Racism is real.
I have written about it many times–Here on this blog, in sermons, and in my novel “How Great Is The Darkness.”
It is a problem that continues to haunt our society, and my prayers are for healing and reconciliation, justice and peace.
The causes of justice and reconciliation, peace and healing are hindered when the issue is trivialized, or worse yet, mislabeled.
Of course I am referring to Usain Bolt and Ellen DeGeneres. Specifically, I am referring to this picture and tweet that have been causing quite the firestorm.
Disclaimer #1: I am not a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres. Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts like her, but me, not so much.
Disclaimer #2: I have watched about five minutes of the Olympics. It was fencing. I felt like I’d paid my patriotic obligation and turned the channel to something that interested me far more.
There is no way, in any universe, that what Ellen did was racist. If she doesn’t celebrate Bolt’s incredible achievement then that could be racist–not giving him his due–but this, this is just the way people interact with each other.
But enough already about the facts of this specific circumstance. There are two factors at work here that are detrimental to the fabric of our society. I know that sentence is frightening, but I think it is true.
Factor One: Free Speech
The desired effect people who claim this is racism want is to shut Ellen up. The call on the Twitterverse was not so much for an apology from Ellen, but a call to remove the ‘offensive’ image. The use of terms such as offensive, racist, homophobic, mean-spirited, hate speech, sexist and other labels has grown to have a stifling power on speech.
It is undeniably true that people say racist, offensive, homophobic and other mean things. Yet, if our society is to continue as a free one, people must be free to be jerks. No one has the right to not be offended. You do have the right to change the channel, close the book, walk away, argue the point, or be a moron.
What we have is a kind of new McCarthyism in which certain elites have control of what people can and cannot say. Will we ever learn from our past?
Factor Two: The Real Issues
By focusing upon trivial issues like a Photoshopped picure of an Olympic athlete and entertainer, people vent their anger about racism without addressing the real issues. We have deep problems of violence, unequal access to the law, education disparity, income inequality, little or no access to medical care, a housing gap, not to mention the violence done to people of color by the inequities of the criminal justice system.
But let’s not deal with that. Instead let’s conflagrate a non-issue so we can feel like we’ve done something significant, like Tweet obscenities and calling people names.