Here’s another one for the “Racism Is Stranger Than Fiction” files. In fact, I briefly wondered whether this story was a prank. Unfortunately, it’s true.
A white Baptist church in Gaston County, North Carolina, made local headlines when a group of men from the church lip-synched and pantomimed to black gospel hymns during a Mother’s Day banquet—while dressed in blackface.
This sad report raises all types of questions: Are blackface performances ever appropriate? Is a particular action racist if the individuals involved are unaware of the historical implications of the act? When is it okay for members of another race to appropriate symbols and imagery from different cultural groups as a form of entertainment? Is it possible to have a constructive dialogue with a person across racial lines without a knowledge and understanding of that person’s racial and cultural history?
Beyond the blackface event itself, I was even more troubled by the readers’ comments following the article. Once again, as with the Michael Richards and Don Imus fiascos, many of the white readers were more offended by the idea that African Americans and “liberals” were raising concerns about racism than whether the actions of the blackface performers were inappropriate.
I can only speak anecdotally on this, but there seems to be a growing movement of white people—including Christians—who feel so victimized by political correctness (and how it’s robbing them of their rights) that they’ve hardened their hearts to any suggestion that racial injustice is a factor in our society today. And they’ve become cold to how their privileged words and actions might affect others. That defensive mindset and callousness could be the biggest obstacles to true reconciliation in our churches and nation.
What do you think? Is there hope for a substantive dialogue in the face of such fiery defensiveness? As an African American who desires honest and constructive communication across racial lines, what can I do to defuse such recalcitrant attitudes?