Rev. Jim McConnell’s recent “Religion Insights” column published in the Herald Palladium has generated a fair amount of community discussion, as well as some inquiries about our fellowship. Rev. Jim’s column was a shortened version of a sermon he delivered at a recent virtual Sunday service. Here is the text…

Why I Am a Racist?

By Rev. Jim McConnell

Metaphorically speaking, we all have a racist meme which resides in our cultural DNA.  The message imprinted on our racist meme is: Black and brown people are less than white people.  Everyone carries this meme.  Or as Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts says, “For an American to say they are not racist…. is like a fish saying that it is not wet.”  Racism in America is so pervasive, so endemic that everyone is affected and infected.

An example: Often, when I go into a restaurant or a store and a young black man or black woman is serving me or is operating a cash register, my racist meme will manifest in me with thoughts like: I hope she gets the change right or what if he messes up my order.  My feeling is one of anxiety.  The message my meme is manifesting in me is that black people, especially young black people, are not competent or at least not as competent as white people.

The racist meme manifests in us even if we are black.  Four decades ago, my wife, Patty and I were seminary students.  Our upstairs neighbors, in married student housing were a black couple, Edith and Cliff.  Their kids and our kids were toddlers.  We started trading baby sitting and eventually became friends.

One day, Edith and Cliff had a plumbing problem.  Edith reported the situation to seminary housing and a plumber was sent out to do the repair.  When Edith, opened the door and saw a black plumber, she immediately felt anxiety and thought: How can a black man be a good plumber?  She later confided to me that she was startled at her racist ideation and emotions.

We all, black, white and brown have the racist meme in our cultural DNA.  The message imprinted on this meme is: Black people are less than white people. When the racist meme manifests in some white people, they automatically assume this is the natural order and then project their own feelings of inferiority on to black people.  This has the effect of lightening their psychological burdens but also creates soul destroying hate.  I feel some compassion for the assault rifle toting, Swastika wearing, confederate flag waving White Nationalists.  They do not realize that by being unwilling to suffer their own feelings of impotence and inferiority they have chosen a path of weakness and cowardice.

When the racist meme manifests in black people, its message is, you are less than, and becomes a psychological burden.  This meme is very stressful to bear and creates health issues for many black people.  In some black people, the meme creates anger or diminishment of Being.

The antidote for the racist meme, be you black or white, is consciousness.  If we can become conscious of our racist memes when they manifest in our psyches, we can dispassionately observe them and in so doing, neutralize them.  With consciousness comes understanding.   With understanding comes the ability to stop projecting our feelings of inferiority on to blacks if we are white and to lighten our psychological and spiritual burdens if we are black. Thus, helping to ameliorate at least some of the suffering and hate that currently sickens our society.

We are seeing some signs of hope.  In the six weeks since George Floyd’s death, we are seeing hundreds of millions of Americans becoming aware of systemic racism and of our 400 year-long history of exploitation of black people.  Thousands have taken to the streets in protest.  Police reform bills are currently under discussion in the House and Senate.  Symbols of the Old Confederacy and white supremacy are being removed from public places.  And, there is real talk about Reparation.  Healing has begun.  Healing cannot, however, be complete until we bring to consciousness the fact that racism is a disease with which we are all infected.