Where slavery and other forms of extreme exploitation of human labor have been general, moral convenience would account for much of it, no doubt. Where population groups are seen as enemies or even as burdens, certain nefarious traits are attributed to them as a whole that are taken to override the qualities of individual members. Again, moral convenience could account for this. Both cases illustrate the association of the denial of selfhood with the devaluation of the human person. (Marilynne Robinson, “The Givenness of Things” p. 15)
Thinking of groups, this Sunday I added a challenge/invitation to our time of welcoming people to worship. The first liturgical part of our worship is a time of confession and forgiveness. Knowing this, and knowing that recent news in the U.S. has brought up the ugly sin of white supremacy and racism, it seemed right to invite people to think about this issue just before we all hear a word of radical love and forgiveness from God.
The above quote (I encourage you to read it slowly!) points out something that happens deep inside us. In our lower moments we make negative generalizations about groups, but make exceptions when we come to personally know individuals from that very group. If only we could get a clue when we meet more and more exceptions to our own rules.
Here’s the challenge. People (I suppose for expediency and a feeling of personal power) have a tendency to make generalizations about other people-groups. There are generalizations about Lutherans (think of our close ties to the birth of a post-medieval Germany). There are generalizations about any people group you could think of.
The point I want to make is that when our generalizations are negative of others, when we “slam” or “put down” other groups, we characterize them in a way that gives us, or helps us retain, a position of power. I believe it’s wrong to prop up the power of our group on the suppression of another.
We can’t stop the tendency in us to generalize. Yes, I know people groups have tendencies, common histories and patterns of being, but I think a rule of thumb here would be helpful:
- Make generalizations of other groups only if those statements enhance and broaden and deepen our understanding of a common humanity. Community = Common Humanity.
- When you feel the temptation to make a negative generalization about another group, shut it down. Reject it in your thinking as an unhealthy way to be in community with others. Recognize your fear-based reaction and need for control for what it is.
- Finally, when individuals act in a way that contradicts your positive generalization, treat that as an individual case. It takes more work, but it’s the right thing to do.
We will fail, and we will have successes, as a community and as individuals. Together and in the Light of God, we can move the needle toward a less racist and more inclusive, greater society.