Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
I talked about how racist attitudes and acts of racism are always rooted in cowardice and self-hatred in a previous post.
If that is true, doesn't that change everything about how we ought to approach racism in this country?
We often approach racism this way: We condemn racism itself and the people who hold racist beliefs. Then we focus on lifting up the people whom racism has oppressed.
That seems logical, right? Racists have all the power and have used it to hurt others, so to make the situation right they need to lose that power and be reprimanded.
But what if racists don't feel like they have power? What if, on some level, they feel like they are the victims?
After all, racism comes out of fear--always. I'm talking about the kind of fear so deep most people often don't know they have it, but their actions speak for themselves. Why else would people work hard to oppress another group unless they were worried about what this group would do on a level playing field? Why else would they spend so much time hating what another group is doing? Isn't their life, their family and their work enough to keep themselves interested? Don't they believe in themselves?
It gets more complicated because racism, bigotry and discrimination are problems every person struggles with. It's endemic in the human condition, or at least in human culture. It can flare up in anyone and many keep it on the back burner simmering. But to the extent that either racism is "true" for any of us, whether it's in small ways for some or larger ways for others, I would argue the same lessons probably hold true. Racism may be like greed. Some multi-millionaires revolve their lives around greed while for others it's a more occasional misstep. But whether it's all-consuming or an occasional tendency, it is still coming out of sin, and that sin is tied to fear and that fear is tied to insecurity.
What sin are we talking about? Breaking the 1st commandment. People have their confidence and pride in something other than the awesome Mystery of God. And despite what it looks like, pride is always trying to cover up shame--a lack of self-worth or self-esteem. Feelings of superiority are always masking fears of inferiority. Always. The psychologist Alfred Adler made that point many years ago. Hated of others is always tried to a deeper, often hidden, self-hatred.
That's why it's rarely successful to "beat the racism" out of someone, whether in an actual war with bullets or in a fiery online debate. Attacking someone who is fearful is not likely to inspire them to move through and beyond their fear--rather, it actually validates the legitimacy of their fears ("You see? I was attacked so my fear was justified all along!") In short: We have to love the racism out of folks. Society still needs to send a message and condemn racism, but that alone won't cause transformation in hearts and minds.
We know that racism in the U.S. was fueled by a cruel system of manipulation: Poor whites were pitted against poor blacks. It served the wealthy and powerful for the poor people to squander their energy fighting against each other so they would never organize and recognize their common enemy. The wealthy were not sharing any of their riches with the poor whites, but they gave them a sense of pride in their "whiteness." And some of those folks were so poor the only thing of value they had was their whiteness, so they have fought hard to keep the racial pecking order in place as a result. It's a twisted system.
And if so, how do we do this?
If racism and other bigotry is rooted in fear--and I think it's clear that it is--then we should approach the issue with that firmly in mind. You can't scare the fear out of someone or beat or punish the fear out of someone. Or win legal cases. All of that will be perceived as a loss and will only work to strengthen the fear and persecution complex. All these will just work to convince a fearful person that they were right to be fearful because negative consequences are coming their way. But if we can get to the point where white people do not see Civil Rights victories as a loss but instead see that it is a win-win for all of us, then we can start healing that core fear. What I'm arguing is similar in a way that union organizers of years gone by worked to build a class consciousness and build solidarity--'that man over there is not my enemy but my comrade and we'll both get farther if we see our commonality and work together.'