As we continue our conversation on the gospel and race, I would like for us to consider one of, if not the, main reason why such prominence is often given to race relations between blacks and whites in the U.S. (as opposed to Latinos or Asians and whites). My hope is that this consideration will provide more perspective for why the black-white relationship in the U.S. may continue to receive primary attention without necessarily undermining or ignoring other race relations in the U.S.
Depending on the topic, a person’s experience may prompt a range of immediate responses in a discussion. During the discussion, the more prominent responses typically come to the forefront of people’s minds sooner. Often, these responses arise from implicit understandings that exist in a culture and may be thought to require little to no explanation.
For example, individuals discussing the best sandwiches to make on a shoestring budget will likely find it challenging to mention the word ham without implicitly thinking about cheese. If peanut butter comes up, several responses may be considered in that discussion, especially if any of the individuals are parents. The reason for this is that when the mere thought of peanut butter is introduced to a parent, the immediate response that comes to their mind may not necessarily be jelly but rather a child’s allergic reaction to peanuts.
Similar to a discussion about low budget sandwiches, certain responses may immediately come to mind when discussing the topic of race. Concerning race in America, it is unwise to attempt to separate history from the discussion. Within U.S. history, the issue of race has a particular relationship dynamic that cannot be absent from the conversation. The dynamic that I am referring to is the race relationship between blacks and whites.
In Chapter four (p.59-68) of his book on the gospel and race entitled Bloodlines (2011), John Piper gave three reasons why he gave prominence to black-white race relations:
- His Own Personal Story
- The Uniqueness of The Black Experience in America
- The Sorrows of Post-Civil Rights Decline
However, Piper did not do so without first acknowledging that “racial and ethnic diversity and harmony relate to thousands of ethnic people groups, not just to two or three or five races” (p.59). In my opinion, this could have gone without saying, but it is good that he mentioned this in case some may think him to have a one-sided perspective on such a dynamic topic. If anyone were one-sided they would be ignoring both the impact and influence that race and racism has had upon all of humanity.
My consideration will focus on the second reason given above by John Piper.
The Uniqueness of The Black Experience in America
If a person surveyed American History and tried to find an ethnic group with a story more troubling than that of black Americans, they would be hard pressed to do so. Unless someone is a history student or a historian, a person is susceptible to being unaware or even forgetful about the unique plight of black America. Perhaps the tendency to be unaware may be attributed to the 1) horrific nature and 2) the time length of the historical narrative of the black experience in America.
First, the horrific nature of the black experience was produced from what Tony Evans referred to as “the myth of black inferiority” in chapter 5 (p.87-107) of his book entitled Oneness Embraced (2011). Simply put, the myth of black inferiority is the idea that blacks are an inferior race when compared to other races (i.e. whites). Whether the basis for this myth was established upon a distorted theology or the apprehension of a particular physical characteristic, it still took root within the foundations of America and was used to justify the slavery of blacks for many centuries. Because it is less explicit now, the presence and impact of black inferiority is often dismissed through minimization—or thought to be a detail of the past—in our contemporary day.
As for the length of time, if a person only considered the black experience in America starting, for example, in 1776, that would be a misplaced beginning. By that time, the myth of black inferiority had already been practiced for more than 250 years throughout the Americas. Dr. William Banks, author of The Black Church in the United States (1972), described how the first European slave traders used religion to horrifically rationalize “that it was God’s will to bring black heathens into contact with Christianity, even if it meant a lifetime of enforced servitude, their ships carried slaves to labor in the Caribbean colonies as early as 1517” (p.9). So, unfortunately, due to the length of time of the black experience, it may be difficult for some to give consideration to the horrible details of more than 500 years of systemic oppression endured by a group of people merely because of their physical attributes or cultural background.
But if one considers that the nature and history attributes are the reasons why the black-white race relation may not seem worthy of prominence, then the reason would be due to the failure to consider and understand black-white relations in the first place. Regardless, to dismiss black inferiority and the historical evidence of black oppression at the hands of whites only to assert that there seems to be a one-sided presentation of the black-white dynamic may be indicative of a lack of understanding about the topic of race in America. With this in mind, if a person and especially a Christian, is not personally committed to a lifetime of racial justice then they may not have truly desired to consider the black-white relation in America. And, in my estimation, that is a position that we should all be on guard against.
-Gary Rivers (Associate Campus Pastor)