We have a problem with racism in America today…but it is not what you think.
I am not talking about acts of hatred and bigotry, which certainly exist, but in this case, I am talking about language.
If we actually want people to change their behavior then we have a tremendous challenge ahead. We are using the wrong language. Let me explain.
Recently, I was listening to one of Jim Wilder’s J.I.M. Talks on iniquity. He spoke of the difference between a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture. Then I had an epiphany. Here is my broad brush analysis:
In a shame-based culture, such as you might find in much of the Middle East, for instance, when someone does something wrong, they are a shameful person and must be dealt with.
The problem is the person.
In a guilt-based culture, such as America, when someone does something wrong, they are guilty of bad behavior and that behavior must be dealt with.
The problem is the behavior.
Shame-based culture= people are the problem.
Guilt-based culture= behaviors are the problem.
Obviously this is a generalization, but, hey, I warned you about the broad brush. So what does this have to do with racism in America? Today, people are overwhelmingly using shame-based language in a guilt-based culture. Listen to these words. Racist. Hater.
These are words of identity. “You are a racist.” “You are a hater.” These are words being constantly invoked in America today. Most often, they are specifically used to shame. In Joy Starts Here these words would come under the category of toxic shame “…used to obtain power and the shame is continued until we comply.” (pg. 244)
So, at least in America, the more you use harsh, aggressive language and direct it at a person, connecting it to their identity, the less likely you are to make any headway in bringing about an actual change of behavior, let alone a change of heart.
In America of all places, we should know better.
After all, many of us were around during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s with Dr. King at the lead. He did not use the shame-based language of “racist” and “hater.”
Instead, Dr. King used guilt-based language and called America, in particular white Christians, to repentance.To change their behavior and instead follow the ways of Jesus and become our best, true selves.
He didn’t shy away from pointing out the guilt of actions that were hurtful, but he always disparaged the action, not the actor.
Dr. King was a wise student of a guilt-based culture. If only others will follow his lead.