Let's talk about anti-racism: things I never understood (Part 1) + Acts 17:26 Bible Verse Coloring Page


I hope you were able to watch the video of my introduction to this new series on anti-racism in my last post.  I've been doing a lot of reading and writing to prepare for these next few posts on the things I never understood about racism. 

At the end of today's post, I'm sharing a coloring page from Acts 17:26 (in English and Spanish), along with some talking points you can use with your kids when starting the conversation about race and racism. I know starting these conversations can feel awkward and produce anxiety, so I hope to help you by providing these resources. Also at the end of this post is a collection of resources for further study and learning. I'll be collecting all these resources together on an anti-racism page soon!



I never understood that our ideas about racial difference were never biological or natural, but were formed and fostered from the very birth of our nation for the purpose of consolidating privilege and power and oppressing people of color.

For most of life I have had an understanding of race that goes something like this: racism was practiced by people who were evil, hateful, and ignorant. But now that we are more progressive, more informed, and don't hate each other anymore, our racism problem is limited to those individuals who are still evil, hateful, or ignorant. 

Isn't that neat and tidy?

The racial hierarchy--whites on top and black on bottom (and everyone else somewhere in the middle)--and where it came from wasn't something I really considered. It seems like something that just developed naturally. At the same I didn't believe any skin color was naturally inferior or superior. These two opposing beliefs existed comfortably in my mind.

Biology, especially modern DNA research, has confirmed what the Bible has always told us about our origins from one family of men. Modern science continues to confirm that skin color means just skin color and that biologically, we are all the same species. In fact, a person of one color can have more DNA in common with a person of a different color than that of a person with the same skin color. There are no set of physical characteristics that are defined and limited to one race of people.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)
Yet the hierarchy seems so inevitable. We say things like, "That's just how things were back then." Or, "He/she was just a person of his/her times." 

But the inevitability of racism is far from historically accurate. I just finished reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi.* Kendi painstakingly reconstructs the ideas that shaped our nation and our narrative of racial difference. He writes:
I was taught the popular folktale of racism: that ignorant and hateful people had produced racist ideas, and that these racist people had instituted racist policies. But when I learned the motives behind the production of many of America's most influentially racist ideas, it became quite obvious that this folktale, though sensible, was not based on a firm footing of historical evidence. Ignorance/hate > racist ideas > discrimination; this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship--racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate. Racial discrimination > racist ideas > ignorance/hate: this is the causal relationship driving America's history of racial relations. 
Some of our brightest minds--scientists, sociologists, lawmakers, judges, economists, educators, journalists, and even our pastors and theologians, fostered and formulated America's narrative of racial difference (to borrow Bryan Stevenson's term*) until it became simply common sense to many of us.

Motivated by our favorite idols of self-interest: power, money, influence, control, and reputation, white Americans found a way to justify discrimination and quiet their own consciences, and the conscience of the nation. Sadly, much of the church met the evils of racism with either silence or complicity. You can read a survey of the church's complicity with racism in Jamar Tisby's The Color of Compromise.*

The stratification of the races has its roots in the Enlightenment (see this article), but further developed in colonial America as the need to rely on and justify slavery increased. (The episode of Race: The Power of an Illusion called "The Story We Tell"* chronicles this history.)

Race wasn't always such a factor in American life. For example, take this entry from this timeline of the development of race in America:
In early colonial America, social identities are fluid and class distinctions trump physical ones. On Virginia plantations, European indentured servants and African slaves mix freely - they work, play, and make love together. In 1676, Bacon's Rebellion unites poor Africans and Europeans against Indians and wealthy planters. Although the rebellion is short lived, the alliance alarms the colonial elite, who realize the labor system based on indentured servitude is unstable. Coincidentally, captured Africans, perceived as stronger workers by Europeans, become more available at this time. Planters turn increasingly to African slavery for labor, while granting increased freedoms to Europeans.
The planters' bottom line needed cheaper labor, so a stricter racial narrative was developed. The first slave codes were passed in 1705: 
As wealthy planters turn from indentured servitude towards slavery, they begin to write laws making slavery permanent for Africans, and dividing Blacks from whites and slaves from free men. African Americans are punished more harshly for crimes and their rights are increasingly curtailed. Poor whites are given new entitlements and opportunities, including as overseers who police the slave population. Over time, poor whites identify more with wealthy whites and the degradation of slavery is identified with Blackness. (found here)
And so race-based chattel slavery for life took shape at the same time our pursuit of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was taking shape. (For more information and research into these ideas, check out the documentary Race: the Power of an Illusion and its companion website.* )

The honing of the racial narrative didn't end there, of course. It continued and continues to take shape, changing to suit the needs of the moment.

This leads me to some concluding thoughts and questions:

1. This understanding of the roots of racism seems important for understanding how to reverse or undo it. 

If I assume that racism is based on ignorance, then education and changed hearts should eradicate it. But if I understand that racism is rooted in deeper idols of entitlement, greed, privilege, and power, then education alone won't change the underlying dynamics at work.

If I assume that racism stems from hate, then love will solve it. If I understand that racism is more deeply entrenched in our society than the level of our feelings towards one another, then I understand that something greater than just "good will" must counteract the underlying entrenchment.

Sociologists call race a "social construct" meaning that race took on the meaning that we gave it in our society. It's the house that we built, solid and firm, and it stands until we tear it down. Ignoring it in an attempt at colorblindness doesn't change it.

2. If the church was complicit in justifying the racial narrative, how might we be complicit in allowing it to continue? How might our consciences be numbed still to injustice around us? How might our interpretations of the Bible be influenced by the racist ideas of our times?

Those are the things I'm thinking about as I learn this history and contemplate its consequences.


I created this Acts 17:26a Bible verse coloring page (with talking points below) for you to share with your own kids or the children you teach. You can download the page in Spanish HERE or in English HERE of by clicking on the images below.**

 

TALKING POINTS for KIDS
  1. What does this verse say about where all people came from? 
  2. What does the rest of Acts 17:26-27 say about the people God made and the places he determined they would live?
  3. Racism is the idea that one race of people (a group that looks mostly the same) is either better or worse than other races of people. How does this idea go against what the Bible tells us about humans?
  4. Science tells us that we are actually all the same race--the human race, and that scientists can't tell what race we are by looking at our DNA. In fact, a person of one race can have more DNA in common with a person of another race than a person of the same race. 
  5. It's important for us to talk about race (and what the Bible says about it) because in America, at the same time our country was being formed, people began to tell the story that one race was better than another, that white people were better than people of color. I know that seems like a silly story, but it became really important. Why would they do such a thing? They thought more about what they wanted than what was good for others. They wanted land. They wanted people to work for them cheaply. They wanted to keep their power and control others. They needed a reason to feel like they were doing the right thing, so they created the story that the races are different. As a result, people of color didn't have the same opportunities as white people. Racism was completely legal! Life became very, very difficult for people of color in our country. I wish I could tell you that it's better today, but there are still many ways that races are not treated equally and don't have the same opportunities. It takes a long time to change these things, so that's why we're talking about this--so we can pray and work to make things better for all of us.


*FOR FURTHER READING/LEARNING


WEBSITE | Race: The Power of an Illusion. Companion website to the three-part documentary with excerpts of the series with articles, interviews, classroom guides, and videos.
PDF | Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race (From Race: The Power of an Illusion)

I'd be happy to engage with you on this topic. If this post spurs questions or thoughts, you can email me or leave a comment below.


**I'm so happy for you to enjoy my coloring pages and printables for your personal (not commercial) use! Use for Bible studies, church groups or events, and Sunday school classes are all fine! If you're in doubt, I'm happy to answer any questions. All artwork and photos are copyright Marydean Draws. If you share this, thank you (!), and as a courtesy,  please link back to this post and not the PDF file. 



               

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