There’s an incredible, and moving, scene in the second series of Netflix‘s wayward superheroes comic book adaption, The Umbrella Academy.
One of the superpower family of the academy, Allison Hargreeves, who is lauded in 2019 as a successful Hollywood black actor, is transported from New York to early 1960’s Dallas.
She walks into a cafe. Every head turns. She asks for coffee and is refused.
The owner stabs his finger at the “whites only” sign. The tension is palpable. The hatred is evident.
Now Allison has an intriguing superpower, one which has caused her more ill than good in her life. Her superpower is to “rumour” people – to speak something into their ear that they then cannot help but do. Whether that be kill, walk away from a fight, or stop crying (if you are her now-absent daughter).
But at this point she keeps her mouth shut. She leaves the cafe, only to return a year or so later and exact a sweet – and scalding hot vengeance – on its racist owner. It’s worth a watch.
We don’t have whites only cafes any longer. And a good thing too. That was segregation based on race in the US. Or in my wife’s home country, South Africa, that was apartheid, based on race. My parents-in-law never got to vote in their lives until they were in their forties and living in Australia.
Yet this week segregation is back on the agenda. And, as it turns out, in cafes too. And in the US as well. What is going on?
In another sign that the cultural champions are fumbling the ball and making it up as they go along, the University of Michigan-Dearborn has had to issue an apology after its social justice, inclusion and diversity department established two virtual cafes, that reintroduced segregation onto a university campus.
Think about that for a second. Decades after the US universities were places leading the charge to end segregation, those same institutes of learning are re-establishing it, perhaps accidently, but doing so nonetheless.
The university set up a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) online cafe, in order to discuss issues of race and discrimination. But in order to ensure that white people didn’t feel left out, it set up another “whites only” cyber cafe, you know, for whites only, or at least people who, the advertising said, don’t identity as people of colour.
Now let’s give the university some credit. It said in its inevitable apology that its intention was to create a place for conversations and:
…were never intended to be exclusive or exclusionary for individuals of a certain race. The terms used to describe these virtual events and the descriptions themselves were not clear and not reflective of the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,
Though no more credit than that. It wasn’t the university janitor who came up with the idea, it was a bunch of folk paid big bucks, with plenty of know-how in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. And the first step towards those lofty ideals? Segregation. At least only eight students turned up. Hopefully the rest voted with their feet and were busy intermingling with all types of different people like young adults seem capable of doing.
And that statement? Really? The online cafes were never intended to be exclusive or exclusionary? What was the point then?
I read a lot of articles criticising the move that began with something like “naturally people were outraged.”
I’m not outraged. I don’t think we should all fall into outrage culture. There’s no future there. I’m just a little intrigued. And saddened. Saddened by how far away it is from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream.
But it wasn’t merely his dream. It was a dream founded in the biblical vision of human flourishing. MLK had to shame many a white folk, and indeed plenty a white church, into owning the complete biblical vision that they said they signed up to, but which many refused to own in full.
Too many white folk wanted the good stuff that the biblical vision offered – for themselves. Too many refused the parts they didn’t like, the parts where they might have to own their own failures. The parts that might cost them their comfort. MLK called them out on that and it cost him his life. Yet the fact that he could shame them – or better, convince them of sin, is significant. It was a case of them refusing to live up to a foundation of justice that they claimed was common to all.
The New Testament church had to wrestle with the issue of division, equity and inclusivity time and time again. The vision of true justice – won at the cross – was under threat from all sorts of racial, cultural and social divisions, even after people became Christians.
You only have to read Romans to see the that the radical ethnic Gentile/Jew divide was taken down by the cross. You only have to read 1 Corinthians to see that the church in Corinth couldn’t grasp how social divisions were overridden by the cross. St Paul even attributes the death of some of the Corinthian Christians to God’s judgement for their practice of maintaining pagan social segregation practices.
The gospel was the foundation for true diversity, equity and justice. Those walls had to come down! And somehow 2000 years later, that foundation still holds up much of the justice that people in the West increasingly take for granted.
But the cracks are starting to show.
This latest fiasco – with the generous caveat that it was pieced together with good intentions – merely reveals that the increasingly post-Christian vision of human flourishing has no gold standard to work from. It has no framework upon which to hang anything. That’s why it is muddled and confused and comes up with things such as this segregated cafe idea. That’s why it has to constantly issue mea culpa’s, redraw the lines, confuse people, cancel people, and generally tie itself in knots.
I mean the problem is not that the university did it in the first place. They key problem is that they couldn’t see the problem with it in the first place! It seems obvious right?
It’s a bit like the Netflix fiasco over the sexualised advertising of the movie Cuties, which I wrote about earlier. Those holding the levers are flying blind. I mean how did that get through? How did this get through? Increasingly, what else will get through?
In this age of over-administration on a university campus, in a time when so much money is spent on activities other than academia, how many rubber stamps had to place their imprint on that piece of paper, and still no one saw the problem? It seems these folk have no idea where up is, or where down is. Result? An almighty crash into the field. Again.
Am I holding them to too high a standard? No higher than the standard to which they are holding themselves. It’s a common trope of the secular progressive framework that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. I hear it often.
Yet who uttered that famous statement? MLK Jr of course.
Why did he have the confidence to believe it? Because of his conviction about justice sourced in the Bible.
The universe was only moral because it had a Moral Agent behind it. Justice was only possible because of the justice of God. Inclusivity and reconciliation was only possible because God in Christ reconciled the world to himself – first! MLK had a teleology, soteriology and eschatology that put fuel in the engine of the tank. Trotting out that famous statement without anything to back it up empties it of meaning and power.
Jettison any framework, save that which you make up as you go along, and you get the mass confusion, back-tracking and sheer blindness of the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
You better have something more than “feels” to utter any statement about the universe being moral, never mind determining the length and direction of its arc, or you’ll come up with stuff like this.
You’d better have a vision of human flourishing that is bigger than the locked-down, non-transcendent, immanent frame that hard post-Christian secularism is increasingly committed to. In all likelihood MLK Jr would not recognise the hodge-podge of ideas such august institutions are churning out on a regular basis.
So for me, no outrage. I’m not sure what stems this foolish, blind and tide, as that other tide, the Christian one rushes out in the West. As Tom Holland says in his latest book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, says this:
Today at a time of seismic geopolitical realignment, when our values are proving to be not nearly as universal as some of us had assumed them to be, the need to recognise just how culturally contingent they are is more pressing than ever
Do those who champion the new world that leaves the vestiges of the old behind have any idea of what truly radical diversity could actually look like? Does the post-Christian ideal go anywhere near close enough to that of the gospel?
It does not. A defining mark of modern Western secularism is a commitment to external diversity and a complete absence of neurological diversity. Everyone looks different but everyone thinks the same.
Holland goes on to say:,
Two thousand years on from the birth of Christ, it does not require a belief that he rose from the dead to be stamped by the formidable – indeed the inescapable – influence of Christianity… The West, increasingly empty though the pews may be, remains firmly moored to its Christian past.
He’s right in many ways about that statement.
But he’s not right about the firmness of the mooring. He’s way too confident about that. Saw away at the ropes long enough and they will eventually fray.
It’s time for a Christian vision of diversity, equality and inclusion to once again counter the increasingly tribalism that those who not only don’t believe that Christ rose from the dead, but don’t wish him to have been, are fomenting, even when they try to do the opposite!
It’s not their motives that are the problem, it’s their execution. As Mark Sayers observes, the new progressive framework want the kingdom without the King. And that was something the other King – MLK – couldn’t countenance. Result? 1963 cafes revisited.
I wish it were just a rumour, but sadly it’s true.