Culture, Color, and Conduct by Keith Tucci
Culture, Color, and Conduct
By Keith Tucci, NRP Apostolic Team Leader
Where do Culture, Color, and Conduct intersect, and how do they differ? Let’s start with a simple definition of each.
Color is the outside of our skin. It also represents certain physiological features that would vary from group to group. People can be the same color and have totally different cultures. Color, likewise, does not determine the character or conduct of a person.
Culture is a container of values and even weaknesses. Some of these are neither right nor wrong. Things like the types of food we like, the clothes we wear, or styles of worship we prefer are often cultural things that we become accustomed to and we carry with us as a preference. Chances are that if we were not raised with a certain type of music, food, or clothes, we may not choose it on our own. Culture and custom go hand-in-hand. Years ago, I felt like the Lord gave me a definition of culture that gave me insight into some of these things. Culture—the Attitude, Aptitude and Apathies of the masses. In short, these three “A’s” can help describe a person, a family, a church, a neighborhood, etc.
Conduct is how we act or don’t act. Conduct is the thing that contributes to our state of life more than any other thing, even more than our circumstances. Our conduct is imputed and modeled by the culture around us. Ultimately, our self-government is what determines our conduct. It is the characteristic we most identify a person with. It becomes more prominent than their color or their culture.
Let’s talk about culture. If we only know how to eat potatoes baked, that’s probably how we will eat them the rest of our lives unless we interact with other potato-eating people who eat their potatoes mashed rather than baked. Of course, there is that rare person who, with no outside influence, will consider the potato on its own merits, and now you have French fries.
In the current social/societal dilemma that is focused on color, maybe we should look at culture and conduct as key ingredients to consider in the struggle for equality and progress. Obviously, there are people of every color in the United States who have prospered and enjoyed the fruit of the opportunities we have as a nation. There are approximately three million black-owned businesses in the United States, as evidence of the opportunity that potentially exists for anyone. There are also people of every color in the United States who have not prospered. That tells us the color of one’s skin is not the final determining factor. Certainly, different races may face different obstacles. One of those obstacles may be prejudice, based on a person’s color. It would be wise to discern these hardships and acknowledge them without adding to or advancing them as insurmountable.
I do not see a “white” culture in the United States. What appears to be more obvious in the United States are diverse and ethnic cultures, although the distinctions seem to be less obvious than they once did among many of our ethnic groups. The ethnic identification among Americans is one that definitively exists, but has been assimilated to the broader identification of being an American. There is an American culture that makes us unique as a people. It is not a “white” culture, “black” culture, “yellow” or “red” culture.
I see in America a culture that is open to anyone, that is, if they know where to look (and perhaps they do not). There is an assumption by people who have had positive generational progress to assume that others know how to find the door to that progress and improvement. Unfortunately, what is obvious to many is not obvious to others, particularly if those they see as their allies caution them not to use that door, suggesting that to do so would be to deny their ethnicity.
In some cases, someone’s ethnicity can hold them captive from seeing the obvious. This blindness can easily escape the notice of those who have been blessed with an ethnicity that more readily teaches them to seek out the “French fries”. As an example, the people who have come to the United States from Asian cultures have per capita done very well, even statistically better than “white” natural-born Americans. Likewise, immigrants from India and Eastern Europe have done very well as a whole. Their success has never contributed to having yellow skin or brown skin or white skin. Their success is most often attributed to their hard work ethic and drive to succeed. This is hard to argue against.
Here are some of my observations:
1. Group Sacrifice: This is a team mentality where everyone contributes for a larger goal. Education and business startups are two of the primary examples we see as a result of group sacrifice. This is in contrast to an entitlement or even victim mentality that is waiting for someone else to do something. Many of these first-generation immigrants have come from and endured horrific lives and circumstances that cannot be argued with. They came here with nothing in material means or support system. Large numbers of these individuals have truly overcome. As an example, Vietnamese boat people and Cuban refugees have proven their circumstances were not their defining factor. No one would suggest their success is because of the color of their skin. In general, they have strong family structures, including low divorce rates and low fatherlessness. Enough said.
2. Assimilation: Despite strong cultures, with some choosing to even continue the use of their native languages, they connect to their communities and contribute. I spoke to a Cuban friend today who, like most well-assimilated groups, is so thankful for the opportunities they have sought out and taken advantage of. In some cases, these opportunities were not obvious and required perseverance to obtain.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of it continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.” (Irish-Americanism, Italian-Americanism, German-Americanism, etc.)
Group sacrifice and assimilation is truly a historic American pattern, which millions of immigrants and their descendants have chosen to follow in their desire to fully embrace what it means to be blessed to be in this nation. We can trace the values I mentioned above to Scripture and our founding fathers, who promoted risk and reward as opposed to government control and entitlement.
There is a segment of the culture in the black community that has been systematically seduced into the hopeless mindset of victimization. Of course, not all blacks think in that mindset. Rather, millions of blacks have followed the methods I previously mentioned and have been successful and prosperous. They have overcome personal and institutional prejudice; many of them have become the Jackie Robinsons* of their communities and neighborhoods, paving the way for others and silencing the ignorance and sin of prejudice.
This victim mentality comes from two generations of unqualified leaders who have promoted dependence rather than independence. They have promoted individualism rather than group and family advancement. They have promoted entitlement rather than perseverance. This can partly explain some of the anger against those who have succeeded—even those of their own race. Those who struggle with victimization have been told repeatedly by these false leaders that they are unable to overcome their disadvantages and the prejudice against them, leading them to believe that those who have succeeded have done so based on privilege and not conduct.
These same leaders have critiqued blacks who have switched “cultures,” accusing them of being disloyal to their roots and race, confusing color with culture. Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson should be lifted up and celebrated as overcomers. Instead, they are often put down as “Uncle Toms.” They are seen as doing things the white man’s way, instead of the right way. Those who criticize them mistake the door of opportunity and progress as being “white,” ignoring the fact that other ethnic groups are also enjoying the fruit of these principles, while parts of the black community continue to lag behind.
As the Church of Jesus Christ, we need to strive to attain a cultural foundation, not of a white elite class, but of a Christian heritage that is open to all—red, yellow, black and white, because we really are precious in His sight.
There is a need for courageous black leaders, especially from the pulpit, to serve notice that there is more than one black culture—there is a black culture that refuses to be defined by the sins of the past and that has chosen to fight for both the promises of God and the promise of America. The Democratic party as a whole is trying to reinforce the “plantation mindset of the sin of slavery” that has been abolished by the cross and Jesus Christ.
The Church’s obligation goes beyond proclamation. It must seek to empower by example those who need to find the door of opportunity. There is an old saying that “the teacher hasn’t taught until the student has learned.” We must take redemptive and repetitive steps toward helping them to develop the culture and conduct that has helped others succeed.
We need to ask ourselves how we can come alongside those who have been misled and invest ourselves in them, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. We must remember that we are dealing with a sin issue and it’s through the blood of Jesus Christ that we can attain the unity that so many desire.
*Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. For a greater understanding of how that happened, read Branch Rickey’s Little Blue Book: Wit and Strategy from Baseball’s Last Wise Man, an inspiring and accurate story of Christian faith in action.