Social Justice, Racism, and Ferguson: A Mega-Post On The Not So Invisible Elephant

abeautifuleulogy asked a question:

Given everything that’s happening lately (especially with Ferguson) what are your thoughts on how a Christian can graciously engage in dialogue about racism/(in)justice with someone who isn’t justice-oriented? (bonus points if you address talking with non-Christian racist parents). I find myself trying to walk the line of challenging them while not breaking relationship trust. I’d love to hear how you approach that situation, and what things you keep in mind. Peace.

Hey my dear friend: First I must say that I’m grieving with the entire community right now on every side of this. Before I even talk about issues, I want to talk about the people inside them.  I don’t ever want to forget that people actually died, and that courtrooms and juries can’t ever bring them back.  My heart is breaking profoundly for us right now as a people who have gone wrong and been wronged.

My heart also equally grieves for the ugliness of the internet community and how quickly we devour each other over race and justice. On one hand, I believe each of our communities must examine themselves first, but on the other hand, I’m so dang tired of explaining that racism exists.

1) Most bloggers who talk about Social Justice don’t actually care about the oppressed, but about going viral and getting high-fives from other bloggers.

2) Those who don’t believe “racism exists” cannot be convinced by snarky sarcasm, but only by patience and reasoned sharing.

3) Change can only happen by entering the structures already in place from the inside, not by slamming on it from the outside.

The last time I defended Michael Brown, I decided not to talk about it anymore because a ton of people just lost their minds. I tried to be as fair and unbiased as usual, but I was suddenly a magnet for ugly horrible messages.  It’s not that I want people to agree with me, but it’s that we’re way too quick to say a problem doesn’t exist instead of acknowledging that someone’s pain could be real.  If my body keeps hurting somewhere, chances are it’s a diagnosis of something bad. We need to diagnose the culture too.  But nothing enrages people more than talking about race, privilege, and justice, mostly because people can’t stand to face the ugliness inside and to say “I’m wrong.”

After writing about it a few times, I lost dozens of followers and someone was disappointed in my “overly racially charged view of the world.” Seeing as I’m an Asian minority and I’ve been verbally and physically attacked my entire life for my race, I don’t think it’s some kind of delusion. Racism exists; racial motivations are real. I’ve been beat up for being a minority and someone spraypainted a Nazi swastika on my dad’s business.  I’ve heard “chink” and “gook” thousands of times; there have been hundreds of people who tried to rip me off because they think I’m the dumb innocent Asian.  If I’ve “bought into” a myth, I suppose my bruises can speak the truth. And none of that even marginally compares to the racism that my black friends face for their own families every single day.

It’s almost impossible to gain any traction with this online or even face-to-face.  I’ve stopped trying.  No one’s interested in a conversation; we’re all yelling as loudly as possible to point at our own platforms.  And I’m saying this for every side.  We all do this. I think the majority of Social Justice bloggers are making it worse.

Most bloggers are using Social Justice and “cued buzzwords” to go viral and get attention. It doesn’t help anyone and it only diminishes the actual issue of racism.  It turns it into a circus carnival, and I’m begging you: if you’re another blogger who just randomly reblogs SJ stuff with zero context or care, then please stop.  We need more depth and not shallow sound-bites. You’re actually parodying the whole thing into a laughable hand-wave.

There are really three groups of people here:

1) Preaching to their own choir.

2) Silently oblivious to larger issues.

3) Trying to reach across the divide.

Unfortunately, most of the Social Justice Bloggers are still preaching to their own choir.  It’s full of overbearing, snarky, sarcastic bravado that only speaks to the people who already agree.  Sass is fun, but it never works.  Sarcasm and sneering and passive-aggressive commentary don’t convey ideas, only division.  It’s not a conversation, but a masturbatory fist-bump.

I hardly read any SJW blogs these days because they’re all the same (I only read one now, and she’s great).  Someone says a “burn” type thing, it gets reblogged thousands of times with #preach or #ooohhh, and that’s it.  No one does anything.  Mental agreement and assent do nothing.  Of course, I believe awareness is crucial and important, even life-saving.  A few might actually donate or reach out to the people in authority to affect change.  There are still thoughtful people who offer solutions and get involved with the people who are hurting.  But my guess is that 90% of the online community doesn’t really care.  They just want to impress their other SJW buddies and it’s an isolated echo chamber of point A to point A.  I’m not okay with that.

We also can’t stay silent and we must also reach across the divide.  Here’s what I suggest if you’re talking to someone who might be racist or blind to their own racism.  I use a modified hybrid of Aristotelian philosophy and Jesus’s approach to wealthy upper-class men.

We can ask two questions.

1) What do you mean by that?

2) Why do you believe that?

You see: When you only make propositional statements from your opinions, you immediately put another person on their automatic preprogrammed defense.  I’m not above this; I do it too.  It goes nowhere.  You can’t possibly peel back years and layers of racism in another person during a heated exchanged of ideas versus ideas.  But when you ask questions about a person’s belief, several good things happen.  You then put the other person on equal footing so they can explain themselves, and instead of defending, they’re now confessing.

The hope is that they’ll hear their own ideas out loud as you continue to ask “what” and “why,” and they’ll realize that their own ideas are not as sound as they had once believed.  It’ll start to sound silly, even to them.  I can almost guarantee you that most people have never been openly challenged this way and have only perpetuated their ideas with like-minded people. By questioning them, you are entering softly while still turning over stones.

This is not a trick, by the way.  People can tell when you’re pulling a fast one.  People can tell when you don’t love them or using a formula or you’re being a smug jerk.  So don’t be a smug jerk and do love them.  And be open to hearing them out, because maybe they have a painful story behind their anger and prejudice.  Maybe they simply need to tell it to be set free.

Now you can see that the entire blogosphere is completely anti-productive to dialogue, because you can’t really ask questions and share stories back and forth.  The internet is made largely for propositional statements.  That’s why you see the most hate online; because arguments escalate into competition.  No one has ever changed their minds online, and if they do, it’s only to look smart and not because they’re becoming smart.

The reason why I believe Martin Luther King Jr. had such a sweeping effect on our national psyche is because he managed to be both compassionate and just.  He asked the right questions and navigated with the right surgical touch.  He reached across dividing lines to the people in authority and was able to negotiate without haranguing them. Systematic change began when someone entered the system through wisdom instead of slamming against it from the gates, and I believe we can be wise enough to do this today.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the patience or perseverance. You won’t find the nuanced thoughtfulness of both MLK’s eloquence and firm confidence within one person. We’re all either too brazen with nothing to say or too scared to say anything.  If MLK was a blogger today, I think he would be embarrassed and ashamed to see that no one was trying to reach outside their polarized box; he would see a lot of little unorganized choirs with zero consensus squabbling for each other’s attention and then closing their browsers to watch the next episode of the Kardashians.  MLK, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Han, Mother Teresa, and Jesus would all see blindness.

It’s easy to stand up for something. There are enough soapboxes to go around. I’m waiting for the guy who will actually kneel down with me in the trenches, roll up his sleeves, and hurt with me.  I’m waiting for the guy who will listen to my story as a victim of racial abuse and prejudice.  I’m not interested in debating, because talk is a cheap dress that you can buy with a free blog in your basement, and I’m done with people preaching pretty words without doing what they preach first.  Even true content is false when it’s not backed up by movement and momentum.  Quoting famous quotes doesn’t help me: you only need to get to know me and maybe we can turn this all around.

I hope we can each take a long real look at our own platforms, and then ask, “If the ‘other side’ had my exact tone and argumentation and methods, would I even care to read them? Would I even listen to myself?” 

Of course, I don’t expect anyone will honestly do this, because I’m a cynical person.  Everyone hates to change or to challenge themselves or to hear the hard things.  No one likes discomfort or self-confrontation, because we like coddling and triumphalist self-affirmation.  But maybe, just maybe, a few of us might take an honest look at ourselves and examine what we’re really shouting about, and perhaps find a better way than the shouting. And maybe some of us will reach up to those who are in power who actually want to help, because there are still good people in charge who want to do the right thing, or maybe the few of us in power would actually wield it for good instead of swinging it for our own acclaim.  I have hope to see justice in my lifetime, and it starts outside our room past the front door.

— J.S.


2 thoughts on “Social Justice, Racism, and Ferguson: A Mega-Post On The Not So Invisible Elephant

  1. There is an elephant you addressed gracefully! It is a horrible travesty that so many have had their minds made up long before the grand jury spoke! I long too for the sensibility and compassion of Martin Luther King Jr.


  2. Part of the problem is that in our instantaneous society, we want to be fully informed on any given issue with a few 30 second video clips. We take no thought as to how those images and sound bites were selected and who is the one doing the selecting.

    Issues are never as simple as news outlets wants to make them. As you point out, real people die and real people are getting hurt by rioting and other reactions to the original events.

    Nothing gets better as a result of rioting and verbal acrimony. We need fewer people stirring the pot and more people seeking to bring the peace of Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs it.


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