Who is more sensitive?
Bill Smith in response to Thabiti Anyabwile on crazy Confederate uncles?
I should not have to say these things, but I will, though I know some, perhaps including Brother Anyabwile, will take it as the equivalent of “I have black friends”: (1) I have no sympathy for the League of the South. I have never been to Monroe, Louisiana, or attended a Confederate Ball. While I am eligible for membership, I have not joined the Sons of the Confederacy because I do not want anything to do with the racism of some of its members. (2) In seminary in the early 1970s I spent two summers working as an assistant to a black Presbyterian pastor in Jackson, MS. (3) I was run off as a RUM campus minister, with a wife and five babies, in part because of my racial views and practice. Ours was the only integrated RUF in Mississippi, and we integrated the statewide conferences. I stood by an interracial dating couple which included my sitting in an office hearing one of them described as a “white N-word” by a person threatening my job. (4) I have a love-hate relationship with the South, and particularly with Mississippi. Mississippi is a place where place (both geography and status) and people (your family and social group) make a great deal of difference. I hate indirection and insincerity in relationships. But the South is like my family. I can point out theie faults, but if you go to talking bad about my people, I’ll bow my neck and clench my fists. (5) I read B.B. Warfield and listen to B.B. King.
But, nevertheless I am one of those crazy Confederates I suppose because I am (1) white (so far as I know, though there are questions) , (2) Reformed (in my case defined by the 39 Articles); (3) western (in civilization – the “dead white guys”); (4) Southern (by heritage and affection).
Like all paranoid schizophrenics, I feel I have been persecuted.
Or Jemar Tisby on Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson?
So, Blacks were happier during the Jim Crow era? Does he assume that all Blacks now are on welfare?
I’ve actually heard similar reasoning quite often. Usually these comments come from older Whites who grew up in the South and remember it fondly. I understand their point. They look back on their experience of a historical moment that was mostly positive, and they want to remember it that way. The problem in a segregated society, then and now, is that our perceptions tend only to reflect our particular realities. We have little exposure to the realities of others, including an awareness of their hardships.
What Phil Robertson and others get wrong is how they diagnose the state of race relations in America. They use external cues like the frequency of a smile, and their personal exposure to overt instances of racism to judge the climate of a culture. But what some people fail to understand is that there are unwritten rules of conduct when Blacks interact with Whites. . . .
It’s possible that Phil Robertson knew Blacks who were genuinely happy. It’s possible that in his community there truly were exceptionally positive relationships between Blacks and Whites. It’s possible, but not likely. What’s probably closer to reality is that he saw Black people who knew the rules. They knew what they could say and do around Whites who held the power. Even if those Whites were lower-income or “white trash” as Mr. Robertson describes it. There was still a cultural curtain separating the races.
I am merely asking, since it seems that everyone is sensitive and that everyone also expects others to moderate their sensitivity for the sake of getting along, though Joe Carter may differ.
I do believe that Tisby is correct to conclude that:
We all need to examine our tools of discernment. What are we using as evidence for a hypothesis about a people? Are we employing superficial and anecdotal proofs for our theories? Or are we engaging in meaningful dialogue with those who are different from us?
I am not sure that Anyabwile or Smith’s posts meet Tisby’s guidelines, nor do I think either man is without a point. The issue may be whether each man can acknowledge the other’s grievance, or whether one grievance trumps the other and lowers Tisby’s threshold for “meaningful dialogue.” That’s why Ross Douthat’s point (in the context of “12 Years A Slave”) is worth repeating:
A fruitful conversation about race in America, then, would require both sides to somehow pick a different starting point. To get a fair hearing from liberals — and, more importantly, from black Americans — the right would need to begin from a place of greater empathy for the black experience, and greater respect for the historical reasons that voter ID laws and Rush Limbaugh soliloquies can raise so many hackles. To get a fair hearing from conservatives, liberals would need to begin by imputing racism less frequently, attacking racially-entangled policies that aren’t remotely like Jim Crow on the merits rather than just calling them Jim Crow, Round Two, and recognizing that (as with Hitler analogies) the sooner you link your interlocutors to slaveowners, the faster they will tune you out.
Obama-era conservatism has often gone backward, not forward, where this potential conversation is concerned. But a liberalism that expects conservatives to see their present-day positions and rhetoric illuminated and condemned by a cinematic portrait of the evils of slavery in 1840s Louisiana — or that declares them unreachable when they don’t — is a liberalism that’s as unready for dialogue as any insensitive right-wing talk show host.