Scripts We Live By

There was nothing alarming in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. Those who were surprised that the African American community in America was outraged are naive or lying. The script we inherit in our primary socialization and in our secondary socialization, and here I’m borrowing from Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality (a book all pastors ought to read), shapes what we see and how we interpret events.

What was alarming, then, was the subsequent-to-the-trial’s-decision observations, one from the juror who went public on Anderson Cooper and the other from Rachel Jeantel who was on Piers Morgan. The juror said race was never discussed; Rachel said it was racism. The jurors made the claim they saw no racism, expressed no racism, and thought the case had nothing to do with race.  Rachel Jeantel, on the other hand, was absolutely convinced it was racist. So do lots of Americans, and it’s rather obvious to everyone so too does CNN. I watched FoxNews with Geraldo after the trial’s decision and he blamed the heat of the situation on African American leaders (he was thinking of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson no doubt, and he also pointed a finger at President Obama) who inflamed it all with racist charged rhetoric. In other words, they introduced a script he didn’t think belonged.

So, how can one group see the whole thing as racist and the other group not see any racism? The answer is this: Each side is using a racial script. Everyone’s script involves a racial perspective. Everyone’s.

I refer now to Korie Edwards, The Elusive Dream. “Race,” she observes, “is a social system that hierarchically organizes people in a society based upon physical characteristics” (8), i.e., skin color. “Ethnicity is largely about claims of shared culture, history, or common descent” (9). She also pins this to her board: “Whiteness is a social construction” and “what it means to be white is to be not some other race” (9).

Now whiteness consists of white structural advantage (the white person’s dominant status in the hierarchy called American social relations); white normativity means white people and black people and brown people experience American social relations as “normative.” But this leads to the most important thing we have to observe: “white transparency is the tendency of whites not to think … about norms, behaviors, experiences, or perspectives that are white-specific” (11).

Let’s call it what it is: white transparency is blindness to non-whiteness; white transparency is the belief there is no racism; white transparency sees no hierarchical advantages. African Americans cannot experience white transparency because they experience whiteness as social boundaries and social exclusion and social limitation. They cannot be blind to transparency while whites are largely blind to whiteness. It is a “lack of racial consciousness” (11). “Whites are unaware that their race has consequences for their lives” (11).

Is it then not accurate to say that blackness is itself also a form of transparency, a kind of blindness to non-blackness?

There were two scripts for the jury. One script said “Trayvon was the aggressor, Trayvon threw the first punch, Trayvon tragically did the wrong thing and George Zimmerman shot him out of self defense.” I will call this the white script. That script can explain the evidence. The other script, the black script, said, “George Zimmerman scripted Trayvon as a black man, as a young black man, as a thug, as someone in whom there was real danger and burglary and killed Trayvon unjustifiably and so continued the long line of white hierarchical advantage.” That script, too, can explain the evidence. The jury, being “white” (according to Korie Edwards’ theory of whiteness because they were not black), read the events in light of their script. Many African Americans and their script sympathizers read the events through a different script.

It is hard to examine the evidence and let it form the script for that particular event. I trust our jury system as a wonderful system that gets us as close to justice as a system can get us even if at times it gets things dead wrong. But we must try, together. And try again. Until we get it right.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jordan Litchfield

    I don’t know about the results of the trial, but based on the above post and many people’s charge that the verdict is a result of racist attitude, I can’t but help wonder if some people would ever accept any verdict unless the jury was comprised of only their ethnicity. This doesn’t mean that there is no racism, there obviously is, and maybe there was more involved with this case than we realize. I only question if it is even possible to get past the current debate without a radical change of attitude on all sides – white, black, brown, etc. I now know there is racism, but unfortunately I grew up unaware of it. However, now that I am trying to become more aware of it, I find it difficult to know when racism really is present when it seems like every time a tragedy involves another ethnic group people are always crying, “Racism!”

  • Tom F.

    “Is it then not accurate to say that blackness is itself also a form of transparency, a kind of blindness to non-blackness?”

    Well, from what I can make out of the limited quotes on this post, it seems blackness could be a kind of “transparency” in a society where blackness was the dominant majority. But if blackness is not the majority, than “transparent” seems elusive, as black person will be confronted with their difference anytime they engage in mainstream culture. I thought that was the authors point: transparency is asymmetrical, possible only for the dominant, majority culture.

    Yes, everyone’s script is racial; but the consequences of these racial disparities likely fall upon the minorities. They have to adapt to two cultures, their native culture as well as the mainstream culture. White persons need only master one set of scripts; black persons must learn two.

    Of course, I think you are pointing out that, in some situations, *both* scripts will do injustice to a situation, perhaps in different ways. “Scripts”, as its used here, seems to be similar to stereotypes and other cognitive shortcuts: we all use them, but we need to discern when they should be set aside to let the situation develop in its own unique way. However, to hear at least one juror suggest that the interpretation along the lines of the black “script” was not even considered has to be incredibly frustrating. If the jurors had said; “We considered the evidence, and we considered the possibility of racism, but we found that it was not a factor here, at least beyond a shadow of a doubt”, then I think reactions might be a bit more muted. But instead, at least one juror seemed to imply that the black “script” was simply irrelevant, perhaps even unworthy of consideration.

  • JL Schafer

    Scot, I strongly agree with your last paragraph:

    “It is hard to examine the evidence and let it form the script for that particular event… But we must try, together. And try again. Until we get it right.”

    In regard to this particular event, “getting it right” could mean that we all take a step back, pause for a good long time, and simply reserve judgment unless additional evidence comes to light. Based on what I’ve read (and of course it could be wrong), there doesn’t seem to be much specific evidence of racial motivation on the part of Zimmerman. Arguments based on lack of evidence are weak. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the issues of racism and stop talking about the different scripts. By all means, that dialogue should take place. But I don’t think it’s wise to use Martin or Zimmerman as a poster child for advancing any particular script right now, because one way or another, the evidence isn’t there yet (as far as I know).

  • scotmcknight

    JL, I’m not so sure. Yes, there is solid evidence of George Zimmerman not being a strong racist. But I would argue we all have racist scripts at work in our heads. “They always get away” is one thing he said, if I’m right. Who is “they”? Ask an African American who “they” is… and now we’ve got a discussion.
    But if you read my piece the major point I rose was the juror who said there was no racism discussed and Rachel Jeantel who said it was racism.

  • Rick

    if there was no evidence of racism, should it be discussed by the jurors? Were they not just to focus on the facts presented in court?

  • scotmcknight

    Rick, same response as above. There is almost no such thing as no racist perceptions. It was there because we have racial scripts in our heads helping us read/interpret life.

  • JL Schafer

    Scot, I don’t deny that there are racial (or perhaps racist,if you want to use that word) scripts at work in everyone’s heads. But it seems to me that those two points that you just made have an important qualitative difference. If a juror says that racism wasn’t discussed, that’s a statement that could (at least in principle) be verified or not based on court records and jurors’ recollections. But Rachel Jeantel saying it was racism is inherently more subjective and difficult to prove or disprove.
    I just think it’s important to distinguish (a) taking a strong position on the need to address racial grievances in general from (b) making strong statements about Martin and Zimmerman in particular. I’m happy to pursue (a) but feel uncomfortable about (b).

  • JL Schafer

    Scot, on further reflection, I guess I don’t really understand your use of “racist” when you say that we all have racist scripts. That term means so many different things to different people, and it’s so politically and socially charged, that I’m hesitant to drop the R-bomb without careful definition. Does it mean ethnocentrism? Xenophobia? Active discrimination in housing, employment, etc.? Lack of empathy or compassion? Having a perspective on race that differs from mine, from yours, from Sharpton’s or Hannity’s or whomevers? In many of these race-related discussions, I find myself reading between the lines of what people are saying and puzzling over what the R-word means to them.

  • scotmcknight

    I defined it in the post.

  • JL Schafer

    ? I saw definitions of race, ethnicity, white transparency, but not racism.

  • revdrdre

    Scot,
    thanks for wading into the issues with some good “sociology of religion” perspectives. I am finding it helpful for white people to challenge some assumptions about race. Many African American voices–even in our Christian context–get muted unless we echo what many in the majority culture already think.
    For many of us, the issue isn’t about a particular verdict for Mr. Zimmerman, but about those “scripts” that we play by. I wish we could have meaningful dialogue about why such scripts exist and how to help each other understand such things.

  • scotmcknight

    Racism implicit in “race.”

  • JL Schafer

    Scot, I don’t want to be a jerk about this, so I’ll stop here. I’m usually not interested in splitting hairs. But in my opinion, this one cries out for explicitness. To say “we all have racial scripts in our heads” is one thing; to say “we all have racist scripts in our heads” is another. Perhaps you meant the same thing by them, but the responses they evoked in me were very different.
    Thanks for the dialogue.

  • Jeffery Ferrell

    You make some very good points. As one who reads the script of black transparency with sincere effort to see from other perspectives. I’m stuck at a couple of facts in this case. Trayvon had done nothing wrong! He hadn’t burglarized anyone, had vandalized anyone. So why did Mr. Zimmerman feel the need to follow him, leave his car and approach this kid? There is but one answer, Trayvon was a black kid wearing a hoodie! How is that not a race issue? Also when you look at similar cases where a black person claims “stand your ground” or “self-defense” the same rules don’t apply? In fact there’s a case where the woman didn’t even shoot anyone she fired a warning shot and got 20years? If someone could unpack that for me I’m all ears!

  • Randy Gabrielse

    Scot,

    Thank you for this post. It highlights these issues pretty much as I see them.

    I see that several threads regarding your post have gotten into defining and hair-splitting in less than helpful ways. This is why I so value the Healing Racism process that I am involved in. It began with a 2 1/2 day session on race, racism and white privilege. All that we were asked to acknowledge at the end of that time was that we agree on the definitions of race, racism and white privledege at levels of individual interaction, institutional structures, and culture(s). We now look forward to every-other-month gatherings where we discuss issues as we see them.

    What I see in the responses here affirms the importance of developing such a common vocabulary so that we can enter such discussions getting either bogged down in definitions or distracted by minutae.

  • Pat68

    “I now know there is racism, but unfortunately I grew up unaware of it.”

    As an African-American woman, I’m often blown away when people express this sentiment, because from where I sit, I don’t know how anyone could not be aware of racism. But I think this goes to the heart of what Scot wrote (and I’m not saying this to pick on you, Jordan. I’m just simply expressing my own incredulity):

    “Let’s call it what it is: white transparency is blindness to non-whiteness; white transparency is the belief there is no racism; white transparency sees no hierarchical advantages. African Americans cannot experience white transparency because they experience whiteness as social boundaries and social exclusion and social limitation. They cannot be blind to transparency while whites are largely blind to whiteness. It is a “lack of racial consciousness” (11). “Whites are unaware that their race has consequences for their lives” (11).”

  • Jay DuSold

    Scot,

    The material I have read regarding the Trayvon tragedy thus far has fallen into two basic categories . . . (1) Material similar to your post here that calls attention to our presuppositions about race, (2) Polarized opinions about the situation.

    Can you please take a minute to write a commentary on the situation that would be generated by a “kingdom of God script”? What do you think Jesus would say about the events of that evening and the resulting verdict?

    Jay

  • Jordan Litchfield

    I’m sure it does come as a surprise to you, Pat, and it’s something I”m not proud of. Thankfully, there did not seem to be any overt racism in my background (more like subtle attitudes), but as with all other social sins, the Church needs to be continually renewing its awareness of its attitudes and the way it relates to all ethnicities.

    However, I also think that it goes both ways. From where I sit, I feel like blacks sometimes express racial attitudes towards whites as well (thankfully many blacks do not!). This does not excuse our sin, it only means that we all need each other to peel away our blinders and learn what love really means.

    Grace and peace.

  • Bo

    Scot,

    Thank you for your post. But like Tom F. I too question the claim (I know you ask a question but to put it in bold and italics is to make a statement): “Is it then not accurate to say that blackness is itself also a form of transparency, a kind of blindness to non-blackness?” I grant that for some it very well may be the case, particularly activists captured on cable news. But let’s be sure to recognize the sensationalist voices on cable TV may not be reflective of the general populace. There are so many other black intellectuals who have thoughtfully read and written on both scripts in other venues with much greater nuance and thoughtfulness.

    Your analogy of scripts assumes that they are all equal, and can be fairly assessed by the readers as if this is a blind peer review. But such is not the case. In the book you cite, Edwards herself observes how a church composed of a majority of black congregants defaults to the white script even when whites are the minority in the church. What does that tell us about the ability of blacks to read and adapt to a different script? What does that tell us about the inability of whites to adapt to a different script? Does it reveal that in fact whites (of course I’m speaking in generalities) lack the means to read other scripts than their own? Or if they can read them, they certainly won’t choose them for themselves because embedded in the black script is a long running tale of injustice and to embrace this story would simply be too costly for them on a personal, social, and economic level.

    I’m sure you recognize your last claim about the merits of our legal system is
    based off of your choice to read off of the white script. For a lot of minorities, their script reads very differently.

  • BryanJensen

    Insightful. And I would add another script that stands out to me: When discussing the shortcomings of our culture per this case the urge Scot has (and many Americans have) to salute flag and Caesar. Our jury system has serious flaws which, at root, have the combative counter-incentives of prosecution and defense attorneys at play (of which truth and justice served isn’t often primary among them). Many OECD countries have better structured systems that get closer to justice more often than America’s jury system tends to do. America has many admirable things but our justice system is hardly exceptional compared to many industrialised nations.

  • Ann

    This is what I don’t understand… when I look at George Zimmerman, I don’t see a white man. Maybe I’m wrong but he looks Hispanic. The press keeps posing this as a white man that killed a black man. What I see is one minority that killed another minority. But that more accurate description doesn’t sell as well.

  • Lise

    Obviously there is a need for a new narrative and posts like this, Scot help deconstruct the old ones. And Pat, your comment in particular so reflects this as well.

    I was a senior in college when the Rodney King verdict was delivered and I remember the pain that was unleashed amongst students on campus. I was also taking women’s studies courses at the time in which even in a class predominately full of women, perspectives varied greatly based on race and life experience. It became glaringly clear to me that the first step to addressing racism was to admit and examine our own inherent racism (or classism or whatever the ism). It is never our place to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist when we’re standing in the position of the more privileged group and not experiencing it from the other side. (And this applies to sexism as well). “Miles to go before we sleep, miles to go before we sleep…”

  • Holly

    But Scot, you are referring to an altered tape which was aired by the media.

    With the full transcript of that tape, Zimmerman was referencing “punks” who were burglarizing the neighborhood. He only referenced race when the dispatcher asked him what color the person was.

    How much has the media inaccurately influenced the script? A lot, I think, particularly when the don’t get things right in their rush to be first to report.

    Full disclosure: I’m white. My son was attacked and beaten by two black men as he walked home from mowing a yard (broad daylight) at the age of 14. It was terribly bloody and traumatic, something we have all suffered from (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally) for years. His tooth was broken out and he head split open, he was kicked and stomped on…all for ? Who knows. Completely unprovoked, he was simply walking home. (He’s 19 now.) I never once perceived it as racial…

  • Tim Stabell

    An example of our tendency as “whites” not to think in racial terms: A few years ago I attended a conference of leaders of all the major evangelical mission agencies in North America (about 300 of us). After one particular workshop, I was talking with a group of men and one of them said, “Did you guys notice that i’m the only Black person here?” Well, I hadn’t noticed. Then it struck me how wrong this was. How could we gather, as the leaders of all the major evangelical mission organizations, and there be only one Black person? Then it struck me again how racist it was that I hadn’t even noticed. How could I be just fine with this kind of reality? A powerful example, it seems to me, of historically conditioned structural injustice, and of the point you are making that as whites we tend to simply not see it!

  • Chuck Roberts

    I don’t doubt that there are racial scripts at work here. But I believe there are individual scripts at work, too, that have more to do with finding a narrative that we believe will work for us-influenced for sure by our larger community, but even more so by family scripts. I see it all the time in my work as a counselor and in my own life, too. For example, someone responding to childhood trauma may adopt a script that says “the world will never be safe for me” and they interpret everything through that script. In fact, when we adopt a script we tend to go about gathering evidence that proves our script is right. We think that’s what is keeping us safe. So a person pulls away from people and treats everyone with suspicion for fear they’re not safe (and of course, people are not always safe). Others in their world don’t know what to do with this and respond in unhealthy ways and this becomes more evidence to prove the script is correct. So I think there are also individual scripts at work here, people on an individual basis believing “white people are always going to get away with killing blacks,” and treating every case like this as though it was a racially motivated killing. And there are whites holding to a script that says, “blacks are always looking for excuses and blame everything on whites,” and they miss the fact that some things are, in fact, racially motivated.

    One of the unfortunate things in this case is that because it’s racially charged it’s difficult to tell what’s true. Perhaps it was not a racially motivated killing and the jurors made the correct decision based on the evidence. Or maybe there is evidence of it and the prosecutors just didn’t prove it beyond a doubt. Or there’s evidence of it and the defense team very artfully planted doubt in the jurors’ minds. Whatever it is, it would be tough to have been a juror in this case. Many people who were not privy to the evidence have nonetheless decided the jury made the wrong decision. So they’re presented with two bad choices: weigh the evidence and find Zimmerman not guilty and be branded a racist or weigh the evidence and convict Zimmerman, even if the evidence didn’t support the prosecution’s case, and live with that on their conscience.

  • Holly

    So the logical outcome of these theories would be:

    1) All whites are racist.
    2) Every time a person of color is killed by a white person the assumptive motive must be racism (because whites are racist and they can’t help it,) and the charge must include as much?
    3) Crimes against Asians, Latinos, Jews….don’t matter? Racism only comes in one form, and that is white narrative against black narrative?

  • Pat68

    Holly, first of all, let me say that I’m sorry for the attack on your son. That was brutal.

    But you wouldn’t see it as racial as you are white and do not have a history of being singled our for your race. Whereas I, an African-American woman, do have it in my history. I am by no means the kind of person that sees race in everything, but given our history as a people, we have been profiled numerous times simply for the color of our skin and because of where we were or what we drove. It’s my reality. It doesn’t happen everywhere or all the time, but it does happen. That is what makes the difference–our histories. Just like now, your son has as part of his history being a crime victim. For someone to minimize it would be an attempt to deny the reality of what happened to him.

  • Pat68

    Absolutely not. All whites are not racist.

    Every time a person of color is killed by a white person, racism doesn’t have to be the assumptive motive unless we are given the indication that it was so.

    And crimes against all minorities matter, in my opinion. In fact, all crimes against any human being should matter and should warrant the full extent of the law. Just as when Matthew Fox was killed, it was deemed a hate crime linked to his sexuality. I think crimes should be investigated for all possible motives.

  • mark almlie

    Thank you Scot. Racial self-awareness, as it relates to belonging to a world larger than our own race, is indeed something that should help bring more mutual understanding between our races rather than less. A few pushback thoughts:

    1. There is at least a 3rd script: the parents of Trayvon and their attorneys all said this case wasn’t about race. I should ignore these comments, or I should take them at their word, or?

    2. If ‘white transparency’ is blindness to non-whiteness, and if this ‘white transparency’ is rampant in whites, and if you (Scot) are white, then how did you overcome your ‘white transparency’ and come to be able–even though you’re white–to see both sides of the issue clearly? (I think you leave yourself open to this charge, and my intent is simply for you to explain why you are not subject to the limitation of the two scripts of your post).

    3. If there is a ‘white script’ and a ‘black script’ to the interpretation of the zimmerman trial (I think you accurately describe them), are we hopelessly lost in a world that is an ugly broad ditch of racial perceptions as the only realities? Where is the hope of bridging the divide? Should, in the future, a case like this be decided by an all Asian jury for example to avoid either of the two scripts?

  • JL Schafer

    Chuck, your point about individual scripts is thought-provoking. There may be many other scripts present which, although they shape one’s perceptions of evidence about race and racism, are adopted out of some kind of tribal affiliation that crosses racial lines.

    Some time ago, I served on a dissertation committee for a PhD candidate in sociology who was analyzing local patterns of racial segregation. A lively discussion ensued in which racism and active racial discrimination was put forth as a possible explanation for some effects that were seen. (There was no empirical evidence for it either way; the data were too limited.) Some were convinced that racism was definitely at work. Yet all the participants were white.

    My point (which ain’t deep) is this: A person’s readiness to conclude that racial motivations and racism are at play are certainly influenced by his or her own race, but also by individual life experiences, political affiliations, relational commitments, theological leanings, and many other schools of thought whose boundaries cross racial lines. For many reasons, people choose to cast their lots with others who in some sense are similar to them, who become their tribe, and then begin to interpret evidence primarily in light of the tribe’s dominant narrative. This a huge part of the way humans think, and (according to Jonathan Haidt, who wrote The Righetous Mind) the reasons for it may be rooted in evolutionary biology and the human brain.

    People of different backgrounds may draw radically different interpretations from the same evidence, because they are following different racial scripts. But the processes by which they adopt those scripts may be remarkably similar.

  • scotmcknight

    Sorry, I would agree with “racial”.

  • scotmcknight

    I need to hear other scripts to become more aware of mine. Korie Edwards is an African American; I learn from her about scripts.

  • scotmcknight

    As I see this post — and the work of folks like Korie Edwards — we are talking about social location, the sociology of knowledge, and the scripts that we inherit and are often unaware of. I am one who is convinced our social location shapes what we come to know or come to believe as knowledge, what Berger and Luckmann call primary socialization. If this is the case, then we must admit that each of us inherits a script, a script we can modify but which is still often instinct and often not even recognized. In that script will inevitably be a perception of other races and ethnicities. Each of us has a script that has racial codes. When the jurors said they didn’t discuss race, that could be because the lawyers did not enter that into the evidence or discussion, but racial perceptions were part of the scripts they were using. So, too, with Rachel Jeantel.

    Another way of saying this is with the word “presuppositions.” We all have them and we all inherit them. Inherent to our presuppositions will be perceptions of race. We must work to overcome biased presuppositions.

  • Tom F.

    Holly, slow down.

    Theories of residual racism at the social do not require that any of us actively and intentionally are pursuing harm towards a particular race, although certainly some people do! Consider the thousands of attitudes, associations, connections, and automatic thoughts when you encounter any person who is different than you. Are all of those associations positive? Are all of them justified when you meet or encounter a person of a different race, especially if you don’t know them personally?

    This sort of implicit racism is not even limited to whites, it can be internalized by black people too. It was evidence of this sort of residual racism that led to desegregation. Black school children were shown to have internalized negative stereotypes about black persons because of “separate but equal”.

    Are all white people therefore terrible racists because of residual racism? No! But we white persons are responsible for the scripts and assumptions and associations we make, and I think there is good evidence that this residual racism, at the social level, continues to disadvantage black persons. As the majority culture, we bear responsibility and moral culpability for the ill effects of that racism, even as that is a very different sort of responsibility and culpability that would fall on, say, a member of the KKK.

  • Phil Miller

    This reminds me a lot of what Malcolm Gladwell calls “implicit associations”. We all have ideas and concepts in our mind that we automatically associate with races to a degree. It’s not that we consciously are trying to be racist, it’s just that we have implicit associations that influence our immediate reactions. If, for example, we see a black man on a dark street our immediate reaction may be different than seeing a white guy on black street, and that can happen to about anyone. Actually, even when black people take the test, the results will say that they have a preference for whites. It’ kind of scary in a way.

    http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/18/a-shocking-test-of-bias/

  • Randy Gabrielse

    An article in The Nation sees this entire process, including Juror 37′s comments in an important light: The light of protecting white womanhood. (Remember Emmet Till?) The white ladies on the jury very likely have been acculturated to fear black males. So following Scot’s idea of “Scripts” their script would more likely have them see George Zimmerman as one of their children (note juror’s reference to “George” by first name) than to see Trayvon Martin as one of their children who was shot down.

    My brother and his wife partake in this. We live a 1.5 miles apart, yet he lives in the tony exclusive suburb of East Grand Rapids, where black people know better than to drive after dusk, while I live in ‘the hood’ of Grand Rapids proper. Yet he told me the other day, “One of several reasons we bought a house in EGR is because we want to be able to walk around at night.” Quite aside from the fact that they go no where after dark, I was able to tell him that we do, and Karen has no fear in doing so.

    Peace

  • Jeremy B.

    The Alexander case seems a little different in that she left the house and returned with a gun, removing legal self-defense claims. That said, it was her house and her kids were in there. I’m not sure anyone would have done anything differently. Florida’s 10-20-life law has been under fire for a long time now as it results in extreme sentences that aren’t necessarily evenly applied. Under the same reasoning, she still would have faced 10 years if she hadn’t fired.

    I think the problem with the racism claim in the Zimmerman case is that we (white people) tend to think of KKK, Skins and Nazis when that word comes up. The far more subtle racial perceptions (that I don’t think we can avoid unless we’re raised in a highly diverse and socially close environment) aren’t normally viewed as “racism” in that sense. The charge that he was little more than a skinhead muddied the waters and hyped the conversation to hysterics level. Now whites that are also proponents of broader self-defense rights are on the defensive and not listening. The “Why did GZ think this kid was someone he needed to follow?” question gets lost in the noise

    I see this sort of thing on Facebook when I see that all of the people I know who were sharing Bill Cosby’s tough love speech were white. I know them well enough to know they have close friends across racial lines, but it never occurs to them that they’re only posting it because it reinforces their perceptions of group to which they DO NOT BELONG.

  • Susan_G1

    This is an interesting post, one that makes me ponder my ‘script’. I feel it necessary to point out that three of the white female jurors went into deliberations thinking Zimmerman was guilty. Does this change anything?

    I am a white woman who grew up in a very racist family, in a very racist New England working class city. Yet the script known to me is not the white script above. I have seen racism first hand and have rejected it (I think). I believe Zimmerman was racist, because his cousin, who called the police shortly after the incident, reported that he was a racist and a man who caused trouble (the latter half of that statement became self-evident). Also, that he was known to frequently call police about black males (49 times), and from his own statements prior to the trial. But I also believe that if I had sat in the jury room, I would have had to find Zimmermen not guilty on the basis of the prosecution not having been able to make it’s case. That makes me sad, because a dangerous man (abusive, angry, racist, gun carrying) is free in a state that has a stand-your-ground law.

    Clearly I cannot know my subconscious script. But I object to the above, somewhat black and white (no pun intended, it’s just that it *is* black and white) characterization. I don’t belong to either group above. That means there are other groups, and to ignore these is to ignore reality.

  • Jeremy B.

    To add to Scot’s reply, we’re not hopelessly lost. We just have to remember that the era of racism being normal and encouraged is in living memory. I’m in my late 30′s and from the South, so I could fill this thread with subtle (and not so subtle) stuff passed on by my parents, grandparents and others. Most of them have repented thoroughly, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t tinge their perceptions or the perceptions of those they influenced.

    We will feel the effects of that for a few generations yet. It’s getting better, but it’s not going to be overnight.

  • scotmcknight

    Fair enough on the nuances needed for understanding the spectrum of scripts.

  • Holly

    Thank you….I already know that you are a friend and a sister and that I love you! :)

    But help me understand. So, are you saying that the attack on my son WAS racial, and that I should perceive it as so? There are many who would, I would prefer not to. It never made the papers, when we spoke of the attack we never referred to color (partially because it did not matter, violence is violence, and partially because we did not want anyone to even think that it might be racially motivated.)

  • Holly

    Do I have an assumption when I meet someone? I assume that I will love them. Do I need anything more as a Christian? Does anyone?

  • Holly

    My highschool was 80% black, and 20% white. I was minority. Does the script change when you grow up that way?

  • Holly

    I agree. I don’t believe that I fit the script, either, but it is interesting to ponder and I will think upon it. I am much more creeped out by the shaggy white guys who walk the streets of my town than the black teenagers or older gentlemen who are my neighbors.

  • Tom F.

    I would think all experiences would affect how we perceive others. I would guess you would like be much more likely to understand both scripts than the average white person then, yes. But most white persons have not been in the minority like yourself.

    I’m not trying to tell you your experience: but the fact that stereotypes and other snap judgments are *generally* present and *often* negative towards black persons is pretty well established. We’ve come a long way since slavery, but still have a long way to go.

    Stereotypes can run in both directions, and I’m sure as a minority race in a high school, you surely experienced that. However, on balance, stereotypes and assumptions are more hurtful against black persons than they are white persons, because white persons generally are in control in mainstream culture.

  • Tom F.

    Holly, of course, glad to hear that you strive to make that the default assumption. I hope I could honestly say that of myself as well.

    But you don’t think as a result of media, of communicated stereotypes, you don’t have any snap judgments that would be negative towards those different than you? I think the point is, we all have those assumptions, and because we’re in control, we get to be the laziest about challenging them. I’m not saying *you* are lazy about them, I’m saying white people on average.

  • Holly

    I suppose, Tom, and I appreciate your replies. I was not trying to be *short* in my questions – was just up against some deadlines and was trying to say what I wanted to say in the briefest way possible.

    I do understand what you are saying. I agree to some degree.

    What I’m not sure that I agree with on the whole, though, are the sweeping assumptions made, nor with what society seems to be telling us we need to do to make things better. Those things don’t always work.

    I am questioning the what the response from the church should be:

    To me, when we draw the lines more distinctively, we are encouraging people to focus on race, to feel more shame (whether they should or not,) to think about how they are different.

    This is painful to say, but as a result of high rates of black crime, there are plenty of stories of whites who have been victims. (And of course that brings up the question of why there is so much inner-city crime in the first place, and probably we can all make our own judgements on that…in the past it has been due to oppression and lack of opportunity.) But that doesn’t change the fact that whites who have been victims have their own stories to tell now – their own script. Often it is very painful, but they are not allowed to tell their stories, because they sound racist, and they shouldn’t blame the attacker because of his background – and that leads to suppression of emotions and wounding – and how does that help at all?

    I don’t focus on race. I think that is counterproductive. I don’t think it is fair to say that whites come from a place of privilege – I have always found it hard to see the privilege in growing up very poor (my father never earned over 18,000 a year in his life) in America, of growing up abused, molested, dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse within the family. Woundedness and violence does not know a color. (And please, don’t respond with the concept of systemic privilege or lack of it – that doesn’t really help blacks or whites to come to a place of healing.)

    I think a few answers are 1)yes, listening. Absolutely. Making friends who are different than us and listening to their stories. Helping them heal by loving them. Then having them listen to our stories. Letting them come from a place of strength and let them help heal us. It goes both ways, does it not? and 2) Once the stories are told and the feelings are out and the relationships formed – forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t know a color, either, and it is what needs to be urged across the spectrum.

    Thanks again, Tom. I appreciate your words.

  • Tom F.

    My pleasure, Holly.

    There are upsides and downsides to not focusing on race. One upside is that you can be sure there is no active discrimination or further explicit division. That is certainly a positive good. (I think this is Clarence Thomas’s approach) The downside is that the attitudes/assumptions/stereotypes can no longer be discussed or addressed in the open, because they are inevitably about race. But it seems like it is a judgment call, sometimes it is better to not focus on race, and sometimes it is a painful necessity. I would only argue that *sometimes* the benefits of addressing problems along racial lines outweighs the costs of further reinforcing racial categories.

    But the point is that stereotype disadvantaging of blacks is not likely to go away any time soon. As you point out, stereotyping *works*, at least in a sense. If 1% of black persons within a neighborhood are actually likely to attack you, and only .2% of whites are likely to attack you, than your brain is doing a great job in telling you that you will be relatively more safe avoiding black persons. However, the 99% of black persons who would never have thought to attack you suffer the consequences; your brain now (subtly) associates 100% of black people with violence. You can replace black and white with any divisions along racial, ethnic, gender, or age lines, and you can see why, to paraphrase Jesus, stereotype disadvantaging will always be with us.

    As to privilege, it is, as you rightly point out, a mistake to say *every* white is altogether more privileged than the average black person. But you did benefit from being white; consider how hard it would have been to deal with being below the poverty line AND facing frequent stereotyping and occasional overt racism. The point is not to make you feel ashamed about benefiting from not having to face these assumptions/stereotypes. The point is that acknowledging privilege has to come before we can begin the work of moving towards equality.

    You have suggested that the concept of “systematic privilege” is not helpful for healing. I respect that this has been your experience. I would also like to hear more about how you perceive it as an obstacle. I think I associated it with shame towards myself as a white person, but I don’t necessarily see it that way anymore.

    I think the story part near the end that you post is right on.

  • chris2002white

    A black customer of mine (I am white) asked me what I thought about the trial and the event. I told him that both parties had opportunities to avoid the confrontation but did not take them. And once the confrontation was started, they were both in the “fight” rather than “flight” mode of thinking and also both feared for their life or for their health. Did Zimmerman profile Martin? I think so. But he could have kept his distance and waited for police. Was Martin agitated that someone was following him? I would be. But he could also have taken evasive actions–running. Zimmerman having a gun was not smart; it smacks of vigilantism. Did Martin confront because he was tired of being profiled, or in other words, having his race being profiled?
    I see both scripts as close to accurate and mourn the outcome. Zimmerman should have avoided Martin and would have if he did not carry the weapon. The weapon made him more confident/bold and he allowed himself to get caught up in the “I am protecting the neighborhood with my gun” ideal. Martin was just a young boy–maybe too big for his britches in confronting an unknown person but at that age–death and even bodily harm seem so far away. So very sad.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I’m not going to get into all of the racial nuances of this case as I think they have been overblown, but I think a larger issue is this country;s worship of fear. Fear of the other, fear of the unfamiliar . . fear that goes well beyond rational caution. The fact that we have people like Zimmerman ‘patrolling’ the streets looking for bad guys is a plague on our houses. It’s part and parceled through this country’s obsession with guns.
    It nourishes an anti-Christian ethos and lack of love of our neighbors. Yes there are dangerous people out there. I myself have been a victim of violent crime. But most people mean you no harm, and being reasonably cautious and skeptical does not align with the utter shadow of fear that envelopes much of our culture.

  • Holly

    Thanks again, Tom. I hear you. I appreciate you.

    Within friendships, you do talk about race. You don’t ignore it.

    Two quick personal stories. Yes, I know this is about the ideological and philosophical, but without the personal everything becomes a stereotype.

    Two of my close friends are black. The first is a young woman who was born crack-addicted, and adopted as an infant into the family of a single mother who attended the church my husband pastored. I’ve been so blessed to walk with her since she was about 12 years old. She and I connected due to abuse she and I had both suffered, and I was able to be with her through the rough teenaged years; cutting, a rape, a horrible trial, subsequent drugs, college, a loss of faith. We stayed close – me a white mom with a growing family and she, a struggling but fabulous black girl – as she grew up. I am so happy to say that she is doing so wonderfully, walking with the Lord and just got married to an amazing man last week! She is healthy and whole; her wedding party was a gorgeous array of skin colors. We’ve not avoided talk of race. We’ve embraced it, and it has been healthy. She is not angry, doesn’t perceive herself as less than privileged. I’m not sure that all black kids who grow up in America today feel the same way as the generation before. I refuse to write their scripts, or to stereotype them.

    My second close friend is a black woman who grew up in Chicago. She is now a Muslim convert, a mother, living in Saudia Arabia. She is one of two wives. God brought us together about seven years ago, and he led my husband and myself to name our now 5 year old daughter after this friend. (That’s a pretty big deal, you know. :) ) She is extremely outspoken. We talk about race, we talk about religion. No need to avoid it. She is more angry at America over its’ treatment of Muslims than she is about treatment of blacks. We can talk about anything. There was a time when I apologized to her for the systemic sins of whites toward blacks; she laughed at me kindly, said, “thank you, but that it not necessary at all.” Love cancels out a lot of the stereotypes, and I would say, even scripts. I’m the person she calls on Vonage when she has hard things to work through (like, not liking the second wife.) Lol.

    As to the question, aren’t we all shaped by prejudice, by media, don’t we all have preconceived notions we need to deal with? I have thought about that, and….sure. Sure we do. And as a society, it’s good to address that. But what is the point of Christian maturity? To work over the course of our lives to root these things out, to submit them in love to God and to those He brings into our lives. Not everyone has racial propensities within their lives. It is truly possible to come to a place of love as a default for all people. I think that’s what God calls us to. We can spend our lives naval gazing, or we can grow up into Him and get past our issues.

    Lastly – here’s a tweet I saw yesterday from Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “Raising my voice on Hannity Radio at 4 today. Please forgive. Jesus love MUST rise up! Acts 17:26 one blood one race. Transform our nation!”

    I love that! :)

    Regardless – surely we don’t have that much difference between us. We both care deeply about people and want to help. God bless you – and thanks so much for the conversation.

  • Holly

    Oh, gosh, you asked me to explain why I think discussion of “systemic privilege” is not helpful. Sorry I didn’t do that.

    1) It’s not even been mentioned as an issue in open and honest conversation with the black friends I have in real life. Away from the media and the organizers, away from the message handed to them – they don’t seem to feel this so much.

    2) Yes, shame. On both sides. To the black, it is “I’m not good enough to achieve this without help.” To the white, it is, “assume the position.” “Pay for your nation’s past sins, even though you have not partaken in it.”

    3) Another personal experience: My 21 year old went to a community college. (He’s the oldest of my nine.) He was always homeschooled, didn’t listen to radio, television news (we read our news…) was taught about racial inequities, had black friends (didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to, I guess.) He went to college, did brilliantly, was considered for a joint internship with a global company and the college. He spent HOURS giving of his time to the MLK Jr. center in our city, installing and updating computer systems for underprivileged black children, so they would have educational opportunities.) He was simply a standout (would like to give you access to his instructors who were Russian, Asian, and black, so you could see it wasn’t just his white mama making it up, lol..) His black instructor recommended him for the opportunity, advocated for him – but the internship was put on hold for 6 months, as they searched for a black student who should be considered before him based not on ability, but on color alone. NOT ONE COULD BE FOUND. (I’m sad about that…but it is the truth.) Now, what did that cause in my son? In many, that would cause anger. In some, it can cause shame – I should feel shame because I am white! He is laid back, very understanding and loving, so he accepted it; and in the end, not only did he get the internship but the job. And now, at 21, he writes the programs that keeps global investments safe. :) He also works with a veritable United Nations and he LOVES it; but the company hires on merit not on color. I think that people of all colors can achieve just fine. It’s almost insulting, isn’t it, to be given a job because you’re a minority, not just because you can do the job the best of all the applicants? (I have read Clarence Thomas’ biography, and I think that is the point he is making.)

    I guess my bottom line is that in real life…it doesn’t work. As the president said in his recent address – another federal program? Maybe not the best idea. But addressing it in churches, in communities and friendships – maybe. Just maybe this is the way!

  • rising4air

    Scot,
    I’m obviously behind in responding to this fine post. But, I would want to lean into, or push back, on the use of “script.” I know that you are relying upon Berger/Luckmann/Edwards, as well as others, no doubt, in using “script.”

    Yet, I would invite you to join me in a soft exegesis of the comments. Many of the commenters resist- strongly so, in some cases- to the notion of a script. Why is that?

    I note that several social matters are at play all at once here, and I’d like to believe that the sum is greater than the parts, but: it’d be good to see the parts.

    Everyone has some ethnic identity, and depending upon the context, there is some power related to that ethnic identity.

    What we also observe is that people rarely are interested in relinquishing that power. Indeed, we all have a variety of goals, missions, and purposes that we want fulfilled: and, ordinarily, we won’t give those up naturally or even without some resistance or a fight.

    Now, just to pick up on your thought, “the scripts we inherit and are often unaware of”, we all agree with you. It’s so much easier to detect this social practice in others than our self.

    Now, let’s put squarely two matters up front here. First, is that white/majority-culture people possess greater social, cultural, economic, and political power than other groups in the US.

    Second is this: When such people become aware of such power- like through the corruption of justice in the Zimmerman trial and verdict- a variety of responses take place.

    And, it is that variety that I would want you to observe. In contrast to a script, you have people like yourself, the woman Holly who self-identifies as white, myself as multi-ethnic but visually appears white (not unlike Zimmerman) who are examples of resisting determination, i.e., scripts.

    In other words, such people are going off the script.

    This is why I am uneasy at the use of the term “script.” I understand that for the sake of the blogosphere, such terminology can be a helpful abbreviation. But, what it conceals- largely from those in the majority culture- is how much of our freedom to explore and act justly exists as people who ostensibly name Jesus as Lord.

    Sorry to have run on, but I want to close on two quick and compressed items.

    There can be no doubt that many many majority-culture people work off of the same cultural data and narratives that might be included in what you call a script: That phenomena does happen, and while I might be uncomfortable with the use of the word “system” (another common shorthand term), I understand why some sociologists would employ the term.

    And, I would again point you to those- including yourself- for whom the resistance to such cultural data (like the slavery of black people, Jim Crow Laws, and the persistent denial of the humanity of black people), the history of using such to advance one’s desires and goals at the expense of those not from the majority culture: are all brilliant testimonies that we are not scripted, that we do have some self-awareness as a grace of God, and that we can resist injustice, and collaborate with the risen Christ to promote and work for justice.

    Thanks for posting on this matter: We need more this kind of missional reflection.

    MikeK

  • Tom F.

    Hi, Holly. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. So glad to hear that your son is doing so well!

    In reference to point 3, it sounds like the problem is affirmative action; that talk of systematic injustice must inevitably lead to justification of affirmative action. That seems fair: that is often the case in national discussions. I guess I myself just don’t think that is an absolute link. Yes, affirmative action is one approach to addressing systemic problems, but it is not the only one. There are serious trade-offs in affirmative action, as you point out. There might be a wide range of other possibilities as well, such as changing hiring practices so as to eliminate prejudicial possibilities (i.e., varying levels of “blind” interviews, requiring that hiring be based on algorithms/objective criteria so as to eliminate some of the possibilities of prejudice). There is a great story in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” about how forcing orchestras to conduct blind auditions led to an explosion of the number of women in top-level orchestras, women who had previously experienced considerable prejudice.

    I have mixed feelings about affirmative action. In some ways, its the laziest way to address systematic injustice. If part of injustice comes from having different educational and social opportunities, than we should address that! However, while I would be happy to see affirmative action replaced by something that worked better, I do (personally) think that having it is likely better than not having it at all.

    So what I’m hearing overall is that discussions of systematic injustice would best be prefaced with “Of course, all of us might see different political solutions to systemic injustice, but let’s agree that systemic injustice is a big part of what minorities experience.”

  • Tom F.

    Great stuff, Holly. I will pray for your friends and for the blessing you have clearly been in their lives. I don’t think we do have much difference. My own relationships have been somewhat less personal but still meaningful; I have spent the last few years tutoring in an after school program in a lower-income area.

    My experience has been that the kids really wanted to have explicit conversations about our racial/ethnic differences (these kids were Hispanic/Latino). They tested the waters with various comments: “You are being mean to me because I’m Mexican”. (This is in reference to making them do homework.)

    On the one hand, comments like this were often phrased as jokes, as things that were only half-serious. On the one hand, they didn’t really believe them, at least about me. But I also took them as ways of testing the waters, and so I always took them sort of seriously, saying something like, “It’s because I wanted you to succeed that I want you to do your homework. Is that racist?” (Always with a half-smile on my face as well.)

    I think because I took these comments sort of seriously that they opened up to me occasionally about other experiences of racism they experienced. Generally, this fell along lines like the sort of “stereotype” disadvantaging that I have been emphasizing. Their teachers, often white, would often just give up. (Just to be clear, I would not have lasted half as long as most of those teachers. Those teachers are rock-stars, but the expectations on them are crushing.)

    Ironically, the kids were smart enough to realize that their teachers didn’t think the kids were going to be able to complete the normal curriculum. They would be let kids not turn in assignments, without penalty. The kids would pretend initially like they had “won”, but in moments of unusual honesty, it became linked with their ethnic identity: our school is Mexican, our school doesn’t have to/can’t complete the normal curriculum, therefore *They* (white people, adults, ect.) don’t think Mexicans can do normal schoolwork.

    You are likely right; these kinds of conversation are very difficult to have at the political level, where a claim of disadvantage is often linked to a claim for an increase in benefits. But it need not; there may be better/smarter policies that are more just and which are not simply crassly redistributive. Alternatively, Charles Murray, no liberal sort of person, has recently written a book (most of which I think is likely wrong) where he recommends that the way forward is for advantaged people of whatever kind to move to zip codes with disadvantaged people. There is so much research and theological support (incarnation!) behind this kind of move, and it doesn’t require any new government program. In that sense it is quite “conservative”. Such a move would be primarily about relationship, as you can’t bless people you aren’t close to.

    Thanks for a great conversation.

  • mark almlie

    thank you Scot. Fair enough. But what I hear you saying, thankfully, is that white people can understand–to some extent–people of other races if they educate themselves. We aren’t hopelessly unable to understand ‘the other’.

  • Holly

    Thanks! :) God bless. I really appreciated your stories – helps me understand what you are saying. I’m sure you are a fabulous teacher!


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