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Shared Faith: How to Bridge America’s Racial Division

The woke antiracism espoused by many of our cultural elites constitutes little more than a remade racism. The view that bridging the racial divide in American society requires blaming all racial inequalities on white privilege and structural racism cannot possibly end in racial reconciliation. It purports that non-whiteness is a righteous position of vindictive judgment and moral purity, and whiteness is transformed into the marker of condemned inferiority and moral depravity. This is transparently based on massive overgeneralizations and a priori judgment of individuals, in turn based on categorical moral condemnations and punitive fantasies about the responsibilities of living individuals for historical events they had no control over.

Are we doomed then to the inescapability of our current racial divide?

No, it’s not inevitable. We could certainly do things that would make it less likely. What kinds of things? I offer one personal example as illustrative of the possibilities: my relationship with my friend Gerald.

I met Gerald at the local pool while I was there reading, waiting for my daughter to finish her swim practice. I had seen him around the place a lot for a few weeks, wearing a painter’s overalls and carrying the tools of that trade. We had exchanged a few noncommittal greetings, but both of us were clearly attending to other things, so our exchanges ended there.

Until the day they didn’t.

I don’t remember precisely what was said, and who said it, to move our relationship to another level. It might have been his asking me what I was reading or my asking him what he was painting. However it happened, we started talking. Over the last month or so of my daughter’s swim season, I’d guess we spent at least 15 minutes of nearly every weeknight chatting. Not a relationship of great duration, but one substantial enough to call a friendship.

Oh, yes, the woke antiracism folks would certainly want me to remind you: I am white, and Gerald is black.

How did this matter of race factor into our interaction?

I believe it justified to assert that both of us approached our interaction in a manner that was in the most meaningful way colorblind. And I saw no indication that Gerald was treating me differently based on my race. Though we certainly knew visually who we were likely talking with in race-category terms, that knowledge played no role in informing our conversation.

Aside from talking about his painting job and a Vietnam War veteran memoir I was reading, Gerald and I learned we are both fathers and husbands. We talked a great deal of those roles and relationships. The amount of shared ground here was considerable. If there were any racial angles that differentiated my experience of being a father or husband from Gerald’s, I did not recognize it, and I would be surprised if he did either.

The great moral charge and difficulty of imparting a system of values to our children occupied much of our discussions. On this topic, it was as though we had always known one another and could perfectly anticipate the ideas that were being advanced by the other before they were spoken. We talked about how hard it is to let our kids be independent when we are so motivated to protect them from risk and danger. We talked about the ways in which our broader culture seems to be interested in making it harder to be a father and a husband, another topic we agreed on.

At some point relatively early on in our first long conversation, we came upon the topic of religion. At this moment, it was apparent to me—and I believe to him too—that we had learned something essential that we had already guessed from what had gone before in our exchange.

It can scarcely be overstated how important deeply shared moral and religious belief is for social solidarity. Though the percentage of Americans who adhere to the religious traditions that were once essentially universal in this society has been steadily shrinking, majority of us still share this cultural language that formed a point of bedrock for my conversations with Gerald. This shared set of experiences and beliefs has, for long centuries, made it possible for people demonstrably different in many ways to carve out a country together here in America and to see one another as brothers and sisters beneath our superficial differences.

These Judeo-Christian principles that formed the strongest links in the web of friendship Gerald and I wove were at the root of nearly everything else that bound us together. Our shared understandings of our familial responsibilities and joys, of our commitment to hard work and self-reliance, of our love of America—all of this was arguably fortified by the fundamental belief we share about the meaning of our lives in this realm and the need to hone our souls in preparation for the next.

Our conversation was effortless. It mattered greatly that we both started from the same moral baseline, and once we knew where the other stood, it was easy for us to assume the best of one another and extend ourselves in real human warmth.

Compare this to the antiracist’s worldview. That perspective gives you interactions between blacks and whites in which everyone already knows virtually everything about the other and the interaction. Here, the inevitable outcome is a simplistic morality play where people divide themselves, one party fervently asserting victimhood, the other party enthusiastically self-flagellating. Each conversation becomes like an interrogation and a confession.

My interaction with Gerald was something entirely different. It was an interaction between two humans, assuming nothing but good will about one another and endeavoring to share a little convivial warmth in a cold world.

Is it conceivable that—as antiracists claim—some people have some advantages that others do not? It is. Certainly, people live different lives, and some are advantaged and others disadvantaged in specific ways and in specific situations. But the calculus of this is simply too difficult to carry out in real interactions, and it’s always far more complicated in the particulars than the primitive moral framework of the antiracists. There’s no way of knowing what any individual has in the way of that personal balance sheet, and we have the pressing business of dealing with one another anyway.

Here we all are, right here, right now, in the complex mess of our real lives. We are on solid ground in treating one another as equals and disdaining cardboard assumptions about one another based on childish ideologies. It is the best we can do, and we should do our best.

If there is a way forward on racial reconciliation, it will not take the form of so-called antiracism. It will look something like the conversations I had with Gerald, multiplied many times over, and (here’s the hardest part) it must be championed and enabled by our culture’s elites if it is to become truly widespread. However, it is a much more positive and hopeful path than the one proffered by the woke antiracists.

Image credit: Public Domain Pictures-Linnaea Mallette, CC0 1.0


Alexander Riley

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