Cultural critique and racism

30 Mar

It is impossible, I suppose, to discuss issues of race calmly. Nonetheless, that is my intent. Furthermore, I want to add this preface: racism is real, and I would not claim for a moment to really understand what it’s like to be discriminated against based on skin color. In addition, we all have blind spots to sin; the proper response, when someone draws attention to that blind spot (in this case, inadvertent racism) is repentance.

Now, I am on record in any number of places as being quite critical of the culture of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist culture is shot through with sentimentality and brutality, materialism, gluttony, and misguided individualism, among many other sins; in short, I believe that fundamentalists have absorbed much of the broader American, democratic ideals and attempted to synchronize them with the Christian faith.

Fundamentalists are also, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, almost unexceptionally white.

So my question: does criticism of the culture of fundamentalism imply anything about my opinion of white people as white people? If so, how? If not, why then is an accusation of racism an almost automatic response to the critique of other cultures?


Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Music, Society


9 responses to “Cultural critique and racism

  1. David OEstreich

    March 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    One possible answer to your second question is that, by your own admission, you come from a “visibly” non-diverse group. The easiest inflammatory to kindle against you is intolerance.

    I don’t think I can see objectively enough to answer your first question since I am fairly likely to share your blind spots.

  2. Emerson Yazzie

    March 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I saw this post and was drawn to it partly because I am Native American.

    I’d have to say that your criticism of fundamentalism may be a criticism of American White people but I find as a Native American Fundamentalist I am criticized in much of the same areas as my White counterparts. Maybe, even more so since my fundamental beliefs intensifies the scrutiny of my Native American peers as well. I don’t think that your criticism of fundamentalism is an accurate analysis of your opinion of white people.

    As to critiquing a culture it could be described as a man coming into your home after observing your family through the window and berating you with all his opinions about how well your family is living. Leading you to think that the man just hates your family.

    • Michael Riley

      March 31, 2011 at 1:45 pm


      I really appreciate your taking time to comment here.

      I also think your closing analogy brings up a good point: anybody on the receiving end of a cultural critique is likely to be hurt. In fact, the person making the critique should expect to be considered mean, or cruel, or what have you.

      Your use of the term berate colors the discussions just a bit; if we were to say something like “observing your family through the window and announcing the ways in which he finds your family life deficient,” it keeps the essence of the issue. And in this case, even if the person is well-meaning, we would still be offended by the very content of his criticism.

      But is there a place for listening to him?

      • Emerson Yazzie

        March 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

        Thank you for changing that word.

        Yes there is a place for listening to him. We may even listen but might not accept his critique because he is an outsider.

        A critique from a well-meaning man is still difficult to accept and may have no lasting consequence unless the man is willing take time to spend inside the home. He may take the day or a week to spend with the family yet his critique would still be hurtful but the family would recognize his good intentions.

        It is difficult to hear criticism even it is coming from someone that is well-meaning or even close to you.

  3. Scott Cline

    March 31, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Point well made, IMO.

    One or both of two basic presuppositions drive the unthoughtful to lay down the cultural-critique-is-racist hand like a Royal Flush:
    [1] Culture flows mainly from biology.
    [2] God Himself created for each ethnicity its culture.

    If we can dismantle these two presuppositions (a very simple thing, IMO), the hand is shown not to contain so much as one pair.

    • Michael Riley

      March 31, 2011 at 8:32 am

      In my estimation, your first observation is exactly right. I don’t do this for rhetorical effect, but because it seems accurate: to claim that a person likes hip hop because he’s black or likes musicals because he’s white seems to me to be the essence of racism.

      • Scott Cline

        March 31, 2011 at 11:12 am

        Yes, I’ve thought the same: the idea that culture is rooted in ethnicity must lead to one of two conclusions:
        [a] since some cultures are inferior, some ethnicities must be inferior.
        [b] since ethnicities cannot be inferior, all cultures must be equal.

        The only way to retain ethnic equality while also acknowledging cultural inferiorities is to leave off this notion that culture is rooted mainly in ethnicity.

      • Michael Riley

        March 31, 2011 at 11:28 am


        At T4G 2008, Thabiti Anyabwile preached a sermon in which he argued that the concept of race is biblically bankrupt, but that ethnicity is a real, meaningful category. I’m inclined to think that he’s right, and that these categories are perhaps the most helpful for us in this discussion.

  4. Mike Harding

    March 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I’m going on a diet

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