In China, Chinese people call Asians “yellow,” Caucasians are “white”, and African-(pick a country) are called “black.” Does this mean Chinese people are racist?
They are a fifth of the world’s population. Globally speaking, they are not minorities. So, how are we to define “racism.”
Last week, the picture above appeared on Twitter.
A group of seminary professors from SWBTS are dressed in hoodies, gold chains, bandannas and caps. The words “Notorious S.O.P.” (School Of Preaching) plays on the rap name “Notorious B.I.G.” The picture was a send off picture for a colleague whose hobby is rapping.
Before I go further, let me note that I have 3 very close family members who are black, 2 by blood, 1 by adoption. I also went to school in a racially diverse high school. I’m not a monocultural person who has no skin in the game.
As a Christian, I care about this subject knowing that Christ wants all nations to follow him. He desires church unity. However, these goals become more difficult if we cannot ask frank questions that does not devolve into accusations and name calling.
So I ask, “Is the picture inherently racist?” Consider these comments in The Washington Post, where Jemar Tisby writes…
…putting on clothes typically associated with racial and ethnic minorities communicates that a person’s culture has value only as entertainment. That’s why you can’t dismiss this photo as “just a joke.” It harks back to a history of dehumanization.
The writer adds,
But the biggest problem doesn’t show up in the picture. The presence of any person of color would have reduced the chances of this photo ever happening.
Is this true? The examples below suggest otherwise.
As is evident from just a few examples, many rappers project themselves as tough guys with bling. The professors most likely have in mind people like RUN-DMC.
Steve Berman, over at The Resurgent, says
Let’s ignore the fact that there are plenty of white rappers, even white “gangsta” rappers. Eminem, Beastie Boys, Machine Gun Kelly, Yelawolf, Mac Miller, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, the list goes on. A big part of African-American culture revolves around rap, so in Tisby’s mind, of course middle-aged white theology professors must have had mocking black culture in mind when they planned this photo.
Check our just a few other covers from rappers’ albums. As you can see, the stereotypical image of rap culture goes well beyond black culture. We find many white and Hispanic background rappers.
The professors simply project a persona already presented by numerous rappers. Berman correctly adds,
Were the photo of four teenage white boys who love rap and attend church dressed this way, nobody would be saying “how dare they!” In fact, but for the outrage displayed by Tisby and others, nobody would even care.
No Joking about Rap?
Since when has “putting on clothes typically associated with racial and ethnic minorities communicates… as entertainment….[become] dehumanization”? Consider these examples from NBC, who enforce “political correctness” as strongly as anyone else.
Just a few months ago (Dec 2016), Saturday Night Live gave us this shout out.
In 2010, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jimmy Fallon performs a rap parady on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” (NBC, 2010).
On Saturday Night Live (1992), Chris Rock and Chris Farley performed a skit called “I’m Chillin’: Bullet Hole Tampons.”
You might need to use a United States VPN address to view the video.
On the other hand, can anyone deny the skit below won’t offend white people?
Enslaved by Political Correctness?
How does one contextualize or be “missional” in a context like America? In American culture, many people are stricken with fear that they might offend someone. The problem is that a person does not always know what will be deemed offensive.
Western Christians try to accommodate cultural sensitivities in light of Paul’s admonition not to be a “stumbling block.” However, I see two problems.
First, the meaning of “racism” is ill-defined. Therefore, this and other terms can be used as political weapons, as though drawn from 1984‘s “Newspeak.” Christians cannot simply look at how other people behave or use words. For example, would white people today be allowed to refer to interracial attraction as having “Jungle Fever,” despite Spike Lee making it the title of his 1991 movie about the topic?
On countless issues, the world’s strategy is working. Outsiders are using the church’s desire to love them as a weapon to make the church appear unloving.
How? They constantly change what is deemed acceptable until Christians eventually are fear censure and are rendered insensitive prats.
Second, Paul’s primary application was directed towards believers and concerned the issue of who could belong to God’s people. Outsiders were naturally offended by Paul’s teaching. On the other hand, the Bible does not address issues like “satire” and comedy.
Certainly, Christians must deny themselves, sacrificing their rights, in order to love others. I wonder if the church risks more than simply denying one’s rights. Might Christians be perpetuate racism and other social divisions by succumbing to fear of offending others? Might the church become enslaved to social norms (which are only enforced on Christians and social conservatives)?
After all, Christians can become so afraid of offending that they become resentful of being socially ostricized and become silent about controversial issues.
A “Stumbling Block” to Whom?
These are all potential consequences if the church is unwilling to resist “political correctness”, a phenomenon symptomatic of Western guilt. We need to be candid without intentionally causing unproductive controversy.
Someone, somewhere, will get offended by almost anything we do.
So, now that we live in an interconnected world where phones and social media capture everything, we have to rethink what it really means to be a “stumbling block.” Simply making someone upset is not what Paul means by being a “stumbling block.” Perhaps “political correctness” is the stumbling block inasmuch as it stifles the church and leads to compromise and fear.
While we live in the world, the church should constitute a kingdom culture that is immune to the shame tactics of the broader culture. If we want to resist the dangerous effects of political correctness, we will need to be patient with one another. This means we must be slow to accuse and quicker to assume our brothers and sisters are well-intended.