So, Harvard is always doing crazy things…like producing Presidents and accepting 50 year old mothers who have 11 children. But they are also good at thinking.
That’s why it’s not surprising that they came up with a way to unveil our hidden racism and prejudices through their Implicit program: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ – if you have read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell then you know about this research. Last week I decided to take this little exam, knowing that I would defeat the odds. After all, I love Jesus. I’m not racist.
Not only did this test prove me wrong, I knew it was proving me wrong while I was taking it.
My heart kept sinking further and further every time I could not get my finger to click fast enough when an African American face popped up on my screen. So, while I am not a conscious racist, here was hard data to prove the contrary in my subconscious.
And then there’s the anecdotal evidence.
I have a 8:15am Ethics class to teach every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In order to get there on time, I get up at 5:30am, take my car to the rail station, take the rail to the bus stop, and the bus to the university. And for almost 3 hours on 3 days a week, I am the minority. The fear I have felt, the soft judgment I have lobbed, and the unconscious hand on my wallet when I get on the bus back up what Implicit had already told me.
I am afraid of the other. Instead of regarding the man with 8 tattoos and a bandana on his head as a person with dignity, I have conceived of him as thattype of person. Instead of viewing the bus as a space full of diverse and wonderful human beings who are mothers, fathers, brothers, all of them with aspirations, love, and hurts, I had viewed it as a hostile environment full of one person: the “other” and “the one who can’t be trusted.”
As I reflected on this, I recognize that my thoughts and feelings have nothing to do with my theology, philosophy, or moral makeup. I obviously believe racism to be against a Kingdom ethic. I get visibly angry when I see explicit persecution. My beliefs are not the problem. The problem is my geography. I am simply not around people not like me. I live in the suburbs, making sure that I am not in the minority. I eat in places where people are like me. I make friends with people just like me. Or what’s worse: I find places that are superficially different than me (I am so Kingdom-oriented: I have eaten at that Vietnamese restaurant with my white friends like 5 times) and then I parade myself as a lover of diversity.
And in all these ways, I am nothing like Jesus. This is what Christianity means by the Incarnation. And this is why I fight for that idea and all the messiness it creates. If we believe we can love like Jesus from afar, then we have rendered the coming of Christ a waste.