An important perspective on race

With apologies to @jrm, I’m copying-and-pasting a comment that he made on Facebook that I thought was worth sharing. It begins with a couple of questions:

  1. How do you self-identify with respect to your own racial identity (knowing where you come from etc)? Really interested to hear you on this if you are happy to talk about it.
  2. A key issue for me with white supremacy is that its narrative, its intellectual history, its supporters and advocates are almost entirely found in the Christian tradition, stemming right back into medieval times. It is Christian theology that gave birth to so much of the problem we are witnessing…

Thanks for the excellent questions.

To answer your second question first: My critique must extend to the church, both historically and in the present. You are right about the racism and white supremacy in the Christian tradition; sometimes it is explicit but often it is implicit and systemic.

Your second question is more difficult to answer–not because I don’t have an answer, but because my answer may be misunderstood. My skin is, of course, “white” (I am Caucasian). But I do not identify as culturally/racially “white” (given what “white” means–and especially given what “white” feels like to me, during the just over two decades during which I have lived in the US).

I view race as a cultural construct. It is not biological–there is no significant genetic difference between people classified as different “races.” In fact, if you were to look at all the different facial features and the spectrum of colors on people over the globe, it would be very difficult to classify people into the specific racial groups that we often use.

So if I don’t view myself as (culturally) “white” (without denying the color of my skin or the systemic privilege that skin color brings in a country like the USA), what is my sense of identity?

I could say that I am a human being and I am a Christian. But ethnically/culturally, I am a Jamaican. As they say in Jamaica, “You can take the bwoy out of Jamaica, but you can’t take Jamaica out of the bwoy.”

I grew up as a minority in a predominantly black culture. Yes, I had a few white friends, but most of my friends (especially people I knew through church) were black or racially mixed (they might all have been called black in the US, but Jamaicans don’t typically us the word “black” to describe anyone who “deviates” from some supposedly white standard). So, while I understand how “race” works in the US, I had to learn this at a later stage of my life.

And as you know, I immigrated to Canada before I immigrated to the US. So, just to complicate things a bit more (and affirm my own hybridity), I sometimes say that I am “Jamericadian.”

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Interesting questions. Born in a phenotypically homogenous but genetically less homogenous society, I may have a bit different approach to the questions. My hypothesis is that a differing phenotype provokes reactions in persons that are not used to such phenotype or that have associated a particular phenotype with phenotype-level prejudices. The phenotype may be skin color but it may also be differing clothing, signs of social class, etc.

I would not say that this kind of behavior is tied to Christian tradition or Christian theology. Maybe it is more common in societies where slaves used to have a differing color but it is not restricted to such societies. Similar type of behavior may be seen globally, for example in China or remote villages of India. There it is not ‘white supremacy’ but anyhow connected to differing phenotype and skin color.

A small anecdote: I was perhaps three years old when I saw first time in my life a family with dark skin color. Parents with a small child, possibly working in the US embassy. My parents told later what happened. I looked carefully at the child when we passed in a park. My parents were afraid of what I would say in that situation. Then I shouted to my parents: ‘did you see those beautiful eyes?’
The parents of the child had smiled, probably happy that someone had noted how beautiful child they had.
The smallest children are free of phenotype-level prejudices, unless they have adopted them from their parents. Yet, even they react to differing phenotypes.

Edit: if you insist that your group is better than the others, you want to have some backup to your claim. Preferably something connected to generally valued features in the society. For example, religion, tradition, family history, IQ. The claims get support especially among those who think that treating the ‘others’ as equals would threaten their position or income.

These claims are then repeated in a pubble of people thinking in a similar way. Children adopt the values they get from their parents and surroundings. ‘Others’ are viewed as something of less value or even as sub-humans. Within such a pubble, thinking may develop to something extreme and violent. That is one reason why I think that the pubbles created by social media platforms are a negative, potentially even dangerous development.

Well Christianity flourished in the middle east were people are mostly brown like. As for the christian theology i dont understand it. Jesus most likely was brown to black and many of the apostoles for sure.

And the Ethiopian church is older by far than the western European one. :slight_smile:

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Yeap. I love my coptic brothers who are persecuted every day. Honestly the counsil who condemned them was a joke. It was sad that power and greed for control over the church got the best out of this council. When i heard about the martyrs who got killed two years ago by Isis i got very emotional but very courageous as well as seeing people facing evil in the name of Christ makes my faith stronger .

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By the way, what is the “white” (European/Caucasian) inheritance or ‘race’?

I am not an expert of prehistory or history but have listened to some lecturers. If there are errors in my interpretation, please correct.

According to genetical analyses, the early European hunter-gatherers had probably dark skin and blue eyes. The paler skin probably originated from several invasions from the east.

One came along the northern coasts to Fennoscandia and mixed with or replaced the hunter-gatherers in Fennoscandia. In genetical analyses, the early hunter-gatherers are clearly separated from the current population of Fennoscandia.

A set of influential invasions happened when large amounts of people, mostly men, swept from east to Europe on horseback. They apparently pushed the original hunter-gatherers to west, except those women they managed to mix with. Step by step, the ‘western’ men were replaced by the ‘eastern’ men or a mixture produced by ‘western’ woman X ‘eastern’ men.

So, what is ‘European’? Is it the original hunter-gatherers with dark skin? Is it the later inheritance that invaded to Europe from the eastern steppe region and along the Arctic ocean? Or is it a genetic mixture which happened to produce offspring with pale skin and sometimes pale hair and eyes?

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We have found this article on the Biologos site helpful in the past. There are several good points you make here. Thanks.

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I think its a mixed thing. Im a Greek and although people here are mostly white to brown im white as milk lol and although people here have brown or green eyes i have blue. My hair is a mix as well between brown and blond. So i think its really a mixed races thing

Yes, we address this in

As for me, I am ethnically full-Korean, and was adopted into a white American family. I identify as Korean-American.

I do NOT identify as “culturally white,” although people could say that about me. I think the privilege that comes with being white allows for more ambiguity, as in @JRM’s case. His situation is very unique and really cool to hear about!

For me, and my Black and brown friends in America, no matter how “white” we may “act/sound/talk,” our faces will always “betray” us as “potentially not American.” It is disheartening to hear people tell me, “Oh, I always forget that you’re Asian.” What does that mean? Why don’t they see me?

There is danger in POC identifying as “culturally white,” or “act” white, because it 1. perpetuates the idea that “acting” our own race isn’t good enough, and that 2. being white is the “standard” or expectation for every American.

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For me I guess I don’t believe in race being a cultural construct but one based off of skin tones and racial features and from what I’ve read , and from the post I made about it in here a while back, it does seem to be linked back genetics. You could get 1,000 random people and change their skin color and hair color and I think most would still be able to tell their ancestry. Like if you made Shaq white with blue eyes and blond hair I would still notice they were actually black.

I don’t believe in white culture, black culture and so on. The various African Americans I’ve met in life have ranged from those who like hunting and country music to those who like horror films, Tripp pants from hot topic and listening to metal to those who like hip hop and everything in between. Same for whites and Asians. When I’m hanging out with ethnic Russians and ethnic Germans and ethic Brits I can tell cultural differences normally. Same as my friends who are from the Philippines or from Hong Kong.

But when someone says I’m white, or I’m black, or I’m asian I’m never baffled or confused.

The historiographical debates on race and racism are complex for me, and I am still trying to study the subject, so forgive me if I make any simplification. (For the purposes of this post, I am not concerned if the construct of race is modern or not.)

My take is that nationalism is a late modern ideology that gives the most legitimating power to racism because 19th and 20th century nationalists, who desired to unite their nation and create a state that represents their nation, must first decide how to define national identity. After all, as the historian Benedict Anderson says, “no nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind.”(1) The prevalent way to define the nation ended up being ethnicity or race, hence the terms “ethnic nationalism” and “racial nationalism”.

However, I do see some early modern Christian precedents for using ethnicity or race when building a state in the Iberian Peninsula. I do not think it was a real Spanish nation-state that promoted Spanish national identity (that comes later), but the new and enlarged Christian state that defeated the last Muslim stronghold in 1492 worried about the true convictions and loyalties of Jews and Muslims who converted to Christianity and started to discriminate against them on the basis of “purity of blood”.(2)

I think the Reconquista, which was treated as another crusade, took place in the wider context of medieval crusades which helped to create a sense of European identity. Many early medieval Christians in Europe thought of themselves as members of Christendom rather than Europe (multi-ethnic states were still normative at the time), but the rise of Islam, the end of the Byzantine Empire, and the multiple crusades created a divide between Asia and Europe. I also think that from the end of the medieval times to the start of the late modern era, some states started to centralize, consolidate, and develop their national identity, often based on ethnicity or race. (I think of this process as proto-nationalism.)

Ideally, Christianity and Islam are universalist religions, and there are times of harmony between peoples of vastly different backgrounds. However, there are always prejudices, regardless of how people define race and racism and whether they are modern or not. I believe that nationalism in its extreme forms gives power to racial prejudices, and I cannot excuse Christians who confuse Christian identity with national identity.

(1) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), 7.
(2) Francisco Bethencourt, Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 148.

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This is why “race” is primarily a cultural construct. A young child may notice variations in the color of a person’s skin, hair, eyes, etc., but no value judgments are attached. (Great story, by the way.) “Culture” is shared knowledge/beliefs passed from generation to generation. Attitudes and beliefs about various “races” is absorbed via culture.

Good observation. I had to deal with this quite a bit as an English teacher with predominantly black/brown students. On the one hand, it was my job to teach them “standard English,” and on the other, kids who “acted white” were viewed as wannabes and traitors.

What helped me out of the dilemma was a day-long seminar on “code-switching.” All of us know and use different “dialects” for different occasions. I speak differently at my job than I do with my friends. I characterized learning “standard English” as simply learning another language. Being able to speak Spanish doesn’t make me a traitor to English-speaking people or a wannabe Spaniard. It’s just a tool in the toolbox.

Great point!

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That’s a really excellent article by Deb on “One Human Family.”

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My kids have enjoyed Dr Seuss’ “The Sneetches.” Children seem to understand the temptation to exclude others in order to find a sense of belonging, don’t they?

https://www.amazon.com/Sneetches-Other-Stories-Dr-Seuss/dp/0394800893#immersive-view_1591094037276

It is sad that the long history of injustice has made the word ‘race’ and the question of skin color so loaded and sensitive. Even more sad that the injustice has not stopped; ‘ethnic profiling’ is something authorities practice in many countries even without realizing that their behavior is not ok.

One Norwegian scientist flew to USA some decades ago. As always, foreigners had to fulfill a form in the plane. One of the questions was skin color. The fellow looked at his skin and pondered which color would best describe his skin. Trying to be honest (that’s what he claims), he wrote ‘pink’.
In the customs, he was picked from the line. It took hours of waiting and interrogations before he could continue his journey. It didn’t help that his phenotype was a bit like Che Guevara, except skin color.

Skin color seems to be a serious issue in the USA, no room for alternative interpretations.

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I would compare the classifications based on skin color to the caste systems that have been common throughout the globe. Also in Europe, from UK to Russia: aristrocracy/upper class vs. merchants/craftsmen vs. lower class workers. Or something like it.

I’m a bit sceptic whether we get rid of the ‘ethnic profiling’, unless we get rid of the other caste systems. Anyhow, keeping the issue on the table in the training of officers etc. will probably help to mitigate negative consequences.

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Just one aspect of our being exceptonal which is not to be envied.

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First thing that I would like to clarify is that ethnocentrism is not new and sis not originate with Chria6tianity. Indeed Christianity arose out of a very important conflict between two crucial ethnic groups, the Jews and the Pagans (Gentiles) or the Greeks and the Barbarians. One group represents the spiritual heritage of the West and the other the cultural heritage of the West, but we know that in the time of Jesus Jews and Greeks did not mix. We even see this in the reports of discrimination by traditional Jewish Christians against Greek-Jewish Christians in Acts 6:1-6.

The Jews followed a legalistic religion, while the Greeks were oriented toward philosophy. Christianity is based on theology, faith and thought and has been embraced by most of the former pagans. Most of the Jews remained Jewish, but their understanding of their faith has been influenced by the teaching of Jesus. On the other hand, we still have Anti-Semitism and people who follow philosophy over Christianity.

There is nothing wrong with being European, African, Asian, Native American or a part of any other ethnic group, but if you think that being a part of of that group makes you superior to others then there is something wrong.

Sadly some people are under the misunderstanding that to be an American means to be a European American, which is false. All American citizens are Americans. There are no second class American citizens. America is not based on “nationality as European Countries are, but on All men are created equal.”

Race is not based on genetics. All humans are of the same species. “Race” if anything is identity. If I chose to identify myself as an European American, that is not a problem, but if I chose to identify myself as an European American over and above being a Child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ, than I am a racist.

I think that, to understand the notion of race in any society, we have to turn to the language used by people to speak about those qualities that identify race for them. It seems the most dominant expression in US culture is the expression, “people of color”. In other words, there are white people and there are all others. This is a little different from that perspective that recognizes different races to be made up of Caucasians Asians, Africans, Indians, etc.

Scientifically we have to ask, “What is skin color?” And the answer is that it is the presence of melanin in the skin. This melanin protects the skin against the damage caused by solar radiation; in other words, sunlight.Presumably, therefore, people with white skin have no first line of defense against sunburn and skin cancer. Consequently, in evolutionary terms, white skin is a maladaptation. Sometimes people have argued that people from colder climes like England would need to have white skin to absorb a specific form of vitamin D. However, people with white skin in England burn badly in the northern hemisphere summer.

Perhaps, then, notions of “white supremacy” are a compensatory move against a sense of inferiority. Who knows? But the next scientific question concerns the origin of this maladaptive skin. Where did white skin come from? Apparently Neanderthals had red hair which frequently goes together with white skin and most Western Europeans have between 2-4% Neanderthal DNA. Are Neanderthals the source of white skin? This would be a turn around because Europeans liked to portray Neanderthals as brown-skinned people with facial features close to those of the indigenous peoples they dispossessed or kidnapped into slavery.

@gregoreite, I regret to say that your statement is not based on facts. For instance “White” people are really not white. Only albinos are truly white because they have no melanin in their skin. All races and all mammals have genes for albinism.

Light colored skin appears to be an genetic adaption to northern climes with weaker sun light.

As I pointed out ethnocentrism has been a round for some time. Racism is just the latest form of it. It is wrong regardless of the form it takes.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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