Fighting racism doesn’t start on Twitter. It starts at home. Talk to your kids. Seriously. Do it now. #charlottsville
— Chad Ragsdale (@caragsdale) August 12, 2017
Like all of you I remain not just disgusted but deeply disturbed by the events in Virginia over the weekend. I’m disgusted because racism, hate, and violence are so obviously disgusting. I’m disturbed because…well, let me explain.
I am not perfect. I sometimes have difficulty with my tongue – especially when my speech is motivated by anger. When, in a moment of anger, I say something vile and vulgar, I shouldn’t just write it off as some sort of temporary insanity. I shouldn’t say what has become so popular to say, “That just wasn’t me.” No, it was me. It was a darkness within me which, if only for a moment, was allowed to see the light.
We’ve come a long way on race in our society. To say otherwise is to be willfully ignorant about history. But when a large group of angry and hate-filled bigots feels secure enough to march into a major city in full view of cameras shouting vile words of racial superiority and threatening violence, we shouldn’t just dismiss this with a quick “That’s not us.” Because it clearly is. What we saw in Charlottesville was a darkness within our society and within us, allowed to see the light. And none of us liked what we saw.
I’m not going to echo the ridiculous claim sometimes made today that “all white people are racists.” This sort of identity-based, fatalism is neither constructive nor fair. In fact, such rhetoric is a good way to create racists. Imagine telling your kid every day that he was nothing but a screw up. Would you really be surprised when he throws up his hands and decides to live up to your rhetoric? However, I think a statement I saw this weekend comes close to the truth: Racism is the original sin of our nation. We all bear its mark to some degree or another. We all live with its consequences to some degree or another.
But this isn’t really a post about how racism is bad. Honestly, do we need to read a blog to have it confirmed that racism is a bad thing? My next post will be titled: “Guess what, the Pope is still Catholic.”
This is really a post about the tweet at the top of the page.
I grew up in a town that is pretty much the definition of “white flight.” Lake County, Indiana is the most segregated county in the state. Largely blue-collar workers many of them with southern or eastern European heritage moved into south Lake County out of places like Gary and Hammond as the racial dynamics of those cities started to shift radically. I grew up with racism all around me but often didn’t see it. I still remember the first racist joke I heard. I still remember who told it. I still remember the laughter of all those boys in the bathroom of Winfield Elementary School. One of those voices was mine. I still remember in high school when our idiot football coach made a racist joke about a prominent athlete from a neighboring school. I still remember the protesters that walked outside of our school after the joke became public knowledge.
When the events in Charlottesville started unfolding I knew that I needed to have another conversation with my kids – especially my 12-year-old son. So that’s exactly what I did. We talked about current events. We talked about Jackie Robinson. We talked about not participating in certain jokes or conversations. We talked about how God sees all people and how He wants us to see them as well.
I then went to Twitter. I really liked the tweet. Too often we allow our outrage/concern on Twitter to become a substitute for any real action in our lives. This was the perfect example. I don’t live in Virginia. I’m outraged by the racism on display there. But I should also be just as concerned, if not more so, by the racism on display in my own community and in my own heart. Twitter insulates us from any real responsibility or action. What is more constructive than tweeting about racism is actually talking about it with those close to you.
But I also liked what the tweet said about me. I’m a good dad. I’m concerned about a social evil like racism. In fact, I’m more concerned than most other people, because I actually plan to do something about it. Yes, I’m a pretty good guy. I’m woke. There was only one problem.
Did you notice that I misspelled my hashtag? It was an honest mistake. Tweeting too quickly. Not pausing to proofread. (And Lord knows Twitter can’t build an edit function!!) I have to confess that when I first saw that I had misspelled the hashtag I thought about deleting the tweet. Without the proper hashtag, how will the world be able to read my very important insight? Without the proper hashtag, how will the world know that I’m a white guy who “gets it?” Without the proper hashtag, I won’t be able to maximize my righteousness.
I was thinking about this at church on Sunday when I happened to open my Bible. No sooner had I opened my Bible than I had it slammed shut again on my tweeting thumbs.
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Hashtags are the 21st century equivalent of announcing your righteousness with the blowing of trumpets and re-tweets and likes are receiving your reward in full.
Believe me, I’d be the last one to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with going on social media and commenting on things that are important to you. The purpose of Twitter is to tweet, and when events are happening of significant importance it’s only natural that we will tweet about it. But just as social media is really efficient at producing anxiety, it’s also really good at encouraging self-righteousness. Because of that it poses a danger to the cultivation of authentic character and virtue – the kind of virtue that Jesus says our Father in heaven rewards.
Sentiment becomes a substitute for action. The problem with virtue signaling is that it hollows out virtue and turns its husk into a propaganda piece. Our sentiment, properly worded and hashtagged, becomes an acceptable public substitute for action. It sounds so Gnostic – salvation through enlightenment, liberation through wokeness. This isn’t to question the sentiment. The sentiment I’m sure in most all cases is completely real. But the temptation is to allow that very real sentiment to become an end rather than a means. It also sounds so legalistic. I’ve noticed how in these moments attention will begin to shift away from the source of the outrage (in this case overt racism) and to the content of various tweets. The story quickly became about what people were saying or not saying on Twitter! People were fighting to achieve a higher moral ground than other, less desirable people which is kind of the perfect definition for self-righteousness. Which is also pretty much exactly what Jesus was warning us about in Matthew 6.
Popularity becomes the measure of character. There can be no “whatever is done in secret…” in today’s world. Pictures or it didn’t happen! In the bizarre world of social media self-righteousness Lady Gaga is far more virtuous than your godly grandmother. Why? “Well sorry, grandma. How many followers do you have on Twitter?” Actually, your grandma isn’t even on Twitter (she calls it “having a Twitter”), but Lady Gaga got 30 thousands likes for her tweet about Charlottesville. Lady Gaga wins. In our day, going viral is the easiest path to sainthood.
Again, because I don’t want to be misunderstood. If you read this and thought, “Chad doesn’t think we should tweet about race in America,” then I’ve done a pretty poor job of communicating. My point is a simple one. It is all too easy and all too dangerous for us to use social media as a cheap substitute for real virtue. I’m as bad as anyone and worse than most. Simply put, we all probably need to heed the words of Matthew 6:1 a little more carefully especially when we go online.