During the “March on Washington” in August of 1963, five years before he was silenced by an assassin’s bullet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famed freedom fighter and civil rights activist, stood before a capacity crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared that he had a dream.
In his seasoned Baptist cadence, Dr. King, who’s hallmark speech is considered one of the greatest ever delivered, called for racial equality in a deeply divided nation. He dreamt that people of color, whose necks had been trampled upon by legalized forms of segregation in the South and de facto racism in the north, would be able to experience the same liberty in this country that their white counterparts had long enjoyed.
Appealing to the moral majority within “the land of the free and home of the brave,” he pushed for legislation that would end segregation and grant people of color full, uninhibited citizenship, with the hope that his four daughters would no longer be judged on the color of their skin, but instead by the content of their character.
While his efforts to dismantle race-based discrimination eventually resulted in the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964, ending segregation in public places and banning discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin, it did little to mend the sore spot in the American psyche. Even today, 53 years later, it remains difficult to talk about issues of race without elements of stress, anger, or controversy.
Color Neutrality Conundrum
Many ideas have been proposed to address this delicate issue and the most persuasive approach is to advocate for colorblindness. Colorblindness is a racial ideology that posits that the most efficient means of ending racism and discrimination is to treat people as equally as possible without regard to race, color, ethnicity, or culture.
It’s an ideology that scholars call race neutrality. Enthusiast asserts that if our ethnic and cultural differences are ignored it will lead to evenhandedness and result in rectifying injustices. Furthermore, some suggest that it takes Dr. King’s call to judge others on the content of their character, as opposed to the color of their skin, seriously because it focuses on our commonalities as opposed to our differences.
While many well-meaning, sincere Christians advocate for color blindness, we must critically assess whether such an ideology is congruent with the scriptures and seek to uncover the underlying dangers of adopting such a position. We must ask, “Is this a biblical approach?” In short, Yes and No.
Is God Colorblind? Sort of
In one real sense, God is color neutral. All men and women are created in the Image of God and possess the intrinsic dignity, value, and integrity as God’s image-bearers (Gen. 1:26; 9:6), and while that image has been marred by the Fall which has affected every human institution, faculty, and behavior (Col. 1:21) we all share the distinction as the apex of God’s creation. Additionally, besides our common humanity, we stand guilty because all of us have committed egregious sins against a holy God that warrant eternal damnation regardless of our ethnic differences (Rom. 3:23).
In another sense, God is color neutral because he does not hold men to varying ethical standard based on the pigment of our skin (Is. 53:5). Ultimately, Christ, in his mercy, placed the sin of the past, present, and future upon his shoulders on Calvary’s hill to preeminently display the impartial love of God (Rom. 5:8). In Christ, we are a supernaturally renewed race of people who are conformed to the image of God in Christ on a daily basis until we spend eternity with Him (Rom. 8:29). So, while in one sense God is color neutral, there remain reasons why such an ideology is damaging.
The classification of race is a phenomenon that has only developed in the last 400-500 years; a more biblical approach is ethnicity. Instead of identifying people groups exclusively upon the color of their skin, the scriptures categorize people groups based on a shared heritage, culture and social & national experiences. Therefore the scriptures tell the story of one human race that descended from Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12, Gen. 3:20), and soon after the flood, Noah and his sons and daughters-in-law repopulate the earth.
The Table of Nations (Gen. 10) displays the development of nations, tribes kindred’s, and tongues. Not until we reach the climax of history in the book of Revelation do we see why this is important. As God pulls back the curtain of eternity (Rev. 5:9) he sees the once scattered people of the earth, men, and women from all ethnicities and nations, celebrating the Lamb in cultural and linguistic unity! John uses this 4 fold formula to illustrate that God not only relishes color and diversity but that he intentionally created heaven to be an ethnically and culturally diverse worship community. The color blindness ideology is deficient, therefore, because it diminishes the great wonder of God to intentionally engraft people of every shade into a kingdom of priests for His glory.
So, while it’s well intentioned to adhere to colorblindness because it seeks to communicate that we don’t want someone’s color to arouse prejudice, it’s also hurtful because it invalidates the identity of people of color whose skin is closely tied to their heritage and culture. Our skin color isn’t something that needs to be eschewed, but an important part of Christ’s masterpiece. Skin color is so important to God that it will follow us into eternity. In the same way that we would respond to the notion of gender or economically blindness, we should resist the urge to become color blind because it fails to recognize that diversity comes purchased at the cost of Christ blood.
Dr. King was not calling people of this nation to be color blind, but rather color embracing. Let’s no misconstrue the intention of his statement because we want to ease the sore spot of our seared psyche. In the words of Dr. Cornel West, “to be anti-racist is not to be color blind but color embracing, even love-struck with one another.”