Princess thinks you are a racist

Repentance, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

I am a racist, you are a racist, we are all racists.

As an experiment to build friendships and understanding with people who are not like me, I started hanging around with a bunch of guys gathering Monday evenings around a backyard fire in a Canadian suburb that is known for being the Bible belt of Canada. This is a group of guys who like to debate about the Bible, a group in which the majority supported the American Republican party for its stand against abortion, and I could understand their position, though I myself do not believe in legislating morality in this way. I can respect our difference in opinion and say, “Sure, let’s have a conversation about that.”

But an interesting thing happened when a couple guys defended the new president-elect of the United States and his policy to build a wall to solve the issue of the porous Mexican/American border. And something inside me snapped. But I didn’t know what to do with this overwhelming rage that was welling up inside me. I was absolutely livid. So, I considered my options: (1) keep silent and remain friends and pretend that nothing happened or (2) go on a raging rant in our private Facebook group for an entire weekend.

Guess which option I picked. I called them all racists, and needless to say, feelings got hurt, but I was oblivious to the damage I had caused them, especially for the guy who started the group, because I am a jerk.

To my surprise, they took issue with me calling them racists. We met the following Monday and I brought cookies as a peace offering and I said, “I’m sorry for calling you all racists.” They all ate my cookies and I thought we were good, so we went on to chat about other topics. But I discovered that the hurt went deeper than I had thought. So, I wondered whether I should just agree to disagree and move on, seeing as we were at an impasse.

So, I posted what I thought might be an apology of sorts.

Human relationships are an ongoing stream of eternal, tormented consciousness and pain. I am guilty of the heinous crime of being born into a world designed for the survival of the fittest in a culture that once believed in the absurd narrative of a deity who considers me guilty until proven innocent. He created heaven and earth, created animals and mankind, kills animals and mankind, confuses languages, scatters people across the earth to wage wars against each other and oppress each other, raises a holy nation by leading them out of oppression to death in the desert, so they can engage in ethnic cleansing and steal someone else’s land. In this land, they set up a monarchy and, eventually an empire that is conquered by an even greater empire, and so on. The deity impregnates a girl as himself, grows up and confuses people, kills himself, and turns his small band of followers into a holy empire while city-states and nation-states wage wars against each other and oppress each other, raises a holy nation by leading them to a new world to engage in ethnic cleansing, steal someone else’s land, and enslave people who are different. In this land, they set up a democracy, and eventually an empire, that is even now being conquered by an even greater empire, and so on.

Now, I said that racism might be a good topic of conversation, because, unless I got something wrong, this narrative is about racism, asserting power over others by claims of moral, economic, or military superiority. I hurt someone’s feelings. For that I am sorry.

I don’t have much time left and I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time. I am looking for creative collaborators and I fear I have stumbled upon a book club. I see that I am not being heard, nor am I a good listener when others are speaking. I am a fool, and I suggest you take this wise advice: “Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.”

Again, I thank you for your patience and your hospitality. I offer this olive branch: should you desire conversation, collaboration, friendship, a place at our table, you are welcome. Until then, adieu.

I received a response from one of the guys:

I would say you did indeed get something wrong. I do not believe wars are synonymous with racism. Wars can be a result of any number of externalities. Again, I would like to define racism: “The belief that one race is superior to another.”

Thought experiment — Let’s say I am supreme leader of Canada and Bob is supreme leader of USA. I see that Bob has a large stockpile of gold sitting in the basement of the White House. Well Supreme Leader of USA loves gold. So, I invade Bob’s country and take his gold, his food, and, while I am there, I decide to annex Rhode Island. Seeing that Bob and his ilk are whiter than myself, how can my apparent racism be a factor? Rather I would argue that greed, the desire for power are even greater motivations for war and have played a far larger role throughout history than racism. Even differences between religions have nothing to do with race but with theology. You continue to throw around the word racism, which you admit yourself is a hot button word, without any proof. You mentioned several times that you yourself are racist, perhaps you are simply projecting your own feelings on others. If you feel someone is a racist, then show proof. The burden of proof is on the one levelling the accusation. Not everyone takes being called a racist casually and it does no good to attribute someone’s motives to racism without proof. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here but your feelings are not proof! You cannot say someone or some country is racist simply because you disagree with what they did and so that must be because of racism. You said that “this narrative is about racism, asserting power over others by claims of moral, economic, or military superiority.” — Claims of economic, moral, or military superiority are different than racial or genetic superiority. Maybe it is just semantics, but I believe levelling the word racist is no small thing and shouldn’t be used lightly. So long as you stay factual I don’t care; facts don’t care about feelings.

On the subject you raised about your foolishness and poor listening skills, if you believe this to be true, would it not be prudent to work on these issues rather than giving up. If you are a poor listener one might suggest that, rather than continually writing monologues, stop to allow others time to respond. Listen to what they may say. Simply admitting you have a problem is meaningless without any action to rectify the problem.

And he followed up with:

Stephen, regardless of the differences we hold on these issues I don’t have any hard feelings for you. These are simply disagreements. Still love you.

I responded:

Thank you, friend. I bear no hard feelings toward you or anyone in the group. I still love you. I admit that I can use words as weapons. I do believe that the pen is mightier than the sword (unless someone is coming at me with a sword, then, definitely the sword). But live by the sword, die by the sword.

I understand your point: “racism” should only refer to “race”. I did define the term to refer to something broader. Using the word “racism” was intended to create a “shock and awe” response, to provoke discussion, but not to hurt. Unfortunately, I see that I have been indiscriminate in my use of the word “racism” and things were getting a little too personal. To be more accurate, I could use the word “discrimination.” To use the parlance of social science, I could use the concept of “implicit bias.” I could have used the religious word, “sinner,” but this might have invited yawns and a “so what” response. I was revealing a crack in the armour of the conservative right.

A week ago, as we sat around the fire, I kept quiet when I heard people defending Trump and his policy of building a wall. I do not generally like personal confrontation. But something about this whole situation has triggered a response in me. If you mess with immigrants, I will stand with the immigrants. If you mess with outsiders, you mess with me. If you support the racist policy of a racist candidate, then I will call you a racist. You call this policy an issue of a nation state protecting its borders. But that is not the way I heard Trump advocate for this policy. I heard, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not … They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” This to me sounds like racism, discrimination, implicit bias, and it is a dog whistle for white supremacists. When Trump hires an alt-right (Neo-Nazi) like Stephen Bannon as White House chief strategist, he is not defending the rights of people of different races, creeds and colours, no matter how much he protests:

When Breitbart News defends Trump, they quote the racist words of a racist candidate. If you deny that his words are racist, then I will call you a racist.

If you deny that racism exists in Canada, I will call you a racist.

You provoked me by defending Trump. I provoked you by calling you a racist. If you want to have an honest conversation, prepare to get a little uncomfortable.

I imagine the same thing happened around the table that Jesus set for his disciples. You want to learn how to be a disciple? Then prepare to be uncomfortable. Jesus invited a tax collector and a zealot to the table. Matthew likely defended his work for Caesar and provoked Judas by calling him a “seditious terrorist” and a zealot. Judas likely provoked Matthew by calling him a traitor to the Jewish cause for being a despicable and much hated tax collector. Discipleship is living with people you despise for three years wandering around the Judean countryside and learning how to love each other.

Until you walk with an immigrant across a foreign border and help them feel at home, less like a stranger and more like a friend, I will question your defence of a policy to keep immigrants from crossing borders and I will question your interpretation of scripture.

In America, Jesus may be inviting Democrats and Republicans to the table. If they can live with each other for the next four years without blowing each other up and learn to love each other, they will have earned the right to call themselves disciples of Jesus. If not, God help us all.

My wife thinks me trying to behave in public and practice friendship is like Bambi on ice.

It’s true.

You asked for proof: Project Implicit.

What is Implicit Bias?

Unlike explicit bias (which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level), implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control. The underlying implicit attitudes and stereotypes responsible for implicit bias are those beliefs or simple associations that a person makes between an object and its evaluation that “…are automatically activated by the mere presence (actual or symbolic) of the attitude object” (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, & Hudson, 2002, p. 94; also Banaji & Heiphetz, 2010). Although automatic, implicit biases are not completely inflexible: They are malleable to some degree and manifest in ways that are responsive to the perceiver’s motives and environment (Blair, 2002).

Implicit bias research developed from the study of attitudes. Scientists realized long ago that simply asking people to report their attitudes was a flawed approach; people may not wish or may not be able to accurately do so. This is because people are often unwilling to provide responses perceived as socially undesirable and therefore tend to report what they think their attitudes should be rather than what they know them to be. More complicated still, people may not even be consciously aware that they hold biased attitudes. Over the past few decades, scientists have developed new measures to identify these unconscious biases.

I am trying to learn about civil conversations from people who are inviting and encouraging such discussions. I hope that we can all engage in this work. In this conversation, Krista Tippett engages with Mahzarin Banaji on the topic of implicit bias.

You may take the Bible as your sole authority on all matters of life. I believe that science can also teach us something, and we ignore science to our own peril.

So, what I am trying to say by posting this is that I am willing to be proven wrong. But I stand by what I say, and I don’t take it lightly. Still…

Princess and Lucky

This morning, at about 3:50am in the morning, Lucky the cat wanted to go outside. You see, he sleeps on our bed. He is not our cat. This is just the place that he calls home.

Lucky the cat

We showed him some kindness. We introduced him to our other cat, Princess, who was also not our cat. But she chose our house as her home.

Princess the cat

We didn’t realize that if you show a cat kindness, you feed them, give them water and open doors for them, they become your masters and we their humble servants.

Well, Princess and Lucky hated each other. Princess was mean and Lucky was scared. But over time, they learned to eat together. Sometimes Princess would chase Lucky away so she could eat in peace. Lucky would wait for her to finish and then eat after she had already had her fill. There was always plenty of food for both of them. Maybe it was a systemic issue. There was only one food bowl.

So, we got two food bowls. But Princess was still mean and Lucky was still scared. But over time, they learned that there was always enough food for both of them, and they learned to eat together.

Our daughter loved Princess and Lucky and she discovered that if Princess was sleepy, she could put Lucky next to Princess and Lucky would lick Princess.

Princess and Lucky

You know how cats like to preen themselves. It was like that, except Lucky was preening Princess. Princess liked that a lot. But she was unpredictable. Sometimes she had enough and would chase Lucky away. But over time, Princess stopped being mean and Lucky stopped being scared. Eventually, we all shared the same bed, happily and peacefully. Princess and Lucky became the best of friends.

But one day, Princess disappeared, and that was one of the saddest days in the life of our family. Lucky was so sad, waiting on our porch and looking into the forest for Princess to walk out of the trees and to sit beside him on the porch. We are still waiting to see her again. We miss her a lot.

Stories and Parables

Science Mike says, people don’t change when they hear lots of big ideas and theories. You tell stories.

Let’s tell each other stories, our own stories, sad stories, inspirational stories about what it means to be human in this world. Or, because, after all, this is the Internet, we can tell stories and share pictures of cats.

Show kindness. Offer food and water. Open doors. Serve each other. Offer your home to the homeless wanderers in your neighbourhood. We don’t have to be mean. We don’t have to be scared. We can share this big, beautiful, wonderful world, happily and peacefully. We have the opportunity to become the best of friends. And don’t waste the time we have with each other, because we will miss each other when one of us is gone.

Insomnia and Podcasts

I have insomnia sometimes. When I’m worried, scared and anxious and I can’t make the thoughts in my head calm down, I get my phone, plug in my earphones and listen to a podcast, and I go to sleep. Well, when I woke up this morning, my phone had skipped to the next podcast in my list. It was Rob Bell speaking with Jill Rowe of Oasis UK.

I had never heard of Oasis.

But when I heard what they were doing, I had realized I may have finally found my tribe.

I am also keen on finding how to contribute to the vision of A Rocha.

The Builders Collective

You see, about 25 years ago, I started a design company called Bauhouse. My last name is Bau. It is a Chinese name, but in German “bau” means “build.” I thought this would be an appropriate name, because I love what the Bauhaus represented.

Artists and creative collaborators came together to live and work to rebuild their society. Someone came along with visions of empire. He disbanded the Bauhaus in 1933 and this creative collective were scattered around the world. Then he led people to build walls and borders, to oppress, to torture, to enslave, to imprison, to kill and he scattered people across the earth.

I was also raised to love Jesus. I found Christians to be nice, but also weird, judgmental, angry, and sad. It seemed to me like I didn’t belong, in my family, in my church, in my culture, in my world. I wondered if there was a way to change that. So, I started a business to do the work of doing good in the world. The way I read the Bible, it’s all about love.

So, with the Bauhouse, I set out to build the house of love. Now, 25 years later, I have been searching for representations of God’s love in the world. It is remarkable how difficult this journey has been to find people who are not so enamoured with privilege, power and position that we would be able to work together as a creative collective, considering how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Rather than appropriate the Bauhaus name, I instead created a new organization called the Builders Collective. It is also known as BLDRS: building leaders to design a resilient society. If you share this vision, if you, too, would like to share a table, to work together, to love, I am with you and I will stand with you.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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