Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Racism
- Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Here are three exhortations to Christians, four biblical texts, and some illustrations.
Christians should not simply reflect the morality of their era but the morality of the Bible.
Consider this quote from Shelby Steele’s White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, pages 5-6. As you read ask: How many Christians simply fit into the moral laxity of Eisenhower in his day and of Clinton in his day? Reflecting on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal compared to Dwight Eisenhower’s reputed use of the N-word, Steele writes:
I wondered if President Clinton would be defended with relativism if he had done what, according to gossip, Eisenhower was said to have done. Suppose that in a light moment he had slipped into a parody of an old Arkansas buddy from childhood and, to get the voice right, used the word “nigger” a few times. Suppose further that a tape of this came to light so that all day long in the media — from the unctuous morning shows to the freewheeling late-night shows to the news every half hour on radio — we would hear the unmistakable presidential voice saying, “Take your average nigger...”
...A contribution of the civil rights movement was to establish the point that a multiracial society cannot be truly democratic unless social equality itself becomes a matter of personal morality. So a president's “immorality” in this area would pretty much cancel his legitimacy as a democratic leader.
The point is that President Clinton survived what would certainly have destroyed President Eisenhower, and Eisenhower could easily have survived what would almost certainly have destroyed Clinton. Each man, finally, was no more than indiscreet within the moral landscape of his era (again, Eisenhower's indiscretion is hypothetical here for purposes of discussion). Neither racism in the fifties nor womanizing in the nineties was a profound enough sin to undermine completely the moral authority of a president. So it was the good luck of each president to sin into the moral relativism of his era rather than into its Puritanism. And, interestingly, the moral relativism of one era was the Puritanism of the other. Race simply replaced sex as the primary focus of America's moral seriousness.
Implication for Christians: Let the Bible, and not the era, govern our moral seriousness.
Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalization.
John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
In our ordinary use of language today, a “stereotype” is a generalization that is not built on what Jesus calls “right judgment.” Merriam-Webster defines a stereotype like this: “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.”
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