Edge of Faith Magazine has a candid conversation about racism in America today with Ken Wytsma and what the church’s next steps should be. Join us on the journey.
EOF: Maybe we could just start right in. A key issue, at least I feel, needing resolution or some form of thoughtfulness is one you address right in the Introduction of the book when you are talking with a friend and it had to do with the term “reverse racism.” Could you start off there with this conversation and say what that is and then what to do with it?
Wytsma: I think racism is obviously the disadvantaging of some people in society, usually a minority, on the basis of the color of their skin. So, obviously there is a long history of race in America from slavery and Indian wars on to immigration, Japanese internment camps, etc., where race play a part in the discrimination or the disadvantaging of people. A lot of that, if not most of it, was state-sponsored or even sponsored by the government in our laws and institutions, etc. What begins to happen, we’ve all found, is that when a focus on the color of whiteness comes, the calling out of whiteness is usually met with a claim of reverse racism, that, “You are treating me based on the color of my skin” kind of thing.
Racism isn’t the noticing of, or even the talking about, the color of one’s skin. It is the disadvantaging based on that, and so I think we have to be careful with that kind of talk because it implies that some how wrong has been done where one hasn’t actually been proven that a wrong has been done to them. It really can feel like oppression to lose privilege. The loss of privilege feels like oppression, “Because I’m a white man I seem to be having a harder and harder time getting a job.” That could be because more and more people are looking at all the candidates instead of advantaging, say, just white men. That could feel like I’m being put at a loss, but I’m not being discriminated against if it’s just a loss of privilege. But now I’m having to fight, based on my merits alone, with everybody else. So, reverse racism, I think, is something that we have to be very careful about as it can be tricky.
KI was thinking about that a lot, especially about jobs. That’s a hard one to convince someone of, but maybe even a simpler one (you can tell me if I’m wrong) I have a friend that happens to live on a country club and I thought the other day, if I were leaving the country club and I realized I lost my phone, and I ran out of gas and I got out and walked back to his house. I probably would not be bothered by the security. But if I were, say, the chaplain of my church, who happens to be a black man, if he were to get out of his car and walk back to the same house, he might actually get stopped and questioned and there’s absolutely no difference between us other than the color of our skin. That’s kind of the same thing with privilege. It’s not something that’s spoken, it’s just something that you wouldn’t realize you had.
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