“I don’t see color.” I am sure you have heard that statement before. Maybe you used it yourself in an attempt to communicate just how much you have evolved beyond the racial “dark ages” thinking of the civil rights era. You intend that declaration of advanced thinking to be taken as a positive statement. You are attempting to lay it all on the line and shout to the mountaintops that you don’t determine a person’s worth and abilities by the color of their skin but by their character. You don’t see various tribes of people. You see individuals, not as racial groups, with societal influenced stereotypes. Your heart is colorblind. What a great place to be. Oh, I wish others could join you there. The world would be a much better place.
A more peaceful place.
Unfortunately, your view of the world is not shared by all. The statement, while well intentioned, is often not supported by those around you. So when you make this declaration of your idealistic view of the world, you risk running face first into the walls of reality. Where you stand on the race issue, is not shared by the very people you are attempting to not pre-judge. People of color are confused, even suspicious of people who don’t see color.
You see, as a person of color, we bring a long history to the party of people who could only see color. So now this change of attitude is met with skepticism and at times contempt. Because we are taken back by your statement, we push back and challenge your assumption. Others will go so far as to then call you a racist for making that statement. Even if people of color say nothing about your new-found sense of enlightenment, you have just raised our level of suspension about you. What happened? How could something intended to be good go so wrong?
One key learning in this blog will be the power of relationships. Having a relationship will cover a multitude of sins.
Know the context of the conflict
First, let’s tackle why your opening statement has gone awry. I am a big movie buff. One of the movies I watch every time it comes on no matter where I catch it is, “Remember The Titans.” The movie is set in 1971. It is about two football coaches, Bill Yoast, and Herman Boone. After leading his team to 15 winning seasons, football coach Bill Yoast, who is white is demoted and replaced by Herman Boone, who is black; tough, opinionated, and very different from the beloved Yoast. How these two men overcome their differences and turn a group of hostile young men into champions plays out in this movie.
The scene that comes to mind as we talk about the opening statement occurs after a big win and growing acceptance of the TC Williams integrated football team. The new starting quarterback, nicknamed Sunshine takes two of the black football players to a segregated restaurant. He believes in his heart that now since the team is gaining acceptance that all the racial problems are over. They walk in the restaurant which is only half full and ask for a table. The owner walks over and says, “Sorry boys we are full tonight.” Sunshine responds,” But there is a table right over there.” The owner says, “I have the right to refuse service, and that means you too hippy boy. You can take these boys around back to the kitchen and get something to eat.” It was a lesson learned, just because Sunshine didn’t see color doesn’t mean other people don’t see color.
While we have made progress in race relations there is still a deep and often dark history that clouds our progress. If you don’t acknowledge the past conflict and issues, you can come off insensitive and naive. The lesson from the scene in the movie that pretended color was not an issued created a possible dangerous outcome. The reality is that we do have a diversity of cultures. In not seeing color we risk also not seeing the rich diversity each culture brings. However, these different cultures and traditions often clash. To put this in a biblical context look at this through the eyes of the Church in Ephesus. The conflict in the church in Ephesians goes back long before this church we founded. It began in the Old Testament when God choose a little insignificant tribe, the Jews, to be the group through whom the savior of the world, Jesus Christ, would bring salvation to the world. The way the Jewish people handled that responsibility put them into direct conflict with every tribe that was non-Jewish. They valued themselves (position) more highly than their mission(calling). The Jews should have seen themselves as ones called to lead others to the Most High God. Instead, they formed this exclusive circumcision-only members club. The thousand-year-old tension reached a boiling point in the church in Ephesus.
In Chapter 2 of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul shows the Gentiles’ hopeless condition before salvation by contrasting them with the Jews. God’s plan of salvation in the Old Testament came through the Jewish nation. That still didn’t mean that all Jews were truly redeemed. It only meant that the message of redemption came through the Jewish nation.
Circumcision was a source of pride for the Jews. It was a visible sign of their historic relationship with God. Therefore, it was a term of derision—a religious slur, if you will—for the Jews to call the Gentiles uncircumcised. The Jewish nation had forfeited their special position with God, because, while they were physically circumcised, their heart attitude was not one of submission to God.
Breaking Down the Barriers
Paul describes in the following verses what God did to heal the wounds of this racial divide.
“But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near.” Ephesians 2:13-17
When Christ died on the cross, He broke down every barrier that stood between Jews and Gentiles.
In the Jewish temple, there was a wall that separated the “Court of the Gentiles” from the rest of the structure; and on this wall was a sign giving warning that any Gentile who passed beyond it would be killed. Jesus Christ tore down that wall! He tore down the physical wall, for in Christ all are made one.
28 It makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a freeman, a man or a woman, because in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, you are all one. 29 Since you belong to Him and are now subject to His power, you are the descendant of Abraham and the heir of God’s glory according to the promise. Gal. 3:28–29
Christ also tears down the racial walls. Christ not only made peace between sinners and God, but He also made peace between Jews and Gentiles, black and white. He took sinful tribes, races, nationalities, even political party affiliations and through His death on the cross and his shed blood, he made for himself a new man, a new nation, a new tribe—the church. This is the beginning point of our new life, a life without color.