My wife Lauren and I recently got the results back on DNA tests from Ancestry.com, and I have been joking with people I tell this to that it turns out I am 100% white.
Joking aside, the results indicate the regional composition of my genetics estimated at 75% England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe; 14% Germanic Europe; 7% Ireland & Scotland; 2% France; and 2% Norway. That is to say, my ancestors going way back were from these parts of Europe in approximately these proportions.
Now if someone were to say as I did – that I am 100% white and that is all there is to it – and if that person were not joking, that would be an overly simplistic way of looking at it. Such a person would demonstrate by such an attitude that they were not interested in depth, detail, or history so much as convenient super-categories into which to file people for the purpose of making snap judgments and broad, overly generalized decisions.
After all, what does saying I am white really tell you about me? It might tell you my ancestors were not from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, or any of the many indigenous tribes of the Americas or multitudinous islands of the Earth. Yet that is not at all the entire story.
What if I summed up an African, Asian, Middle Easterner, or indigenous person with the sobriquet of “non-white”? I would submit that contenting one’s self with saying I am simply “white” should be regarded as only slightly less useless as that.
On a related note, there is an awful lot of talk in America today about “white supremacy.” But what is it? If you read the papers, voting for and supporting Donald Trump is a hallmark.
In reading history, however, we find that nearly every people in every corner of the world since forever have preferred their own family, kin, tribe, and nation to all others. And seldom to never have I read histories where one shade of skin was preferred to all others. Yet people have always instinctively separated themselves from the rest of the world based on their heritage, creed, or philosophy.
Take for instance the MacFarland’s, my ancestors on my maternal grandmother’s side. I can trace the line to the barons and chiefs of Arrochar in Scotland all the way back to the 1200’s. I know they fought against the English crown. Many Scots did. But I also read in a History of Clan MacFarlane I found online that “the Colquhouns were their traditional enemies.”
Painting everyone with the broad brush of whiteness or non-whiteness, if you will forgive me, whitewashes more colorful realities like this.
As an aside, I count as a dear friend a man with the last name Cohoon. He is actually a descendant of the arch-nemesis of my MacFarland ancestors. We recently laughed at the realization that our Scottish ancestors loathed one another once upon a time.
Yet the point is that people have always, and in every place, divided themselves up in an endless variety of ‘us versus them.’ In parts of the world where everyone around had the same color skin, clan squared off against clan. This nation despised that other.
The point is that whatever the shade of skin, and wherever their ancestors hail from, people are people.
The Root of the Problem
So why do people tend toward prejudice, factionalism, division, and animosity? Where does racism actually come from?
James writes instructions in the New Testament that I believe solve this mystery for us.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder… covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask… ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Why are people racist and ugly toward one another accordingly? Why do people divide themselves into tribes and spew venom against the outgroup? Quite simply, they are consumed with selfish ambition, lust, jealousy, fear, and covetousness.
Simplifying still further, the root problem is not racism or tribalism, but man’s sinful nature.
Go back to the second generation of mankind. Cain and Abel were at most several decades removed from their mother and father’s idyllic life in Eden. Yet Cain became jealous of his own brother’s sacrifice being accepted by God, and was so angry and resentful, and so covetous that he murdered innocent Abel.
The question is not simply one of nature versus nurture, or which outside influences shape us. The problem is both nature and nurture, but it is also a matter of choice. Cain and Abel both inherited the sin problem from their father Adam. Yet Abel chose to offer a faithful sacrifice that pleased the Lord. Cain chose instead to nurture his sinful ambition to eliminate a rival who made him feel inadequate by contrast.
Just so with racism. Some one or group covets what their fellow man possesses and finds an excuse to disenfranchise him.
Neither the problem nor the solution has to do with whiteness or the lack thereof. The problem is man’s sinful nature. Irrespective his tone of skin, man’s condition apart from Christ is at the heart of it.
And irrespective the condition of man’s soul, the solution to the problem is the gospel. God’s only begotten Son was born to a virgin, lived a sinless life despite trials and temptations, was arrested and tried on false charges, died on a cross, and rose from the dead on the third day to pay the penalty for your sins and mine.
That gospel is no more or less potent for man depending on his shade of skin. The white man is no further from or closer to God than his black, brown, red, or yellow neighbor.
It is all very well and good that people come in various hues, just like it is very fine that they come in all shapes and sizes. But there is nothing in the Scriptures which elevates one of these arbitrary distinctions above the other for the purpose of declaring some righteous and others unrighteous.
Indeed, according to the Biblical narrative, we all ultimately trace our ancestry back to Adam. And after the Flood, we are all descended from Noah and his three sons.
Whoever would say at that point that one of Noah’s sons was cursed, and that this cursed son was the first father of the black Africans, what is that to the Christian, even if it were true? It is irrelevant to our responsibility to share the gospel, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Racism disgusts me. If you are a racist, I will be as polite and civil with you as I can be, but I find your opinion and worldview to be misguided and highly unfortunate.
But my disgust for racism cannot be limited to prejudice on the part of white people. In the interest of equity and fairness, the principle of the thing requires me to be every bit as repulsed by racism by non-white persons, or prejudice against white people. Anything less than this is itself just another form of racism.
The old phrase “I never owned any slaves, and you never picked any cotton” seems to offend many today. But some variation on that sentiment is appropriate here.
Why should I hang my head in shame, or defer to my supposed betters by virtue of my shade of skin or theirs when I have not abused, disenfranchised, or defrauded anyone based on their race?
The short answer is that I wouldn’t. And on the contrary, I am deeply concerned that the new racism which is in vogue in America today is prejudiced against white people. It takes the form of smug, snotty calls to “check your privilege” when a divergent opinion is expressed.
In other words, far from white supremacy being the biggest domestic problem facing America today, I would contend that white people are increasingly being marginalized and looked at askance for no other reason than their whiteness. And this is a dangerous a trend. This is a slippery slope.
The solution to the problem of racism is not more racism, or racism of a different kind. The solution is a Biblical understanding of both man’s sinful nature and the grace of God found only in Christ Jesus.