Is Racism Curable?

What do we do with the Roseanne Barrs, Michael Richards, Donald Sterlings of the world? The race to condemn them and the impulse to ostracize them is understandable, but we shouldn’t expect either of those responses to help racists overcome racism.

Another way of asking the question is how do we create less racist communities? More specifically, can the obviously racist—the Roseanne Barrs, the Michael Richards, the Donald Sterlings of the world—be rehabilitated? Can they learn to tolerate cultural diversity, let alone appreciate, value, embrace it?

The educator in me believes so. An integral part of anti-racism work is found three-fourths of the way through yesterday’s New York Times essay, “Sex and Gender on the Christian Campus”.

Molly Worten explains that an increasing number of evangelical Christian college students are beginning to question their conservative parents’ and professors’ theological and political assumptions. For example, Ashley Brimmage at Biola University. Worten writes:

“Ms. Brimmage is not a typical Biola student, but she is not unusual either. There is a small but increasingly vocal progressive community on campus, including L.G.B.T. organizations. When Biola applied for an exemption from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX in 2016, students protested.

I asked Ms. Brimmage how she came to her views on gender and racial justice. Did she encounter a new theological argument in a book or a class? ‘The biggest answer is relationships with others, not working through these things on paper,’ she said. Female mentors and friendships with gay and nonwhite students compelled her to revise her theology (almost half of Biola’s students are now nonwhite or international).

Ashley’s “biggest answer” jives with my experience of learning to embrace cultural pluralism and with my helping young adults learn to interact smartly and sensitively with diverse people. It’s about close, interpersonal relationships with people different than oneself. Only then do negative preconceived notions that are a byproduct of implicit biases begin fading away.

Yes, let’s take away racists’ public platforms which are privileges—whether television shows, comedy club gigs, or professional sports teams—but let’s not completely ostracize them; instead, let’s surround them with diverse people whose life stories are our best hope to begin changing their hearts and expanding their minds.

Social Media Scorecard

Me evaluating social media is like Rosanne Barr evaluating singers of the National Anthem. I’m old and hopelessly behind the curve, a late, late adaptor, better suited to anti-social media. Plus I’m skeptical by nature and my experience with the different sites is limited.

Facebook. Not only am I skeptical, I dig solitude, and I have non-conformist tendencies. So when everyone began telling me I HAD to get a Facebook account, I figured that was good reason not to. Alas, six months or so ago, a close friend from high school dragged me on. I have very few Facebook friends compared to you. I’m not sure why, but until recently, I’ve been checking it a couple of times a day. It’s been nice learning what some old friends are up to and since my blog posts appear on my friends’ pages I’ve seen a slight uptick in readership.

Sorry Zuckerberg, apart from that, the negative side of the ledger is much more substantial. I don’t feel like I’ve really reconnected with any old friends on any meaningful level and the quality of content is weak. Once you friend someone you have no control over how many times they post in a given day and the quality of those posts. Far too few add meaning to my life. Worse than that, they’re a distraction from life writ large. Not that my content is so spectacular. I’m sure some of my friends would prefer not getting a link to every blog post I write. It’s like being on a landline, having wires crossed up, and listening into another conversation. Fun! For two minutes listening to two other peeps. No so much when it’s hundreds of people all day and night. I assume Facebook fanatics, for which there are hundreds of million, learn how to read very selectively. Instantaneously processing value within an incessant content stream is a modern skill I don’t really want to develop.

Conclusion—Facebook has detracted more than it’s added. Allegedly worth $100b, so I’m in the minority. That’s cool, I’m comfortable there. Final grade, D.

LinkedIn. A former student kept asking me to link with her, then a few other people, and I eventually waved the white flag and created an account about the same time I first Facebooked. Again, you have more contacts than me. I suck at networking maybe because I just want to be left alone most of the time. Also, I don’t like the design of the site, too busy and confusing. Maybe if I was 24 and looking for a job I’d think differently about it, but I rarely check it. It’s added little to no value to my life. Yet a passing grade because it hasn’t really detracted either. Final grade, C-.

Twitter. Just when you thought I was a lost cause, a social medium I’m completely down with. There’s a special place in heaven for whomever came up with the 140 character limit. I’ve just started following people and orgs including Bill Simmons, the Lonely Planet, some newspaper reporters, and a UCLA sports website. So nice to learn instantaneously useful tips for driving in Brazil and which UCLA team has lost. Bonus points for the minimalist design and ease of use. It’s a snap to add and remove people, no “defriending” drama. I may just get a tat of the Twitter logo sometime soon. If Facebook is worth 100b, Twitter is a 1t company. Final grade, B. Would have been higher, but I deducted points because too many purveyors (or is it perve-veyors) of porn are slipping through in the form of new followers.

twitter logo bird

Postscript and related link—On a recent morning, while cycling, I watched a documentary about the current status and probable future direction of journalism titled “Inside the New York Times”. David Carr, the Times media writer, played a central role. I now follow him on Twitter. I really liked this blog post from him on the limits of on-line friendship. Highly recommended.