About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • Paul

    Morgan, one of the first things that comes to mind is MLK’s quote in the “I Have a Dream” speech that one his little children will “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Thoughts on how that quote relates to your reflections here?

    • Rebecca Trotter

      I can’t speak for Morgan, but I will say that line is one of the most fantastically misunderstood and misused comments on race around. What MLK was saying was simply that one day his children may be judged according to who they are rather than automatically and systematically shoved into some preconcieved notion based on the color of their skin. What he was NOT saying was that one day we would all be blind to color. At least we won’t be color blind anytime soon. The problem with the idea of color blindness as I see it is that it denies a fundamental part of who a person is and assumes that their desire would be to shed their racial identity.

      White people are often oblivious to this because our race is largely invisible to us. We don’t grow up talking about what ‘white people do” or how “white people are”. However, for a person of color, their race often has a profound affect on their lives which they are well aware of. It is tied up with the circumstances they are born into, their family’s and their own relationship with the majority culture, their cultural touchstones and even their priorities, child rearing practices and assumptions about how life works. When you say that you are color blind, you are saying that none of that matters. Which is a problem because those things matter very much to people.

      Many minority people I know hear the words color blind and automatically hear “As long as you act just like a white person, you’ll be fine”. And believe it or not, most people of color aren’t particularly interested in being just like white people. There are too many things about their own culture that they value and being expected to drop that in order to fit into the majority culture understandably breeds resentment. White people are oblivious to their own race and that’s not really a trait that many people of color are interested in developing themselves.

      • MorganGuyton

        Exactly.

      • Colsa2

        The issue of colorblindness in affirmative action is in regards to test scores and academic ability. This is about treating people equally, it has nothing to do with asking anyone to shed their racial identity.

        Nobody is asking anyone to just “act like a white person”. All they’re saying is if you want to get into college you just need to do deserve it based on your ability as much as everyone else.

    • MorganGuyton

      I think there’s a difference between not dismissing somebody on account of their skin-color and actually getting to know them as a person and pretending that people can be judged on the basis of some sort of objective numerical meritocracy that isn’t richly interwoven with their whole identity which includes culture, skin color, personality, etc. It’s the myth of objective meritocracy that is the demonic idol we’ve got to get rid of. Two people simply cannot be put side by side and ranked numerically in any way. Reality is ultimately not quantifiable like that.

      • Paul

        Thanks for the feedback, Rebecca and Morgan. I think a lot of white folks honestly feel like they are carrying on MLK’s legacy by advocating for a “color-blind” society, even though everyone knows it does not exist. In this way, I think the move toward meritocracy is based on mostly good intentions – a desire for fairness and an emphasis on our shared humanity. For that reason I’m a little reluctant to see it as a “demonic idol.” Misguided, for sure. Because you’re right, sitting in class with a bunch of straight A students who’ve had their personalities and cultures sucked out by the meritocracy does sound pretty awful.

        • MorganGuyton

          Thanks for your gracious tone, Paul. And I think you’ve got a legitimate point. There’s a troubling subtlety that I wanted to call attention to, because I know that people are not coming from a malicious cynical place usually in trying to be “color-blind.” Ultimately, I would say that we’ve got to transcend meritocracy which is very hard because it’s so hard-wired into the assumptions of our competitive society and economic system.

      • Colsa2

        Reality is ultimately quantifiable. More importantly, ability is definitely quantifiable. That is a fact. Two people are put side by side and measured every day. We are measured by height, weight, skill at Tetris, and academic ability.

        You are obfuscating any sense of logic or rationality using richly worded doublespeak phrases that have no meat behind them. Your writing projects an existential angst at with no reasoning or attempt at analysis.

        The truth of the matter is you feel guilty. The sad thing is that you have allowed you guilt to consume your reason. Our ability to reason is what makes us human.

        • MorganGuyton

          “Your writing projects an existential angst at with no reasoning or attempt at analysis.” Sounds like you’re the one using fancy words without any substantiation. So how much weight do you give to each of your categories (height, weight, skill at Tetris, and academic ability) when you’re measuring the worth of a person? It’s arbitrary. Just because we can turn everything into math doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to do so.

          • Colsa2

            This is where you are mistaken. We don’t measure test scores and grades in order to measure the worth of people. We do it to measure the ability of people. We are all worth the same in the eyes of God.

            That is not arbitrary. What would be arbitrary is saying that you can’t get accepted to a college because you’re a Jew and we already have lots of jews and you can be accepted because your black and we need more blacks.

  • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com Brambonius

    Strange, here in Western Europe most of the people would still identify most with their culture (Flemish, Dutch, English, French, German,..) which is still a very important thing for us. We have a lot of nationalism, which might be partly about broad Western heritage, but which is also very deeply rooted in the identity of each people. Flemish nationalists for example do want to keep our Flemish identity, against a bigger European one in which we might lose it, and they are not concerned about any abstract whiteness, nor that much about skin colot.

    The universal ideas of the enlightenment are just one strain of academic thought which is important for educated people but did not at all trickle down to all societal classes and has been quite ivory tower stuff anyway in most times. Most racism I’ve encountered here was more among lower-class people who, if they’d use our word ‘blank’ (white) for the ‘we-group’ were very fast to exclude anyone who wouldn’t speak Dutch or isn’t from an neigboring country from that we-group (like East-Europeans for example, and I’m not sure you Americans should count yourselves ‘in’ too fast either). Because they’re not from ‘us’. ‘Us’ = people of the same culture, living here in this country, speaking the same language, preferable culturally catholic or atheist. What Americans call ‘white privilege’ looks more like ‘native privilege’ over here. We are the people that have lived here since God-knows-when, this is our land, culture and language, so stay away or adapt to us…
    (I was almost as much ‘not us’ for some kids in catholic primary school as the Turks -who were white but with darker hair which didn’t matter, but they also had a weird religion and a different language, which did- because I as a pentecostal had another religion, even though I was Flemish and white I remember a kid once called me ‘neither Belgian nor Turkish’.)

    What you describe about the culture-dissolving ‘neutrality’ is something very dangerous indeed in a lot of ways, but I have never seen it connected with anything that could be racism here in Europe in real life. And even the fundamentalist atheist (liberal humanist) enlightenment thinkers usually speak about defending our culture and heritage (including enlightenment ideas) against Islam for example.
    There is a troubling way of erasing identity by demanding ‘neutrality’ and so for example banning all religious symbols in government buildings (I can’t wear a cross as a protestant religion teacher in a public school outside of my classroom for example) but that’s not connected to race.

    (I don’t even understand your American definition of ‘race’ here I must confess. For me the Jewish people here in Antwerp are technically ‘white’ but of different culture, and calling them otherwise would feel racist to me. And until I read discussions like on the internet I did not even have separate categories in my head for Americans of different races except native Americans -whose culture I’ve always found intriguing, while I’ve never cared for ‘cowboys’ nor identified much with them, both sides of a Western were exotic aliens to me-, they all were ‘Americans’ to me, which is quite different from ‘Europeans’ or ‘Africans’. )

    So no, meritocracy might be a problem, but erasing it will not solve all problems of racism in the world, because a lot of it is still rooted in clashing identities. What I see from American movies like American history X is also a (to me quite alien) racism rooted in protection of a Euro-American we-identity, not anything that fits in what you describe here.

    • MorganGuyton

      Interesting. That makes sense that the all-encompassing category of “whiteness” would mostly happen in America and not in Europe proper. But I would wager that working-class French people are going to see Jews as more of an outsider group than working-class Austrians or Dutch.

  • TRENTON_MAKES_THE_WORLD_TAKES

    Good post, thank you. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of the writings of Dr. Cornel West on these issues, I can’t recommend him highly enough. The Cornel West reader is as good a place as any to start. There’s a chapter called “Race and Modernity” which supports and extends many of the points that you’ve made here.

    With regard to your specific argument, I fear you may be too kind in writing “their attempt to be ‘color-blind’ was the reason they became racist.” Seems to me that you could equally well argue that their racism was the reason they asserted the unassailable value of a system that made whiteness normative.

    • MorganGuyton

      Excellent. Thanks for the resource. I’m woefully under-read. And you’re definitely right that I’m being too kind and oversimplifying a lot of things. I think Willie Jennings does a good job of illustrating the naivete and cynicism simultaneously operating in the shaping of the ideology of race in his Christian Imagination.

      • Colsa2

        “Paradoxically, the way that racism came about originally was through the quest of European Enlightenment thinkers to transcend and deny cultural specificity and simply exist as a rational, universalized (secular Christian) humanity. Their attempt to be “color-blind” was the reason they became racist”

        Do you actually believe that? Does anyone believe that? That seems a fancy pants contrived way to describe the origin of something that is as old as time human civilization and exists in every society, even ones that are neither European nor Enlightened.

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  • Colsa2

    This is nonsense. Chinese people are racists. Japanese people are racist. There is no European enlightenment source to Racism. Everyone is capable of racism. Ask the Hutus and the Tutsis

    • MorganGuyton

      I would make a distinction between the racism of people who have historically tried to transcend cultural specificity as “white” people have and the ethnocentrism of each individual tribe of humanity.

      • Colsa2

        You are white. Because you are white you are ethnocentric and think that different rules apply to white people than Chinese people. You are right now saying that racism for white people is somehow different than racism for Chinese people, what is more ethnocentric than that?

        (hint: Chinese people are just as racist against blacks as any Alabaman).

        Do you understand the conflict in the position you have taken? Racism is racism. You are somehow trying to say that white racism is different only because you are being self-centered and thinking that white people are different from other racist groups.

        • MorganGuyton

          There are historic phenomena that describe the way that Chinese people have developed in their oppression of other peoples in their sphere of influence. I cannot speak to those because I have not been exposed to them. I can speak to the relationship between Enlightenment thought and the presumption that non-western European peoples are inferior and culturally backward. You’re trying to dismiss the existence of white racism by saying well everybody does it so what’s the big deal. I don’t have a lot of energy for this conversation so I’ll give you the last word.

          • Colsa2

            I am not dismissing white racism, I’m am merely recognizing that it is common in humanity and that it is comically absurd to draw high-flung analogies between enlightenment thought 400 years ago and contemporary racism in the United States.

            People in the KKK have no exposure to enlightenment thought, they don’t care. They are being racist for the same reason Chinese people are racist, it is a human flaw common to everyone.

            You are absurdly overanalyzing racism. It is really quite a blunt and simple phenomenon.

            Just because someone makes a grandiose claim across time periods that the empirical source of racism happened in year 1722 during the enlightenment or whatever doesn’t make them intellectual, it is a BS idea that just doesn’t hold water.

          • MorganGuyton

            You’re a child of God who is loved by Jesus. Be blessed!

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  • clbeyer

    Morgan, I find the association between the “white man’s burden” to colonize and enslave, and choking of diverse cultures to be particularly fascinating. It explains why “colorblindness” cannot thrive as a strategy in embracing whole people groups, or even unique individuals.

    We often think of culture, I think, in terms of groups of people — their art and practices, collectively. However, this term “culture” is also used in regard to the biological state of the body; it refers to “conditions suitable for growth.” The practices adopted by particular people groups reflect what they’ve deemed is necessary to thrive in their earth-bodies. It has something to do with color (and language, food, music, and many other things). But in the end, these are “conditions suitable for growth.”

    My family is multiracial, now that we have one son we’ve adopted. He is Ethiopian-born. As an adoptive parent, I must pay attention to the research regarding the struggle and needs of children wading through questions of identity. Research shows a direct relationship between psychological health (specifically, stress levels) and racial identity and socialization in adolescents. (The more racially aware they are, the greater their well-being.) To remove Ethiopian culture from my son would be to deny his birthplace, his birth mother and father, the sounds and smells of his infancy. My colorblindness would bar the door for him to explore what it means to be him. He cannot grow suitably unless all of his magnificent identity is embraced. (Yes, I will need help with this, since I cannot give him a culture that is not mine.)

    Thank you, Morgan! I needed to make those associations. And thanks for letting me process my thoughts in your commenting section, however scattered they still are.

    • MorganGuyton

      Thank you so much for your poetic sensibilities. I love that connection between the two meanings of the word “culture.” Please comment often!

  • Carvan Jackson

    Morgan, you discussed many things as to the evolution of racism. However, I disagree with you concerning the philosophical disposition of “The Enlightenment Movement” as the origins of racism. Nevertheless, I will admit the enlightenment movement did shape attitudes toward merit based worth on one’s intellectual and economic prowess. This is simple meritocracy not racism. While the European Jews presented a sense of otherness because of their religion their race was identical–and for many years blended into European society with equality– intellectually and economically.
    Racism is far more insidious and malicious than meritocracy. Racism finds its origins in the region of the damn and is spawned by Satan himself. The best definition for racism is in E. Whitney Young’s book ” Beyond Racism”. Young defines racism as the belief and/or assumption that one is superior to another solely based on race–and the arrogance that goes with–Young goes on to say the African American has radar like sensitivity to it. I like that definition.


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