Vincent Bacote: healing the American wound

Vincent Bacote, assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois visited John Brown University on October 20. This was Bacote’s third time at JBU, and this time Bacote spoke on the Christian’s involvement in the upcoming elections and what the Christian’s role should be in the political sphere. Afterwards, Bacote gave his thoughts on the racial environment in America, where it came from and where it can go from here.

  The Threefold Advocate: How should Christians start to engage race in a Christ-honoring way?

   Vincent Bacote: First, take on the posture of a learner, and not the posture of someone who has unwittingly bought into the idea that one can master or comprehend all the dynamics of what’s going on, because that mentality will short-circuit people. The fact of the matter is that it’s not just the matter of a category scheme that was a part of the making of the modern world, and with knowing that comes the various dimensions of how you understand the Enlightenment. It includes this idea of being able to understand and categorize the way things are, but was also about ordering things, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Europeans, the people who came up with this categorization system, would put themselves on top, and that is a way of thinking that led to the belief that certain people are ones that are meant to rule and others are meant to be ruled over. In terms of people’s immediate relationships, you’ve got to be willing to actually listen. When someone brings up something on race, rather than deciding that it can’t be true, in many cases the thing to do is to actually ask people, because it’s not always easy to see.

   TTA: Why is there a negative perception of minority communities in America?

   VB: Well, when you build a society off of slavery and things like the Jim Crow laws, then what are you already thinking about the people who are enslaved? And if you have Jim Crow, what perception are you keeping in place? What kind of narrative are you telling about them? So, you’ve already put in place and built into the psyche of this society the idea of certain people are here and belong, and certain people are here and have a kind of belonging, but it’s not really belonging.

   TTA: The wound is very deep, and it’s been something that America has been trying to move past for years. Do you think the divide is starting to mend?

   VB: You know, that’s interesting. There are people who think that we’re more divided now than we were thirty years ago. I don’t think that we’re necessarily more divided, we’re just aware that there’s more work to be done than we thought there was, so that gives the impression that we’re worse off. There are various things that have happened socially, politically and economically that have catalyzed things. Even from a technological point of view, everybody’s got cameras, so there’s all kinds of things that anybody can post about all kinds of stuff. It allows more people to be amateur investigative journalists and, in some cases, amateur tabloid journalists.

   TTA: Because everybody has a phone and everybody has a Facebook.

   VB: Exactly. There’s one more thing I wanna say about this: I think things can get better, but I think they can only get better if people are willing to have loads of understanding and are willing to keep working in spite of misunderstanding. If people are willing to have lots of forgiveness, and a willingness to help the majority culture, those people who are actually trying to learn about things, and are perhaps trying to reckon with things that are really, really hard. It also has to have a level of intentionality, because it’s easy for the majority culture to not deal with it. It’s like someone who doesn’t like horror movies. That person says ‘well, I don’t like horror movies, so I just won’t deal with it. I won’t go see horror movies.’ But there are people who are like, ‘well, I live in the horror movie. I can’t get out of it.’ People have to be willing to look at that horror movie.