The Perfect Can Be the Enemy of the Good: On Race (A Small Point)

The Perfect Can Be the Enemy of the Good: On Race (A Small Point) April 9, 2018

Whenever I say something about race or racism, certain good hearted friends suggest that the solutions I propose are racist themselves, because they take race into account.

I hope those friends will take the time to hear my response.

We share a goal:

The lie of race should die and the sins that cluster around the false ideology of racism should become evil artifacts of the past. The dream of most Americans is for the color-blind society of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King.

I share that dream.

Yet that perfect has become the enemy of progress. You cannot stop considering race until racism is stamped out. The easier work (and how hard it was!) was ending overt segregation. The harder job  is breaking down social barriers. There is, I fear, an invisible empire that keeps us apart and against that we must fight with open eyes.

This is true in so many areas of injustice: we cannot get ahead of where we are. Race still counts and so we must consider race and fight racism. Abortion provides a good parallel case. We all long for a society where all life is sacred. That is not our society. When unborn children are being murdered, we cannot ignore that grave injustice and pretend that all Americans are given the right to life. Americans have to live with a culture where every human life is not valued and press toward the ideal. A nation like Iceland is killing all babies that do not fit their definition of a life worth living. This is real.

In the same way, the chains of the past keep us from being color blind just now.

A Brief Moment to Recollect the Past 

Centuries of slavery scarred the North American English colonies and the new United States. Families were torn apart. Great evil was done and all the good we did was corrupted by slavery. Few dare defend slavery, thank God, but in the lifetime of my grandparents, writers like Thomas Dixon openly argued for disenfranchising African-Americans and after World War II, United States Senator Theodore Bilbo repeated his vile assessment of his fellow citizens. Present leaders of the great American city, Houston, grew up eating next to the garbage cans, because the law would not let a resteraunt serve them. If you have not heard a racist joke or seen the CSA glorified in the last five years, you have had better fortune than I have.

A conservative thinks ideas matter and have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences and these continue. We still live in the world reeling from World War I. We dare not pretend that the scars of Jim Crow are all gone.

This is the real world and we have to act to change it. I will not leave it to “liberalism” to do so. In fact, I think conservative Christian solutions are best, but we must begin by recognizing that there is a cause and justice to fight for and seek. 

Trying to Live the Ideal Just Now Is Less than Ideal 

To be color blind when people of color cannot be is morally wrong.

Of course, we cannot fight injustice with more injustice. No person should get a job or position to which he or she is not fit. Yet I have known people, very fit, who somehow never could get jobs once they came to an interview. “You did not sound black!” and somehow the job would never come.

I have seen this enough to know it is no accident. To live color blind, when society is not, is to abandon my friends to injustice. It would be as if I was in Iceland and accepted protestations that no baby is being targeted and then discover that (sheerly by chance?) there are no babies born with Down Sydnrome. A few token births would not do to sate my righteous rage. The time would have come to actively seek justice for these fellow souls created in God’s image. People are using their status (Downs) to terminate them. I will not pretend otherwise. To live in a culture dedicated to eradicating a population as if all men were created equal is to turn the ideal into a snare and delusion.

So what to do?

We must aspire to be color blind, but recognize that racism is not dead. We must recognize the active evil and combat it by active measures.

First, we must tell the truth about the recent past. Segregation is not ancient history for people of my parent’s generation. The good news is that open racism is mostly underground, though I have heard enough to know that racism is still there in leaders who should know better. We have made progress. Few read Thomas Dixon or watch Birth of Nation without a shudder, but the ideas were deeply ingrained in our society. We do not have to demonize what is good about this nation, and God bless that great good, to tell the truth.

No nation is guiltless. There is none righteous, not one. We can point to the good without denying the bad. Our theology demands it!

Second, we are conservatives so we must be practical. We should be proactive in moving qualified minority candidates into positions of power. As much as possible, we should look at ourselves and say: “Does our diversity reflect our applicant pool? If not, why not?” If our applicant pool is not diverse, we should ask why. The answers may shock us.

I knew a place where people of color who would have worked there were turned off by theological liberalism they saw. The organization reached out to folks who hated the theology and mission of the school while ignoring their natural allies. One sure sign of racism is the assumption that “they” are all such and such a way.

There were plenty of theological conservatives who would have worked at this place, but the diversity agenda was driven by people who wanted to make the theology more liberal. Since there were plenty of places competing for these more liberal faces and voices, the organization changes all too slowly.

Third, theological conservatives will have to accept that theological conservatism and social conservatism do not equal economic conservatism. I am a small government person generally, but a small central government failed African-Americans when state governments used police power to enforce segregation.

Theological and ethical truths held in common are more vital than particular political solutions to economic problems. Christians should make shared theology and ethics a priority and work for and ally with any person who might have differences in how best to help the poor (for example). I predict everyone will be surprised once barriers are broken how much creativity and new ideas are unleashed!

Always recall: the evils done by secularism or by anyone else is not an excuse for our failure to act. Read Ellison’s Invisible Man. There are always grifters and hustlers preying on good hearted people trying to do right, yet still we must seek justice. The ideal is before us. Let’s be practical and get there.






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