Race-Casting Differs from Racism, But…

When I worked at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach California the pro football team named the Raiders had just moved to our area from Oakland. I used to play basketball with several of the team’s members, including television personality Howie Long. The skill level of the players let you know that most of the guys had been involved in organized basketball at some level, at some time, in their lives.

Here is an example of race-casting breaking down in the stereotypical sense. The guy with the most natural athletic ability turned out to be a five foot ten inch blonde surfer type named Dave and he literally could jump through the roof.  This guy could dunk the ball with either hand. I believe that this was before the film “White boys can’t jump” was released. I am sure had the writers seen Dave play prior to their film’s production they may have abandoned the project because that white kid could jump.

Freedom and Justice for All…

There was a brief period of time in eighteenth century America when there was a revolutionary fervor and a quest for “freedom and justice for all.” Although the protestant church of that era was not a bastion of democracy, egalitarianism or diversity,  Lemuel Haynes, a man of African descent and a minuteman in America’s war for independence, became the senior pastor of a white church in Vermont and remained the pastor for thirty years.

Today in our Hope Chapel movement Don Shoji and Guy Takashima, who are Asian, pastor white churches. George Magdalany, a Hispanic man, is also the pastor of a white congregation. These churches were not started with the intent of starting white churches with ethnic pastors. They just happened naturally because Hope Chapels have a foundational belief that the gospel should not be racialized. [meaning to categorize or divide according to race.]

America: Melting Pot or Tossed Salad?

As a youth I remember hearing the metaphor of the great “melting pot” used to describe what was unique about the American ethos. I would get excited when I would hear the melting pot metaphor because I thought that it included me. I would picture a beef stew that my mom used to prepare. She would place potatoes, onions, carrots and beef into a large pot, and then cook them on low heat for several hours. The long slow simmering process would cause the flavors to mesh to the point of becoming almost indistinguishable but still scrumptious.

The melting pot is a great metaphor and throughout my life I have wished that it denoted how darker skinned people had been folded into mainstream American society. Unfortunately because there has been such an irrational fear of intimacy between blacks and whites using a salad as a metaphor may be the more accurate choice. Salads place several ingredients together, but the goal when preparing a good salad is to have each flavor recognizable and independent. The ingredients in a salad are cold and the flavors are isolated from each other, whereas the flavors in a stew have warmed to each other and have blended as a result of the heat softening each ingredient’s outer layer.

The Bible contains a passage in chapter sixteen of the New Testament book Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples two pivotal questions. He asks in verse thirteen, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And in verse fifteen Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” White people who would like to see race-casting be a thing of the past should also ask themselves the same two questions, only with slightly different wording. The first would be,” Am I, a white person, absolutely sure that what others around me say about blacks is true?” with the second being, “What are my sincere and deeply held beliefs about who they are and are they accurate?” White, black, asian or hispanic, we all need to question our tendency to race-cast others.

Those of us who are concerned about and frustrated by race-casting need to remember that it had its genesis in negative and derogatory stereotypes and that these stereotypes have been absorbed by our culture for hundreds of years. Let’s define race-casting.

When Every Day Is a Casting Call – Not Good!

Race-casting is similar to the process used at a “casting call” where actors are evaluated and then hired to fill the roles in a movie. A casting director envisions the way a character in a scene should look, speak, and behave before they publicize the auditions. This means they have a preset notion of what they are looking for in a person, and they will mold whoever gets the job to fit that description.

We do that with people of other races, we mold them into a preset way we think they should look, speak and behave—essentially casting them into a role of our own imagination not who they are. That is race-casting on full display. In Rhythm and Grace I offer a vaccine and a solution for race-casting in what I call The Ameliorative Filter. What a casting director does is filter out who the actors actually are and recast them. When we prejudge people by race, we filter out who they actually are and recast them. We all use mental filters to reach conclusions about a lot of things, including actors and race—why not use a filter that makes things better? If you can remember this definition for ameliorate you will know what an Ameliorative Filter is and what Rhythm and Grace is all about; Ameliorate – to make something bad or unsatisfactory, as race relations are at present, better.

Note from Ralph: I asked my friend, Jimi (pictured with his wife, Julaine, above), to share this exerpt from his book, Rhythm and Grace, because it addresses an often unidentified and misunderstood source of the problems we face in a divided America. I’m not a racist, and you probably aren’t either or you wouldn’t be reading this. However, I catch myself race casting more often than I would like to admit. Jimi approaches our problems in a peace-driven, yet forceful manner. I’m including links to his books below (click on the images).

Jimi’s a former rocker, having played with everyone from Hendrix to John Lennon to Dr. John. He’s an “Author in Residence” at Oxford University. You’ll learn a lot about the art of friendship and that of hearing hearts when they cry from his books. While others make noise, Jimi is a healer. He’s also a church planter. BTW, he’s featured in a series of three podcasts that you can access by clicking the Podcasts link above.