I don’t want to talk about this. I hate that I have to talk about this. I really don’t want to be that guy, but we live in a country and a world where I have to be that guy. Sadly, we still live in a country where we have to talk about racism. I know many of us just wish it would go away and some of us believe avoiding or ignoring the conversation will make it go away. But what sickness goes away by ignoring it? Ignoring sickness leads us into a deeper sickness. So we must again confront the reality that another unarmed black person has been shot and killed by a police officer. And possibly another. I have no interest in talking about bad eggs or how not all police officers are bad, because when we start at the moment of tragedy we are already too late.
A day or so before Terence Crutcher was killed by police in Tulsa, OK I was reading an article on a study that recreated the famous doll test of the 1940’s. For those who don’t know what the test was, it was a test that asked children a series of questions about different dolls placed in front of them. One doll was a white doll, and the other was a doll painted brown, since there were no brown dolls at that time. The children were asked questions like which doll is pretty, which doll is good, which is bad, and so on. In the original test the children showed a heavy bias favoring the white doll. The results of a recent doll test were sadly very similar to the one done almost 70 years ago. There was still a strong “white bias” across the board but this time a number of the black kids had a stronger positive bias towards those who looked like them. When asked about the results Dr. Welansa Asrat, a New York-based specialist in cross-cultural psychiatry said “The black kids’ self-perception has improved since the 1940s, while the white kids’ remained invested in the stereotypes.” Dr. Asrat also points to findings from Implicit Association Tests (IAT) as further evidence of unconscious racial bias, stating that “According to a recent study, 70 percent of whites have an anti-black bias, as do 50 percent of blacks.”
So why am I brining this up? We know kids say crazy things all the time, surely this is something people grow out of. However when older kids were tested they produced the same results. Meaning we do not grow out of our subconscious racism, as the IAT reveals. The tiny seeds that are placed in our lives as children grow and develop into poisonous fruit as we get older.
The seeing of the black doll as the “bad one” develops into seeing an unarmed black man on the road as “looking like a bad dude”, the phrase used by police for Terence Crutcher before he was shot and killed. The seeing of the black doll as “the mean one” develops into seeing Michael Brown as a “demon” by the officer who killed him. The seeing of the black doll as “the ugly one” leads to the shaming of the black body, which we have especially seen when it comes to shaming of the black female body.
As a Family and Youth Pastor I encourage our parents of every race to have serious conversations about the value of black and brown bodies. As a pastor I encourage all of us to talk openly and honestly about our feelings and thoughts towards those of a different race. As the studies have shown us, we all seem to be struggling with race so lets talk about it. Ignoring it is not an option. Our children will naturally be infected with the disease of racism and carry on this disease to future generations if we do not combat it with dialogue and education. If we don’t confront it at an early age, we will continue to see generations grow up with racist consciences.
A popular passage of scripture that gets thrown around in many of these conversations is Galatians 3:28 where it says “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And we have held this up as proof that race doesn’t matter and that we should just move on and forget about it. This text has often been read as the obliteration of race, the obliteration of difference, yet so many of our churches call for diversity. What this text is actually calling for an end to is hierarchy. Jew is not above gentile, master is not above slave and man is not above woman. We find equality in the body of Christ, but equality is not contrary to diversity. In fact, equality embraces diversity, recognizing the need for difference in order to find shalom.
A danger of reading this text as obliterating race lies in the answer to who do we picture when we picture Jesus? Is it a Jewish man from Palestine? Or is it a white guy with long hair and beautiful blue eyes? Because as much as we would like to pretend we have not been impacted by the racist history of our country the truth of the matter is that we have been profoundly shaped by it. In a country where we see white as good and black as bad. Where we see white as positive and black as negative, it is no wonder God became a white man and black skin became demonic.