Monday, August 24, 2015

Personal identity and going bald

While his response drew a healthy applause from the audience, I felt a little disappointed. I know those who just want us to get over race issues will use Carson’s remarks as ammunition  in the race relations discussion. I anticipate people responding like, “Look, one of your own just said we should move past it, so what’s the big deal?” I do not doubt Dr. Carson’s sincerity for a second, but his response was incomplete at best. Here is why: 
Skin Colors and Hair Textures 
The color of our skin and texture of our hair does matter, because every shade of skin and every hair texture displays the creative brilliance of almighty God. Our ethnic distinctions exist for the glory of God. We see in John’s glorious visions people from every nation, tribe, and language worshiping around the throne of God. These distinctions were God’s idea, and for the glory of his great name. 
Trying to simply get past race denies the image of God reflected within ethnic diversity.

Honestly, this is both silly and confused:

i) How important is my hair to my identity? If I'm a middle-aged man who's going bald, should that trigger an identity crisis? 

It's important to know that God numbers the hair on our heads. But surely hair is pretty incidental to my core identity. 

ii) This isn't really about race but history and narrative. About whether people are defined, not by race, but by American history and a racial narrative. Are people today defined by the actions of people who lived 150 years ago (give or take)? Are you a prisoner of the past? Are you trapped in collective memories? 


  1. It's confusing biological diversity with racial diversity. Biological diversity is clearly given by God, and even though that wouldn't in an ideal world be all that identity-forming it is nonetheless something to be celebrated about us.

    But that's not the same thing as racial diversity, because races are what we do with the biological diversity. They involve the social layers that we (collectively and over many generations) have placed on top of the biological diversity, weighting it with social significance. Some of that is clearly evil, such as the unconscious response among most white people and many non-white people (including some black people) to experience young black men dressed a certain way as a threat (and I repeat for many this is entirely unconscious and not something they can do much about, at least in the short term). Another would the unconscious tendency to assume people with a certain look are more or less intelligent than other people, without knowing much about them other than their appearance, a psychological fact that's been demonstrated over and over again and that occurs in every race and not just those usually described by the left as be the oppressors.

    Yet there are aspects of what I would say race is (and I'm still talking about the social add-ons) that strike me as entirely unproblematic morally speaking and even worth celebrating and recognizing as great goods. There's a racial aspect to the achievements of people from historically oppressed groups and groups that are even today unconsciously and systematically treated less well (whether deliberately by an increasingly smaller percentage of the population or implicitly and unconsciously by a not very quickly diminishing majority). The efforts of those aware of the continuing problems to overcome them, to resist them are parts of the racial facts of our social world. The positive cultural features that have been developed within the groups we have come to call races are worth celebrating, and those are racialized.

    The very fact that a particular church has done well at forming a racially integrated body of believers despite all the cultural pressures against that and thus reflects the body of Christ more fully is a good thing, for reasons that you can explain without reference to race by appealing to biblical passages, but part of what's good about that is because of racial realities that resist such efforts, and thus part of the good of such efforts is racialized. There are racial facts about it, facts you cannot express if you try to speak without reference to races (as those who want to be color-blind have to pretend to do).

    So I think it's much more complicated than James says in several ways beyond the ways you point out.

    1. "Some of that is clearly evil, such as the unconscious response among most white people and many non-white people (including some black people) to experience young black men dressed a certain way as a threat"

      I'm not sure that's a fair comment. Humans are trained to pattern-match, especially for their own safety. There are certain behaviours classically exhibited by some groups of young men (black or otherwise) that deliberately create a perception of lawlessness and violence. Others pattern-match on that perception and behave accordingly. There seems to be a naiveté in modern thinking that says that people should be free to adopt certain uniforms and then not be treated based on what those uniforms represent.

      Now, some people are indeed different to their uniforms. Some have no choice (e.g. some homeless or poor). Others are unfairly matched based on certain associations (e.g. some black men are reacted to as thugs based purely on skin colour and no other signs). And it's certainly unpleasant when other people mar the reputation of a uniform that you must wear. But when some deliberately create associations, it's also unreasonable to accuse third parties of injustice when they react according to those associations. It's far more constructive to deal with those creating the bad associations than to cry foul about the third parties.

  2. I read this as I am a 20 year old going