After Church – Casual Racism

NOTE: If you couldn’t guess from the title, this isn’t going to be something everyone should read. If you’re already offended by any kind of racist joke, leave now before you get offended. Also, video game related, but I can do what I want so accept it.

“Winning battlegrounds on Alliance is easy – just like being white.”

“What’s the difference between a pizza and a Jew? Pizza doesn’t scream when you put it in the oven.”

Etc, etc.

These are just a few of the many jokes thrown about on World of WarCraft’s trade channel. Originally, Blizzard implemented a worldwide General chat that you could access at any time – you can probably imagine, with comments like that, where such a trend went. Having a blonde Blood Elf standing on top of a mailbox screaming “WHITE POWER, WHITE POWER” has to be one of the more interesting introduction to race issues in the history of human civilization, that’s for sure.

That’s just a sampling of what I heard today. The Internet is the bastion of the anonymous insult, the racist troll, and the forum maven always picking a fight or, maybe, exposing his/her/its own prejudices. Anonymity’s a wonderful thing sometimes, but it does impact our behavior and mannerisms in ways you can’t quite imagine. Or does it? I’ve been wondering about this for a while – does that actually reflect our “true” character, or are we just not afraid to say what could be termed “politically incorrect”? Would we say it anyway if such societal restrictions were lifted?

In sum: does this actually reflect the person’s character? I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to make that judgment without also implicating myself. But I can’t imagine anyone saying these things in public, let alone in company with other people sitting there, face to face. For God’s sake, seriously, I took a class with Elie Wiesel, so I should know enough about the Holocaust, right? And to know how horrible, how horrific it was, should automatically offend me, inure me to the effect of these jokes and let me, the righteous one, see it as nothing more than something insensitive and downright terrible to say, right?

No.

I laughed. And I thought it was funny.

I’d consider myself pretty sensitive to these issues after having gone to Boston University’s School of Theology (I signed an agreement while attending there, see section II, regarding this kind of thing), but it hasn’t erased my ability to laugh at a good ol’ racist stereotype, or worse. The reason why they work, at least in my mind, is that sense of irony that comes from it. You know it isn’t true to typecast the lot of any particular people, race, or whatever, but sometimes you just can’t help but laugh at the joke, or laugh in awkward embarassment at how offensive it is. Plenty of comedians use this in pretty much every field of discussion (sex, violence, racism, etc.), so it’s not all that uncommon.

Still, should I be laughing at all, or does it highlight some form of corruption and sin? Ephesians 4 would seem to give a straightforward answer (I’ve definitely used this before, I think).

25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Ok, Paul, what’s unwholesome talk, then? Does that mean anything negative or self-deprecating in addition to politically incorrect humor? What’s encouraging, and what’s not? I find that the answers tend to be obvious in my tradition – no swearing or cursing is the prevailing interpretation – but let’s think of it in the context of Paul’s constant admonishment of following the Law versus the Spirit. If that’s the case, then the specifics of the language or the joke aren’t the problem; it’s the intention by which those particular words are spoken, and in what manner. Are they made in anger, or would they exacerbate the anger of that person in the moment? Some people tend to work on emotion, while others take things to their logical conclusions, and one, both, or neither could equally find offense, depending. A racist joke, I’d imagine, may never be suitable for real life interactions. But the Internet? It’s part of the language and the way of speaking. In that way, I can’t imagine finding out the character of a person based on how they act inside of a game.

And we might say, furthermore, that judging a person based on a racist comment made in an online MMORPG might give us even less reason to suspect them of incurable prejudice. Who is that person, anyway? I can’t know what race they are in real life unless I ask, and even then I have no way of knowing even if I wanted to try. Matthew 7 makes this pretty clear:

7 “ Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

What kind of sin do I, the individual, have to sort out first? Notice how Jesus’ admonishment comes directly upon the individual seeking to judge first, not even the one actively sinning in some way, shape, or form. That’s exactly the opposite of our way of thinking – we want instant gratification, especially in matters of right and wrong. If everyone lives in the state of sin, wouldn’t that make it impossible to judge anyone (specifically non-Christians) for anything?

Exactly. That’s God’s job, not yours. Even when it’s another Christians, it’s not to judge but to help – if it becomes a judgment on their character, then you’ve got a problem. You need to see your own problems first, and not become a hypocrite If I’m just yelling at someone for being racist, what if I don’t know that person very well? What would give me the right and privilege to judge them based on exactly one instance, one action, one phrase, or anything at all? Absolutely nothing. From Romans 12, and Paul’s citation of a BUNCH of different verses:

Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “ Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Not that I’m justifying casual racism, or racism of any kind. But sometimes it’s pretty funny, and I’m just gonna be honest about it. I’m not taking it seriously, anyway, and I’ll be sure to make fun of white people as much as possible. It’s best to take it in stride and know you’re going to deal with it wherever you go. I know that can be tough, but it’s part of the learning process. This could really apply to just about anything another person could do, and this is just one particular in a host of different situations.

 

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.