Racism at home

: not willing to change ideas or opinions : very stubborn
: having or involving careful and practical thoughts and ideas that are not influenced by emotions.
The dictionary lists words like sober and realistic.
If we use this on for example racism, that would suggest that people know very well what they are doing.
Personally I see similaritites with the word boneheaded, which Merriam Webster precisely defines as a stupid or foolish person.
Merriam Webster Dictionary

One of the most enduring traits of most societies is racism. It’s hard to get rid of, and many people probably think what Mel Gibson said, but it would be a good start if they kept it to themselves. It’s not necessarily a goal to stop people from thinking it, as long as they don’t speak or act. I suspect that many accept discrimination in general, including racism. The point is to reduce discrimination and respect civil rights.

It might be a human flaw we have. It seems like human history is a long series of pre-emptive strikes. We make other people lives hard so they won’t have a chance of doing anything bad to us. We don’t want to accept less prosperity so that others can have a good life too. In the USA immigrant groups like the Irish, Polish and Italians had a history that would make them good allies to the African Americans for instance. In Norway today we don’t mind being generous to those less fortunate, as long as we can be generous from a distance. It’s not quite the same when they come here.

This reminds me of a very controversial Norwegian TV-program a few years ago. A well-known comedian made a popscience program in 2009 as a part of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday. He used a very confrontational style where he set Norwegian and foreign researchers up against each other. These researchers hadde different viewpoint regarding the nature vs nurture debate. Some of the Norwegian researchers were really, really angry. Maybe this comedian didn’t treat this topic with the scientific gravity they felt he should have, which made it look like their theories were more speculations that scientific proof, but at least people were discussing this topic.

This series asked some interesting questions like why do girls choose caring professions and boys technical professions even though the UN ranks Norway as one of the most progressive countries? Why does the labour market become more gender segregated the more economic prosperity a country has?

Why do we behave the way we do? Are we born that way or do we learn it?

Are people from some cultures more aggressive than others? Is the need for revenge something learned or innate?

My point wasn’t to discuss this program, but it started an interesting public debate about human behaviour. The racism debate reminds me of this program. Why do we behave the way we do? I’ve been trying to talk to people in Norway about racism, but they don’t want to acknowledge what is right in front of their eyes. One example of that is stories that sometimes make it to the newspapers, like the arab man that won the bid for a villa. He offered 50 000 NOK (about $ 6700) more than the second highest bid, but still wasn’t allowed to buy the house because according to the seller he didn’t fit the profile for the street.

My wife and I have experienced something similar on a smaller scale. We don’t own a house, so we have to rent. I have had a lot of very positive phone calls with owners of apartments, but when I show up together with my wife, they suddenly come up with a series of very strange reasons for why this apartment isn’t available. Sometimes they tell us without any explanation that it isnt available anymore, even though they were very positive to meeting me when I talked to them on the phone 20 minutes earlier. This could be a coincidence, but there are two many of these cases for me to believe in that.

When I talk to people about it they claim that things are changing, that Norway won’t be the same in 20 years from now. The problem is that their evidence are their friends, co-workers and classmates. I’m sure many of you have experienced being a part of a small group that function very well. Everyone is friendly and respectful, but if a new member is introduced things change. Sometimes that person remains an outsider, and sometimes the newcomer becomes a part of the inner circle. I have a feeling this evidence of a changed Norway is something similar. The outsiders are not going to see Ahmed from Egypt or Ebo from Ghana as one of them. The man trying to buy a villa was one of those insiders that encountered an attitude he didn’t expect.

But this is still a hidden racism. I think my family is right about a coming change, but I fear it’ll go the wrong way. When societies don’t deal with discrimination there is a risk of so much resentment building up that you get the kind of violence we saw in Paris, and that we are seeing repeatedly in American cities. For some reason Christians have never talked about the problems in the Israeli society. We are very concerned about criticism against what some Christians think is God’s land, but less with how this country is run.

This video is 3 years old, but apparantly nothing much changed, as this fresh article from Reuters indicate.

I feel this is linked to something I’ve written about in previous posts, the need for Christians to criticise their own church organisations. If we don’t point out what is wrong , and the fact that there are things about ourselves we need to fight, I think we are doing a mistake. But of course there is a correct way and a wrong way of talking against the church. That should apply to Israel as well. The way it works today is that you are instantly labelled as an anti-semite no matter how well founded your criticism is.

This is literally a mine field.

6 thoughts on “Racism at home

  1. John,

    You’ve touched on some interesting thoughts, and I suppose the topic of racism can always be considered to be a potential minefield. Some will deliberately stir the pot with evil intentions and others ignorantly blunder into some area of particular individual sensitivity.
    Some people stubbornly believe they have a right to hate all individuals who fit a particular racial profile because they themselves were abused by members of this group. Still others will avoid discussing it at all costs because it can become so uncomfortable in a short amount of time.

    It’s difficult to know how to address the issue without offending someone.

    My view is that we are all probably a little racist…or classist, sexist, religionist etc. These things are unquestionably wrong but many of us don’t realize it until someone confronts us about the bad attitude.

    I also believe that these types of manifestations are just symptoms of a bigger problem.

    In other words, I believe human nature predisposes us to be self-centered in our thinking. It is a default state of being which even young children display to an extreme when they have temper fits or grab items from other children. No one has to teach little ones to do these things. My kids call this phenomenon “me-ism” (We Americans often call it “looking out for #1”, and the Bible calls it “idolatry”).

    As groups of like-minded individuals interact, nurture often directs our selfish interests to mistreat specific individuals or groups (ie, the activity of the KKK in the South or nationalists who look down on people from other cultures). Returning to the example of young children, we adults can either encourage or discourage improper behavior, and can definitely nurture a selfish, hateful and openly racist attitude by the examples we set.

  2. I feel this is linked to something I’ve written about in previous posts, the need for Christians to criticise their own church organisations. If we don’t point out what is wrong , and the fact that there are things about ourselves we need to fight, I think we are doing a mistake.

    You’ve given the definition of hardheaded as a foundational theme here. I would probably call the root problem hard-heartedness.

    I can be persuaded to change my mind about any number of things, but if I remain cold and uncaring toward others in general, I will simply find someone else to hate on. This can be seen in the way some will passionately advocate for resource conservation or animal rights, or a particular religion, yet will be incredibly rude and spiteful to anyone who disagrees with them.

    On the other hand, if my heart truly has been moved to see that all human beings are valuable in God’s sight, then I will be motivated to get rid of every form of judgmental attitude which causes me to think of myself as more important than someone else.

    In my view, it is not a problem for the church to be made aware of the wrongness of such things as racism within our congregations. But we also need a grand-scale return to a preaching of the solid biblical truth that none of us is “more special” to God than any other person…and that we all are in equal need of Christ’s advocacy before the throne of judgment. These realizations are humbling.

    Genuinely humble people rarely look for ways to elevate their own sense of worth by hurting others.

    Perhaps that was too many words. Have I become offensive, yet? :/

  3. John,

    AMEN Viking Brother! 🙂 (You do have a knack for opening cans of worms, don’t you?) That’s ok, worms are good for the soil and such…. 🙂

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about the church addressing issues of racism, though I would not call it “talking against the church.” I think it would be simply examining what is happening within the church, the attitudes, and refusing to rationalize and justify them. As a Christian, I am deeply grieved by the segregation in the churches. I understand the historical reasons for it, yet I find it distressing to sit in church and 99% of the congregation looks like me, or on the flip side, I am that one grain of salt in the pepper shaker. Of all the places in society where you would not expect to see such segregation, the church is quite possibly the most segregated. For other readers, I am speaking of the South. I know it is no like this everywhere. I believe this must break God’s heart far more than it must break mine. And this brings me to Heather’s last comment….


    I agree with you wholeheartedly, too, about what the root of the problem is: hard-heartedness (though hardheadedness can certainly contribute). At its most basic core, racism is a sin problem, a heart problem. Jesus commanded His disciples to “love one another as I have loved you,” yet some of the most racist attitudes I have found in the hearts and minds of people who say they follow Christ (and in other areas of their lives do). Just as John finds that his family in Norway refuses to discuss or acknowledge these issues, I find the same unloving, heartless attitudes to be rampant in the family of God, at least in the South, anyway. Try bringing that topic up in churches and challenging those attitudes and you will probably encounter extreme defensiveness and perhaps outright hostility.

    And yes, Heather, a return to preaching the biblical truth you mentioned would go a long, long way to addressing this. I love what you said: “Genuinely humble people rarely look for ways to elevate their own sense of worth by hurting others. That humbleness often comes through being broken. The most humble, loving people I know are those who were broken, who reached some dark depths and God brought them out. ANd they came out of it with a great deal of compassion and humility and a sense of God’s love for everyone. As believers, we need to all be that way. If we truly loved one another as Jesus said, racism would cease to be a problem.

  4. You know, I don’t comment on John’s blog much because he and are often collaborating on his blog entries while he writes them. I do, however, love reading the final product and comments. This time I’m commenting. Y’all are all correct. Racism, at its most essential, is a kind of spiritual sickness; a self-inflicted one. It is a recipe of equal parts pride, hate, intentional ignorance, willful stupidity, deceit, and spite. When I lived in the U.S. and before I met John, I went to one of the episcopal churches for a while. When I first expressed an interest in in attending, the priest came over to my house for a talk. He told I was welcome and that many members would be delighted to have me attend. He also warned me that many others were openly racist and wouldn’t want me there. He said he felt this was wrong and not at all christian and that he had preached that fact to his congregation. The people who chose to be racist, were completely unaffected. They allowed themselves to be blocked off from God. To a lesser degree, John’s sisters, their husbands, sometimes his mother refuse to acknowledge the how deeply racism affects our lives. That’s a choice on their part. Do I believe people can be educated on issues of racism? Yes, some can. Of the others, all we can do is insist they they behave themselves both legally and morally. We can require people to obey the law and have stiff penalties if they don’t. We can refuse to associate with people who are behaving badly toward others. We can pray that people see the truth, and we can have courage ourselves to speak out when we see wrong being done both in the church and outside it.

  5. We can require people to obey the law and have stiff penalties if they don’t. We can refuse to associate with people who are behaving badly toward others. We can pray that people see the truth, and we can have courage ourselves to speak out when we see wrong being done both in the church and outside it.


    This pretty much summarizes the solution, doesn’t it?
    Prayer is always appropriate 🙂 I can always be doing more of this regardless of what anyone else is doing.

    The law exists so that we may have an orderly society in the absence of a 100% regenerated population. Even Christians need external reminders at times.

    Refusal to associate: I’m not a huge proponent of using “Church discipline” as a means to bully people from the pulpit, but this is one area that the Church in general should probably take more seriously. If the truth is being preached to a congregation, yet a number of members are ignoring the clear admonition, they are supposed to be held accountable by the body. If the offenders refuse to be corrected, the congregation is to do exactly what you said: refuse to associate until there is evidence of repentance.

    I think one of the reasons John can point out a need to expose areas that the church needs to correct is that we often major on less important things and ignore obvious sin within our ranks.

  6. Heather,

    You are right on with, ” we often major on less important things and ignore obvious sin within our ranks.” Have you also noticed how we hone in on the sins of others, rather than the ones that we engage in ourselves? I’ve noticed the seeming exclusive focus on homosexuality by the church (and I’m not saying that it should be ignored or that it is less important), but I notice the pre-eminance such a topic takes in say, Sunday school when we are reading passages by Paul that address immorality. I grew up thinking the only sort of immorality was sexual. I didn’t really realize until I was grown that there were other sorts of immorality that could be just as destructive and harmful to both oneself and others. Having seen the pain and heartache and misery that racism causes, I can only conclude now, that based on the sheer pain and misery of it, it should be counted right along with sexual immorality.

    Eva and I were talking today about the different reasons that people have racist attitudes: the hard-heartedness you mentioned earlier, pride, ego, the need to feel superior to others, selfishness, and in some cases, fear and denial.
    But the solution is what has already been stated. I just don’t know why it has to be so hard. I have found that a willingness to just listen can really go a long way. But listening leads to learning, and learning leads to having to face painful realities, and then one must decide what they will do or how they will respond when they face or acknowledge the hurtful realities. I think that is where, for some people, the selfishness and fear and denial come in. It really takes a person out of their comfort zone.

    I appreciate your willingness to listen, Heather, and I know Eva and John do too, especially during a time when the people who should be listening most, refuse too.

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