In the second episode of the first season of the Office, entitled “Diversity Day,” Dunder Mifflin (Scranton branch) manager Michael Scott and his employees are obligated by corporate headquarters to undergo racial tolerance training session by a company called Diversity Today. Embarrassed by the fact that the seminar was actually held because of his individual racially insensitive behavior; Mr. Scott decides to create his very own colloquium “Diversity Tomorrow.” In the “Diversity Tomorrow” video that Michael Scott makes, Mr. Scott says, and I quote, “Abraham Lincoln said, that if you’re a racist, I will attack you from the North.” By the end of the episode, Mr. Scott forces the employees to wear post-it notes on their foreheads which label them according to a particular cultural group that each will represent (Asian, African-American, Jewish, etc.); Michael, as a newly self-proclaimed progressive on race issues, plays the role of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and performs the function of mediator in ensuing the conversations about racial stereotypes that occur between his employees.
Although this episode does not tell us about actual events, there are some general truths about American culture that can be gathered. First, movements to promote diversity typically start from the top-down; corporate executives, university administrators, and the top church officials play the role of “Abraham Lincoln” by using a top-down approach to addressing issues of racism, sexism, and classism within their institutions. Diversity is the institutional practice that attempts to recognize plurality in the human experience by marketing an image that promotes white liberal democratic and capitalist norms in order to deny the history of white supremacy in the United States of America. We, as citizens of the world’s lone superpower, have had a tendency to forget the history of North American racial injustice by ignoring the heroic narratives of moral exemplars from marginalized communities in order to maintain Euro-American homogeneity within colleges, universities, businesses, and churches. The second lesson we can learn from Michael Scott is the utmost importance of heroic story in moral formation. For the “Diversity Tomorrow” seminar, Mr. Scott depends on a North American liberal meta-narrative of racial progress where the two complex stories of President Abraham Lincoln and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are simplified into a unified fiction where American racism has been ended while our heroes such as Dr. King and Honest Abe transcend the bounds of their historical contexts. [an excerpt from an introduction to a paper I presented last May]
The fact is that we still live in a racist society, one created, defined, and to a large extent, by the human construct in which we refer to a race. No one can escape racism; no one can claim to be color-blind. Sunday at 11:00am is still the most segregated hour of the week. To some degree, everyone has to capacity to be racist or be affected by racism. Academic institutions and corporations remain closed systems to the experiences of the racialized Other. We can pay tribute to Dr. King or plan events for twenty-eight days in commemoration of African American history, but there is still no honest and open dialogue. The conversation is hardly mutual; we are all fed the same mainstream media propaganda as they show us what it means to be Black like CNN’s Black in America. We learn that government intervention is the solution to our problems, and are told to give applause to such breakthrough policy efforts such as the Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and affirmative action are the ways to save America from its racist past. Trust the government; we can save the United States from racial prejudice and white privilege. The truth be told, mainstream America’s delusion reflects an imperialist mode of being. In other words, by ignoring the complex power dynamics between the actions of the state and the individual, most Americans passively accept “the myth of the savior state” in order to avoid the hard work of racial reconciliation. We try to convince ourselves that the government can somehow impose its will upon our free will and our free conscience in order to make the world a safer place for multicultural. This is nothing more than a bold-faced lie rooted deep in the heart of neo-colonial logic.
Government is not the answer to the problem of the color line. God, the one rightful Governor of the universe, who alone able to transform hearts and minds, and who has already reconciled creation and humanity to Godself through Jesus the Messiah (Colossians 1:20-22). The appropriate response to God’s peace-making mission in the world is for people of all races and ethnic backgrounds to love each for their differences, and make intentional efforts to fellowship together for the glory of the empire of the One True God. Anti-racism movements must no longer be the burden of racial minority groups nor do we have to wait upon politicians in Washington, D.C. to enjoy racial harmony. We all must commit ourselves to intercultural communion and interracial communities of worship, just as John the Revelator envisioned as we will cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10)