I only learned about this a few weeks ago. For most people, you’re probably like, “I don’t even know what a missionary is, so what if the first one was black?” But when you’re a missionary kid like me who grew up in church hearing stories of missionaries all the time, the fact that this was unknown to you throughout your childhood is kind of a big deal.
I grew up hearing stories about Hudson Taylor and the Judsons (I distinctly remember two-tone flashcard pictures to go along with these Sunday school lessons) who were missionaries to Asia. My parents were always good about colouring the flannel-graph Jesus in a little bit darker to be more realistic for the Bible stories, but we didn’t do that with the missionary stories because, duh, they were all from England or America (or Sweden) and all very white. Continue reading “The first American missionary was black”→
In Justice Isn’t Blind (Part 1) I argue that I don’t like an emphasis on non-racialism, because I don’t think it promotes equality. The reason I gave is because our past history of injustice based on race means that certain racial groups today are still economically advantaged and disadvantaged. A blind application of formal equality (as opposed to “substantive equality” which our constitution subscribes to) means that racial injustice can continue unchecked. (What do those words mean?! I hear you ask. Here).
But there’s another reason. And maybe it’s more controversial. I don’t like this idea of non-racialism because I think by being “blind” to race, it erases and discounts a significant perspective that we need in order to achieve a flourishing, diverse society.
South Africa’s motto is “Unity in Diversity”. I can understand that non-racial advocates want unity. They are afraid that if we keep talking about race, we’ll split off into competitive groups and have a genocide (“Rwanda! Rwanda!” The people cry. And I respond with “American white-melting-pot of oatmeal”!!)
I don’t think this is an either/or situation. I don’t think we can either have diversity or we can have unity. If we can figure out a way to celebrate the strengths that difference give us, then we don’t have to be threatened by it.(Enter Miroslav Volf and this idea that as Christians we can have one foot in a specific identity, such as race, and another foot in a larger identity, such as Human, or Christian, and this keeps us from being caught up in narrow-minded identity politics, and, you know, makes us like Jesus. Also, it is my dream to one day be a Volf disciple and follow him around and write down every word he utters.)
Some people say that since race is constructed around an artificial difference (not a “true” difference) it’s evil because it was constructed in order to advantage some people and disadvantage others. So we need to completely abolish it. I agree that there’s nothing innate in our biology that makes us different species. We’re not. In that way, you could say race is not “real”. But, because society has been constructed around racial categories in the past (and it doesn’t look like we’re really going to just suddenly “stop seeing race” any time soon), this means that race creates different experiences for different people. It has real repercussions in society.
As a white person, when I come to the table, I see the world a certain way. My way of seeing has been shaped by the way people treat me, by the way I perceive others reacting to me, by images I consume, by politics by… you get it. By and large, society has privileged people who look like me, which means my way of seeing is shaped by that privilege.
And as a black person, when you come to the table, you see the world a certain way. Your view of the world has been shaped by the way society treated you—your parents, your teachers, the media. And by and large, society has not privileged you, in fact, by and large white privilege was created by removing your privileges. And so you have a different (perhaps clearer) way of seeing.
And as a white person, I need to hear your view. I need you to show me what I’m not seeing. And maybe there’s something my perspective can offer, too.
Of course, these race histories and perspectives are not the only things that shape our experience and world-view. I’m also a woman. I speak English. I’m 24. I live in a nice house. I went to good schools…. All those impact how society treats me, and how I view the world. All of those aspects of identity are important, and I think we need diversity across all of those social categories (gender, class, etc).
But I don’t think you can leave out race. Do we want universities and governments and businesses and churches where we are diverse in terms of class, but we miss out on the views that different races bring?* I sure don’t.
Research has shown that diverse teams out-perform uniform teams. Diversity is strength. Yes, we need a strong foundation of unity—we have to see that we’re all on the same team in order to really work together—but that doesn’t mean we have to negate diversity in order to achieve unity. That’s a completely unfounded fear. Just read anything by Christena Cleveland.
The reason why I like thinking about these kinds of things not just in airy-fairy ivory towers, but on my blog in normal words can be summed up by quotes from two very different people:
“Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however is to change it.” Karl Marx.
“Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” Miroslav Volf.
Ok, the end. I’ll go back to writing my thesis now. 🙂
(*Also, let it be said, that even if university admissions adopted class-based ONLY (aka “color-blind”) admission procedures in South Africa, because class and race are so closely intertwined here, and because many of these institutions are previously white, you could easily end up with a situation where the 30% of “rich” kids allowed to attend ended up being all white, and the 70% of “other” kids all black, and then you’re just reinforcing stereotypes about rich whites and poor blacks rather than fostering new ways of thinking and inclusive relationships).