Do I Have to be a Racist?

Do I Have to be a Hater?

Part 2–Do I Have to be a Racist?

Michael Burns


There are those who would say that, because I am white, I have no right to speak to issues of race.

I respectfully disagree.

There are those who say that because for many years America discriminated against people of color, we must now practice unfairness against whites to even the scales.

Again, no.

There are those who believe that I must own my White Privilege and feel intense guilt because of the nefarious actions of my forbears.

Never gonna happen, my friend.

Last week I wrote a post in which I said that I wanted to speak for mainstream conservatives, kind of explain where we are coming from on a variety of social issues.  I’m gonna backtrack on that a little.  Speaking for others, identifying as a group, is a big part of what has gotten us into this mess.

So I’m going to speak for me.  Just Michael.  Hear me out, if you are willing, and feel free to comment.

I believe in the God of the Bible.

I believe that men and women were made in God’s image.  That image has nothing whatsoever to do with color and everything to do with spirit.  Therefore, all men and women are my brothers and sisters.

I know that people were brought to this country from Africa against their will and against all moral decency.  

I know that for many years these people and their descendants were enslaved.

I know that even after emancipation, blacks were treated as second-class citizens, denied many of the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that their white counterparts took for granted.

I know that this inequality still exists in some hearts today.


I also know that thousands upon thousands of white men died to release blacks from their slavery.

I know that thousands of white men and women joined the boycotts, the marches, the freedom rides that brought legislative equality to Black Americans, often at the cost of their own blood.  

I know that most Americans today judge people not by their color, but by their actions.

I know that two wrongs don’t make a right.

I know that we should not judge the sons for the sins of their fathers.

I know that giving someone preferential treatment because of anything other than merit is inefficient and unhealthy and wrong and what got us into this mess in the first place.


I teach in a public middle school.  I have students from all over the socioeconomic  spectrum.  Their one unifying factor is their twelve-year-old geekiness.  Some of my students come to class fresh, clean, and ready.  Their homework is done and their notes are in order.  Whatever I throw at them, they are hungry to learn. I have other students who show up late, if at all.  They are a mess, inside and out.  For a whole host of reasons, they don’t care about school and aren’t willing or able to do the job.

In eighteen years of teaching, I have never seen color as the determining factor.

Now imagine that I pulled aside some of my black students, ones who are working hard and earning excellent grades.  I say to them, “Kids, I know that historically, your people have gotten a raw deal.  In fact, it’s quite possible that my great-grandparents oppressed your great-grandparents.  Through no fault of your own, this has left you unable to compete on an equal footing with the other kids.  Therefore, I’m going to give you extra credit on all your assignments.  Just to make it fair.”  Do you know what would happen?  I do, because I know these kids.  At first, some would take the points and whoop it up because, you know, they’re twelve.  But then, over time–a very short time–they would become confused about why I thought they needed extra help when they were doing fine before.  And that confusion would undermine their self-worth, as they began to wonder if maybe they weren’t really cutting it on their own.  The confusion would lead to resentment, then to bitterness.  At the end, they would hate me for letting my White Guilt get in the way of their unfettered success.

They wouldn’t use those words because, again, twelve-years-old.  But it would be in their eyes

and their hearts.


On a related topic: Black Lives Matter. Yes, but not more than the lives–black, brown, white, yellow, red, whatever–of the cops who protect your city, of the store owners who provide goods and services, of the neighbors whose property you take or destroy.  

“But racist cops are killing innocent black youth!”

Let’s take a look at that.

Are there racist cops out there?  

Sure there are.  Just like there are racist grocery store workers and racist firemen and racist teachers and racist students.

Are there police officers with poor training or lousy self-control who overreact and needlessly escalate situations?  

No question there are.  Because cops are people. People with a job that would scare the snot out of most of us.  People who routinely run into situations most of us would run from.  Men and women with families and homes and pets and mortgages and the reasonable expectation that they should get to go home at the end of their shift.  I once spoke to a police officer from another country who told me that he was not allowed to fire unless fired upon.  He had to let the suspect take the first shot, or he would lose his job and be arrested.  

He also said a lot of cops die in the line of duty.

No, thank you.

When I walk across my campus, I see good kids, I see thugs, I see wannabes.  It’s got nothing to do with color, and everything to do with attitude.  Most students are respectful and obedient, if only to my face (again, they are twelve).  Some are rowdy, but will settle down when confronted by an authority figure.  Some take it as a personal challenge to antagonize and disrupt and be agents of havoc.  And some of these latter act with the license of parents and systems that, for a variety of reasons, have eliminated the word accountability from their lexicon.  When I look at these students, those who feel entitled to disobedience and noncompliance, I fear that the day will come when a police officer will tell them to freeze, and they will turn in anger and indignation, and they will fall.

They are victims, not of the police, but of a society that fails to teach them respect.

But what about real oppression?  Shouldn’t people speak out about that?  

Yes, but when you focus on race instead of respect, and color over compliance, you resurrect an ancient evil and ignore the present reality.  When you single out a group of people for special recognition and treatment, you undermine the work of civil rights leaders from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King, Jr.


In the end, it comes down to this: I believe that it is degrading to our society and to the individual to treat anyone differently because of their skin color.  Society should be color-blind.  If that makes me a racist in your worldview, then I guess we will have to disagree on the issue.  But I think I am in agreement with Dr. King, because I also pray that one day my children–our children– “will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”


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