Monday, September 4, 2017

Blinded By Our Own Racism

My son and I spent a week on a bus tour of Central and Eastern Europe last month. It was truly a remarkable experience and helped us learn a lot about history and also a lot about the European perspective on life.

One thing we learned was that liberal Europeans tend to think of America as still being a racist nation while thinking of themselves as more enlightened and accepting of various races. Europeans like to point out their acceptance of immigrants during the Syrian crisis as one proof of their enlightened views. Sounds cut and dry, and easy to understand. That is, until you bring up Gypsies. Gypsies, or more properly called “Roma,” are spread across Europe. They are especially common in Eastern Europe. Though Europeans pride themselves on having outgrown racism, we heard over and over again on our trip how we need to be cautious around the Gypsies. They were described to us as “lazy and dishonest” and also frequently called “pickpockets and thieves.” Europeans do not consider this to be a racist statement, they just consider it to be factual because “everyone knows Gypsies are bad.” WOW! All my American emotional triggers were going off! And rightly so. To condemn an entire category of people just because a handful might be pickpockets is the very definition of racism.

But the point of my post is not to argue about crime statistics for Gypsies in Europe. The point of my post is to illustrate how cultural blind spots exist in every culture.  For many Europeans, being racist toward gypsies is an “acceptable” viewpoint even though Europeans work hard not to be racist. Though it is clearly a racist opinion, they cannot see their own hypocrisy on the issue. They condemn Americans for our racist views (and perhaps rightly so!) but miss seeing their own.

I think this is a great teaching moment for anyone who will take time to reflect on it. I think all of us, Americans and Europeans, regardless of our race, have certain cultural blind spots in how we view others. We tend to lump large groups together and make broad negative statements about them. This is always a bad idea. Yet most of us do it. We may think we have moved beyond it, but others see our inconsistency far more than we can see it in ourselves. This is something we must continue to work on as individuals and as a nation. But it is worth the effort and worth the struggle. Imagine how it must be for a Gypsy child walking down the street watching everyone grab their pocket books in fear that the child will steal their money. That is no way for a child to grow up. Replace the word “gypsy” for any other group, and we begin to see how dangerous this viewpoint is.

We may not be nearly as enlightened as we think we are. But thankfully, we can reflect on this reality and grow in our worldview concerning those who are different from us. This is something we can, and must, do.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:


  1. Question: Why do they have those views towards Gypsies? Are the fears or words of caution justified because of the behaviors of the Gypsies or unfounded based on myths of perceived behaviors? The same could be said of the way we force sex offenders to register on a list so everyone can see where they live when they get out of prison. Are they some who were convicted of statutory rape at age 16 or 17 because they had sex with their 15 year old girlfriend, but has never committed any violent crime and probably shouldn't be on a list for the rest of their lives? Yes, but most are guilty of rape and molestation and should not be allowed to be around children or women for that matter. I guess what I'm asking is, are the Gypsies committing such crimes as a whole group such as violent lawless gangs here in America? Do they teach their children to steal and how to steal or cheat people to get what they want by any means necessary with disregard for the law or are they just normal people trying to be a part of society being unjustly mistreated because of their ancestry? In the case of Muslim refugees from Syria or wherever a nation must be cautious. It is not being racist towards Muslims to try to ensure that those being helped are not one of the 200-300 million who want to kill everyone who disagrees with their religious beliefs. Because of European open borders and acceptance of those refugees they are now being attacked on a regular basis by people who have no desire to become peaceful members of their countries, but want to destroy them and take over their countries through acts of terror. Viewing a group with suspicion because of the action of even a minority of that group that the majority is not actively trying to stop is not racism. Is it the same as all white people in the US, especially if they are Republicans or votes for Trump, being called racists because of a few hateful idiots who the vast majority object to and have fought against? I don't hate Muslims, but I so dislike the terrorist actions of some that I trust after verification because only a few are speaking out to stop radicals in their religion. If I know of a family who raise their kids and grandkids to be lawless is it racist to tell my kids to be cautious around them because they cause trouble and can be dangerous to them?

    1. Chuck, unfortunately racism against the Roma people is so pervasive that IMB missionaries have struggled with getting born-again ethnic European Christians to accept new Roma believers into their churches. Factual observations can quickly turn into hardened hearts.