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  • Writer's pictureJeff James

The chasm of empathy

The Barna Research Group recently shared their latest research on the attitudes of Christians on race relations after a summer of intense racial unrest. The findings? Not only are practicing Christians less likely than other Americans to indicate "country definitely has a race problem" (46% to 51%), they are even less likely than before to admit this issue is a problem. Not surprisingly, Black Christians' assessment of the situation was radically different: 81% agreed the country definitely has a race problem, up from 76% in 2019.

If it seems like we're all living in different countries, you would be correct. One woman in a recent Facebook conversation I participated in recently literally said, "I just don’t see or experience people being racist the way it’s being portrayed." White Americans live in a country where they are obviously the racial majority, and have been for generations. The vast majority of people considered white don't experience themselves and don't observe with their own eyes the daily micro-aggressions and frequent major racist incidents that Black people report experiencing. One recent peer-reviewed study found that Black teenagers on average experience five racist incidents per day.

Black people live in a country - different, but overlapping the same geography - where around 1 in 5 white people they encounter are likely to hold overtly racist views, and many more hold subconscious racist tendencies. Since over 3/4 of the country is classified in the white racial category, there's a high likelihood that you as a Black American could be encountering a tried and true racist during your day (of course, probabilities increase or decrease based on the demographics of your specific region). Even if the same percentage of racial hostility was held by Black Americans towards white people, the likelihood of a white person encountering a racist Black American is exceedingly low.

For white people, real-world data creates a dissonance between what we hope or think is true and how things really are. But what does this data mean practically, day-to-day, for a person of color? Considering the actual percentage of white people who hold positions of power in banking, public office, managerial positions, healthcare, education, and law enforcement (which are filled by white people at higher than the demographic makeup of the country), I did some quick probability work on the numbers:

  • A Black person is five times more likely than a white person to run into an overtly racist loan officer.

  • A citizen of color is eight times more likely than a white citizen to be living under the governance of a racist public official.

  • A person of color is five times more likely to work for a racist manager.

  • African American patients are twelve times more likely to experience a racist doctor than a white person.

  • A K–12 student of color has a 13 percent probability of being taught by a teacher who holds clear racial or ethnic bias against them; a white child has only a 2 percent chance of encountering such a teacher.

  • A citizen of color is about six times more likely to engage a white law enforcement officer who is biased against them.

Is it any wonder it seems like we live in two different worlds, and that white folks struggle to admit to themselves that the country has a problem? However, even worse, when confronted with these facts, many Americans - and even more sadly for me as a practicing Jesus-follower, Christian Americans - still resist the evidence before our very eyes.

That's an issue of the heart. It's an issue of the power of the idolatry of "whiteness." And it's why I decided to give up whiteness.

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