On July 4th, at least two NBA players – Chris Paul and Donovan Mitchell – posted a meme on their social media accounts. The meme said, “Free-ish, since 1865.” Predictably, many white fans were outraged by this sentiment. After all, these men are NBA stars, millionaires. Hasn’t America been exceptionally good to them? When have their rights been deprived?
But they have a point. The road to freedom has been especially rocky for black people in our nation. As I highlighted in the first part of this series, even after slavery, America treated blacks as sub-human, an inferior race and culture. We degraded them, despitefully used them, and persecuted them. Though I was never personally involved in the segregation that characterized the first half of the 20th century – and neither were my parents or grandparents – I can assure you that my attitudes as a teenager would undoubtedly have supported such a thing. Had I lived in the days of segregation, I believe I would have been a fan of it.
Out of the 150 years since the Civil War ended, blacks were relegated to subservience for 100 of those years. We shouldn’t imagine that when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, America decided that enough is enough and let’s give blacks fair treatment and equal footing in America. Have blacks been “free-ish” since 1865? Absolutely. Are they free today? That depends. As has been pointed out, America is bending over backward to try to solve our guilt for past injustices. On the books, at least, blacks have full access to all the advantages and opportunities that are available in our country. But in their hearts and minds, they struggle to put the past behind them. And I can’t blame them.
My point in writing these two articles is this: the gospel provides the only cure for our racial history. But the lingering attitudes and animosities between blacks and whites hinder the gospel from being preached effectively. Those who have experienced these injustices or have seen their effects on members of their families struggle to embrace what they see as a “white man’s religion.”
In my first article, I dealt with two things we do need and two things we don’t need if we would heal the racial hostilities that still plague our nation. In this article, I will be dealing with two more points – one thing we do need and one thing we don’t. I hope you will consider these carefully.
We do need to give our black brothers a fair hearing.
I have no doubt that Marxist agitators are working double-time behind the scenes to foment racial strife in our country. I do not doubt that there is a very sinister agenda behind organizations like Black Lives Matter, for instance, and that much of the rhetoric behind these social justice movements are aimed at sowing strife and division in our country. That shouldn’t prevent us from listening to our black neighbors. Remember this: to exploit an issue, there must be the raw material that can be exploited. Like it or not, our black brothers carry a lot of grievances.
Very few white people have taken the time to sit down with their black friends and ask them about their experience as a black person in America. We assume that their experience has been the same as ours. In a perfect world, that might be so. But I can assure you, in our fallen world, it is not. As I have looked into this issue more carefully, I have learned that our black Christian brothers have extended a lot of grace and forgiveness and forbearance in their lives. I have gained a greater respect for them. I see it as urgent for us to try to understand what has caused the grievances between blacks and whites – and not just what the white conservatives say about it.
We need to do more to understand the subject of “systemic racism” – the idea that the very system in America – economic, judicial, political, educational, and so forth – is designed to favor white people. Many conservative political pundits dismiss this idea out of hand. More than a few black conservatives have also been outspoken against the notion. Yet, many black people insist that our system favors whites.
Before I offer some thoughts on this, let me encourage you: don’t take the easy way out. It is always easier to search for a plausible explanation for these things so that we can escape any potential responsibility. I am not arguing for or against the idea of systemic racism in our country. I am arguing that we ought to listen to what our black neighbors are saying, to give them a fair hearing, and to consider what can be done. Ultimately, it is not the role of government to slant the playing field for one group over another. Our government’s role is to create a level playing field so that all who participate have the opportunity to work hard and succeed. The question is, has our government done this?
The answer, I am afraid, is “not always.” Since our nation’s founding, I would say, “not often.” Quite often, the government has had a finger on the scale, one way or the other. Sometimes this has been well-intentioned, and sometimes malicious. This sort of thing has happened far too often in our country – and with devastating effect.
Act.TV has produced a video called “Systemic Racism explained.” Ben Shapiro took the time to break that video down and provide his own analysis. I understand that some will object to the idea of systemic racism, while others will object to Shapiro. I appreciate the opportunity to analyze both sides of an argument in one sitting. I hope I can get you to view this video before reading further. I have provided both videos so that you can watch the “Systemic Racism explained” video by itself before you watch Shapiro’s analysis of it. When you have watched the video, I will offer a few points that I think Shapiro misses in his review.
The systemic racism video argues that blacks do not have the same opportunities as whites because of systemic racism – a system that is intentionally designed to favor white people. This starts with educational inequality, which is caused by the fact that blacks tend to live in more impoverished neighborhoods and whites tend to live in wealthier neighborhoods. Since property taxes are used to fund public schools, young people growing up in a black community often go to schools that are underfunded while young people growing up in white neighborhoods tend to go to schools that are well funded.
The video traces the disparity in neighborhoods to the practice of “redlining,” a Federal government policy that began with the National Housing Act of 1934 and established the Federal Housing Administration. Redlining marked out black neighborhoods to restrict the loans and services available to the people in those neighborhoods. At the same time, the FHA began their infamous program of public housing to force blacks into segregated neighborhoods. This practice continued from 1934 until 1968, and many of these housing projects continue to this day. Detroit and Chicago are even now two of the most segregated cities in America. Redlining served a two-fold purpose: to prevent blacks from living in white neighborhoods and to prevent blacks from climbing out of the poverty that plagued them as a people.
The second example cited in the video is legal segregation, which prevented blacks from enrolling in most public or private universities, further preventing the advancement of black people. Because of the twin policies of redlining and segregation, many blacks were hindered from pursuing a comfortable middle-class life at a time when my own parents were paving the way for one.
The video points out the way these racist and immoral policies affected the financial status of our respective grandparents, preventing black young people from gaining wealth while at the same time enabling whites to gain wealth. White grandparents were able to pass along opportunities to their white children and grandchildren, while black grandparents were not.
The video cites a third example of systemic racism: the “implicit bias” that plagues our system to this day. The video defines implicit bias as the prejudices that the people of our society have that they are not aware of. The video points to a study that says employers discriminate based on names – that white-sounding names get more interest from employers than black-sounding names. As a result of implicit bias, black unemployment is double white employment. Implicit bias is used to explain disparities in family wealth, incarceration rates, political representation, and education.
Ben Shapiro analyzes each of these points and offers some critical observations about each one. He points out, for instance, that while it is true that there is a great disparity in educational opportunities between poorer neighborhoods and wealthier neighborhoods, this disparity is best answered by school choice. When schools compete, education will improve. Shapiro points out that the practice of redlining ended in 1968 and that by the 1980s, there was virtually no evidence of this sort of thing happening anymore. He makes a similar point regarding the practice of segregation, pointing out that affirmative action has actually slanted the playing field in the other direction, making universities more likely to enroll black students than white students. Shapiro also points out that there is very little connection between the wealth of the grandparents and the wealth of the grandchildren. As for “implicit bias,” Shapiro points out just how difficult it is to trace and quantify, and offers some plausible alternative explanations.
While I am not prepared to jump on the “systemic racism” bandwagon and ride it fist-pumping enthusiastically down the road, I will say that neither am I shaking my fist at that wagon as it rolls by. When you consider the fact that until about 50 years ago, black people were still routinely discriminated against, it is no big surprise that they have developed a complex about it. It is a rare man who, having been regularly picked on and bullied as a child, can look past it and remain unaffected by it. He is likely to be bitter or angry or craven. From the founding of our nation until 1968, discrimination against black people was sanctioned and subsidized in America. It would be ludicrous for us to think that the bias against black people somehow magically went away the moment that the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law. Do you wonder that some still believe there is “systemic racism?”
Ben Shapiro acknowledges that America’s terrible history of racial hostility has affected the way blacks are treated in America. But in my opinion, he also downplays it, acting as if there should be no residual damage that has resulted from it. I cannot accept this. My parents were married in 1968 – the same year America abolished redlining – and I was born two years later. My parents grew up in the era of Jim Crow. My parents and grandparents passed down to me all my expectations for adulthood, based on their own experiences. How could our black brothers not have been similarly shaped by the expectations, the hopes, the ambitions that their own parents and grandparents taught them to anticipate? At a time when my parents were actively pursuing the life that they dreamed of, our black neighbors were fighting for a place in American society. This has dramatically impacted their perception of America. We absolutely must consider this as we seek to navigate these troubled times. And this is why I say we must listen to our black brothers.
We don’t need to limit our hearing to conservative blacks.
Many conservative black pundits are speaking out on the issue of social justice. A growing number of them, in fact. Thomas Sowell has been an eloquent voice for years and years. Walter Williams has been a respected conservative voice as well. More recently, those on social media have been treated to black voices like the Tuttle twins, Candace Owens, Brandom Tatum, Pastor Voddie Baucham, and (a family favorite) Terrence Williams. I appreciate their perspective, and I respect them for speaking out, for speaking the truth to their people. It takes far more courage for them to speak out against social justice rhetoric than it does for me, a white man, to speak out as I am here.
But I am afraid that far too many white people use black conservatives as an escape, so they don’t need to face these issues. Too often, black conservatives let us off the hook. The conservative black man offers a safe retreat to our own echo-chamber.
I value black conservatives. They provide us with ballast and perspective. But we can’t limit our hearing to those we agree with. We really need to give the other side a hearing as well. That’s why I appreciate the “Systemic Racism explained” video. Though I would caution you against swallowing the radical rhetoric being promoted as social justice, I would encourage you to seek out those who will challenge your secure perspective, and consider what they have to say. For myself, I cannot recommend highly enough the Real Clear Politics website, which offers side-by-side opposing viewpoints on the same subject. I just checked their website and found among today’s offerings these two articles: “18 Ways to Fight Against Systemic Anti-Black Racism” by Nicole Stamp of CNN, and “Civil Rights War Was Won — Racism Isn’t the Problem Anymore” by Larry Elder of Townhall.
I have made it a habit to read the other side first before I see how conservatives have answered the issue. This practice helps me learn to listen to the other side and engage what they are actually saying, and I recommend it for every Christian. As with anyone else you listen to (including this blog), you should never latch on to the spigot and start gulping. Come with your eyes open, and give them a fair hearing. But filter everything through the Word of God.