A Meditation on Racism and Its “Me First” Root Cause in America June 14, 2020 by Jay Tyson
A review of the history of racism in America, from its slavery phase to its Jim Crow phase to its segregation phase to its modern mass-incarceration/police brutality phase forces me to wonder why, in spite of centuries of work against it, it seems to keep popping back up. Every time we think we have destroyed the old form, a new form grows up in its place. I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote that “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the roots.” As I consider the roots of this problem, I find that “white supremacy” seems to be closely entangled with “American exceptionalism” and, perhaps more fundamentally, with an underlying mindset of “Christian exclusivity”. All three tend to take a “me first” approach rather than humbly acknowledging that one’s ethnicity, nationality and religion are, in each case, simply one among many others. The “me first” approach fails to recognize that diversity in each of these categories is a benefit to be celebrated, not a competition to be won. Domination, with its implicit lack of justice, can never be an enduring solution. Until we can change the mindset of the vast majority of people, until we can get them to understand that all people are created equal in the eyes of God, until we can start to understand that their diversity is both intentional and beneficial, the evil plant of racism will find some way to sprout forth again in a new form from its hidden “me first” root. A new, broader vision is essential in a modern world where distance has become essentially irrelevant.
So, while we have many changes to make in the coming months and years in the realms of laws, politics, institutions and economics, let us never forget that we must also make more fundamental changes in our ways of thinking—changes that are at the very heart of resolving so enduring a problem.