Double Portrait by Carl Fredric von Breda: prince-redeemer

Double Portrait by Carl Fredric von Breda.    (Nordiska museum)

S/He who is not part of the solution, is part of the problem. 

My recent effort to discuss racism blew up in my face.  The mistake of making a racist statement as parody didn’t work, causing friends and wife much pain. I thought they knew I was not a racist.  Again, I’m deeply sorry. We will not run the instant replay.  Yet I still have passion for the topics of racism, justice, and slavery.  (Regarding the portrait above, it is discussed far below.) 

I’ve spent most Saturdays since 1999 as a volunteer, talking with imprisoned sons of neighbors, ages 18-80, conducting what I call a stealth ethics-class disguised as a nondenominational Bible study (discontinued last summer after relocating to our seasonal home in Yucatan.)  Also, in mid-1970’s I brought home a black woman I was dating, to meet my parents and siblings on T-Day. (She eventually cut me loose, wisely saying our future would be too tough.)  ¿Am I a racist?  ¿ Are you?  Let’s gaze into the sacred mirror to examine ourselves. 

This essay is not about plantation owners of the past – it’s for today.  I’m asking you, regardless of your skin color, whether you’ve been released yet from enslaving stories. It is likely most of our human ancestors, male and female, were at one time slaves of those stronger than they — which, in one word, was the answer a tough-guy lawyer named Thrasymachus gave to Socrates, when addressing that central question of Plato’s Republic Q: What is justice?  //  T-guy’s A: the advantage of the stronger –see 7th ¶.   (Yes, the one-percenters, dominators, owned most of us, going way back, and maybe still do – but our sense of the past may be the toughest owner of them all.)

In a previous episode I had responded to an essay titled I, RACIST which I soon had to remove under protest from close African-American friends, and my wife.  The author, John Metta, did not define racism, but illustrated it for us, explaining that, to him and many African-Americans, white liberals were ever defensive about discussing race, declaiming that racism is not my fault. Yes, that’s tired.  But parties talk past each other, absent a working definition.  So I now offer my own, inviting clarification from readers : racism is a sense of superiority assumed tribally, or by group-identity, justified by stories we’ve heard and accepted, uncritically.  Beyond group, then, pride becomes a personal sense of superiority over another individual human being. 

Racism extends beyond skin color, even to color of a uniform, especially if it includes a badge. ¿ Are you Bluish? –a cartoon character asks, in a Beatles animated-film, Yellow Submarine – suggesting, thru rhyme, racism coming not from cops, but directed at Jews. (Today, bluish may have another slant.)  ¶  Now, are you racist?  How does a fish know it’s wet, lacking experience in dry air?  This is not easily examined.  I suspect we all have racial bias, tribal allegiance, and are pride-filled, to some degree.  I’ll certainly include myself, even though I’ve made major efforts to communicate across racial divides.  

¿ Should I re-identify as a person of color by adopting the term pale person, or complexion-ist, considering my ancestors have mostly forgotten how to tan?  (I’m not inspired by Rachel D.)  But I recognize that white is no longer apt, as it describes a genetic disability of skin, related to melanin production – plus another, regarding mental health – expressed as frayed relationship between races, tribes, groups, persons.  I urge those of all who might recognize their need of being healed of racism, to be counted as no longer wishing to harbor racist thoughts, or to be enslaved by the past, or to own slaves.  My considered position is that there is only one race : the human race.  We are fam-il-y!  U.S.Census bureau will love this – Census should make a box : HUMAN RACE.  

Your attitude towards extended family can be discovered by taking Project Implicit’s race association test, which a friend shared after I began this essay. (There are other versions of the test besides race : gender, religion, etc.)  Be brave – take the test, regardless of your skin color.

White folks are often clueless about the difficulty blacks confront in our society – lacking empathy, or imagination.  Yes, things have changed, as blacks are now on corporate boards, members of county clubs, working at highest levels in the White House – a tiny percentage, but significant.  Yet, fact is, our social system is stacked against people of color, according to a white scholar who has spent four decades studying the issue.  My essay now seeks to carry the conversation forward.  Like David, who ran to meet Goliath, I believe that racism can be slain. ¿Got courage?  

NOTICE :  You will find the fully-spelled N-word reappearing below.  I use it again, gently, the way a surgeon wounds, to heal.  (My friends, my wife – earlier, could not process this – but I DO NOT redline speech.)   They thought I had flipped out.

Jesus experienced this form of misunderstanding from neighbors and family – and when he attempted to explain his words, naming for his listeners two outsiders, non-Jews, whom Jews had long discriminated against as groups – people who, Jesus reminded them, had been healed or restored by God — his listeners were offended by him, quite certain he must be crazy, or disloyal –see Luke 4:16-30  and  Mark 3:20-35.  His neighbors even sought to push him off a cliff for doubting tribal superiority.  He also addressed prejudice in a famous parable known as The Good Samaritan, which is commonly understood to be about neighborliness — but which should more-accurately be grasped as bluntly addressing racism.  Let’s rename it the parable of The Black Samaritan –as Jesus was in-their-face about his listeners’ (and readers’) discrimination toward their outsider-neighbors – not just those in our own segregated, neighborly circles.  To the majority of Jews, Samaritans were other – even though both sides shared family history – Hebrew DNA.  So, Jesus used the N-word, equating Neighbor with Outsider (Samaritan ; ok, S-word, but same effect) thus questioning notions of a “super-race” – that of his listeners, God’s chosen.  My use of the N-word in print without license, violates Black Privilege, recalling Dick Gregory, below. 

A friend, a Polish-American physicist, whom I invited to read this essay prior to release, offered before reading, that he was somewhat acquainted with discrimination.  He told me that Polish jokes had been very beneficial at improving the social lot of Polish Americans. (NB: Poles do not attempt to own the derogatory term Polack.

When I was a teenager I subscribed to Esquire magazine, in which appeared an article by Dick Gregory, boldly titled NIGGER (also title of his autobiography). I was so impressed with the courage of this man, and with his honest writing.  He sought to diffuse the power of a word by over-using it.  Lenny Bruce did similar work with obscenities, on behalf of our First Amendment, which was original thinking from an early-American hero, providing freedom-of-speech and worship to all who would claim it.  These principles have long proved protective.  (Yes, obscenities are now heard everywhere – unpleasantly – but their power arguably has been reduced.)   ¶  Currently the N-word is treated as proprietary.  Black Americans seem to have declared it sacred, owned by them alone.  Could it be as sacred as the Confederate flag, to racists and history buffs?  Perhaps it, too, should be retired to a museum?  (Hey, it merely means black.)  Or, if we found the courage to over-use this word, we might find that our combined chorus would drown the voices of those who would use it hatefully. (Not to my liking either, just sayin’– but sometimes we can be our own worst enemies—see N#5 : Dick Gregory.) 

My first ancestors in the Americas came to the new world, risking skin to leave England around 1640 (~20 years after Mayflower) crossing an ocean to escape religious oppression.  Maybe yours got sold to a slaver by neighbors who looked just like them, and shipped here – or were already here, and got victimized by immigrants.  I’m mostly glad to be an American, and to be your neighbor.  How’bout you?  Can you enjoy me as a neighbor, even if I’m clueless about my racism, helping me to understand your (our!) situation thru patient communication, as Mr Metta suggests? 

In the Double Portrait above, what do we see? — a slave?  – a black man with a preacher, or a lawyer, or a plantation owner, standing over him?   Actually, this is a historical portrait of a black prince (click details @site) who was redeemed from being the property of a slave-ship’s captain, by a wealthy Swedish industrialist (ibid) – literally, his human redeemer, who purchased him to set him free – a true account.  

I miss those inmates whom I visited in prison for so many years, my teachers. I would sometimes ask the group in our weekly class, most of whom were men of color, if they owned any slaves.  My question always perplexed everyone, as today we suppose slavery has ended.  I would next ask : have you ever sent yourself to the corner to buy reefer, crack, booze, tobacco, lottery-tix, sex?  Well, yeah, was the response. Such behaviors often enslave us, I would explain.  Do we exchange our princely title to become our own slave master, our own i-Nigger?  (This App can be renamed by you, if you can’t stomach the proprietary name.  Try i-Slave Owner.)  I claim these trade names, and all future development-rights for the App. Build it, and we’ll talk! [wink].  

Q: if my slave master lives in my mind, how will I ever escape?  Now, the named-App is not a racial concept, but one of self oppression, or delusional entitlement.  It argues aggressively :  I’m entitled to medicate myself.  I’m angry at society for abusing me.  I deserve to be respected, but instead, my value is ignored, or deeply discounted ; and I’m in pain from the stories I’ve heard and accepted, not knowing how to escape them or revise them, unable to illustrate them with my life, with dignity.  And I’m superior to all these other Bozo’s on this bus!  I’m entitled to oppress others, as my stories are superior to theirs.

Personally, I found myself unhappy with The Management several years ago, shaking my fist at the heavens, metaphorically – I don’t like the way you’re running Your Creation (my life!) shocked at hearing myself as if for the first time.  I then recalled what St Paul wrote to the followers of The Way (they probably weren’t yet calling themselves little messiahs, Christians) — who gathered for worship at Philippi : Quit your murmuring and complainingsaid he.  ¶  I was embarrassed when I recognized my ingratitude – an uppitty customer in The Lord’s establishment!  The Owner should have thrown me out, but was compassionate, patiently allowing me to notice my own po’mouthing.   Yes, I needed the i-N App, badly, but didn’t know how to use it. (Sorry for Napp-ing in your class, Lord)  So, how’bout you?  Got Gratitude?  

App Operating Instructions.  STEP ONE.  ASK :  Am I my own slave master?  Let’s check.  Do I demand service of The Waiter?  Where is that boy?  Hey, how’bout some service over here?  HINT  If The Waiter is The Lord, and I am his client, am I often  unhappy with the service, with The Servant?   Do I bitch about other customers in the house?  (Yes, people in hell want ice water – so where’s mine?  Why you servin’ those other niggers aheada this one?)  Do I even understand the concept of waiting?  :  Wait ye upon The Lord (serve The Lord!) – genuine wait-staff understand this.  MAYBE I need this App, regardless of my complexion?  (But what would people think of me for surrendering my right to be served?)

Now, let’s not blame the victim – but let’s ask ourselves : Whose problem is this? : Who is the storyteller? : Who is the interpreter? :  And, which of these job titles is more powerful?  HINT : That voice in our head could be a hacker, perpetrating identity theft.  CS Lewis says IAM is God’s name which we often steal and abuse.  And the Hebrew phrase ha satan, commonly translated into English as satan (which I refuse to capitalize) literally means the accuser.  ¿Where resides the weak-point of racist accusations? – how to disable the accuser’s invasive methods, if true communication has been hacked?  Can we depersonalize false voices by waking ourselves, surgically separating any suggestion of dysfunction from our own First-PersonAND that of our neighbors, by heeding our truly-inner divine voice, the Holy IAM, which Moses heard at the burning bush – from any other voice – when the accuser attempts to slide one by?  EXAMPLES   I’m a mess  —  or,  he’s such a racist

Revising our perspective, our history, our story, is neither lying to ourselves, nor mere revisionism. It is re-conceiving ourselves as being  to-the-manor born.  Born to love.  Born to serve.  Born to wash feet.  St Paul considered himself a voluntary slave of The Lord.  To strengthen the immunity of our sense of SELF, we should remember satan’s earlier names : the serpent ; the tempter ; na’hash – Hebrew for whispering serpent : pssssssst – be very afraid – God doesn’t give-a-rip about ya, suggests the snake!)  One prominent black writer said God doesn’t hear the prayers of Black folk.  Yep – voice of the accuser. Nonsense!

Desire, fear, and suggestion can and will own us, if we fail to master them.  And whispering will attempt to invade our heads, hypnotically suggesting that we are controlled by a puppet master, masquerading as I.  Well, cut the strings and do your own thinking!  Divine desire can be harnessed for good, if we will step up to receive our inheritance as joint-owners of the plantation, the ground onto which we’ve been born as children of The Owner (literally : The Lord) – and this is rich soil, yielding peace.  Like Moses at the burning bush, the very ground beneath our feet is pronounced holy, by God. ¶  Let us now remove our shoes, and pray :  Lord, heal ME of racism and fear.  I stand on your holy ground, the bedrock of our Soul, trusting your justice, presence, power. 

If I may, let me suggest that you not merely make your desires known unto God — but come up higher – make God your sole, your primary desire, as prayed in Psalm 27:4 .  ¶  There is a Swedish proverb saying speak to the king in another, and the king will respond.  In praying for balanced priority, let’s discover our inner Prince/Princess, the divinely royal human.  ¶   God so deeply wants to hear this balanced desire prayed by each of us.  Balance is foundational, and our destiny is The Ideal, if we can imagine that.  ¶  I’m not a target. Pay no attention to that man behind this essay, nor to that old man of our wounded-conflicted-confusing past. We DON’T need to watch our nightmares in re-run!  When the whisperer urges a racist response from past fears or hurts, don’t react!  Speak to the King residing in our neighbors.  (And I ain’t  talkin’bout  Elvis!)   S/He is already in residence, and ready to listen.   AMEN.


I will again attempt to host a discussion at this site, to whatever degree I am able to endure.  I have nothing to gain, and much at risk.  My blog is my virtual home, where I mostly write for myself – to help me clarify my own thinking, and to help my neighbors, expats, Yucatecos, and cyber-citizens deal with reality.  I allow anyone to peer in, making comments.  You are welcomed graciously, as a guest.  But please do not mess on my carpet; do not pee in my pool!  Your words will be moderated by you, or you will be warned or ejected if you become rowdy towards me or our guests.   I’m not trying to start a race war, but rather, to harmonize our lovely family.


AUTHOR’S NOTE : I accept responsibility for these words.  It has been my privilege to hear and taste them, watching them assemble themselves, during many major revisions.  My prayer is that they are a blessing to you. ¶  I claim no special insight, aside from hearing a call to listen, emboldened to communicate – while referencing my great love of Bible stories, which I read daily – taught to me by women and men of astounding dedication, generosity, patience, and talent. ¶  My career background was that of partner/owner of a very small graphics business, before retiring, where I applied my passions for photography, design, customer service – to the graphics trade.  ¶  I studied ethics (MTS) at a nondenominational divinity school, before dropping out to return to business – later becoming a stealth-ethics missionary, well-disguised for conducting nondenominational Bible study at a local prison. That is where I completed my degree, bestowed by princes of the realm. ¶  Rarely sitting in pews anymore, not ordained, I was elected three times by congregations in two states to conduct worship for a total of nearly six years, reading aloud a blend of published and/or selected texts from holy writ – mostly twice a week, while continuing daily work in graphics, or as a student. ¶  BLESSINGS TO YOU.  G‘night. 


8 thoughts on “ARE YOU RACIST ??

  1. Eric – a difficult subject, I agree. Here are some reactions:

    1. Irony does not work in print. Nor does sarcasm. However, if you need to use it, putting ‘joke’ after the piece helps steer readers away from criticism. Claiming humor is a great defense.

    2. The ‘Good Samaritan’ parable is not about helping others. Everyone knows you should help people in distress. The shock value in this most famous of Jesus’ parables is that the priest walks on by, a respected member of the injured man’s community. The parable is ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The priest obviously is, but is found to be a hypocrite, although revered.

    3. People naturally searches for enemies. It is in man’s nature to search for enemies, and friends. Fear and ignorance is the cause, and we have community leaders who guide us in our ignorance. There was a Star Trek episode where a planet was occupied by people with one half of the face black, the other white. Two groups had formed there, bitter enemies. It turned out, one lot had the black on the left side, the other white on the left side. Racism is just one manifestation of ‘enemy searching’. Forming an exclusive club is another manifestation of this, under the guise of searching for friends. That is why Jesus was so unpopular with the Jewish elders: He wanted to open up the club to all. Most religions follow similar exclusions today.

    4. In America’s Civil War, the widely accepted complaint of the North was the slavery in the South. However, the South had an unfair economic advantage over the North with Southern low-cost labor: bed and board only, no wages. The South were in a lose-lose position: moral and economic. But mainly economic. Similar levels of economic slavery exist today, where wages are so low, the worker can only just pay for mortgage, transport, food and loans. Two people must live together just to break even. But they have their kind of ‘freedom’.

  2. Hi Peter,
    On your #1, above. I should have conferred with you, as editor, before my blunder!

    #2: the priest, when confronted with the sight of an injured “outsider”, had to decide between career, and duty. If he touched blood, even blood of a relative, he would be ritually impure, and incapable of conducting worship (forgoing earnings). Jesus was inviting the crowd to consider what a true holy man would do.

    #3: Yep, Us and them. Friends and enemies. And leadership which is often tainted by self-interest. ¶. I went to school with a woman who conducted that facial experiment, perhaps even before the episode appeared. She painted her face with bizarre b&w markings (in acrylic!) and wore it around campus for a week to learn what it felt like to be an outsider. (This was in early 1970’s.) Several professors were deeply concerned for her. ¶ Your observation that Jesus “wanted to open up the club for all” is SPOT ON.

    #4: Economics again, but on a broad scale. If one class can victimize another by getting their services on-the-cheap, is it racist, or is it class rivalry? Is it possible for an employer (or even a slave owner such as George Washington), to be a noble victimizer? There’s a saying in the literature regarding social justice, that the only thing worse than being a victim, is not being victimized at all — that is, no job. Yes, a difficult dilemma for upright employers, and for the working class who sell their time and talent, alike. (Sadly, bully employers rarely think about such issues, dismissing them as mere market forces of supply and demand.) Yet Adam Smith, arguably the first economist, was a moral philosopher deeply interested in the function of communities of collaborators. Indeed, the very word *economics* comes from the Greek, oikos, meaning the application of household resources for family benefit.

  3. I will be glad when the set of physical characteristics which we call “race” are no more of a thing than whether someone is left-handed or has curly hair. Our son married into a family of another race, but we never really talk about race, because they are family now, too. We have gay friends, another aspect that isn’t really a life choice any more than race, and we don’t talk about the details any more than with our married straight friends. When you get down to it, what is there to talk about except the things that people have done to one another over this imaginary quality of race?

  4. Yep, Ron, it’s perplexing. Other “immigrant groups” have had an easier time of blending. (Accents often fade after a generation, or people retain two styles of speech.) Perhaps humans are so visually aware, that color causes culture clashes? I’ve always found cultural variety fascinating and delightful, mostly. Others prefer bland. Yes there’s no arguing about taste, but common humanity surpasses taste, significantly – or should. Our “better angels” beckon.

Comments are closed.