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Take a Stand! Escalate!

by Berry Friesen (August 15, 2017)

Three days after the violence in Charlottesville, the drumbeat sounds all around. This morning, my local paper told me to “Take a stand.”  Yesterday, a national church publication told me to escalate my efforts to “resist white supremacy” by becoming “an accomplice” to those shutting down the alt-right.  

Take a stand, escalate; that’s the mantra now.  And I agree with the part about “taking a stand,” as you will see if you stay with me to the end of this essay.  But I’m flat-out opposed to this idea of escalation.  

Think it through.  The alt-right will continue insisting on its constitutionally protected right to assemble and speak.  The ACLU (I am a member, in case you find that relevant) will continue reminding judges that the rule of law supports what the alt-right demands. The alt-right will continue using its permits to stage propagandistic displays of weaponry, fascist regalia, hateful slogans, intimidating behavior and violence.  The resisters will continue depriving the alt-right of their freedom to assemble and speak, using enough violence of their own along the way to force the police to “take a side” and shut everything down.  The media will continue bringing the entire spectacle to us live, inflaming relationships across our society.  

We don’t want this kind of escalation, do we?  I’m asking because it sounds wretched to me.  To anyone getting ready for a replay of Charlottesville, I ask: has anyone thought about where this is going?

Look, racism—white supremacy—was baked into the cake of US society.  We cannot escape it, no matter how we obsess and escalate our opposition.   This doesn’t mean we accept it and acquiesce!  No, we name it and resist its influence each and every time it appears.  And yes, that influence is nearly everywhere.  But it’s not something we can root out and destroy; it’s been baked into the cake.

My point is that resistance to racism requires wisdom as well as courage.  Vestiges of white supremacy can be found most anywhere, yet not everything we see is a vestige of white supremacy.  If we are not wise, our best efforts can destroy things nearly all of us value and want to nurture and grow.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Civil Rights Movement reflected this wisdom.  It taught us that "race" is a lie told by those who find advantage in division and oppression.  There is no such thing as white, brown, black and yellow races.  Those are made-up categories meant to divide and conquer and enable oppression.  We are one species, biologically indistinguishable from one another.  

Following that wisdom, public policy attempted to accomplish three things:  (1) delegitimize the use of “race” as the basis for making decisions; (2) provide remedial compensation in specific instances where “race” was used to make decisions; and (3) avoid any policy or practice that entrenches racism or legitimizes race, racialized conduct or race consciousness in American life.    

It is this last goal that has been abandoned by the generation since the ‘70s.  

The white supremacy baked into the cake of American society has been re-legitimized by the Republican Party in its efforts to win elections.   This goes on yet today in efforts to create new voting eligibility standards, reduce voting convenience and voter access to polling places, and disenfranchise people who have criminal records.

Meanwhile, race-conscious talk and thought has been re-legitimized via left-wing activism, education, entertainment and religion. Practitioners of this approach insist on prefacing every noun with a color adjective.  If “white,” then a negative inference follows; if some other color, then the inference is positive.

Thus, we are not only a society with white supremacy baked in, we now also are a highly racialized society where powerful Republicans cynically manipulate the voting process to benefit “whites” and leading voices of the left promote the lie of “race” as a core and exalted identity.   Though working at apparent cross-purposes, these “leaders” have achieved together a great regression from the aspirations of the Civil Right Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

And guess what:  their cynicism and their racialized discourse have exacerbated the white supremacy baked into our cake. 

Who could have known, right?  I mean, whoever could have imagined that young men living in imperial, oligarchic, debt-ridden America would pick up the racialized mantra of their superiors (teachers, pastors, professionals of every ilk, journalists, entertainment leaders) and put their own spin on it?  Whoever could have imagined a growing segment of such men (and women) would absorb the cynicism of political leaders and laughingly embrace the term “racist” as if it were a virtue, not a badge of shame?  Simply astonishing, isn’t it?  

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m trying to make a point here.  I’m asking you to take seriously the possibility that it isn’t just the alt-right to be blamed; lots of other people of much higher social class bear responsibility too.  

Please don’t misunderstand me:  just because white supremacy is baked into the cake does not doom us to racist behavior or racialist discourse.  Healing remedies are available to us.  Simply working together is an effective way for people of different skin colors to devalue white supremacy and the entire lie about race.  People of different colors playing together (sports) or training together (the military) does the same.  So does people of different colors struggling together in congregations and in neighborhood improvement groups.

In contrast, talking about race often hurts as much as it helps because everyrepetition of a lie—even if our intention is to refute the lie—serves to reify the lie, make it real.

So yes, let’s take a stand.  Let’s stand for our common humanity, skin color be damned. 

Let’s stand for our shared interest in becoming a nonimperial people, living on what we produce without pillaging the world and killing people whose lives allegedly aren’t as valuable as ours.  

Let’s stand for an economy of shared prosperity and a life-sustaining environment less dependent on carbon.  

Let’s stand against the deception of race, against the deception that “white” is anything at all but the figment of a demented past, against the lie that our core identities are defined by the color of our skin. 

Let’s stand against this obsession to push the voice of white supremacy underground, out of the public square; we only empower it by giving it such rapt attention. 

Let’s stand for a way forward that has a fighting chance of success.


  1. Imagine a scenario where the world reacts against Nazism in such a way that they are effectively shut down, banned from discourse, and alienated from the public sphere. Victory! We are once again safe from these terrorists, these Nazis who would have ethnically cleansed the country of everyone they didn't like. And then a certain segment of the population wants to continue the crusade against hate, and expand it to include other people they find distasteful. Soon, heterodoxy is crushed and we are right back to the original problem of alienation writ large -- a lack of dialogue all around, and the cycle of hate starts all over.

    I watched as the Falahi tribe in Iraq became radicalized after the US invasion, turning from conservative Sunnis into radical and violent Islamists. Now I watch again as the town I grew up in becomes ground zero for a second civil war. What is the common denominator? Normal people turning into unreflective, hateful murderers. Why? How?

    I say this as an academic leftist, and someone who has seen both sides: the problem is not *AN* ideology or even a specific subset of ideologies -- the problem is ideology itself. We must engage in the practice of critique of ideology, deconstructing all human cultural and social norms, from a place of yieldedness and Christian nonviolence, in community.

    There is a solid basis for interpreting the Old and New Testaments as critique of ideology; Anabaptism proper is critique of ideology. Post-marxism holds critique of ideology as its ideal.

    What does this mean for Charlottesville, for racism and the church? It means: don't just condemn racism, militarism, materialism... study, deconstruct, understand and encounter the essence of these things for what they are!

    We must be critical of the ideology of racism in the church, just as we must be critical of the ideologies of feminism, cultural conservatism, cultural liberalism, militarism, pacifism, fundamentalism, and every other self-satisfied form of thought that pretends to one absolute or another.

    That being said, these Nazis need to leave my town alone and find Jesus. Let's come together to oppose them, and then we can continue our infighting in peace once they are gone.

    1. Evan, if you've read my August 21st post, you'll know I'm no fan of "deconstructing all human cultural and social norms." On the other hand, when you speak of critiquing "forms of thought that pretend to one absolute or another," then yes, I'm with you. Best I recall, for me it was Wm. Stringfellow who drew the distinction between pricipalities and powers that accept their limited roles and those that claim to be gods. Though we live in a fallen world, the distinction remains important.

  2. Kenneth Trauger (August 18)August 22, 2017 at 11:35 AM

    I remember when opponents of the KKK in Lancaster PA met at the County Park to express a resistance to that evil. The Klan appeared in Lancaster City with few watchers of their signs and words, and with little reporting, which was very belittling of the KKK; thus, our community conveyed its rejection of the KKK. I hope you see the value of this history.

    Now a word on 'blaming both sides'. You came close to that when devaluing the left's resistance to the evil of the KKK and the such. Trump's Friday words of blaming both sides confirmed him as an AMORAL spokesman and not a moral leader of the nation. Resistance is the right moral position for peace and justice workers. Religion teaches resistance to evil. Evil criminals are resisted and jailed, and the unlocked home owner is not blamed for the evil result. The opponents of Hitler in Germany were known as people in the Resistance Movement.

    I feel that many people want to be sentimental Christians and stay quiet about evil. They have no problem blaming both sides. I work in restorative justice. The traditional justice system insists that two youth fighting must go to trial and one is to blame for the evil and the other is seen as resisting such evil. In rape cases, it is immoral to blame both sides. It is a sin to blame any victim of abuse. A moral person only blames the attacker in rape cases. I would never blame Jesus for his teaching and way for the attacks in his crucifixion. So, I want to see more people be moral speakers, as I am sure that you would also.

    Churches need to help their members be active justice workers, and end their ways of amorality. I believe this is the main reason most people never spoke out on Trump's election and his amoral positions, including lies and criticism of people with moral positions of justice. None of us should agree with blaming both sides, a typical position of amoral leadership. The prophetic way of love has eternal value.

    1. Thanks for writing, Ken, and for the memories of counter-protests here in Lancaster. Also for your warning about the sentimentality of not taking sides.

      Not sure why, but of late I have been making what appears to be the exact opposite point: we need more people standing in the middle between the polarized positions. Could both you and I be right? I will think more about that. I expect context will be a key in answering. Principles only go so far, it seems.

      With the little time I have left on Earth, I have little interest in confirming via the blog how righteous I am. Don't those of us with life experience have something constructive to offer, especially when we see the train going off the rails (Charlottesville being a case in point)? I know, no one wants advice in the midst of a heart-wrenching and life-threatening crisis. Still, do we have something constructive to say beyond taking a side and cheering it on?

      In my post, I made two pointed and critical comments, one aimed at the Republican Party and the other aimed at the race-focused discourse on the left. I'd welcome your support for each one.