Race and Repentance: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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28 Responses

  1. Corby says:

    I have often wondered about the difference between racism and culturalism and if it is an important enough distinction that it should enter the larger conversation in our country. Racism is by definition more biological. The full title of Darwin’s book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Many used the “science” of this to demonstrate that non-white races were biologically inferior and could never improve because the white races were dominant as demonstrated, so they said, by our superior culture, technology, construction, etc. In the US at least, black people were seen as a lesser animal and that, to them, justified anything and everything. So when I hear “racism” to me it involves a view as another race as biologically inferior.

    Culturalism, in some ways, builds on that. It isn’t PC to think of anyone as less than “I” am biologically, but the same kind of inferior judgment is in place. There are plenty of subcultures within the white community that are the worst. There is a reason the term “white trash” exists. But is isn’t about taking the log out of my own cultural eye before taking the speck out of another’s. Cultural conformity has done its own damage especially from missionaries in the US, as if what whites had was God-ordained and so the Indians and others should dress and act the same as well.

    At the same time, there is a tension between “this is our culture, it identifies us” and that same mindset fueling division and superiority in every direction. But if a person from one “tribe” gravitates toward the cultural elements of another tribe, it freaks people out on both sides. I would also argue that in many cases, a number of the elements of a culture that identify it are negative and inherently hold back that group of people and fuel said division.

    I had a job where I visited elementary schools and did assemblies. I think I visited most of the schools in Cleveland, OH, most of which are predominantly black, students and teachers. I had some interesting conversations with some teachers. To them I was one of the few positive male role models, let alone positive male white role models, those kids ever saw or would see growing up. In two cases, black students compared me to black cultural icons based on the way I dressed for the job, and I’m very white dude!

    I don’t know, sorry for the ramble. I do think about this a lot based on the news cycles. I think culturalism should be more in the public forum. Not to eliminate subcultures, but to acknowledge the good and bad parts of them, and how to navigate it all in our melting pot.

  2. Duane Arnold says:


    Culture certainly plays a part, especially at this distance in time from initial emancipation. Nevertheless, segregation laws based wholly upon race were first passed in Virginia, for example, in 1691 and continued in that state through to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. By the 1920s, 48 states had similar laws based solely upon race… It is, in some sense, America’s “original sin”.

  3. Xenia says:


    When a black person comes to our mostly white parish, they are so smothered with positive attention I think we scare them off.

    Likewise when I visit the all-black church across the street. They make me feel as welcome as flowers in April.

    But in the end, we all go back to where we feel we feel most at home.

  4. Steve says:

    Barack Obama was technically bi-racial with a white mother from Kansas. I’m somewhat puzzled that he is always referred to as an African American. The more we seem to talk about race, the more racist it becomes. At one point, I really thought just being color blind was the way to go until I found out that was deeply offensive and racist to some. Yes , we have a horrible history in the country and the church but part of the mistake is to blur distinctions between the country and the church. One may influence the other but they are completely different. The evils in our countrys history should not blatantly be put at the foot of Christians in the church to fix. The church should handle its own mess and probably steer clear of politics. Just my opinion.

  5. Duane Arnold says:


    I have often experienced the same situation through the years. As I said, “Nonetheless, the fact remains and I’m not really sure what, if anything, we can do about it.”

  6. Duane Arnold says:


    I would point you to my last paragraph…
    “We cannot change the past, nor can we rewrite history. As believers, we cannot change the attitudes of those in our society who cling to ideas of white supremacy and white nationalism, but we can recognize the fundamental sinfulness of those attitudes and, by our own repentance, seek a better way.”

  7. Xenia says:

    “Nonetheless, the fact remains and I’m not really sure what, if anything, we can do about it.” <<<

    As long as all Christians are welcome at any church, I don't see the need to do anything about it.

  8. Michael says:

    At least here, all Christians aren’t always welcome at any church.
    Because we have a very small African American population here, most of the racism is pointed at Latinos.
    The difference between now and a few years ago is that it’s more acceptable to be prejudiced today…

  9. Steve says:

    Michael, just curious if you have any idea of the demographics on your viewing population in your blog?

  10. Steve says:

    Duane, you seem to be asking us to repent of white supremacy and white nationalism. How many on this blog fit that characterization that need to repent. Was that directed to the church or citizens in our country?

  11. Duane Arnold says:


    You’re twisting what was written trying to make some point. What I wrote was:
    “We cannot change the past, nor can we rewrite history. As believers, we cannot change the attitudes of those in our society who cling to ideas of white supremacy and white nationalism, but we can recognize the fundamental sinfulness of those attitudes and, by our own repentance, seek a better way.”

    Again, it is corporate and it is individual… but, again, I already wrote that in the article.

  12. Michael says:


    I have a pretty good idea of those here…and those that have left.
    I was speaking of the community I live in, not the blog.

    Still, we get less than 5% who read here who actually comment…it’s a diverse group.

  13. Steve says:

    Duane, I’m not twisting anything. I was asking for clarification. I guess I’m not sure what the better way is that you refer to and the idea of corporate repentance. Maybe I’m too much of an individual to understand corporate repentance. Have to ponder that some more.

  14. MM says:


    Thank you for the article and what is a really difficult subject. The question I think many face is, who is responsible for the sins of the past? Yes we are paying a price for our father’s sins and we will into the future.

    I read this book many years ago when I was trying to come to grip with what repentance really means. I highly recommend it because it looks at the ideas about sin and who is responsible for both repentance and forgiveness.

    The Sunflower, On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Simon Wiesenthal.

    The question always comes down to how we move and live in the present, while plan for the future. Can we end racism and is the present generation culpable for the sins of our fathers? It is worth the effort.

    I think the only way to completely eliminate “racism” is for people to stop thinking of themselves as different/special than the others. But that way too simple and the schisms within Christian prove the difficulty of the success of such efforts.

    But it always starts with me.

    Thank you!

  15. Duane Arnold says:


    Thank you for a thoughtful response. I’m acquainted with the Wiesenthal book, after becoming friends of Eva Kor here in Indiana.

    I’m not sure of the extent of culpability for the past. I’m certain, however, that the abetting of the ongoing racism of the present, whether in a passive or active manner, is equally horrific and, at its heart, is also sin. As you say, it starts with each of us as individuals.

  16. Michael says:

    This is a very difficult topic.
    I get the impression from conservatives on social media that the problem is overblown by those who believe racism to be a systemic issue.
    I also know the Reformed branch of the church is at odds over this issue as well…

  17. filbertz says:

    This is a complex topic that is an undercurrent in many other topics of conversation/legislation as well. I recently read Leon Uris’ book “Trinity” that, while ‘historical fiction’ is grounded in the conflicts between class and religion in Ireland over the past several centuries. While all parties were white, the disdain for the Irish/Catholics in their own land by both the Presbyterian/Scots and Anglican/Brits and the horrid circumstances the latter two imposed on the former was shocking. I would say that religion is often cited and used to foster the systems of enslavement and deprivation and your call to examine our beliefs and practices individually and corporately is wise and needed. This has a huge bearing on our views towards immigration and integration in the current period.

  18. Michael says:

    “This has a huge bearing on our views towards immigration and integration in the current period.”
    This is truth.
    I’ll say little more…but you can dress up hate in a lot of different clothes…

  19. Em says:

    My maternal great grandparents saw the Civil War, Loulie was active in the efforts to educate the Blacks in Kentucky and Missouri, great grandfather Dan, on the other hand, got up and took his family out of a Harvey’s restaurant when Blacks were seated… Remember the phrase promoting education, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste?” Many honest people did think Blacks were inferior, but my great grandmother was smart enough to see they were simply ignorant, uneducated people.
    My first personal encounter with a Black person was when i came home to a young Black woman doing the ironing. No one had told me that they’d hired someone to do housework. I just stood there, trying to process and the woman said, ” What’s the the matter wich you? You never seen a colored person before? You think this will rub off on you? ” She then chased me around the house. I was 8 or 9. shr was let go for stealing sheets. The next woman was a saint. Woody was everything we admire in a good person – no matter their skin color. We forget that all races have people to be respected and people not worthy of respect. The house i grew up in considered racial prejudice a sin; never judged folk by their skin color.
    My first real encounter with the attitude prevalent in the South was a caregiver hired to take care of my grandfather after his stroke. From Mississippi, she bragged that she caught a “young, black buck” stealing from her garden and she made him get down on his knees “right there in the road and i horse whipped him good!” She went way down in my view
    My children had black friends (if they misehaved, i scolded them). On the whole they were better behaved than most. The children lost some friends because we welcomed the Black children as playmates When my husband passed, their parents were at the funeral.
    There were many things that led to racial prejudice in the South, but evil human nature was certainly one of the main ingredients IMHO, of course

  20. Duane Arnold says:


    Your experience of the South (and some southern attitudes) rings true. We often visited family in Georgia and Florida in the 50s and the 60s. My uncle was Sheriff of a Florida county… I still remember the sheriff’s office with a Confederate flag covering one entire wall. Jim Crow still reigned… and, I believe, there are those who want to “go back” to that time…

  21. Outside T. Fold says:

    I really appreciate this essay, Duane. “Planter capitalism” is very close to a term I’ve come to know — “Plantation Capitalism,” as taught by Dr. King’s colleague, Rev. James Lawson, who teaches monthly nonviolence workshops in L.A. on 4th Saturdays. Lawson adopted the term “Plantation” when he was the pastoral coordinator among the Memphis Sanitation Workers, who (in the days surrounding the deaths of two workers crushed in a garbage truck malfunction and the days leading up to the Strike of 1968) referred to the place where they worked as “The Plantation.”

    The NYTimes 1619 Project has an article on origins of capitalism in practice of slavery and plantation, considering enslaved humans as property, and, in one case, using them as collateral for loans, etc., is the same sort of economic market (with boom, speculation, and bust) as we saw in the first decade of this century. The article is really chilling, sobering, and enraging. The manner in which money and economic worth as the measure of all life comes from that. This nation always seems to find the funds to pay for implements of war and death and has huge arguments with itself over whether to devote our collective resources to take care of education and health care of the people of this nation. If there are ways to pay for things while cutting Black and Brown people out of the deal (see, for instance, the exceptions to Social Security eligibility, and who was or was not eligible for the GI Bill). At the assumption level, there are many who would prefer to continue to plunder the descendants of enslaved people and not recognize nor act as though they are full citizens of this nation. Voter suppression is a huge issue.

    I’ve been slowly making my way through Dr. King’s last book (1967), “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.” Recommend it. Dr. King describes the phenomenon of “backlash” which we’ve been experiencing since 2008. (I was woefully naive in my response to 2008 election of Barack Obama: “Wow! We elected a Black Man as President of the United States! Yay us!” Nope. backlash. Big backlash.)

    May we walk in the ways of justice and truth, and find ways to truly reckon with a past that we cannot change, while also creating a present and a future that takes into account what happened and creates a more just nation.

  22. Em says:

    Anen, OTF, amen
    Dr. King blessed this nation more than we realize… An intelligent voice in a very perilous time

  23. What saddens me is bigotry between minorities. The Mexicans call Asians (sans Indians) “Chinitos” or “Chinitas.” I heard a little Mexican kid call my ex that when we were exciting a fiesta. I wanted to go back and tell him what was what, but with resignation on her voice and a pained look, she told me, “just let it go.” She is 1/4 Filipina, but looks half and half. She heard plenty of slurs from her own community growing including from her own father, whose mother was Filipina. She had to do some digging to learn the family secret, that her grandmother fell in love with a Mexican migrant worker, and her Filipino family disowned her, so they went back to Mexico and she became a Mexican.

    Our son, only 1/8, has the epicanthial folds in his eyes. His sister does not. Genetics are funny. They both tan up well in the sun.

    Another story: my buddy’s dad is full blooded Mexican though from a Spanish old blood California family. He has the aquiline nose, but is pretty brown. No mistaking him for white, and he’d fail the “Brown paper bag” test which was unfortunately popular in the 1920s (so would I). He was, and is still a little, bigoted towards black people. My buddy used to tell me he could bring home a gay friend before a black friend. That was the 80s when we were in high school.

    I met Stokley Carmichael’s sister on Thanksgiving about 11 years ago. She was friends with my mom’s long time friend from Trinidad. My very white half Dutch and half Scottish adoptive mother got into a little argument. My mom marched in Washington for civil rights. My mom had a problem with the white people being kicked out of the movement, and SC’s sister (I forget her name) was telling my mom they they felt that they needed to stand on their own even though they appreciated the solidarity, but they they needed to do it themselves. My mom after all of those years seemed to feel hurt.

    I had the feeling that I was touching history, but didn’t know who her brother was until afterwards and I looked him up. She was nice. Despite my mother being a little emotional, the afternoon and dinner were good. I wished I had known more in order to talk to her. She might still live in the Bay Area, but my mom’s friend moved to St. Croix a year later.

    What I know is that I won’t tolerate any of that racist crap in my home, just as my mother didn’t.

  24. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks for your comment. Yes, NYT 1619 project is correct. In terms of “capital”, slaves were considered personal property as they were moveable as opposed to real estate. Nonetheless, a planter was able to take out a mortgage on their slaves. For many planters, this meant the ability to buy slaves for cash, mortgage them, use the money to acquire land and, after their first harvest to pay off the mortgage with the land and personal property unencumbered. This was the basis on which plantation capitalism spread to Mississippi, Alabama, east Texas, etc. It was really the basis of the southern economy during the ante-bellum period.

    We still have not come to terms with our history…

  25. Outside T. Fold says:

    Duane, yes. Yes. We still have not come to terms with our history. The specifics you describe about humans as financial collateral renders me speechless. And yet, that’s our history. It’s a part of our bones and sinew and default assumptions about so much, especially as we think, nationally, in economic terms.

    There was a time when I thought, in simplistic terms, “Well, Britain abolished slavery without a war and yay for the people in the church who made that happen, whereas we had a big war, and…” I saw a 2-part BBC documentary called “Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners” (do a search for it. There are copies on YouTube with outer frame of bright water reflections. Ep 1 is available full screen on dailymotion. The weird frame stuff is viewed best on a computer with browser where you can move the window to crop out the extra stuff).

    The documentary goes into the peculiarities of British people owning enslaved people (remotely, because colonization) and the financial compensation that was offered as part of abolition of slavery. Jaw dropping. It provided a complete turnaround from my simplistic understanding, above. Highly recommend it. I wish the documentary had been picked up for broadcast in the U.S.

  26. Outside T. Fold says:

    Em, Dr. King is a prophet. I fear that his words are relegated to the side because of the association that his life and work and words and deeds were devoted to African Americans. He has things to say to ALL Americans and the mid-20th Century nonviolent movement for Freedom is a movement that is deeply American. He’s a Founder and Patriot in the same way as the people we honor who lived in the late 1700s.

    The New Victor,
    Thank you for sharing some of your experience about Ms. Carmichael. Touching History: yes, yes, I hear you on that. What a privilege to meet people who were there then.

    (I can echo it. Attending the Lawson nonviolent workshops is like that. Near the time of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, there was a multiple-era touchstone to history. Here we are with the 90 year old man introducing the movie about the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s strike, including remarks of ‘they asked me to call and invite Martin King to come, and I made the phone call and picked him up from the airport…’ and then, in the movie, we see the 1968 James Lawson in archive footage, and then the older James Lawson as a talking head on camera reflecting on events back in 1968.)

  27. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks, I’ll find the film!

    As to touching history, back in the day, I had the chance to have several conversations with Jesse Jackson, both in Detroit and D.C. (Michael has seen the photos). On one occasion I asked him about being on the balcony of the motel when Dr. King was killed. Jackson spent the next half hour telling me what he remembered. I was glad that I asked the question…

  28. Outside T. Fold says:

    Duane, oh my. That’s remarkable. Your description of time w Jesse Jackson elicited a deeeeeep exhale and lean back in my chair and stare at the wall in one of those wow just take THAT in kinds of response.

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