There are times when we should own the judgments people make of us. For example, many years ago a leader in a church called me “as stubborn as a bulldog”. He meant this to be a criticism, and was attempting to cow me into obedience to his personal agenda. While at first, I felt stung by his words, later I realized that I was stubborn as a bulldog, but that this was a good thing. Years later, I can see that it has meant that my family has always had a roof over its head and food on the table. Most importantly, if I had not been this stubborn my son may not have survived his life-threatening tumor. Now instead of recoiling at this judgment, I own it.
This is not to say that we should always own the judgments people make of us. Indeed, there is a danger that because of our own pride or anger, we will own some bad judgments that people make of us, and in the end become the very monsters that they say we are.
Take the ongoing kerfuffles whipped up by the president’s lapdog press over whether the latest Republican/conservative/tea party/libertarian/nut job hero is a racist or not. There are four possible responses we can have in such a situation:
- We can deny that the statements made were racist, pretend that they were taken out of context, or to try to deflect attention from those statements by citing the racial insensitivity of some African-Americans, such as Al Sharpton, making the claim that they are worse.
- We can admit that the statements were at a minimum racially insensitive, and disassociate ourselves from the person who said them, while clinging to the basic principles at stake (i.e., that it is wrong for BLM employees to be marauding around the countryside like the soldiers in Genghis Khan’s armies, taking away property at gunpoint so that the Senate majority leader can set up a solar farm in conjunction with the Chinese).
- We can admit that the statements were racist, and then disassociate ourselves from the person who said them, from the principles, and from the movement as a whole.
- We can admit that the statements were racist, but then own that judgment (i.e., we can claim that blacks were indeed better off under slavery, and even say that a little racism is not a bad thing).
Right now, many people have response #1. I have heard a few people make response #4, but this is a minority position. Yet, there is a sense that #1 and #4 are nearly identical. To say, in any context, that some blacks might have better off under slavery is at a minimum racially insensitive, and to deny this fact is a sign of racial insensitivity.
As someone who has lived under tyranny, I find the idea that anyone would be better off under tyranny, no matter how benign the tyranny might appear, is utterly repugnant. Slavery is the highest form of tyranny. Make no mistake about that. Now, it may well be that Cliven Bundy’s statements were taken out of context, and that what he said was much more nuanced (if clumsily worded) than what has been reported. However, because of their anger at the media and at charges of racism, some people are effectively defending the premise that slavery was not so bad.
And my two oldest children are with partners that are of other races, so I also find the suggestion that white people should not associate with people of color utterly repugnant. These are my future grandchildren Donald Sterling is talking about. While the man is apparently a Democrat, his political preferences make no difference to me. Even if he claimed to be a Republican or a conservative, I would still view him as a monster. Indeed, if he claimed to be a Republican or a conservative, I would be among the first in line to renounce him, as I do not want a racist fool to be seen as the face of my beliefs.
I have actually met very few racists in my life, so it constantly surprises me that a few people harbor such reactionary and backward sentiments. Yet, it surprises me even more that so many people who should know better would rise to the defense of not just the bigots, but of their racist rants.
This is one judgment that should not be owned. It is a poison to everyone who touches it. By owning such a judgment, we become the people that they say we are. And, while we may be many things, one thing that should never be true of us is that we hate our fellow man because of his race.