Hard Questions: Racism
The Truth About Racism
by Stephanie Miller
Picture Perfect World
Close your eyes and imagine a perfect world. For some, it may resemble the garden of Eden: green trees, animals roaming free, and perfect weather. For others, it’s an industrialized version of paradise with a trendy coffee shop on the corner, where the barista always gets your name right and the coffee beans are never over- roasted. Paradise. One thing is for sure, in each of our perfect worlds none of the issues we face today exist. There would be peace with God and men, and racism would be unknown. Racism hurts so deeply because it attacks God-given identity.
We may never fully understand the unthinkable evils of our world, but we can take heart knowing there is a perfect place prepared for all those who love and live for God, regardless of race. Racism will never truly make sense because it is a product of sin, and sin pollutes what God called good. It’s impossible to capture all that needs to be said about racism in one sitting. Instead, let’s get to the root of what it is and discuss how to pursue unity in a not so “picture- perfect” world.
Like all other evils, the root of racism is sin, and therefore, division. Sin separates us from God, so anything sin produces will do the same thing in other areas of our lives as well. Sin not only wreaks havoc in our relationship with God, it messes with our relationships with others. What makes racism sinful are its roots in pride and entitlement. Racism is asserting superiority over a person because of their skin color, language, or ethnicity. It even goes so far as to dehumanize, that is, to attribute non- human or animal- like characteristics to humans, in order to distance oneself from someone who is different from you. Overt racism is blatant, whereas covert racism is subtler and more common. Both are rooted in pride and neither are pleasing to God. “The LORD detests the proud; they will surely be punished.” (Proverbs 16:5, NLT)
God’s word needs no embellishment. Pride is what made Lucifer worship himself. It’s also a symptom of an unsubmitted heart. Ouch. It produces a mindset of entitlement, in which you believe you’re better than someone else or that you are owed something. But “God is no respecter of persons.” (Act 10:34) No matter our skin color, we all bleed red. Including Jesus. Everything that we have comes from God who enabled us to have it, and He also has power to take away. He removed the kingship from Saul due to disobedience. He humbled king Nebuchadnezzar, who became inflated with pride when he looked out over all God had entrusted him to govern. The king was stripped of his authority and wandered the wilderness like an animal for a time until he acknowledged God as his source. (Daniel 4:32)
At the New York Metro District Prayer Conference this year, Margaret Banks made a profound statement: “I’ve learned to humble myself, otherwise I’m going to eat grass.” We will always eat the fruit of what we plant! King Nebuchadnezzar shows us that lack of submission leads to humiliation: both being humbled and potential embarrassment. When we develop a proud spirit, disaster always follows. Racism is the result of this. People in their humanity have done evil things with prideful motives and the enemy has encouraged and capitalized on it.
I recently traveled to South Africa and Zimbabwe, and it was a dream come true! I have African ancestry and I grew up in New York, but it was a new experience for me to be surrounded by more black people than white people. For the first time in my life, I was part of the majority. I then came to realize, that even though most of the people around me were black, I was still culturally different. Apparently I even looked different. One day a little kid asked me if I was Arab! It reinforced to me that my own mixed ancestry is a product of Colonization, which led to the start slavery.
It was a sad realization to think that if I were born in the 1800’s someone would look at me as less than human hurts in ways I cannot express. Being in South Africa where apartheid ended in 1994- during my lifetime- and realizing that a small group of wealthy people left their homes to disrupt and oppress the lives of an entire nation of people just because they could, showed me that an evil like racism could only be attributed to something diabolical. It is absolutely appropriate to say that apartheid was modern- day slavery. It’s the clearest example I can name of how the enemy works by blinding people so that they see nonsense as truth, and truth as nonsense. Because it is nonsensical to look at someone different than you and try to dehumanize them for their God- given differences.
It is proud to use oneself as the standard by which to measure the rest of the humanity. It indicates that our internal compass is broken. Pride distorts our view of the order God made. Just as Lucifer stepped out of his place, if we aren’t careful we can easily find ourselves questioning that order- and we all know how that ended. As the church, if we are to stand a chance at fighting this evil, we must boldly declare that racism is sin.
Unity is key. The enemy wants to turn our pride into his weapon. If we let pride go unchecked, division can enter the church. We must be careful not to assert our own prejudice over God’s promise that is for all men. (Acts 2:39) The church on earth is supposed to be a glimpse into heaven, where every tribe and tongue will worship Jesus for eternity. Hyphens hear me: the church isn’t about ethnicity, it’s about Jesus Christ.
There is no black, white, Asian, Hispanic, European, African, or *insert ethnicity here* church. We, collectively, are the church. Our congregations may be separated because of language or location, but that should not divide us. We should never look down on those who do things differently than us. Instead, we ought to intentionally include those who aren’t like us not just those we’re comfortable with. Everyone needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will turn a lot of people off before they even make it to our doors by assuming and insisting that everyone must fit our specific mold. Just because people are different than we are, doesn’t make them wrong, lesser, or outsiders; and it does not mean they need fixing!
Let’s normalize cultural differences, because Jesus spread His arms wide on the cross for all people. How dare we divide what Jesus died to unite? May God forgive us for doing so and help us see as He sees. We shouldn’t be fighting each other when we are one body! And we should not be picking and choosing who gets to be part of His body.
Grain of Salt
As a minority, it can be hard to overlook hurtful and offensive things. I personally never want to assume hurtful actions are intentional, but sadly sometimes they are. It’s wise to take hurtful things with a grain of salt, knowing that intentionally hurting someone says everything about the perpetrator and not the victim. Jesus said to pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
Those who persecute God’s people are destined for something far worse than any revenge you or I could ever deliver; they need our prayers. Other times, people are just ignorant, meaning unaware. Even if an ignorant comment is targeted at you, it isn’t a reflection of you. If you aren’t a minority, I will simply say: put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sincere questions are generally welcomed; insensitivity is not received well. As a minority, it may feel like it isn’t our job to educate people about our cultures. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re constantly explaining your existence. Keep in mind that just as racism has been taught for centuries, it must also be unlearned over time.
Many people who seem culturally insensitive are unaware or grew up in environments where their view was the only view. It is more than okay to acknowledge hurtful things. Pretending is unproductive because people never learn a better way to engage with cultural differences, and you won’t experience true freedom. But don’t stay offended. Praying and reminding ourselves of who God says we are can realign our perspective and help us to not internalize the hurt we may experience. Hyphens, if Jesus approves of us then we need no other approval. Jesus died for all, “red and yellow, black and white.”