When someone says they are “color blind” or they want their kids to be, it makes me cringe a bit. For one thing it’s usually white people who say this in an effort to seem like race isn’t a big deal to them and they are not racist in any way. It is often followed by some sort of reference to how many friends of color they have and how they think Chris Rock is funny. Well he is. And he does a great bit on race and how no one has it as bad as the Native American and I love that bit. But I digress.
My brother is colorblind. It sometimes takes him a second to distinguish between green and brown. It’s a mystery to me. I have laughed. Not in a mean way. It just is. It’s the acceptance of the fact that in his eyes and in his mind, this IS the color he sees and what we call brown looks to him like something else, but he has just accepted that it’s brown.
In a simplistic way, this is the problem we have with race. It is what it is. The issue isn’t in calling a race by a name. Our issue is in labelling a race with characteristics, stereotypes, and inferiority/superiority to other races. It’s not about what color you are, it’s about how others around you see that color. Maybe the problem is WE ARE ALREADY COLOR BLIND and what we need to see is the reality of our own hearts and how we filter according to our prejudices and personal experience rather than on the Imago Dei.
What we don’t want is to be color blind. Negating the race factor on a person’s identity isn’t the goal. What it means to be black or asian or hispanic is deeply, intrinsically tied to that person’s very existence and disregarding those experiences belittles the profound impact they had on who people are today.
Instead of removing the race card, we embrace it. There may come a day when the color of our skin will have no impact whatsoever on our individual experiences and then, and only then, can we have this notion of race not mattering to us. But until then, we learn that green is brown and brown is green and try to make sense of how what we perceive in another person changes everything.
I worry at times about my child who is biracial. I would hope that she (or he) will be raised in a place where the stereotypes don’t impede her and where she will freely associate beauty and goodness in people of all races. I pray that she will understand how people can be ignorant and hurtful, sometimes nearly completely unaware of it, and instead of turning that into an excuse for her to be just as hurtful and bitter, she will turn it into a place of personal strength and endurance, motivation to learn, to educate, to sympathize, to help.
I hate when people say things, again as an attempt to sound accepting, that I’m not really Asian, or that I’m really white. What it’s saying, underneath the faux finish of cultural appropriation, is that being “Asian” or “white” is a personality or behavior or lifestyle. This is tricky. Because we then take it the step further to associate inherent values to these personality traits or behaviors or lifestyles. What are you saying when you tell me I’m really white? Are you saying I like cheeseburgers and can pronounce r’s and l’s clearly? I happen to know a lot of “white” people who can’t pronounce r’s and l’s and would rather eat sushi. Would you tell them they’re really Asian?
Take it even a step further and you have folks who make connections like the following. Most of the people in our prisons right now are non-whites. Therefore non-whites are more likely to commit crimes. I’ll tell you right now it’s a broken logic. The flaws are too numerous to mention and it will only serve to make me angry (and you don’t want to see me angry) but suffice it to say that you may never commit or be caught for any crime, but it doesn’t make you any less of a criminal than the next person.
And that’s where we as Christians who believe in the image of God, in which we were and are created, fall so very short of understanding how racial stereotypes are destructive and sinful. We fail to see how our own list, a very long list, of sins and behaviors separates us from God no more or no less than any list of sins and behaviors of any other people group. We are so quick to label and cast judgment and isolate those who sin differently from us, those who have different socioeconomic factors or who are forced to make choices that you cannot even begin to get your privileged, sheltered little minds around, by the age of 10.
It breaks my heart to see rampant prejudice and hatred. But it very nearly crushes my very soul when it comes spewing out from Christians who actually think they are saying something necessary or factual.
As Christians, we need to revisit Imago Dei. We need to see how that affects the way we even TALK about race and how we even BEGIN the conversation about “them” v. “us.” We need to soul cleanse, purge our thoughts of everything we think we know and shut up and listen. We need to put aside our defenses, trying to outprove each other of how not racist we are. We need to stop perpetuating the lies about who should feel guilty for what – those who have been in the privileged class shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for being born into the race and family they are in, but neither should they use that as an excuse like a force field against being part of the solution toward eradicating racial inequities. And those who have been born underprivileged and victims of racial prejudices their whole lives should not be made to feel ashamed of or belittled for their reactions to their personal experiences.
As Christians, we start the conversation not saying I’m sorry for being white or black or asian or I’m sorry for what my ancestors did or didn’t do. We start the conversation saying I’m sorry that I have seen you as less than Imago Dei, that I failed to see you as the same broken lost sinner that I am, saved by an amazing Grace, chosen to be a people of God – the same people adopted into the same family. I’m sorry that I have labelled you or really had any opinion at all about you that I did not have of me in my own guilty state, and that I forgot just how far off I am from perfect love which casts out all fear – all fear of you and your race, all fear of the threat of my own baseless superstitions and prejudices and misinterpretations of who the “other” is, or that I even have a sense of “other” equating “lesser.” I am sorry that I clung more to my preconceived notions and my centuries’ old “historical” context of who and what you are, than to the 5,000 some years and all pre-time before that knowledge of your Creator and His purposes for each of us throughout time. I’m sorry that I lost sight of how beautiful and precious and gifted you are, how much potential you have, how very very equal you are to me before the holy throne of God above. And I wholeheartedly repent that I have not held out to you that same grace bestowed on me, poured out on my head that holds not the grievances of the past, that removes my worst sins known and unknown far from me, embracing me fully and completely as a child of God, joint heir with Christ himself, who gave himself for me and for you. All of you.
Let the conversation begin there. And let it end there.