Overcoming racism

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So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:27-29

Though the ramifications of racism and the causes that contribute to it can be complicated and very complex, at its root, racism is quite simple, really. It is a dislike, fear and/or distrust of people who are unlike me, and a feeling of superiority that comes from being around those who are like me as well as a feeling of inferiority when I find myself on the outside.

We like our own kind. We are uncomfortable around that which is different.

When I was in training for the ministry, I had the privilege of traveling with a team of pastors and church leaders to speak at conferences and Christian colleges around the country, and I noticed a phenomenon that took over our little group especially when we were in public around people we didn’t know, like when boarding a plane or waiting in line for a table at a restaurant. I noticed we got loud. We cracked jokes among ourselves and were genuinely rowdy, bordering on obnoxious. I remember getting high off the feeling. First, I was around people I liked and admired. Second, I was treated as an equal and that gave me a feeling of power. Third, we were set apart from everyone else around us who were not in our group. They didn’t get it. They were not of us. They were different. They were boring and dull; we were animated and we gained confidence from each other. It could very easily turn into a feeling of superiority.

When I think back on this, I realize that it’s a good illustration of the attitudes around being a racist, where they come from and what they are made of. It’s that feeling of superiority and power that comes from your group and from the things that set you apart from someone else.

Since then many times I’ve been traveling by myself and come across a group behaving like we were and realized what it felt like to be on the other side of this. It was a feeling of being left out, of being inferior. I’m not in the group. I don’t get the jokes. I don’t understand all the inside nuances. These are all the feelings common to someone who is being discriminated against. And the louder they get, the more I feel out of it and maybe even afraid as if they might bully me or embarrass me in some way.

To be sure, I’m exaggerating certain things about this to make a point. The pastors I was with were not excluding others. They were all evangelists and would try to bring people around us in on our bantering and often ended up in long conversations with strangers who were no longer strange. A good way to get out of being a racist is to be inclusive of all those around you regardless of who they are.

The statement from Galatians above removes all differences — or at least those of religion, ethnicity, class and gender — and makes us all one in Christ. And because everyone we meet has the potential of being in Christ, whether they are now or not, that makes us one with everyone. And that’s the best way to think our way out of being racist.

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One Response to Overcoming racism

  1. Terri Main says:

    I think for Americans, westerners in general, because we are so strongly identified with competition, that it isn’t just US and THEM, but US vs THEM. It is hard for us to think without comparing in terms of value. A is different than B therefore one of them must be better than the other. We treat all our lives as a football game struggling to “win.” But much of life cannot be seen as a win-lose situation. It can only be seen as a collaboration. Yet, how few collaborative games do we teach kids. And if a teacher tries, s/he is derided as not teaching kids about “The real world” of competition. Competition may be a reality, but it is far from the only reality.

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