A SOCIOANALYSIS OF RACE: A Father and Son Dialogue

My youngest son, Alex, from all outward appearances looks like a homeless Taliban fighter. He's a New York artist who is emersed in the ambiguities and complexities of the modern world. His sense of justice is palpable. His spiritual awareness is deeper than he admits. His awareness of the nihilism and meaninglessness that surrounds his generation is relationally embedded. None of the political debates in which he regularly engages are abstract—they all have names, faces, and places. His politics are generally to the left of AOC. In spite of our differences of age, demeanor, and politics, I have come to respect his intuitive prophetic sensibility for he is in his own words a "f----king spiritual warrior." We remain close.


His current project is turning military uniforms into tie dye skateboarding fashion statements. Appropriately his fashion company is named "Plowshares," based on Isaiah 2:4. Here is fashion that serves simultaneously as a critique and affirmation—a critique of "empire" and an affirmation of human dignity and lo


Alex's promo clip for "Plowshares" plays The Doors 1967 song, "The End." It is a lament, dare I say a repentance. Jim Morrison says, "The End" is about, " killing all those things in yourself which are instilled in you and are not of yourself." It is about opening oneself to transformation. It is a spiritual longing for metanoia.


Periodically, Alex will say, "Dad you've got to get the church to do something. They are the only ones who can cut through this crap." Alex knows that the only answer to his world's morass of meaninglessness is a return to the sacred. But how? To what can I point when the white evangelical church is itself so complicit in furthering this functional nihilism even while purporting to fighting against it. My friend Michael Wear, who was the faith outreach coordinator for President Obama, suggested over dinner last week that I introduce Alex to The Atlantic opinion writer Liz Bruenig, who is an articulate Christian socialist. Let's start with the assumption that following Jesus undermines the polarities of left and right.


In most of our conversations with our radicalized children we don't go deep enough. We get stuck on public policy differences of opinion rather than exploring the deeper cultural context in which these differences arise. We always come to these conversations with unconscious historically engrained biases that shape our point of view and have colored our lived experiences. It is not easy to put these aside to question our taken-for-granted assumptions. But we can grow and change. We don't have to be stuck in our biases forever. French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu called this growth a kind of Freudian sociological endeavor or "socioanalysis." He writes, “Not only can habitus be practically transformed by the effects of a social trajectory leading to conditions of living different from initial ones, it can also be controlled through awakening of consciousness and socioanalysis.” He adds, “Sociology can be an extremely powerful instrument of self-analysis which allows one better to understand what he or she is by giving one an understanding of one’s own conditions of production and the position one occupies in the social world.”


One of the sticking points in our cultural dialogue is race. "CRT," "Black Lives Matter," "privilege," "intersectionality," "immigration," and "power" all are centered on matters of race. This is an issue of some importance to Alex. I was heartened to find a meaningful conversation on race that serves as a socioanalysis of our biases on race. To this end, I commend this dialogue between Professors James Davison Hunter and Cornell West at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. In full disclosure, I am a Hunter protegé. Alex is more aligned with West. This is a surrogate idealized dialogue between father and son. Hunter has a forthcoming book on race that will, no doubt, builds on this conversation. We will be better for it. But this is a fruitful example of getting past our biases to deeper matters that impact our lived experience. This conversation celebrates the role of artists in social change to which I heartily agree. Alex, I commend this conversation to you as a starting point in your correct sensibility that the sacred will need to have room in our dialogue if genuine social change is our goal.