How to Understand and End Racism within Ourselves
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- 2021 23 Jun
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) A question continues to bumble through my brain, sometimes falling away only to later return to the foreground. This question nags at me like a child asking their parent the same question over and over again. Are we there yet? And the answer is always the same. No. Only when the child stops bringing such attention to the issue is the issue resolved. Then they arrive. My question, however, continues to resurface, not because there is no answer or that I keep asking. Instead, people around me keep asking the same question time and time again. Whether Christian or atheist, in my social circle or someone I watch online, everyone is asking the same question. How do we end racism in America?
Though many people are speaking, most offer complaints, and only a few offer solutions. I would like to rephrase the question because the solution is embedded in the Christian faith.
How do we, as Christians, end racism within ourselves?
Depending on your perspective, the answer to this question will vary, but for Christians, our answer should be the same. Should. Then again, since growing up as a brown child in a brown family in the purple state of Virginia, I’ve witnessed various perspectives on this topic from Christians. There were people like my grandparents who experienced segregation. Then there were those like my parents who experienced their fair share of racist encounters through verbal insults or having their home egged. And then there are people like me, who have encountered racism either through the anonymity of the web or from people who look just like me. What these anecdotes reveal is that though hate continues, the times have changed. The face of racism today is different than a generation ago.
Still, I know that there are racists in the world, in America, who will, when possible, exhibit their bias. Nor am I a stranger to those who believe systemic racism leads to the mass incarceration of brown men, or that there are people who, if given the chance, will blame all of their misfortunes on skin color. Growing into the man and Christian I am today, I understand the human condition. Sometimes we seek to help, but sometimes we seek to complain. Sometimes we seek to mend, but sometimes we seek to divide. We all have our seasons (Ecclesiastes 3).
Instead of allowing ourselves to go through this perpetual cycle of society being in an uproar about race, then later forgetting the issue existed, let’s map out practical steps we can take to end racism within ourselves. While we can’t change people, we can change ourselves. But before that, we need to understand what this concept of race really means.
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What Is Race?
I want to ask some questions of you that no believer or nonbeliever has been able to answer for me.
Why am I called black if my skin is brown?
From Negro, to Black, to African American, to People of Color. Why has no one polled me on what I want to be called?
Why do we say African American but not European American?
Why are white and black people given colors, but Asians are named after a continent?
Doesn’t Hispanic mean Spanish speaking? If someone speaks Portuguese, what are they?
Why is ‘people of color’ appropriate, but not ‘colored people’?
If a white person goes to Asia, do they become a person of color?
An Asian person’s skin is closer in hue to a white person, so why are they called people of color?
I’m not surprised racism continues to be a hot topic in American society every few years. Our obsession with race should make the aforementioned questions easy to answer. Should. Though the reality is that we as people are more prone to complain than we are to seek understanding or gratitude (Exodus 16:1-3). Even Cain and Abel found themselves to be two divided men, and there were fewer people on Earth back then. Today there are over 7.8 billion people. With so many people, there are so many more reasons for hate, discrimination, abuse, and other sins. And we have all played our part in something (Romans 8:28).
With mankind’s tendency to not only disobey God, but seek division, we must make an effort to find unity through seeking the truth. The truth is that racism will never end, so long as there are people with different doses of melanin. More profound – the truth is that race does not exist.
See, there is only one race – humans. Acknowledging different races is equivalent to acknowledging humans existing alongside elves, orcs, or fairies. Such an idea sounds like the world of a fantasy book. Race is a fantasy, a political concept that is not based in reality but on the human nature of sin.
The American Association of Anthropology and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists have reported on the social concept of race and mapped the concept’s origin to the 18th Century. Race was an ideology that was created during the colonization of America as part of the Great Chain of Being. This mode of thinking rationalized how settlers treated African slaves and Native Americans. Simply put, racism did not breed slavery. Slavery bred racism. In order to continue to treat an entire group of people inhumanely, settlers had to believe that these other humans were anything but humane.
Sadly, the idea of race did not die with slavery. People of all complexions still cling to their proverbial race cards. In the church, too, the ideology of race has taken firm root. Unsurprisingly, the divisions between people continue to exist because we keep acknowledging our skin-deep differences.
There is no white race, black race, or any other variation of human races. We have no difference in blood or bone structure, no matter our skin color. The differences we witness in eye shape, eye color, height, hair texture, and more, are a result of diet, climate, genetics. Not because there are different races.
As I have stated before, either we are all people of color, or none of us are. Racism is not an issue of the church or one country in particular. Racism is an issue of the human heart, but there is a solution, a change we can bring about within ourselves. This change begins with a four-letter word called love.
1. Love Others
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
The Bible talks plenty about love; God’s love for man and man’s love for God. Jesus wanted us to love one another, and more specifically, love one another as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Loving ourselves often comes so naturally, but not loving others.
Any time I have paid an incredible amount of attention to my skin, either I wanted to play the victim or felt full of pride. Neither are godly behaviors. By treating myself in this way, when interacting with others I either made them out to be an oppressor of sorts or looked down on them because of their skin. That’s racist!
If instead, I can see my color, and that’s it, and do the same for others, I can love them in the appropriate way, not because of how they look but because they are God’s children. If He loves a sinner like me, then He definitely loves them.
2. Know The Facts
“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Too many people, Christian or not, talk about ideas like race but have no idea what they are really talking about. See, having an opinion is far easier than having the facts. Did you know the origin of the word race as we understand the word today? I did not. Yet, how many times have we spoken about the topic with authoritative knowledge?
People speak on topics such as mass incarceration, systemic racism, white privilege, and other ideas without knowing the truth. One way to find the truth is to listen to people who think differently and understand their position. Don’t assume you are right, or that your way is the only way to serve the Lord.
Maybe ideas such as white privilege can be misunderstood as economic privilege. Maybe mass incarceration happens because of a higher crime rate in certain communities. The information we want is out there, but researching will require time and effort of our own. Are we willing or do we simply want to speak our piece?
Only when we understand ideas should we attempt to talk from a place of wisdom. Knowing the facts helps us to not only make godly decisions for ourselves, but for those around us also. Otherwise, we educate people based on opinions and not truth, feelings and not facts. There are Christian parents raising their children to focus on skin color. Some parents tell their children that they are victims of society. Others inform their children that they are oppressors though they lack the knowledge for oppressing. Neither is what the Bible teaches. And ironically, this type of thinking was the same thinking present in 18th Century homes – skin color defines your character.
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3. Reject Victimhood
“Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
If you want to be a victim, you can be. I learned that very easily from my family, friends, acquaintances, and teachers. Some of them were and are victims, so they believe. Some of them encouraged me to be a victim as well, but today I choose to think differently about myself. Belonging to the kingdom of God makes me a victor, not a victim (Philippians 4:13).
Holding onto the victim mentality makes us weak, dependent upon the treatment of other people and not God. Playing the role of victim leads us to assume the character and intentions of others based on their skin color. While we may be accusing them of racism, we are ironically playing the role of racist.
Satan knows our weaknesses; he recognizes our tendency to divide. If we can maintain the proper focus on God and others, we can reject the false narrative the Devil wants for us.
4. Embrace Colorblindness
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
I have been told by Christians that the colorblind approach to racism is flawed. The critical weakness cited is that colorblindness ignores the injuries faced by those who have experienced racism. This is untrue. Colorblindness is the only proper way to view race. Race doesn’t exist and therefore skin color does not matter.
They are people who face discrimination for their skin color or other reasons. That’s the nature of sin in us. However, when we seek to engage others, we should not do so or avoid doing so on the basis of skin color. Nowhere in the Bible does God or Jesus give preference to someone based on skin color. He does, however, often draw a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise over the foolish. We are to always give a listening ear to the troubles of our neighbor, but we must all keep in perspective, skin does not define us. God gave us melanin, but the melanin never gave us worth.
A Colorful Kingdom
“Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
God’s kingdom is colorful. Every human being has the same number of melanocytes but produces unique levels of melanin. Voila! We appear different from one another. Still, God loves us all the same. Scripture gives us the perfect reminder that man focuses on the outside, but God focuses on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Too often I hear those decrying racism point the finger at others, never themselves. We seem to be living in a time where peach Americans are being persecuted for sins they never committed. Ideas of modern-day reparations appear, white privilege, white guilt, and other discriminatory ideas are discussed. Racism may look different today, but racism is racism, or maybe the appropriate word now is colorism. We need to draw our focus to the right places, namely to God. And if we want to evoke change, then we need to look within ourselves.
I don’t know where the origin of the terms white and black first began, but so long as we had words for colors, surely we used those words to describe one another. Using words to make sense of the environment or people is helpful, but using the words to discriminate does not help us serve the kingdom.
We can end racism today by acknowledging that there is no such thing. Thank God for that! One less reason for us to fight one another. We can take race off of job and school applications. If we don’t like the oppositional terms white and black to describe people, we can replace such words with peach and brown respectively. New words open up new possibilities for our society.
We can start referring to natural citizens by the title of their country – American, Japanese, Ethiopian. If someone immigrates to America and becomes a citizen, then we can call them Japanese American if they were originally a Japanese citizen. Same for any other country. If we ever need to describe an American citizen then we can mention their sex, color, etc.
I don’t have all of the necessary words or color to fix our misconception of race, but together we can reconfigure our language to better reflect the truth. And by sticking to the truth, we stick to God, and by sticking to God we can stick to love. We can end racism within ourselves, today.
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