THE BLOG

Racism Is Fueled By Fear

10/05/2011 06:30 pm ET | Updated Dec 05, 2011

Several years ago, while waiting my turn to be taken to surgery, I was watching a morning talk show that featured members of the Ku Klux Klan and a very interesting awareness came to me. I began to understand their fear. I was quite afraid myself that morning. I was scheduled to have major surgery and I was concerned about it and somewhat worried about my small children and what would happen to them if I died. So as I reflected later upon my own fear that morning and thought about what I had heard from the Klanspeople, I realized how related we were at the level of our emotions. I understood their fear for the first time in a very different way from any other time when I had thought about the Klan and their hate-filled work in this country. I want to make this point clear. There was something about my being in touch with the depths of my own fear that day and hearing their words during that time that made it possible for me to hear something about the Klan that I had not been able to hear before.

In the past I had thought about the Klan and been horrified about them and wished that there was some way to remove them from the planet. But I had never understood their fear. I had never seen them as fellow human beings struggling with the issues of being human and having fears just as I struggled with being human and my fears. As we know, if fear is allowed to rule in our life it leads to much negative and violent behavior. But for those of us who believe in God, there is a call to us to work to find positive ways to channel the energy that is generated in us by fear.

This promise from the Psalms has been a great help to me over the years as I have embraced my own fears, "For God will give his angels charge over you to guard you in all of your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Psalm 91:11-12 NCV). And this promise that "God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power, love and self control" (2 Timothy 1:7 NCV). These wonderful words are not good news for the energy system that fuels racism and its fear. That system is dependent upon holding its victims in the grips of fear. So it takes the prejudice that it finds and the power that is generated by the use of collective prejudice to create the systems of exclusion and exploitation and makes it appear that this is enough to build a lifestyle upon. Thus the Klanspeople have built a life upon their fear along with all of the others who are not in the Klan but who hold onto racist practices because of their fear of what will be lost if change comes into their lives. We are witnessing it everyday in our country as we listen to the voices screaming about taking away resources from the poor, Hispanics, African Americans and any one who represents the other.

Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking for even a moment that we have made it to the Promised Land in terms of racism in America. It is so alive and well. I agree with the voices who have said that the election of President Obama has highlighted how far we still have to travel to get to a better place in our land. For people of faith there is the hope that God will give us help if we are willing to turn our face in God's direction. It seems that as we are able to confront our personal fears and overcome them, it helps us to be less held in the grips of collective fear and that the possibility of making changes increase.

Fear is immobilizing and it keeps us separated. Our "them and us" mentality has no place in a country that is working to be a democracy, and it certainly has no place in our communities of faith. We are challenged by God to see everyone as being connected to us and to understand that our overall wellbeing is related to theirs. This is what Bishop Desmond Tutu talks about as Ubuntu. When we embrace this notion at the deepest levels of ourselves we see others as a part of us and we make it possible for change to come to us. We are in this journey together and we need one another to create the world that supports the highest quality of life for everyone. Our work continues to be that of making it clear that there is no place for any racist ways of thinking and to make the effort to build bridges to one another so we can support the highest quality of life possible for everyone in this country and across this planet.