Taking power, redistributing wealth, and having control over our lives, these are the major tenets that dominate our contemporary discussions about racism and economic inequality. From the nuanced discussions of academia to the popular discourse of the public media, the major concern is focused on how to take the marginalized and disadvantaged and give them access to decision making and material resources. Although this discourse is fundamentally flawed in how it approaches human flourishing, it contains truth in that it has accurately described the experience of many Americans who do not share in the abundance of American society.
People of good will must recognize that racism and economic inequality are problems that need solutions. Instead of ignoring the situation, we need to discover a fresh perspective that looks at the problem in the light of the Gospel. We need to ask new questions. The old questions are as follows: “How can I empower poor and marginalized people? How can I bring wealth from the hands of the few to the hands of the many? How can I give the poor more control over their lives?” Notice the language: power, wealth, and control. Although such questions seem to be grounded in a genuine desire to serve the marginalized, they contain within them the seeds for future corruption and injustices. Instead of using these hermeneutics, we need to develop a way of speaking based on love and friendship.
The question then becomes, “How do I build friendship between the rich and the poor? How do I promote generosity among those who have excess so as to provide for the needs of those who lack? How do I help people to experience peace and freedom regardless of their race or class?” See the difference? Instead of power, money, and control, the conversation needs to be about friendship, generosity, love, and self-forgetting. This is the path to happiness and a just society, one that promotes virtue and harmony.
In this way, the rich and the powerful must be brought into communion and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Instead of creating discourses that cause anxiety, shame, and fear, we need to create dialogues that inspire trust, hope, and the explosive dynamic of true love. In this way, we can help the rich to not only put their monetary wealth at the service of the less fortunate, but also their minds and hearts. Instead of the rich and powerful being enemies that need to be conquered, they become partners in creating solutions to the problems that plague our society.
We need a new kind of dialogue about race and income inequality. We need a dialogue that asks the right questions and approaches the problem with the right perspective. We need a dialogue that builds up rather than destroys, a dialogue grounded in love and friendship. This is the only path to a just and harmonious society.