For evangelicals to gain stronger credibility as those who love our neighbors as ourselves, we need to put colorblindness on a shelf. Yes, we all want our children to be judged by their character and not their color. But I don’t think MLK had colorblindness in mind when he said that. “I don’t see color,” leads to black people being invisible to white friends who say stuff like,
“I don’t see why you would vote for Obama just because he’s black. You’re a Christian first.”
“I don’t see why blacks don’t just respect police.”
“I don’t see how Trump is all bad, especially since his policies align with Christian values.”
“I don’t see why Confederate symbols bother you.”
“I don’t see why blacks complain so much!”
I have outlined important historical events in this series to put an end to this sort of racial oblivion. It’s not enough to know slavery and Jim Crow were bad. We need to understand the lingering impact of those racist structures and how our own minds are uniquely wired because of them.
I have wracked my brain trying to figure out the best way to explain this, so I have resorted to the use of emojis:
It’s impossible to look at this image and be colorblind. Depicted here are the 400 years since slaves first arrived in America, 1619-2019. Each emoji represents 10 years. For 350 years, racial terror and discrimination dominated American life. Slavery was all about money, and the federal government, the SCOTUS, leaders in the North and the South, slave owners, and parents all narrated black inferiority in order to justify this economic and social structure. It has only been 50 years since blacks have had full access to all that America offers.
On one hand, our country and the black community have come so far in 50 years! On the other hand, there is yet work to do. Christians like me draw attention to deeply rooted racial issues and sinfulness that other Christians don’t believe exist. But we have to face this unfortunate truth: Christians were in denial during slavery and Jim Crow too. This is what that denial looks like in emoji:
Did you know missionaries to slaves used versions of the Bible that eliminated verses about freedom, like portions of Exodus? Christians wanted blacks saved, but they did not want them free. They misapplied the truth to serve their own interests.
Later, blacks were required to receive communion after whites, and sit in the balcony of the church, both clear violations of scripture not to show favoritism.
Like everybody else, Christians were wired to accept the fact that blacks were at the bottom of the social strata and that they belonged there. At the very least, Christians tolerated harm done to black people even if they did no harm to them. They sinned like the religious people in the Good Samaritan story. About this, abolitionist William Jay wrote:
“Do to others as you would they should do unto you” is a law which if obeyed, would of itself banish slavery and oppression from the face of the earth. But unhappily, the Church, or at least a portion of her ministers, have not always applied the precepts of the gospel to existing and popular sins… It is no libel on the great body of our northern clergy to say that, in regard to the wrongs of the colored people, instead of performing the part of the good Samaritan, their highest merit consists in following the example of the priest and Levite, and passing by on the other side, without inflicting new injuries on their wounded brother.
Colorblindness may be a sincere expression of love for all people regardless of race, but it also may be a reason to turn away when black people are hurting. It’s a way to find comfort in saying, “I’m not racist,” while doing nothing to address the harm that racists do.
Bible-believing Christians – especially pastors – should lead in denouncing ongoing forms of racism. They should also be conversant enough about racial issues to comfort black congregants and friends who suffer under the weight of racial strife in America today. Yes, the issues are hard. But it was the unwillingness of Christians to address hard things that allowed racial terror to dominate America for 350 years.