably even less that way 2000 years ago than it is now, because there has been more genetic mixing between the people of the Middle-East and Europeans since then, not less.
2. There is a long, fact-challenged tradition within liberation theology that called Jesus black for political reasons. It was an attempt to distance Jesus from his historical origins in order to deny whiteness a place in its reframing of Christianity that traditional Christians have long resisted because of its denial of biblical theology. The particular claim of a black Jesus is hardly what's really wrong with liberation theology, in my view. Its theological claims are the real problem. But nevertheless the idea of calling Jesus black is a big part of how liberation theology distanced itself from the theological tradition, and many hear something like that in this.
But even aside from the historical political context, the actual words themselves are not unambiguously or obviously true or false. There are several reasons I say that:
Our advent sermons this year are from Isaiah 59-60, and this week we are starting with the first half of chapter 59. (I know this isn't the first week of advent, but we were working through Genesis and had to finish chapter 50 last week.)
One thing that stood out to me about this week's passage is the progression of pronouns in Isaiah 59. The prophet starts out in verses 1-3 speaking in the second person. "Your iniquities have separated you from your God" and "have hidden his face from you." He speaks to the people about their own sin and its effect on them. At this stage he is accusing them, and he is not part of what he is criticizing. They do this.
He then shifts to third person in verses 4-8. At this point no one calls for justice. They give empty arguments, speak lies, conceive of trouble, are quick to shed innocent blood, and walk paths without justice. No one who walks in their ways will know peace. He isn't just accusing others now. He's talking about an objective situation, without placing himself in it our outside it. He's noting something that is true.
Then we see a shift to the first person in verses 9-13. "Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows." He speaks of his own people, him included, as if they collectively walk around blindly and mourning, looking for justice and deliverance but not finding it.
But verse 12 shifts to an explanation. "For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities." Rebellion against God, oppression, revolt, and lies are in the same breath given as the reasons why "we" end up with the effect of verses 14-15. Justice is driven back, righteousness pushed off at a distance, truth stumbling in the streets, honesty unable to enter. "Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey."
He's still giving the effects on those around him, but he's identifying with them in their sin and collectively recognizing that it's not just some other group of evildoers that he is calling out. We are all in this group. And when he calls for justice, the reason it's not happening is because of the doing of injustice that he is also participating in.
You might argue that he's just collectively identifying with his fellow Jews the way Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel do in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9 when they weren't committing the sins of the people but were still offering prayers of collective repentance for the people they belonged to. But I think this is different. Ezra didn't commit the sin of marrying pagans who didn't worship God that he was lamenting. Daniel didn't bow to the idols around him in Babylon. Yet they collectively repented as a way to lead their people to repent.
But the things Isaiah is dealing with here, though not all sins we all commit, includes things that he and any other generally righteous people in his time, were complicit in. So even though he starts out pointing out the sins of others and describing the effects on them, none of that false, he ends up identifying with it enough to describe it as something true of "us" in a way that leads him to express public and collective repentance that he seeks those around him to join with him in. And then he says that the reason they have not experienced the justice that they now long for (which they started out not even wanting) was because of their own injustice.
If, as I think is true, the presentation of the prophecy of Isaiah should be taken at face value, and it was actually composed by Isaiah himself in the 8th century looking forward to a time much later when the Jewish people were living in exile in Babylon, then there are even more interesting implications of this. Isaiah is here identifying with not just his own generation of God's people in their current rebellion but with the future rejection of God's ways by a generation that he isn't even part of. His notion of collective responsibility and group identity is that strong, which speaks volumes about how easily we get away from those notions with Western individualism. And all of this is compatible with recognizing that in one very important way we really are responsible for what we ourselves do. That runs all through this (and through the other collective repentance prayers of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel).
And it's also jarring to many of our sensibilities, where we like to think of things in an oppressor/oppressed binary, to see God's prophet speaking to oppressed people and telling them that one chief reason why they are oppressed is that they are themselves complicit in injustice, and then he has his prophet communicating this identify with them in that injustice, as much as he also seeks in that identifying to offer a prayer of repentance for them to turn from that injustice and experience the fruits of righteousness and peace.
It's hard for me to read this passage and think anyone in our current setting (politically left or right) should come away from this feeling comfortable about themselves. If they do, they are either rejecting its teaching or not understanding it.
Three episodes into the Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power, it's very clear that the writers of this show are trying to capture the central theological framework of Tolkien in their story. Tolkien's view of providence and the portrayal of the faithful remnant in Numenor is simply getting him right, at least so far. I was expecting this to be completely insensitive to Tolkien's major themes, perhaps even contradicting them, as Peter Jackson did numerous times in his original trilogy (less so in the Hobbit, ironically, given how much more hate there is from Tolkien fans about that). I could list numerous things:
1. Aragorn as reluctant king rather than biding his time for the right moment to assume his rightful throne while working behind the scenes to meet his kingly responsibilities, as in the books
2. Eowyn as seeking the second-wave feminist goal of trying to make women be like men rather than Tolkien's view of recognizing differences between men and women as something to affirm in women as equally good to any virtues more typical of men
3. Faramir's reduction to being a second-rate Boromir rather than the faithful remnant within Gondor who valued the right things
4. the Ents' motives for helping at Helm's Deep being presented as a hasty decision, completely contrary to their character
5. the presence of any elves besides Legolas at Helm's Deep running contrary to the entire theme in Tolkien of the elves in the Third Age largely hiding and avoiding the evil that was on the rise
I don't see anything as egregiously offensive as that in this show.
Some are upset that this show has been forced into inventing their own details to fill in, because the Tolkien estate refuses to let them use Tolkien's actual second-age materials outside the appendices, but that is the fault of Tolkien's heirs, not the creators of this show. What matters more is whether it is consistent with the world Tolkien gives us, and so far it mostly is. And what matters even more than that is whether the moral and theological framework is compatible with Tolkien's, and it seems from the third episode that they are actually trying hard to get it right.
Now there are a few things they could do to alienate Tolkien fans that I sure hope they do not do. If Meteor Man turns out to be any of the Istari other than Alatar or Pallando (or whichever other names Tolkien used -- I know there are several versions, and one version does have them appearing in the Second Age), then there is reason to be outraged. I think he is more likely to be Sauron than Gandalf, though, but we'll see.
If they don't follow through on the promise they have made that this is a transformation of a very imperfect Galadriel into what we see in the Lord of the Rings story, then that would be bad. But I am taking them at their word on this and thinking the claims of critics are simply premature. This is the Galadriel who becomes that Galadriel, and these experiences will serve to explain why she would know herself well enough to think Frodo's offer of the ring to her would play to all her bad tendencies. They have to had existed sometime in her long life for that whole scene in the Lord of the Rings to make sense.
Some I see are complaining that the show is woke, which of course is a stupid term at this point in its unclarity and lack of precision. I can think of a couple things that the now-orthodox social justice movement in our society wants to see that this show is doing, but they seem hardly concerning to any healthy conservative on social justice issues. There might be some issues on faithfulness to Tolkien's world, but I'm conflicted on that, even.
I've been paying attention to what I am seeing about the Dobbs case on social media, but I've had some time today to do some reading of the opinions and figure out which things people are saying are actually true. I'm seeing some real ignorance about how the Supreme Court works and about the legal issues in the Dobbs case. We live in a time where there is a grand tradition of social media activists who don't know very much about the issues they are commenting on but still feel like they need to further their own and everyone else's ignorance by chiming in on things they don't understand, and you end up with lots of hot takes that don't reflect reality. There is a good deal of misrepresentation of what the decision does and what some of the concurring and dissenting opinions actually say. Here are a few things I think need to be recognized.
1. Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, distinguishes between the abortion issue and other cases of privacy rights that served as a basis for the original Roe decision and the Casey case that partially overturned Roe while partially upholding it. Those other privacy rights, says Alito, do not involve one important thing that sets this issue apart. That one important thing is called "potential life" by Roe and Casey and actual unborn life (the more scientifically honest term) by the law at issue in Dobbs. You don't have that issue with any of the other cases that served as a basis for Roe's use of substantive due process. I also note that Justice Thomas signed on to this decision in full, which means he also recognizes that. The justices are often willing to say when they sign on to all of a decision except for one small part. He didn't say he disagreed with any of the decision. In fact, he said he agreed with all of it. He isn't denying privacy rights in other cases. But more on that in the next point.
2. Justice Thomas, in his concurrence, points out that those other cases rely on substantive due process. He indicates, as he has been doing since he first got onto the Supreme Court, that he is willing to consider overturning the entire substantive due process framework, because it is completely at odds with what due process in the 14th Amendment actually was about. To present that as threatening to overturn cases truly misunderstands how the court works. He isn't proposing legislation. He's simply affirming a principle that he has argued for his entire career, that substantive due process is a fictional notion not grounded in the Constitution and should be revisited. This is not actually even news. It's his longstanding view.
3. Also, it is worth pointing out what Justice Thomas does not in fact say. He does not say that he would overturn those cases in their result. He explicitly denies that, in fact. He says that the substantive due process ground in such cases needs to be reconsidered, because there is no constitutional notion of substantive due process. Rather, the privileges and immunities clause is what needs further investigation to see if that clause can ground such rights. And he does not forecast an opinion about whether it does. He says it needs investigation. He has signaled that he is open to seeing lots of rights assumed in that clause that are not explicit in the Constitution. What you would have to look to is where the framers of the 14th Amendment got such language and what rights they thought the notion involved. He has argued in some dissents that there are some such rights. He has long thought that the court should be considering that question, and they consistently ignore him. But some of the younger justices have shown more interest in that. Perhaps now is the time they will follow his lead in that. In any case, he is simply reiterating his view here that they ought to be turning to that clause in future cases and not allowing cases that were wrongly decided on the basis of substantive due process to have any place as a precedent for future decisions. To see this as a call for the Supreme Court to declare contraception illegal or to decide out of the blue to roll back the current status quo on same-sex marriage is just nonsense. He is saying no such thing. The people who are saying that do not understand his long-time view on this or the particular opinion he wrote for this case.
4. Also on the reasoning of Justice Thomas' concurrence: I have seen people claim that Thomas, to be consistent, should have included the Loving v. Virginia decision, suggesting that it also relies on some of the stuff that Roe later relied on, and if you question the precursors of Roe-like rights you also have to overturn that decision. But of course Thomas is in an interracial marriage, so they are claiming that pure self-interest leads him not to include that. The most obvious problem with this take, other than its extreme lack of charity, is that Loving v. Virginia does not solely or even mainly rely on substantive due process. It relies mainly on equal protection, which is a different clause in the 14th Amendment. Bans on interracial marriage violate the equal protection clause, and they would do so regardless of whether substantive due process view continues to operate or whether we return to a more historical view of what due process is. That is why he does not mention it.
5. I also think a couple points in the concurrence by Justice Kavanaugh are worth noting. He says that a constitutional right exists to disallow bans of abortion without exceptions for saving the life of the mother. He cites Justice Rehnquist's dissent to Roe for evidence that conservatives on the court have always had such a view. Presuming that at least Chief Justice Roberts agrees with him (and I suspect others do too), there are at least five votes, then, probably more, to overturn any ban on abortion that does not have an exception in the case of saving the mother's life. It's in fact likely that all nine justices accept a right to self-defense as the ground for that. That right is clearly in the second amendment, according to the Heller decision that I'm quite sure at least six of the justices on this court agree with.
6. Kavanaugh also says that a right to travel in the Constitution bans any laws against banning travel to another state to have an abortion that would be illegal in one's own state. Assuming Chief Justice Roberts agrees, as is almost certain, that would pretty easily be five justices in support of such a view, which means no such law would survive constitutional review under this court.
7. I've seen a lot of reiteration and endorsement of Senator Susan Collins' claims that several justices lied to her in private meetings. Of course, we can't know what anyone actually said in a private meeting, but she has claimed that they reassured her that they would vote to uphold Roe if it ever got challenged. I tend to doubt that that's what they actually said, and when she has been more precise she has said something very different. She has said that they affirmed that they saw Roe as settled law, which is of course not a statement that they would always vote to uphold it.
To a legal scholar, saying that something is settled law is a contrast with being not genuinely in effect. Something that is not settled law is something that is not clearly in effect, and maybe you don't even need to follow it. Or it's not clear whether you do. Settled law does not mean it can't be overturned. It means it's the actual law in place at the moment. I would affirm that Roe was settled law until Casey, and then the parts of Roe that Casey upheld were settled law until they were overturned. But that doesn't mean its being settled law means it couldn't be overturned.
And one reason we should know that, even apart from what I've just said, is that every single one of these justices consistently stated that they would not forecast how they would vote in particular cases. And that means that they could not have meant that saying something is settled law would mean they would not vote to overturn that settled law.
The notion of stare decisis means strong consideration is given to precedents of the court, but it never means a decision can't be overturned. Different justices have different views on how strong that principle is and what it would take to overturn a particular precedent, but none of them take stare decisis as absolute. The Lawrence v. Texas decision that declared a right to sex acts between same-sex couples overturned a settled precedent in Bowers v. Hardwick. That was settled law, and stare decisis gave strong reasons not to overturn it without strong enough arguments to overcome those reasons. But the court decided there were such strong reasons, and it overturned the decision. That doesn't mean they didn't believe in stare decisis.
Any senator who doesn't realize this does not understand the principle. So assurances that they support stare decisis are, like assurances that they think Roe to be settled law, not really very clear evidence one way or the other of how they would vote in a particular case. And they all said so explicitly. They said it over and over again, because Democratic senators kept asking them about it, despite having gotten all the answers they were going to get.
So any conclusions she drew that conflict with their explicit and repeated claims were just wishful thinking on Collins' part. What she has now done is to turn around and call them liars because of her wishful thinking. And Kavanaugh actually spends a bit of time explaining the high bar needed for stare decisis and why he thinks that bar was met. He has in his opinion answered the question in very explicit terms and given detailed reasoning why he could affirm stare decisis and say that a high bar must be met to overturn Roe, all the while being willing to consider and ultimately be convinced by arguments to vote to overturn it. His opinion is publicly available for those who want to see that reasoning. In any case, the fact that he does give such reasoning shows that the claim that he lied is simply false. Anyone is free to disagree with his opinion, but don't go claiming that he has no such reasons. Any claim that he lied is in fact refuted by his actual opinion in this case.
8. The opinion by Chief Justice Roberts interestingly focuses mostly on whether the case needed to be decided so broadly. He identifies a narrower issue the court could have decided and simply left it at that. But it's worth noting that what he says about that narrower issue would substantially have eroded what Roe and Casey have allowed. Roe and Casey both considered viability the place at which states could sometimes regulate abortion, but it had an absolute prohibition on regulating abortion before that point. His opinion would have erased that point as the point that regulation can begin, but it would have not established any point after conception to replace it. It would have a replaced a point of development that is constantly moving as science advances. The viability point is thus not constant, since viability has moved earlier in the time since Roe.
But viability is relatively precise at any given time compared with what Roberts would have left us with. His incredibly vague non-answer to when states could enforce abortion restrictions is the sort of thing that is generally considered unconstitutional in Supreme Court decisions. His attempt to find a narrower spot would leave great unclarity and many continued court cases to establish what states could actually do. He seems very resistant to rolling it back to conception but very adamant that it couldn't remain at viability.
That seems weird to anyone who recognizes that the best pro-life arguments rely on the difficulty in finding any point of development to draw as a line between conception and birth for when moral status begins. There scientifically can't be any such thing. Unless you go with the view that moral status and its consequent right to life develops gradually and thus is also vague, which can then serve as a vague ground of when rights begin, the view seems incoherent. But if you look at his actual reasoning, you will see that he's actually dodging that question. He's not grounding his moving back from viability in any view about when moral status begins. (I assume he thinks it does start at conception, because he seems personally pro-life, but that's not where he goes for this question. It's quite obvious that viability can't be when moral status begins anyway, unless you want to build in a bunch of ableist assumptions about moral status. What you are capable of doing cannot be the ground of what moral status you have if people with severe disabilities have moral status. But that's a side note. That issue isn't raised in his opinion.)
Roberts doesn't ground it in moral status. He grounds it in the ability for someone to discover being pregnant and to have time to decide whether to have an abortion. His view is thus not a pro-life view at all but a pro-choice view, at least in terms of deciding when the law can ban abortions. He wants to allow some time for that, and clearly the three months of the law being considered in this case is enough time for someone in a normal situation to discover being pregnant and make that decision. So he's fine with three months, but he thinks viability is late enough that it doesn't need to be the line. Three months is enough time to discover that you are pregnant and decide to have an abortion, so why does it have to be viability? That would be a very serious revision to Roe if his view had won out. But it would be a pretty different situation than the one that did win out. I don't think a lot of the commentary I'm seeing recognizes how different his view would have been than simply upholding Roe would have been. Simply upholding Roe is not what he would have done, despite the fact that many have presented his narrower view as doing so.
This week I got through another round of going through some of the main points of John Locke's political philosophy. One theme I emphasize is how strongly Locke's views condemn slavery and in particular the kind of slavery that was going on in his own day. That's why I was so surprised this semester to encounter the view that Locke was a slavery apologist. It just so obviously did not fit his quite explicit view on the matter. Slavery is, for Locke, an example of the kind of violation of the principle of equality and autonomy that absolute monarchy violates, and absolute monarchy is his main opponent. If I enslave someone, that is by its very definition a contradiction to the principle that government requires the consent of the government. Additionally, Locke explicitly says that no human being can take another human being as property, because we are not really even self-owned, and we are all God's property, and God has not given us the right to own each other. I don't know how someone could be any clearer than Locke is about such things.
But a colleague this semester mentioned in passing something about Locke's defense of slavery, and she didn't mean his allowance for the British legal penalty in a just war where those willing to initiate an unjust war, whose penalty might be death, could be spared the death penalty in exchange for servitude, something Locke does present in his Second Treatise on Government while going on to reject the actual practice of slavery of his own day in the entire rest of that work. No, she seemed to think Locke simply agreed with the practice of slavery of his own day. I couldn't imagine how anyone could read the Second Treatise and think such a thing. He explicitly rejects that practice throughout his work.
I encounter people of all sorts fairly regularly on social media. There is a real debate about how the word "racism" should be used. I have a lot to say about that, but I'm not interested in that debate for the sake of this post. There are those who have tried to rework our categories in such a way that prejudice and discrimination are not racism. Racism is purely a structural or systemic thing. Prejudice and discrimination are bad, but they are not racism. We ought to resist them and avoid them to the extent that we can, but racism is just the institutional, structural, and systemic stuff. In their view, we should reserve the word "racism" to refer to the system itself, not the people who do it or their attitudes or actions. Thus racism can only be in one direction, the direction that society enforces with structural, systemic, and institutionally determined forces that act mostly to the advantage of white people and mostly to the disadvantage of others. I happen to think that approach to how we should use the word "racism" is wrong in a few ways, but as I said I'm not interested in that debate for the sake of this post. I'm interested in a reaction against that view that I think goes too far in the other direction.
A very common response to those who reserve the word "racism" for structural, systemic, and institutional stuff is simply to deny that there is such a thing as systemic racism. That sort of statement has been increasingly common on the right in response to what they (rightly in my view) regard as problems in how people (mostly on the left) are conceiving of racism. But what seems to me to be an overreaction is simply to deny that there is such a thing as systemic racism or to deny that it is our most serious sort of racial problem.
The idea of systemic, institutional, or structural racism goes back before the Civil Rights era. People had been calling attention to these sorts of problems well before the time of MLK. But it began to be more mainstream as people noticed that changes in laws and societal attitudes were not bringing along changes in some of the other forces that advantage or disadvantage people along race lines. MLK began to see this toward the end of his life, and he began to recognize that just getting people having the right attitudes and making changes in laws to prevent explicit and deliberate discrimination would not be sufficient to solve all of our race problems. There are systemic, structural, and institutional forces that lead to disadvantage and advantage in ways that no one intends. No one is deliberately discriminating or explicitly prejudiced. Yet disadvantage and advantage occur. The problem is in institutions, structures, and systems rather than in beliefs, desires, emotions, or actions of individual people. That is the concept of systemic racism.
On one conception of racism, the one I was raised with, the one that feels to me like how the English language actually operates, these systemic problems are simply not racism. I completely understand those who don't like to call it racism. I myself don't like to call it that. Racism is an attitude of the heart or a set of actions of individuals. But that's a linguistic issue. It's not an issue of what the world is actually like. The thing people are in fact calling systemic racism, and in fact the only thing that term has ever referred to, is real. Not only is it real, but it consists of what seem to me to be the more significant and substantial problems that we have in our society at this point. The stuff I'm inclined to call racism is becoming less present, less effective in causing real problems. Why? Because there is such a stigma attached to racism, to even being perceived as racist, that it's diminished to a much greater degree than the systemic problems have. But the systemic problems remain. And the systemic problems do trace back to racism in the classic sense, when you look hard enough and far enough. They wouldn't be present without racism having occurred.
Here's an non-racial example for anyone having trouble understanding the concept of a systemic problem. Adderall is a controlled substance. People take it when they have no condition requiring it, and people take doses that are much too high. That means it's illegal for a pharmacy to put it on auto-refill, and it's illegal even to prescribe it with refills. You have to call your doctor every month to get them to submit a new prescription. Typically, the people who are taking Adderall are the same people who have executive control issues and are going to have a harder time being organized and remembering to call about that new prescription, which places an additional burden on people who are already worse off when it comes to things like this. That results in days without the medication that helps them be more organized and attentive. No one is trying to make life harder for people with ADHD and autism who rely on this medication. That's not the point. The goal is to prevent abuse by those who don't need the medication to begin with. But because of laws designed to prevent that abuse, the people who need the medication suffer. This is what a systemic or structural problem looks like.
Are there such problems that occur along race lines? There certainly are. There are institutional, systemic, and structural forces in our society that work against people of color, some of them stronger for certain groups than for others, some of them not because of any present discrimination but just because of the effects of past discrimination (e.g. housing segregation today is not a result of present-day bank practices but because of past discrimination in mortgages and racial contracts of who could live in which neighborhoods), and there remain disparities in infrastructure, housing quality, locations of shopping or other necessities nearby, and so on. School segregation no longer has any laws forcing it, but kids tend to go to school where they live, and the quality of schools reflects the resources of the neighborhood. Together with policies like school choice, which allows enterprising parents and students to get out of the bad schools but also thereby makes the bad schools worse for those without that initiative and drive, our schools get more segregated and more disparate in quality and outcome, and that occurs along race lines. There is many careful studies that identify biases that affect law enforcement and criminal justice, disparities in health care, stigmatizations and stereotypes that affect our behavior even if we think the stereotypes are false, and so on. It should be obvious that many of these things are not racism in the classic sense, but they are the only thing that people have ever meant by terms like "systemic racism." They are disparate results that occur along race lines in ways that are predictable and systemic. The forces in our society tend to produce those results along certain lines in ways that are consistent and recurring. And these problems are much more serious than a privileged white kid using the N-word or not inviting the one black kid in the mostly white neighborhood over for a birthday party.
Now if you prefer to call these things "systemic advantage" and "systemic disadvantage" or something like that, I have great sympathies for why you might want to do that. But the fact remains that these are the only thing that terms like "structural racism" and "systemic racism" have ever meant. Words mean what they are used to mean. So those terms do in fact refer to these sorts of problems. That is so, whether you want to think of these sorts of issues as racism or not. I tend to be in the "not" category on that myself. But systemic racism is real, and those who consistently deny it are in effect denying that any of these problems are real. It does not help the cause of the political right in trying to push back against some of the excesses and unhelpful behaviors of the left on race issues if it just looks like you are denying observable facts, and that's what denials of systemic racism look like to the left. If you want to have real conversations where you engage with real people and actually try to convince them of things, to help them see that you have a legitimate point against anything they are saying, it helps to understand their view and get it right first. You are not doing that if you simply deny the reality of systemic racism and say no more. That strategy is doomed to failure. It is no wonder that they will call that strategy "white fragility" or "white supremacy," because it just looks like a desperate attempt to pretend that our most serious problems along race lines simply don't exist. Let's stop doing that, please. If you don't want to be accused of white fragility and white supremacy, then do not set yourself up to be accused of it by behaving in exactly the way the left predicts you will act. And then maybe there will be room for an actual conversation where people seek to understand each other and move forward.
One of the arguments open theists give for the view that God doesn't know the future exhaustively is that several biblical passages seem to indicate God changing his mind. This is indeed how the text is worded in several places. In Genesis 18, God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham pleads with him to spare it even if there are ten righteous people there. As it turns out, there's just one, Abraham's nephew Lot. So God still destroys it, but he spares Lot.
Matthew Franck notes [note: link is now dead, and I haven't been able to find the specific post if it's still up) that on one of Barack Obama's exam questions from when he was teaching law, he asks whether an equal protection challenge can be brought against a law requiring states to be color-blind. Franck says he knows of lots of people who think the equal protection clause requires states to be color-blind, but he hasn't encountered a serious argument anywhere that such laws violate the equal protection clause. I haven't either, but I don't read law reviews. Still, such an argument isn't hard to imagine, and I think it's actually a sound argument.
The equal protection clause entitles people of all races to equal protection of the laws. The laws therefore need to be able to rely on the distinction between members of one race and members of another if they are to ensure that each race is equally protected by them. Therefore, color-blind laws, which disallow the state from paying attention to race, violate the equal protection clause.
It sounds like a pretty good argument to me. As a policy issue, I don't mind restricting affirmative action in universities to class rather than race, or at least ensuring that the standards aren't lowered as much as they are. There's a significant argument that the way affirmative action is typically practiced in that setting (as opposed to in the workplace, which is a very different matter) seems to me to harm the people it's intended to help, given that admissions officers already go out of their way to promote diversity (so there's no discrimination to combat at that level), and it means accepting people who won't be able to do as well and then will appear less good when they graduate than they would at a lower institution with much higher grades and more time for extracurriculars. There are other negatives too, but that's the one that seems decisive to me. I think it's much better to work at the high school level and below to help kids do better in school, to care more about school, and to think of college as something worth doing.
But I can't see how it could be good to ban affirmative action by not allowing a state to recognize racial distinctions in any way. That sort of law is not just bad policy. It really is unconstitutional because it prevents enforcement of the equal protection clause.
Here is what I don't see a lot of people saying in response to the Dr. Seuss books that the publisher will no longer be making. Theodore Geisel was a very progressive, liberal-minded person, anti-racist in the most literal sense of that term. Yet he portrayed people in ways that we today recognize to be stereotypical and somewhat offensive. People have been calling him a racist for years, when his views were anything but. How could the author of the Sneetches, an explicitly anti-racist story in the literal sense of that term, be counted as a racist just because he had absorbed some of the stereotypical imagery of his day and brought it out in his depictions of people from around the world when wanting to expose children to multi-cultural stuff and to think more globally?
"To be White is to see oneself outside of Race." -- taken from an advertisement for a race discussion coming up at Le Moyne College.
I believe the quote comes from Robin DiAngelo. Yes, there is something she means by that that is true. She's talking about the structures and unconscious ways of behaving that are unfortunately and systematically associated with some of the ways that white people conceive of themselves in relation to race. In short, they don't conceive of themselves in relation to race. Race is something other people have, in effect. They are the norm, and others are the deviation, and racial identity is not something they have to think of themselves as having. It is a problem when white people conceive of themselves that way.
Even so, I would maintain that it's a misuse of language that is both misleading and alienating, and I think it's a terrible idea to use the word "white" or the word "whiteness" in that way. The actual meaning of "white" when used in a racial way, to most people, does not refer to those social patterns. It refers to which ancestry someone has, and talking this way is the best way to reinforce the unhealthy and problematic racial patterns in our social relations.
Talking as if this is essential to races and race relations gives the impression that (and therefore reinforces subconsciously) the idea that the unhealthy patterns are just the way things are. It does not allow us to separate whiteness as someone's ancestry and whatever social stuff we have added to that. It doesn't allow us to move away from thinking problematic racial relations are part of white identity, because it deliberately defines them as part of whiteness.
Not only that, but by saying something that seems patently false to most people, it comes across to most people as ignorant and racist. There is something the person actually means that is not ignorant and racist and is in fact intended to serve racial justice. But it comes across that way, and in my view people who talk that way are in fact to blame for that misimpression. They are the ones who are talking unclearly and using terms in nonstandard ways that ordinary people will not understand. So they are damaging their own message by coming across as racist extremists.
Furthermore, it is alienating to white people who care about racial justice and who recognize that there are many ways that white people can do the thing described in the quote, because it is speaking as if it is essential to white people. As I said, I know that is not what DiAngelo means. She means that it is essential to whiteness, and she isn't seeing whiteness as what it is to be descended from Europeans or whatever. She is seeing whiteness as participation in societal behaviors and patterns. And there is something right about what she is recognizing. That is important to see. Many of her critics refuse to see that, and there is something intellectually dishonest about that if they have actually read her carefully and charitably with an intent to evaluate her rather than to start with the assumption that she is wrong.
But what it comes across as is the kind of racial essentialism that science disproved in the mid-20th century. It comes across as treating all white people as being the problem. It presents itself as othering white people in order to get out a message about how white people other non-white people. And that is the "but you did it first" Trumpian whataboutism that the left frequently recognizes and points out when they see the right doing it but yet engages in just as frequently and loudly when they feel like being just as toxic as those they regularly condemn. Those who care about racial justice need to move beyond this kind of talk if we are to have real conversations about race that move people in a direction where they can hear us and accept what we are saying.
Jeremy Pierce is a philosophy professor, Uber/Lyft driver, and father of five.