Last Friday I received a plain white envelope in the mail with just my name and address hand printed in big block letters. Inside was a printed copy of this article. A very brave person had chosen to send me this, presumably to correct the error of my ways, perhaps for this post. However since they forgot (or chose not) to sign their name we are unable to discuss it directly. I presume they must read my posts and so I will conversate with them here in this forum in which they feel secure.
First thanks for thinking of me and taking the time to print and snail-mail me an article from the internet. I’ll begin by pointing out the places where myself and Mr. Anyabwile (the subject of the article), Mr. Johnson (the author of the article) and perhaps yourself, agree.
1. There is no biological basis for race.
2. Racial Categories can be very problematic especially in our mulit-racial world with growing numbers of “mixed” families.
3. Failing to see the difference between Race and Culture is unhelpful and creates unneeded confusion.
However I take issue with the general tone and purpose of the article which the author sums up in his closing sentence. “… Christians should refrain from using those categories [race] in the formulation of our world view.” While, as I’ve stated above, his basic premises are correct, the assumption of this pastor/blogger (and perhaps my anonymous letter sender) is that talking about race is what perpetuates racism.
I could be wrong about this, but I’ve heard this message before, from the same types of sources; people who believe that programs and staff that exist to welcome and support the diverse people of a community are the very ones causing division in the community; persons with a point of view that purports that unity is possible if all come and conform to the revealed patters and practices of their institution, while maintaining that their cherished institution was not shaped by the culture of a people who chose to define themselves as white.
True; we must as a people, a nation, and a world move beyond race. But as Harry A. Blackmun stated:
In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way.
It would be nice to not have to address the non-scientific, socially constructed categories of race. But we are not free to do that while we still find ourselves
wading through the emotional, economic and social garbage that racism has deposited across our society. Contrary to the article sent to me; racism and resulting separation are not caused by an awareness of race or the damning role it has/does play in our society. It continues to exists in part because of those who wish it would just go away. The ostrich approach to dealing with unpleasant realities may change ones world view, but it does not change the reality.
Finally, Mr. Anyabwile is right – racial categories are NOT discussed in the bible, while cultural and ethnic differences are. Why? Race was invented as a tool of Europeans to feign superiority in the era of their global exploration and colonialism. This is the global legacy we have inherited and the mess we can either choose to help clean-up or help perpetuate. Yet the Bible does give clear wisdom in dealing with the divisions of class and culture.
Consider these words from Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 12:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. …. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
This is the truth Harry Blackmun echoed in the second part of his famous quote printed above.
“…And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”
To create and maintain unity you must be aware of individual and social differences of power and lack of power. These variations are not caused by race itself – but are caused by how society responds to the social categories and powerful illusions that the myth of race has created. Avoiding certain terms or “equal treatment” alone can not create equity. We must take into account the the unique abilities and needs of all “parts of the body.” One must acknowledge the real effects racism has had and thus take into account the starting points we have inherited if we are truly seeking to walk side by side in this journey to beloved community.