Nice; but racist!

20 08 2018

B and w hands

While not born in the south, I was still raised with what is often referred to as a form of “southern gentility.”   From an early age I was taught to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, keep my elbows off the table, hold the door open for others (especially women!), and stand up when someone new enters a room.  Some believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness; but in my house, politeness reigned!  It was all about the manners — socially prescribed norms that subtly, and not so subtly, communicated one was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.

My wife gave birth to our three children up north — two in York, PA and one in Erie, PA — and they were raised in a similar fashion; so there wasn’t much of a culture shock when we moved to Virginia in 2000.  They were quite familiar with this so called “southern gentility!”  And whether interacting with older members of our church, or speaking with the parents of their friends, they were quick to begin saying ‘Yes sir’, or ‘No Ma’am’.  To this day they are respectful and courteous.

But my kids don’t wear masks.   And while they are far from perfect, one of the things I most appreciate about the three of them, as well as my two daughters-in-law,  is that  . . . what you see is what you get!  There is very little pretense with them, and their manners have never tempted them to exalt of a culture of niceness over a culture of integrity.

“Nice” families abound in America today: in both the south AND the north!  People everywhere raise their children to be kind and courteous, respectful and reverent.  But in too many instances, niceness is their only goal.  And as a result, because instilling manners in our children is all some people strive for, evils like racism will never be appropriately addressed.

In case you haven’t noticed, America is full of nice, racists!

We smile at the Black woman behind us in line at Starbucks, and we make conversation with the Brown man sitting beside us on the Metro, but we’re still be racist.  We are advocates for our teachers, and we speak up on behalf of  nurses, but we’re still  sexist!  We are actively involved in our churches’ AIDS ministry, and volunteer with Planned Parenthood, but we’re still homophobic.

Which is why I think I’ve finally come to realize that there are more important things than being nice.  Because today, while the world, and especially our country, could use an extra dose of niceness; we need so much more!  Christian kindness is good, and compassionate activism is important.  But when it comes to America’s colorism, the call needs to be to so much more than simply learning to be “nice!”  For niceness hasn’t gotten this country anywhere when it comes to white privilege and racial bias.

Austin Channing Brown, in her book “I’m Still Here” writes, “When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare . . . White people desperately want to believe that only the lonely, isolated, ‘Whites only’ club members are racist.  This is why the word ‘racist’ offends ‘nice White people’ so deeply.  It challenges (our) self-identification as good people.”

When so called ‘good’ people discriminate, they cease being good.  And we’ve yet to realize this!  Too many ‘good’ people discriminate — against people of color, against women, against our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and against countless marginalized people groups that we have chosen to ‘other’!

When ‘nice’ people say that good Americans stand when the national anthem is being played at a football game, their niceness is preventing them from recognizing that there is a large segment of the American population concerned about our nation’s racial bias, and that for them, taking a knee in a public setting is the only safe way for them to make that statement.  And when we choose not to see that, we are revealing our racism.

When we don’t think it’s appropriate or accurate to proclaim “Black lives matter”,  because “Blue lives matter” and really ALL lives matter, and it’s not really nice to leave anyone off the list of lives that matter . . . when we think that way, we are revealing our racism.

When we look at our inner cities, and only see crime and unemployment issues, having separated those issues from patterns of colorism and discrimination, we are revealing our racism.

And when we look at the school-to-prison pipeline in America, and regard it as a discipline problem, or a motivation problem, or lack of parental involvement problem, we are revealing our racism.

We nice people do this all the time.  We are more concerned about opening the door at the grocery store for the Latina woman behind us, than opening for her the doors of opportunity and equity.  We are more concerned about not hurting elderly Aunt Jane’s feelings when she makes a racist joke at the family reunion, than considering what her comments are communicating to her great-nieces and nephews who are present.  And we are more concerned about peace and harmony in our relationships with our neighbors and co-workers, than we are about standing up for what is right, and kind, and faithful, and good!  And whenever we do these things, the mask of niceness blinds us not only to the needs of others, but to the blemished integrity that we are offering the world.

No!  We should never stop embracing niceness.  But if forced to choose between niceness and being a person of integrity — a person seeking to exhibit the justice, mercy, and compassion of Jesus — the choice should be simple.  Because sometimes, our greatest sin, is the sin of being nice!












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