When I wrote this I was in the Berkshires, in that little tail end that peeks into New York and stops before it gets to the Hudson River. There was snow in the woods! Not tons of it but a blanket thick enough for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Having neither, I just looked at the puffy white comforter spread beneath the bare red oaks and hemlocks and smiled.
On the drive over I had a lot of time to think, which is one of the benefits of going on retreat. I kept trying to decide which of the Ten Commandments was most violated by racism. It is a bit tricky.
I only have five hundred words here, actually three hundred and seventy five now, so cut me some slack on simplification. There are various forms of racism — individual, interpersonal, institutional, structural to name a few. But let’s keep it at individual racism to apply The Commandments.
Individual racism consists of beliefs, attitudes, and actions that support or further racism whether consciously or unconsciously. For white people, being racist is just part of being white. Why? Because participating in, benefiting from, or acting in ways that perpetuate white privilege — even when we intellectually don’t think it should exist — is racist. Many of us don’t want to be, but we are; and many of us want to be, and are. Which of the Ten Commandments is it breaking? Did you figure it out yet?
Does it even really matter? Clearly as a society we don’t think too much of the Ten Commandments any more. Every day there are millions of fathers and mothers who aren’t honored and the neglect and abuse of elders is everywhere. But also the rampant disregard of older citizens simply because they are old. Adultery too, is infused into movies, books, and narratives of all sorts in every corner of the culture. That must reflect a certain propensity to practice it as well. HGTV is an entire network based on coveting what your neighbor has, and all the other networks have copycat shows too. There is no Sabbath any more either. Soccer, hockey, AAU of all kinds own Saturday and Sunday. Most kinds of theft and murder are still against the law so I’ll give you those. But otherwise, the famous “Ten” just don’t exact a lot of enforcement punch any more.
Still, it might give some of the willful racists among us pause if they considered their unselfconscious embrace of racism was also a direct violation of one or more of the Ten Commandments. In both Judaism and Christianity “Imago Dei” is a central tenant: that humans are made in the image of God. Therefore, to denigrate sub-groups of humanity, and act as if or claim they are not made fully in God’s image, is to create a false God (not to mention giving false testimony against your neighbor).
I realize that is a kind of torturous stretch of definitions but as I was driving I couldn’t identify which commandment racism was in violation of. If it wasn’t a blatant break of a commandment then “Thou shalt not act like a racist” needed to be made into the eleventh commandment, I thought. This is the kind of thing that goes through my head when I am driving, how about yours?