Throughout my life, I’ve heard people make comments to me with good intentions about race that I feel is worth some discussion. It’s difficult to enter into these types of conversations because they usually end up being quite divisive. The presence of loaded words, misunderstood intentions, history, and personal experience lead many to simply retreat in fear or walk in anger. While I must admit that I don’t possess the silver bullet to racial reconciliation, I pray that you may see my intent to lift up the name of Jesus as I inevitably will offend others with my blindspots.
All that to say, here are the three comments that seem to be most frequently mentioned to me on the topic of race:
1. "I don't see color"
I’ve heard people say with good intentions:
“I don’t see color. I don’t see black and white. I’m not a racist.”
While these people more than likely have good intentions in saying this, I’m not so sure that it’s helping society in the long run with this mentality. I want people to see that I’m a black man. I want to people to know that black is beautiful, white is beautiful, and all colors scattered throughout the world are beautifully created beings created in the image of God.
The good of color-blindness lies in its intention to not make assumptions about someone based on their outer appearance. This is a well-intended attempt to derail racism by disregarding the cover in order to look at the content of the book.
The problem with this mentality is that God intentionally and creatively illustrated the cover as well as the inside content. Moreover, it’s actually impossible to separate the two concepts. Our skin color (or appearance) is not all of who we are, but it absolutely plays a part of who we are. It tells a story. Not just of who we are but where we’ve come from. The cover in of itself is a story of the many that have gone before. Whether we have changed the narrative or built upon the legacy of others, the truth still stands that who we are stems from stories that we stand upon today.
Rather than pursuing color-blindness, it may be more impactful to see an array and combination of colors the Lord’s used to paint this world with
2. “Ethnicity should no longer be your identity.”
I’ve also heard some Christians say to me: “Once you become a child of God, that is the only identity that matters. Your identity from your ethnicity no longer matters.”
The people that have said this to me are some of the most faithful believers I’ve ever met in my life as well as some good friends of mine. They had good intentions in what they said, and their heart is to make sure that everything they say is grounded in God’s word. We just agree to disagree on this concept.
Bryan Loritts, the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, says:
“I am a black man, but my blackness must never trump my Jesus-ness…I have to remind my brothers and sisters of that our blackness must never trump our Jesus-ness. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. White folks are not our enemy.”1
Loritts also says:
“My blackness is not to be dismissed, but submitted and subjugated to the redeeming power of the cross, and in humble participation to this new chosen race and royal priesthood called the church of Jesus Christ.”2
Loritts articulates this idea that someone’s ethnicity should never supersede their identity as a child of God, but he also submits that someone’s ethnicity is still a part of that person’s identity. Ethnicity is simply not the primary identity of a believer, but that identity is still a part of how God has designed each and every human being.
My hope is that people don’t dismiss my blackness, but I also am praying that people don’t hold to sweeping generalizations or statistics about my ethnicity in order to make presuppositions about who I am.
At the end of the day, I want to be remembered as a child of God, but I also know that when my time is up here on this earth I will be rejoicing with peoples from every nation and tongue (Rev. 7:9) about how the Lord has been faithful to all His children. I will see children of God everywhere, but I will see many people that look and sound completely different than me. My ethnicity as well as everyone else’s won’t be dismissed when Jesus comes again, and there is much beauty, and life, and
3. “You’re one of us.”
Some of my best white friends have jokingly said:
“You don’t act like them. You’re really white on the inside.”
I’ve heard the terms ‘oreo’ and ‘whitewashed’ from all sides. It’s probably one of the more offensive comments you can make to me, despite my ability to laugh off the offense in the moment.
What ‘them’ are they referring to, and how did I get disqualified from being one of ‘them?’ How did I “make it” into their club instead? Is there a particular qualification process in order to get your black or white card, and do you have to reapply periodically?
Every time I hear someone use these terms I don’t really know how to respond or what to do. The situation gets much more complex when I realize that they either are giving me a compliment or establishing that I’m not good enough. Being who you are can be inviting to some groups and repulsive to others, and it is in those moments that I have to remind myself what business I’m in.
If I were in the business of people-pleasing, then my life gets complicated. I have found that in my pursuit to be well-educated and articulate that in the same breath I’m a sell-out with no “street-cred.” In my pursuit to marry the girl of my dreams, who is a white woman, I’m a black man that’s not keeping it ‘in the family.’ My gravitation toward “black” entertainment keeps me grounded in my “blackness” but arouses occasional judgment and alienation from the dominant culture. My nappy hair, cocoa butter thirsting knees and ankles, and love of watermelon serves me well as being the token black guy that’s different and “unique” in dominant cultures while realizing at the same time that I’ll never be fully “accepted” in either the dominant and minority culture.
Needless to say, pursuing the acceptance of man proves to be fleeting and utterly exhausting. That business doesn’t work for anyone, and I’ve seen people in my similar situation attempt to please both God and man. Here’s what Paul has to say about that:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
In God’ business, I seek His approval. His approval is not based on my affinities or taste in food or use of cocoa butter. His approval is about holiness. His approval is found not in of myself, but in the work of His Son on a cross and empty tomb.
In God’s business, I’m free to delight myself in Him and Him alone, and He will give me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). I can rejoice in who He’s designed me to be and boast in the cross that saved me from myself, all in the same breath. I am proud to be a black man that the Lord has saved and is molding to look more like His Son. I don’t have to worry about being one of “them” or one of the other. I can rejoice that I am a child of God created with a purpose and set on a mission field that reflects my family, my family history, my neighborhood, my passions, my interests, and my goals that I can value and appreciate regardless of which culture those qualities are associated with.
Let us be a people that draw a line in the sand about who’s business we are working in as we pursue racial reconciliation with grace, patience, sincerity, and truth in what we say and how we treat all peoples from various cultures. I know I’m just as guilty of making offensive comments with good (and sometimes bad) intentions, and we must all admit that there’s much work to be done on our own selves in order have honest, constructive conversations about this issue at the table.