We Have a Job to Do: Racism, Alt-Right......

Sunday, December 4, 2016
Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah gives us an absolutely wonderful image, metaphorical one might say, of a new world - a world of peace, a world without destruction, a world under the reign of the Messiah.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

A world at peace - the theme of the second Sunday of Advent.

It is a good thing that last week we were reminded that we are a people of hope, because there is far too much ‘non-peace’ in the world around us.

But we are called to not only hope for peace.
We are called to act for peace.

One of the things that we need to come to grips with rapidly is the surge in racism and the alt-right in recent months.  
And we need to act, for these things are not things that make for peace – they make for tension, division, anxiety....

Let’s look at what is happening.
And let’s look at how we can act to be agents for peace, God’s peace.

The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Let’s think about what an analyst by the name of Joseph Overton proposed in 1994.  He said that there is a range of ideas that are within the window of what is considered ‘acceptable’, and ideas outside the window are unthinkable (New Yorker).  This window has become known as the “Overton Window.”

Be clear that nobody gets to say what the Overton Window looks like - what shape it is.  But society as a whole defines the Overton Window, the whole of society defines what is acceptable, and what is unthinkable.   

Now, over time it is noted that what is within the window evolves.  Some things acceptable in the 1850s, for example, are unthinkable now - whipping a child in class, say; while some things that are acceptable now were unthinkable then - say gay marriage.

So the window evolves over time.  One hopes that it evolves for the better.

Let’s look at what has happened recenlty.

Suddenly, over the last several months, before and following the U.S. election, the Overton Window has not just evolved - the frame has been totally bent in one particular direction – and that is the direction of what has become known as the alt-right, a terms so new that people aren’t in agreement about what it is.

The alt-right in the U.S. raises the flag of the First Amendment and rages against what it names as political correctness - that is, up until recently, the Overton Window set White Nationalist or Supremacist expressions as being unacceptable.  

Or, to put it in common terms -
White Nationalist or Supremacist declarations were socially unacceptable,  
people trying to create - or re-create - racial hierarchies was outside the Window,
blatant racist confrontations in the street were seen as repugnant by society.

Now, suddenly, it seems that the Overton Window has shifted so far over that now people feel that they have permission to express blatant racist and supremacist thoughts.  In fact, one alt-right blogger puts it bluntly: “It is the Alt-Right’s job to move the Overton Window.....”

We see the KKK re-emerging as a voice and membership therein suddenly growing.
We see the internet flooded with images like cartoon frogs with swastikas, we see racial hierarchies proposed - and ridicule for anyone who expresses discomfort with these racist and xenophobic expressions.

In recent months, social norms have been swept aside.
In a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, Tia Ballinger was standing in a grocery-store checkout line on the day after the election when an elderly white man cut in front of her.  The man’s wife told him what he had done.  “I know, but I don’t care,” he said.  “She’s black, she doesn’t matter.” - Globe and Mail - Thursday, November 10, 2016, Racist incidents reported in wake of Trump victory

(Interesting in the context, by the way, as the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is Black, voted in with 84% of the votes in the last election.... but still - the incident speaks loudly of what has happened to social norms)

Graffitti appearing on a wall “Make America White Again”.  

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

Surely, we say, hopefully, this does not apply here in Canada.  Surely we are not so racist as all that, and surely we would not be affected.... infected.... by such dark things happening to the south.

Well, without even getting into the long-standing systemic racism against our First Nations People - let’s try to look honestly at whether the Overton Window has shifted in Canada in the last few months.

After the election, posters went up in East York - Toronto - urging people to join the alt-right.  One poster reads:  “Hey, white person:  Tired of political correctness?  Wondering why only white countries have to become multicultural?  Figured out that diversity only means “less white people”?”
    - CBC News, Toronto, November 15, 2016

Even closer to us - in the Glebe of Ottawa, Rabbi Anna Maranta woke up a week after the election to find a swastika painted on her door, along with an anti-Semitic slur.

A man hurling racial insults on a Toronto streetcar.
There are at least 100 white supremacist, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups that operate in Canada.

And hate crimes have risen 47% since 2013.  We don’t have statistics for November, but incidental reporting reflects a significant increase in one month.

And, given the permission of the shift of the Overton Window, the shift in the perceived social norm, white nationalist and anti-immigration advocates here are trying to make their voices heard.  Even the KKK.

I have spoken about racism more than once.  But now, with the perceived shift in social norm, with the perceived permission to speak and act out in racist ways, it is imperative to speak again.   For the ways of peace cannot co-exist with intolerance and racism.


They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

But what can we do?  What difference can we make?

Well - this video is post Brexit - a time of shift in the Overton Window in England.  But the content applies here.  Now.



We watch this and think about it because we don’t know when we might hear something racist, or read racist comments in social media, or receive racist jokes by e-mail.

We think about it because we need to have a plan of action..... rather than a plan of nothing.

Because if we do nothing, say nothing - it means that we are giving permission, it means we allow the social norms to go in the wrong direction - in the direction of intolerance, hatred, racism and bigotry.

1.    Don’t be a bystander
2.    Film it & report it
3.    Stick around for the victim
4.    Tackle the culture of racism
5.    Actively fight racism


We have a job to do.
Isaiah’s vision of a world of peace cannot co-exist with racism and xenophobia.
We have a job to do.  Let’s not give permission for people to make our society less tolerant.
We have a job to do: let us take part in building peace, built on respect and love for one another.