Let's talk about anti-racism: four things I never understood about racism (Part 2) + Psalm 8:3-6 Bible Verse Coloring Page

This is part two of my series about things I never understood about racism. You can read part one here or watch the introduction to the whole series here. My anti-racism resource page is also up and under construction.

Today, I'm talking about how I never understood a precise definition of a racist idea. Now, it might seem silly to even have to define a racist idea, but as I read, interact with people on these issues, and examine my own thinking, I find that a common definition is helpful.

Racist ideas are a little like the fast-growing morning glory weeds that threaten to take over the beans I'm trying to grow in my garden (p.s. I'm a terrible gardener). Last year I made the mistake of confusing them with snap beans and let them grow. Because I didn't uproot them, they became intertwined with my good plants, making them hard to separate. Eventually, they choked the life out of my good plants. Before planting my seeds this year, I tried tilling the soil and pulling out the pesky weeds that had already started to root, but the soil is still full of them and they keep sprouting up. This year, though, I'm wise to them and can recognize one plant from another, so every time I check on my garden, I pull up new stalks. If I'm diligent, my little bean plants might have a chance. If I'm not diligent, the deceitful little stalks will come back in full force.

Racist ideas are like these weeds. They grow naturally and quickly from the soil we're in, so they have to be carefully and consistently uprooted. Passivity isn't an option if we want to go against the culture. It's crucial that one learn to recognize the good ideas from the bad. In my last post, I talked about how the narrative of racial difference was fostered in this country and became so common sense to us that it's hard to even imagine life without it. It warped our very understanding of what it means to be human, choking the vitality out of us all.

I want to start with five examples of racist ideas from a variety of sources that we'll revisit at the end of this post:

1. I once overheard an African American Navy chaplain friend say to my dad, "The African American family structure is broken because slave owners broke families apart. They've never recovered from that."

2. I remember speaking with an older woman I worked with about my experience living and teaching in Thailand. She asked, "What were they like? In the pictures, their eyes are always so staring and vacant."

3. I lived in Richmond, Virginia soon after graduate school and was teaching ESL at Virginia Commonwealth University. Like most cities, Richmond is very segregated. I remember telling someone how the middle section of downtown where I lived was okay, but just a few streets over the neighborhood turned "bad and scary" (this was a mostly African American neighborhood).

4. Our Declaration of Independence contains this statement: "He [the kind of England] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

5. In June 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump announced a run for president with a speech. Here is part of that speech: "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Are these ideas racist? This is where common definitions become important.

I appreciate Ibram Kendi's simple, but precise, definition of a racist idea: "My definition of a racist idea is a simple one: it is any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way" (from Stamped from the Beginning*). This simple definition has profound implications, ones that I think echo the Biblical vision of human equity given by the Creator.

Kendi points out that while we may believe people of a certain color are not biologically inferior (although this kind of pseudo-science is still widely read and reproduced), we may embrace the idea that they are culturally or behaviorally inferior--as a group. We may believe that if the group improves itself (i.e. adapt to the standards of another group), then they will achieve equality. In reality, this is saying the until that point, the group is inferior.

Marcie Walker, of the blog Black Coffee with White Friends, said recently in an interview on the Speaking of Racism podcast, that when we talk about racism, we need to start by talking about what it means to be human. I really love that concept.

So let's ask the question: What does the Bible have to say about how we define and value humans? 

We know that we are all equally dignified and valued, "crowned with glory and honor," by nature as image-bearers of the Creator (Genesis 1:27). We know that God is "mindful" of us. This Psalm proclaims the dignity and position of men and women in God's created order:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8 ESV)
We know that God has ordained "every nation of mankind" and the places and times in which they live. God has ordained the diversity of his creations. It is in these places and times that we find God, who is near to all:
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)
 We know that all of us are under sin and fall short of God's glory. Paul, ethnically a Jew, wrote: 
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:9-12 ESV)
Although all equally under sin, all of us were counted worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus, worthy of his stripes (Isaiah 53:5). The sacrifice required for all of us was the same--the life of Jesus. Thus the cross says to every human: your life matters.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 ESV)
When we assign value to a group of people, we have ceased to sit under the mercy of the Judge of our souls, and have stolen into His seat. Sitting in the judgment seat is always damaging for others and for our own humanity:
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. And if you judge the law, you are not a practitioner of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2, ESV 
Lastly, we ought to always question the values assigned by our culture and ask if they line up with Kingdom values. Jesus said this about who is valuable:
So the last will be first, and the first last. Matthew 20:16 ESV
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Mathew 25:35-40 ESV
Jesus says here, "See me in the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned--and help."

I think we can conclude that there is nothing that is beautiful and good and glorious that is not true of us all--whatever culture we've been brought up in, whatever family, whatever country, whatever neighborhood.
As an exercise in application, let's revisit the five ideas I opened up this post with and apply anti-racist ideas (or do a little "weeding," to circle back to my gardening metaphor):

1. The idea of the missing Black father and the broken Black family. This is actually now considered a myth, although an extremely pervasive one. I'll link a couple or resources* below that speak to this, but let's apply antiracist ideas. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Black family that isn't wrong with families in general. We all deal in brokenness. Slavery didn't irredeemingly mar Black families or Black humanity in general. Black families never lost their human dignity despite their treatment. Black families survived and found a way to flourish, even under slavery, and even if their families looked a little different than the traditional nuclear family. In fact, the first thing freed slaves did was attempt to find children and family sold away from them (see this collection to see the ads put in newspapers). 

Those things being said, we can't talk about Black families without talking about the impact of the wealth gap and generational poverty. According to the New York Times, "for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04" (from this article). This gap is only increasing. We can't talk about the wealth gap without understanding the history of housing discrimination, redlining, and loan discrimination. We also have to look at the devastating effects of the War on Drugs, the over-policing of Black neighborhoods, harsh sentencing, and the resulting mass incarceration we now have.

(Note: I notice our current culture has a tendency to oversimplify social justice issues in two ways. One one hand, we might say that oppression is the source of all problems, and neglect personal responsibility and sin. On the flip side, we say that it's all about personal responsibility, and that people need to try harder and stop playing the victim, as if our context has no influence. I'm no expert and I'm still learning, but I would argue that the Bible calls for both righteousness and justice. We humans are complex and we should beware of oversimplifying problems or solutions, especially if this leads us to mute either compassion or the Gospel.)

2. The idea of the vacant-eyed, other-seeming Asians from my friend whose only interactions with Asians was probably limited to pictures flashed on a screen by a visiting missionary. I replied to my friend that day, "Well, they're just like us. They love their families, they have dreams for their future, they play and laugh, they want good things for their lives."

3. My idea of the "bad" part of town in Richmond. If I say a neighborhood is bad, I'm by implication saying that there is something deficient in the people living there. I would never admit that out loud, but so much of our racist ideas are implied and never said. But the impact is the same. The truth is that there are humans full of variety and complexity living in any neighborhood. Neighborhoods may have higher concentrations of poverty and unemployment, but that doesn't make the people deficient. These conditions speak to available opportunities and systemic injustices, not the character of a racial group as a whole (also see note on #1).

4. The line about "Indian savages" from the Declaration of Independence. Daniel Hill, in White Awake, writes of this line, "The founders accepted a distorted version of the dominion that God entrusted to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But this form of dominion was especially sinful. Not only did they anoint us with a power that was not ours, they also used it to name other human beings." Naming a whole group of people "merciless" and "savage," was both inaccurate and dehumanizing, but was an effective way to reign in power and control. At the same time, it robbed the dominant group of the ability to see the dehumanized group as equally human and to respond to their needs.

5. Donald Trump's comments on Mexicans. First I think it's helpful to distinguish between asylum seeker, migrant, and refugee, because these terms tend to get thrown together inaccurately. You can read definitions of those terms here. When Trump states that "they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems," he's placing value on human life. "We" are the best people and "they" are the problem people. An anti-racist view would say that people can be poor, oppressed, desperate. Some can be criminals who do bad things, but that is true of all racial groups. None of these factors affect human worth. How to handle immigration is certainly debatable, but human worth is not.

Racism causes us to make assumptions like the ones above. We make assumptions about who is dangerous, who is trustworthy, who is worthy of being a citizen, who is worthy of state support, who is moral, who should be policed, who is a problem, who we want to live next to and go to school with, who deserves compassion and care, whose life matters more. We might not ever give voice to these beliefs, but they are there none-the-less, and we act on them.

Racism warps the way we see and then treat both individuals and communities of people. It's one thing to make these assumptions personally; it's another more devastating thing when these assumptions infect our social systems (more on that institutional aspect of racism in Part 3 of this series).

I think the Gospel demands that we examine very carefully how we think about people, how we talk about people, and how we then treat people individually and as a society. This is not about political correctness (our Kingdom values will not always line up with what the culture finds "correct"); this is about theological correctness for those who love and follow Jesus. 

It takes some imagination to imagine a society of equals, but I think it is the beauty of this vision, even more than a conviction of wrongs or injustice or past sins (although important and necessary for reconciliation), that will propel us forward.


If anyone can imagine a society like this, it should be Christians. We have this vision of the heavenly Kingdom:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10, ESV
It's a heavenly community where the distinctions of tribes and languages are not erased, but where a diverse people stand before the Lamb, adoring and worshipping as equals, not because now they are equals, but because they always were, in all their diversity.

The Lamb always knew for whom he was slain.


I created this Psalm 8:3-6  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 or by clicking on the images below.**



TALKING POINTS for KIDS

  1. What do these verses say about the "created order" (our position in the world that God made--God, angels, mankind, all things God created)?
  2. How does God feel about humans in these verses?
  3. How does God treat humans in these verses?
  4. What is the job of humans in these verses?
  5. Racism says that one group of humans is higher or lower than the other based a set of physical characteristics (their race). We know that this goes against what God says about humans. God sees us as crowned with glory and majesty. 
  6. Racist ideas are all around us, and we have to work really hard to fight these ideas with the truth about humans (see my garden analogy above). We have to learn to recognize these ideas when we see them--in ourselves and around us. Do you see any of these ideas in the world around you? How might we fight against them when we see them?



*FOR FURTHER READING/LEARNING




PODCAST |  Pass the mic:  The Myth of Absent Black Fathers

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'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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