Monday, November 21, 2016

Cubicle Christians

This is the last post I plan to do about ethnicity and evangelicalism for a while. 

i) For several reasons, there's a point after which I tune out these discussions. In case you're wondering, I have in mind groups and individuals like Anthony Bradley, Thabiti Anyabwile, Reformed Margins, RAAN, &c. This includes some white representatives like Alan Noble, Ligon Duncan, and Russell Moore who echo the same clichés. 

That's in part because the way the discussion are framed is so predictable, stereotypical, and repetitive. They're all reading from the same script. Same categories, classifications, catchphrases. 

By the same token, there's no difference, at that level, between secular discussions and so-called evangelical discussions. In my experience, the evangelical minorities who talk about this derive their analytical and historical framework from leftwing academics.

The very academic character of the debate makes me wonder if these minority spokesmen aren't out of touch with the ethnic communities on whose behalf they presume to speak. In reality, their people group isn't their particular race or ethnicity, but their professors and colleagues. It's very elitist and topdown. 

ii) Another reason is that these spokesmen insist on assigning everyone a racial cubicle. Having assigned whites a caucasian cubicle, they then complain that whites suffer from an insular perspective. White privilege and all that. First they put you in a racial cubical, then they attack you for living in a racial cubicle. Well, I never asked, or consented, to be put in a racial cubicle in the first place. 

This is one of the paradoxes of identity politics. You first divide people, then spend the rest of your time on the need to build bridges. You create a problem in order to solve the problem.

In fact, in identity politics, you don't want to solve the problem. Rather, the point is to foment and maintain racial animosity to exploit voting blocks. 

iii) Apropos (ii), the discussion is so dictatorial. I must go into the racial cubical I've been assigned to. I must submit to that as the only acceptable starting point.

iv) Now racial and ethnic differences can be both genuine and interesting. Different ethnicities can have different customs, outlooks, and national characteristics. There are minority stand-up comedians who not only parody their own ethnic group, but parody other ethnic groups. 

But my problem is, in part, with the a priori character of identity politics. Instead of just letting people be whatever they are, the spokesmen insist on assigned seating. You must have a stereotypical experience corresponding to the people group we assign you to. 

v) Let's take a comparison. Suppose you have teenage boys who belong to a community of hunters and ranchers. Let's say they're all caucasian. They spend most of their time with horses and cattle, or hunting game. 

Now, when they hang out at the local cafe, what defines their people group? What's the basis of their common self-identity? Is it their ethnicity? Is it the fact that they're all white? 

Surely not. Rather, it's their livelihood and lifestyle as hunters and cowboys. That's their mutual frame of reference. 

Now let's vary the illustration. Suppose they aren't all white. Suppose some are white, black, Tibetan, and Latino. Needless to say, there's nothing uniquely caucasian about hunting and ranching. 

When these ethnically diverse teenage boys hang out at the local cafe, don't they have pretty much the same common bond as the all-white group I used in the initial hypothetical? 

Conversely, suppose we compare this group to an all-white (or all-Asian) group of kids in hi-tech urban environment, where they hang out at the video arcade. Doesn't the ethnically heterogeneous group of hunters and cowboys have far more in common with each other than white hunters and cowboys have in common with the ethnically homogeneous (i.e. white) gamers in the big city? Is the people group they relate to based on ethnicity–or lifestyle and livelihood? 

vi) I think it's safe to say that for most folks, their defining relationships are family members. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins. Isn't that more central to their self-identity than race and ethnicity?

(That's the default frame of reference. In a culture of broken homes or mobility, where relatives live far apart, that may weaken the natural bond.) 

Of course, it's usually the case that their relatives belong to the same race. But what makes your relationship with your mother or father a defining relationship isn't that you two belong to the same racial people group, but that these are your parents. It's not membership in a racially generic people group, but the unique familial bond. 

vii) Conversely, friends, unlike family, are chosen. We can choose to associate with members of whatever people group we please. And we don't have to identify with a group at all–we can just related to individuals. Friendship is individualistic. Friendships may cut across people groups. 

Friendship is often based on different kinds of commonalities. You like the same things. You share similar beliefs and values. You have natural rapport. In that respect, two people of the same race may have nothing in common. 

I rebel against the simplistic, reductionistic view of common self-identity centered on race and ethnicity. That's a demonstrably false overgeneralization. 


  1. Steve,

    Thank you for mentioning the family level of identification. I feel like it is completely lost in this discussion. Speaking for myself, I am a minority in a interracial marriage, who grew up the child of an interracial marriage. Furthermore, my first child is adopted and from a different race from myself and my wife! My daughter's primary identification is as a member of our family. I have watched it happen naturally for her. I also actively encourage it. She is my firstborn by right of adoption, she has no less right or love.

    And unfortunately, for our grafting in of our daughter and emphasis that she is our daughter first with no emphasis on her race, we are labeled racists by a large part of the population, including the Christian population. Racist for being "colorblind." I find the discussions so often confused beyond the hope of anything constructive being accomplished.

    I actually went to school (WTS) with the founders/contributors of Reformed Margins. I took Summer Hebrew with many of them, and enjoyed my time with each of them. I no longer visit their site, however, almost everything I read in the past was some combination of sad or frustrating due to the confusions, most of which you identify in this post. I quickly got to the point, where like you, I chose to simply ignore it. If you dare disagree, you are a racist. When they are "charitable" you are an unaware blinded racist who needs the scales to fall from your eyes.

  2. "This is one of the paradoxes of identity politics. You first divide people, then spend the rest of your time on the need to build bridges. You create a problem in order to solve the problem.

    In fact, in identity politics, you don't want to solve the problem. Rather, the point is to foment and maintain racial animosity to exploit voting blocks."

    This is why I believe that identity politics is just Marxism with a different coat of paint. In Marxism, the revolution never ends. The socialist utopia will never come because the world doesn't work the way the socialist wants it to. Until the last day, there will always be strife and inequality and injustice. For now, colour-blindness is the best solution there is.

  3. Another thing to note is that the left is chastising the right for voting for a "racist president." But under current identity politics, all whites are inherently racist, owing to white privilege. So even if we had voted for Hillary, we would have been voting for a racist president.