Tonight, my friend Justin told me that the people of Little Rock Arkansas, apparently, refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”. If you’re anything like me, you wince at such a phrase, because its loaded with all sorts of nuances and undertones of hatred, bigotry, and racism. To be fair, the “Civil War” is hardly an apt name for the war between the Northern and Southern states in our country. It was anything but civil. But, to call the war the “War of Northern Aggression” is to imply that we liked things the way that they were before those Northerners came in and stole our way of life from us.
And its true too. The Northerners did ultimately come into places like Arkansas and tell them that their way of sustaining their livelihoods was no longer acceptable. That their culture was wicked. That their way of life was skewed. That they would have to adapt to a new culture if they wanted to avoid more aggression in the future.
The odd thing about the southern states, I’ve come to find out this past week, is that there is this tangible presence of racism everywhere here. Justin told me that his new friends here in Little Rock feel very much that they are racist towards black people due to their upbringing. Some of them are just noticing racism in their own hearts that they didn’t know was there all along. Its as if the seeds of the culture of slavery bled so deep into the fabric of the southern states, germinated, and produced racism. On both sides. Everyone has to and does work together, but everyone, black and white, knows that there is a darkness about the other to be wary of.
Do we all feel that?
I grew up in Pekin, one of the most notoriously racist towns in the country, so I am hypersensitive to race-related issues, and racism in my own heart and mind. I know what racism feels like in a store. Its tangible to me. I know that I have a split personality that desires that all people be treated equitably and yet I don’t desire diversity in relationships, neighborhoods, or my church. I think that diversity is over-rated. I think that we often force ourselves into diversity out of some sort of guilt over the past sins of our fathers. And that is racism today, in my opinion. Racism today, in Peoria, is a group of white people who believe that God desires diversity and so should they, so they conjure ways to interact with black people that are entirely unnatural and (I believe) will increase the divide in our communities. It’s racial arrogance, which I think is racism. I may be wrong, but I find it ludicrous to think that there is a group of black people sitting around thinking strategically about ways that they can interact more deeply with white people.
We have dis-integrated our communities, and I’m not exactly sure if it was on purpose. Sometimes, in my more cynical moments, I look at pockets of Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, black, or white folks and say that this is entirely natural. This is just the way things are. This is the way we were created, to desire to be around other people who share our culture: music, cuisine, hairstyle, customs, and skin color. I know, intuitively, that this is not true. If we were created in the image of God, and if God exists eternally in diverse unity within himself (God, Word, Spirit), then we should also reflect that diversity in our relationships with others. That’s great. But I’m still not convinced that diversity has anything to do with skin color. But, I am from Pekin, so I would say that.
The fact is, we divided ourselves. We are the Divided States of America. Racism still exists in full force, in the south, in Pekin, in Peoria Public Schools, and even in me. I don’t believe that white people can organize to fight against racism by collectively practicing diversity in relationships. The only way that we can fight the forces of racism, especially between white and black folks (from both sides of the coin), is to move into the neighborhood, share some tools, a beer, a story, a wave, a meal, and maybe eventually mend some of the broken areas long-neglected because of the seeds which were planted so long ago in this country.
So, I’ve decided that I’m never going to hang out in the South again. It hurts my brain, and it makes me think too much about things that are too heavy to think about, especially the day after vacation.