I vividly remember the first time I had a racist thought. I was a young kid at my Grandma’s house. She’s a woman of predominantly caucasian descent, but she had a Cherokee Great Grandmother and she has always felt a deep connection to her Native American heritage. She was telling me the story of the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee where thousands of Native Americans were slaughtered by the United States Military. She paused to reflect on the tragedy of those events, and she said, “When I think about the oppression of those people, I can’t help but think ‘I hate the white man.’”
I thought about the terrible injustices of the past, and an angry thought flashed through my young mind… “I hate the white man too.”
The irony, of course, is that I’m a white dude.
In the young mind and heart of a child, there’s a sort of “wet cement” and the impressions that are made there harden over time. Racism, in any form, is a learned trait (you never see infants or toddlers avoiding each other in the nursery because of skin tone). Whenever we categorize a group of people as a nameless, faceless mass of color (whether the color be white, brown or something else), we’re stripping away the humanity of people and committing the sin of racism and we’re teaching our kids to do the same.
Racism hurts people, but we can’t seem to get past it. We can’t seem to find ways to have honest, healthy conversations about issues of race. We can’t celebrate a sense of unified brotherhood through our beautiful differences. The recent riots in Baltimore are yet another example of the current crisis and why we must do more to promote real hope and healing and not just artificial harmony.
As a Christian, I believe one of our highest callings is the promote unification among God’s people throughout the nations. Jesus taught so much about this. It should be a big part of our mission, and this is why I feel it’s heartbreaking to see our churches remaining some of the most segregated places in our societies. The Church should be on the front lines of racial reconciliation and unity.
This all begins with teaching the right lessons to our children early on and then doing our best to live out these principles in our own generation as well. There are many lessons that need to be taught beyond the four listed below, but I believe these four foundational truths are a great place to start.
The Bible teaches that God created all people in His image, so to condemn or mistreat any person who is created in God’s image is really an insult to their Creator.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
2. Critique and challenge your own culture; not somebody else’s.
Ethnicity (or race) is permanent and out of our control. It’s sacred and nothing we should critique, rank or judge. “Culture” is different. A person’s culture is a learned, shared set of norms, beliefs and values. Since our culture is something that is taught, it is also something that is open to critique. We need to have the courage to have honest conversations about the cultural values we’re teaching to our own kids and challenge those norms when they don’t line up with wisdom and truth of God’s Word. Instead of critiquing the cultures of others, we must start with our own.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3
3. There’s really no “them.” There’s only “us.”
The moment we allow race or skin tone to draw lines of separation, we’ve all lost! This isn’t about a loyalty to one particular race (which can lead to a false sense of supremacy and eventually to mistreatment of others). Our goal is to have unity in the midst of our beautiful diversity. Christ died for all people, so we should love all people. Seek to understand where others are coming from. Don’t be so quick to get offended. We’re all on the same side (or at least, we should be)!
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19
4. The only cure for racism is love.
This might sound like a cheesy bumper sticker, but love is much more than just a feeling or giving someone a hug. Love is a passionate commitment given for the sake of another. Love, not politics or prejudices, is what will eventually heal the wounds of racism.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8