Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Prejudice in the kingdom of Heaven

My friend/mentor/thesis chair Dr. Beck recently posted about Tim Wise's visit to ACU. Tim Wise is a writer/speaker who has dedicated his life work to uprooting institutional racism, a term coined by Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s describing the societal patterns that have the net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race. Right now as I'm writing this Wise is speaking in Moody Coliseum about white privilege. Apparently the visit had a variety of responses from faculty around campus as ACU has both conservative (b/c we are a private Christian institution in TX) and liberal (b/c we are an academic university) faculty. Dr. Beck writes a great post about the problem having both of these groups on campus presents, and it would seem he is following with a series of posts about Tim Wise's visit to ACU or the basic tenants of his arguments about race in America.

Dr. Beck's post got me thinking about what God has to say of this idea of institutional racism (or sexism, or any kind of assuming one group is better than the other belief). At a place like ACU where professors are required to profess Christianity and be an active member of a church, how does the university stop participating in such institutional discrimination and how do they teach their students to disengage from the process as well? As it is now, we have tried to fit all kinds of very complex realities (about racism, sexism, salvation,social justice, ect.) into the very simplistic models of liberalism and conservatism. What's worse is that we often use God to defend our position as the "right" one.

I understand that it is a constant struggle for majority groups to give up their elevated positions. Research shows that we engage in psychological processes that justify our high status and their low status to the point that we can even manipulate low status groups to keep themselves at the status they find themselves in. This idea is called system justification. It was first introduced by Jost and Banaji in 1994. Essentially, system justification argues that people are motivated to defend and legitimize the systems in which they operate—that is, the rules and sociopolitical institutions within which people function. Research has come out since then that focuses on specific mechanisms that system justification utilizes. For example, it was found that subordinate groups may be less prone to challenge the status quo if they are regarded as superior to the dominant group on some socially desirable trait. So we say that women are warmer or more nurturing than men- an although these traits are subjectively positive in nature, they are still maintaining men in roles of power and women in roles of subordinance. Or we say that African-Americans are better athletes, or that they have more rhythm- which might seem nice (although terribly stereotypical) but still hold whites as educated and deserving authority and blacks in another position of subordinace.

This pattern of ours is so troubling because it makes buying into this discrimination so slick- it becomes difficult to identify as a victim and even harder to see as a perpetrator. It seems that this institutional prejudice is just human nature. However, as Christians we are called to resist the temptation to put ourselves first:
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Phil 2:3-4
I find myself looking for ways to resist the temptation to give into privileged existence, especially in regard to my place in the kingdom. The very idea that I belong there and others don't is , like I said before, so slick... and yet so unGodly. And so I embark on the constant battle it seems we humans face: learning work a little less as getting ahead and a little more at putting myself in last place.

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