by Emani Pollard
Ethnicity is something in which every person places his identity. It is good and important and to be celebrated. The politics of ethnic identity are no more resolved than they were thirty years ago. Though we have slowly progressed, our destructive humanity still hangs on to racism and hate. It is not 1968, but police brutality still exists, a black man was brutally murdered in Mississippi, and media stereotypes in reporting do not help anyone.
Events in Ferguson, Missouri have revived the conversation about racial tensions that have long existed in America. If we look beyond debates over factual discrepancies, we will see that the larger context and issues at hand concern systematic discrimination of the past that has left persons of color at a disadvantage still today. (This is not to mention police constitutional violations found by US Justice system investigators.) A historical example of this is FHA housing loans during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The government subsidized mortgages to create the suburbs and foster economic prosperity, but only white people could get these loans. The practice of redlining came from this time and meant certain districts were not eligible for these government loans, which led to plummeting property values. Redlined districts came to be populated with poorer minorities. This form of government sponsored segregation helped create a system that historically worked to the disadvantage of black people and other persons of color.
We are born with a certain ethnic background and a certain skin color; these are things we cannot change. For this reason, among others, many people place their identities, their entire persons, in their ethnicities. This becomes especially true when there is a shared set of experiences or struggles, like those of the black community, or when you are labeled or people make assumptions about you because of the color of your skin.
We can hope for change and progress and unity, but it all seems like such a far way off. It is easy to be discouraged by the condition of the human heart–we have hurt each other so much throughout history. This is why people work to empower and unite communities–they believe in a different way. They believe they can transform the only system we’ve known. The deep longing for justice and harmony inside of us will not go unsatisfied. As a Christian I find hope and assurance of these things in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, before I identify as Black, or German, or a woman, I identify as a Christian. As a Christian I have hope because God does not show favoritism or bias. In Acts 10 Peter says, ”Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). He created and loves every one of us the same. Right before Jesus died, He prayed for Christians, “that they may all be one” just as Jesus is in perfect unity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 17:21). The Church in America and around the world is not the perfect picture of unity, but this is a promise in which I can hope. And even if it does not come true until I get to heaven, I will still wait and hope, for I will experience perfect harmony and solidarity one day.
Galatians 3:27-28 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is the perfect harmony and freedom we can hope for in Jesus. This is the unity that breaks down barriers we put up for each other and ourselves when we elevate physical characteristics over a person’s worth as a human being. In Christianity God intended radical inclusion that transcends race, class, gender, sex, and national origin.
The Bible talks about our ultimate identity being Christ. In this way we are set free from the way other people look at us. I can identify as a black woman and have hope that I will not always experience a world in which racism governs our interactions. While we work toward things like better representation and equal pay here in America, we can be confident in God’s promises. In Jesus, we find acceptance, love, and freedom. We are neither bound to labels, nor stereotypes. Taking up Christ as our identity allows us to look beyond the labels and see each other for who we are, human beings, equal, and loved by God.
All Bible references are taken from the English Standard Version.