Racism is a very serious thing these days. We hear of race riots in America, just when some people thought we had moved past all that. There are blatant forms of racism, and more subtle forms of it. But before we get into that, we need to ask an important question: why is a white guy like me talking about this subject, and what right do I have to do so? There are two ways of answering that question. The first is that racism can be just as much against white people (theoretically) as against any other race. We haven’t seen much of that in America. But it does exist, especially in more subtle forms of racism, which we can get into below. The second part of the answer is that a white person can and should care about what happens to other parts of the human race. Just because I have not been a victim of racism doesn’t mean I can’t say anything about it. I haven’t been a victim of mugging either, but I presume that would not preclude me from saying something about it. I do have an imagination, and I hope all my readers do, too.
The biblical truth is that all humans come from Adam, and all humans come from Noah. As C.S. Lewis might say, that is grand enough to exalt any person, and humble enough to remind anyone that we are but dust. One of the most important features of racism, then, is either a partial or full denial of this fundamental truth. This goes a long way towards a definition. If we are not all from the same origin, then we have room to claim that one race is superior to another. This is one of the biggest problems with the theory of multiple origins of the human race. Evolution and the denial of the historical Adam will have racism as its intended or unintended consequence. Ben Stein showed this quite eloquently in his movie “Expelled,” which you should see if you haven’t yet. Since we are all from one origin, then no one part of the human race can lift itself above any other part of the human race. We are all one human race. The image of God is stamped on every human being. That image of God commands respect and dignity. To denigrate an image bearer, making the person somehow less than human, is therefore a direct attack on God.
There are, however, more subtle forms of racism, and here I am going to get very politically incorrect (as if my statements on evolution were not!). I believe that affirmative action is racist. When it comes to college scholarship and such things, I believe that those who hand them out should be color-blind. However, making a certain quota of African-Americans, or any other minority, is basically saying to them, “You can’t make it without our help.” I know very well the counter-argument: African-Americans have not had access to the kind of schooling that white children have had. But I would remind people of the arguments of Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams (especially the first named): anyone working hard can overcome any obstacles. They have all argued, in one way or another, that affirmative action and the welfare state have wreaked havoc on the black community. The disintegration of the family is another serious factor. These things are harming African-Americans today more than other factors, I believe. The Japanese faced incredible prejudice after World War II. So did the Germans and Italians. They didn’t have access to the best schools either. What did they do? They worked hard and overcame the obstacles. Many African-Americans have done the same. But not all of them have. Many believe that they are owed something for what they or their ancestors suffered. What do I owe them? I owe them the respect and dignity that is owed to all human beings. I do not owe them for what my ancestors may or may not have done. Ezekiel 18 is very important here (I will be writing a post on the relationship of Daniel 9 and Ezekiel 18 at some point in the near future, Lord-willing). The fathers are not responsible for the guilt of the son, nor is the son responsible for the guilt of the father. Acknowledging the sin that someone else has done is one thing, and is very understandable (and can certainly help in the case of race relations today). But that does not mean the same thing as what some seem to be claiming: that there is actual ontological transference of guilt. I have had it said to me that I am guilty of racism simply because I am white. Folks, that is just as much the sin of racism as saying that an African-American is not human because he is black.
What difference does the amount of melanin in the skin make? This is simply micro-evolution. The African-American has more melanin in the skin. Over many generations in the incredibly hot climates of Africa, the people developed darker and darker skin in order to adapt to their surroundings. This is the beauty of the adaptive characteristics of humans. The flip side of this adaptive characteristic is the very pale complexion of Norwegians. They adapted to their frigid climate in the opposite way. If lots of Africans migrated to Norway, over a period of a few hundred years, their skin would lighten quite noticeably. Similarly, if the Norwegian migrated to Africa, his skin would darken quite a bit just in his own lifetime. It is quite silly to make skin color determinative of worth.
The much more difficult question is that of different cultures. It is here, for instance, that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X differed. King was in the south and argued for racial integration and desegregation. The south was segregated (and still is in some ways, though not in transportation and education, the issues that were uppermost in the Civil Rights era). Racism showed itself in exclusion. In the north, however, where Malcolm X mostly lived and spoke, there was no segregation. More subtle attitudes were the problem. This is why (so argues James Cone) King argues for desegregation while Malcolm X argues for segregation. They had different contexts. Which of them is correct? This is not an easy question to answer. There is nothing wrong with desiring to keep a particular culture stable (anyone seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?). Any minority group that comes to America usually desires to keep its traditions alive and well, and those traditions can come into jeopardy when full integration is encouraged. On the other hand, segregation can result in exclusion, which is not healthy. The influence of other cultures is usually salutary, if for no other reason than that one knows one’s own culture better and values it more when compared to other cultures. This comparison itself has pitfalls, of course, because non-moral cultural issues can become a subtle basis for racism quite easily when non-moral issues become “better” or “worse” than what other cultures have.
To conclude, racism as usually understood means a person believes his race is better than another race. This can be blatant, or it can be subtle. We need to be very careful about how we think through these issues, and we need to do a lot of listening. I learned a lot, for instance, about ministering in an African-American context this year at General Assembly by listening to my African-American brothers. Avoiding racism is actually pretty simple: treat each person you meet as an image-bearer of God. That person deserves dignity and respect.