“Basically good” and “I’m not a racist, but…”

No one wants to see the sin in themselves. We don’t like to look at our brokenness square in the face. We tend to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt because we know our own struggles.

Our perception of our own racial prejudice is a perfect example. We fail to fully understand or accept our own privilege and prejudices. It is the “basically good” syndrome. As in, “I’ve never stolen or murdered, so I’m not a real sinner…I’m basically a good person.” Likewise, white folk are quick to point out that they are ‘colorblind,’ feeling that since they never use racial slurs, or committed hate crimes, that they are doing pretty well.

If we were in the business of ranking sins, this system might work out for folks, but we know that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” In the same way that any sin is a constant threat to our souls, so too must we constantly battle the privileges we receive based on race.

White folk will do anything to make sure they are not labeled ‘racist.’ Yet, the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” is inevitably followed by hurtful and ignorant words. Perhaps folks think that stating their lack of prejudice somehow makes it so.

But it’s simply not the case. There is far too much racial smog breathed everyday for any of us to be free from prejudice.

Moreover, racism is not just about our prejudices or how we actively treat one another. It is about who holds the power in an institutionalized system that rewards some skin colors over others. Just as we live in a condition of sin, we live in a condition of racism.

It’s not that one commits individual acts of hatred, but rather we understand that white folk benefit from an accumulation of advantages that over the past 400 years have given us a major leg up, and continues to compound itself today. White folk still get hired easier, make more money, have better access to health care, have better homes to live in, passing these benefits on to the next generation.

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And so what is our response? Do we give up, resigned to the pain of a broken world? Of course not! We continue to work out our salvation, easing the burdens of the marginalized, and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.

Take a moment to examine the privileges in your life. Which items in McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack do you take for granted? Which ones can you personally take steps to combat?

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Katelin (@strngefruit) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online ministry facilitating justice and understanding across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. BTSF explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Recognizing that racial brokenness hinders our witness to the world, BTSF strives to increase the visibly of healthy and holy racial discussion by approaching justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective.

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  • deborah

    Wow! This was such a convicting and awesome piece. Thank you!

    • http://bytheirstrangefruit.com StrngeFruit

      Thank YOU!

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