In an effort to bring about racial unity, many often claim to be colorblind, meaning that they don’t see race. The thinking is that if you don’t see race, then you can’t discriminate on the basis of it. And that will lead to better race relations.
Claiming colorblindness is something that’s usually done with good intentions. What you mean to say is that you don’t value (or devalue) individuals based on the color of their skin.
However, the idea of being colorblind isn’t as helpful as you might think. In fact, it actually might be hurting people of color in ways that you don’t realize. While it certainly isn’t your intention, it is the unfortunate reality. But the good news is that we have the opportunity to move forward in a better way.
Here are four ways that colorblind theology actually keeps us from achieving racial reconciliation and unity.
1. You Dignify Others When You Value What Makes Them Unique.
When you pursue a colorblind philosophy of race relations, you likely find biblical support in Paul’s words about how the gospel eliminates the distinction between races and cultures.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11; also see Galatians 3:28)
However, when Paul says that there is no Greek, Jew, barbarian, or Scythian, he isn’t saying that each of those groups loses its identity entirely. Rather, he’s saying that any sense of hierarchy or elitism between those groups has been destroyed in Jesus. That’s an important distinction. Race isn’t gone—only the hostility between races.
Paul puts it another way in his letter to the Ephesians:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)
Race will always be an important part of a person’s identity. It’s an integral part of how God created you. And loving another person requires knowing them. If we willfully choose to ignore a major facet of what makes a person unique, then we will never be able to love them well.
Conversely, when you choose to value what makes a person unique and special, you dignify them. So rather than ignore race, seek to elevate the value you place on what makes people-groups special.
2. You Hold Implicit Racial Biases, Whether You Acknowledge Them or Not.
At the heart of the claim to be colorblind is a desire to absolve oneself from racial bias. We want to bypass the existence of systemic racism by committing to interact with people solely on their merits as an individual, rather than as a person who is part of a larger tribe or culture.
But the weakness of this approach is that you still hold implicit racial biases, whether you acknowledge them or not.
Systemic racism exists, whether you believe it does or not. When you deny the reality of racism in society as well as in your own heart, you stop progress before it can even begin.
When you’re made aware of your implicit biases against people of a different race, it stirs up a lot of emotion. That’s perhaps why so many white folks will claim not to see color at all. It’s less painful to pretend not to see color than to grapple with the sense of guilt, shame, and hurt that accompanies the realization that systemic racial injustice not only exists but benefits you personally.
But that discomfort is both valuable and important. It’s what pushes us forward toward something better. When you refuse to look at it, you stunt your growth. And worse, you fail to advocate for the advancement of historically disenfranchised people, some of whom you personally know and love.
Love demands that you reckon with the realities of racism.
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3. The Issue of Racism Is Far More Than a Problem Between Individuals.
It’s often said that “racism is a sin problem and not a skin problem.” That is, racism is a personal choice and not a systemic issue. This statement is often made alongside others, such as “I’ve never owned a slave, and I’ve never said the n-word.”
It’s true that racism is a sin problem resulting from personal choices, and modern-day white folks have never owned slaves. However, it’s wholly untrue to say that we don’t have a systemic issue that needs to be addressed.
And that’s because our conversation about race takes place within the context of a centuries-long narrative of oppression of people of color by institutions of white supremacy. We exist both as individuals who make personal choices, as well as groups of people living within a framework that was established long before any of us were born—a framework that favors and privileges whiteness.
This idea tends to be particularly difficult for westerners to appreciate, since our worldview is so highly individualistic. But group identity is a biblical concept that we should work to understand.
In the Old Testament, we see group guilt in the case of Akan, whose entire family suffered punishment as a result of his personal sin (Joshua 7:1-26). Furthermore, Israel’s designation as the chosen people highlights the idea of group identity. Anyone, regardless of race, was welcome to worship the God of Israel. But they needed to enter into the group identity and cultural ethic of Israel.
Paul even frames the gospel in terms of group guilt and corporate identity in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Prior to Jesus, all of humanity was guilty and worthy of punishment because of Adam’s sin. From the moment of your birth, you were identified with Adam’s guilt. For that reason alone, you needed saving. And when you come to faith, you are placed into Jesus, as your group identity changes from Adam to Jesus.
These are the kinds of group identities and group dynamics that exist between different races. Until we are willing to address these issues on a systemic level alongside the personal level, we will never be able to rise above them.
4. Jesus Didn’t Come to Abolish Ethnicity. He Came To Redeem It.
When Jesus instructed his followers to preach the good news to all nations (literally all people-groups), he wasn’t calling them to abolish ethnicity. In fact, Paul says that as a missionary, his job is to teach the gospel to different peoples in a way that resonates with their culture (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Race and ethnicity have inherent value. And that’s because humanity is created in God’s image. Different races reflect God in unique and valuable ways. To ignore the importance of these differences is to deny the value of God’s image beyond whatever the majority culture looks like. Ultimately, it makes for a small view of God.
The value of these differences is no more evident than in the apostle John’s supernatural visions of heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
When we see the multitudes worshiping in heaven, what we see is that their individual races and cultures remain intact. They’re still visibly noticeable as distinct identity markers.
And if race has value in heaven, it should have value on earth.
Engage in the Hard Work of Racial Reconciliation.
True racial reconciliation is incredibly difficult. There are no simple solutions or easy answers. But this is exactly the kind of work that Jesus has called us to do. To bring unity where there was discord. To bring love where there was once hate and suspicion. To transform opposing forces into indivisible allies.
And the fact of the matter is that true racial unity is ultimately only possible in Jesus. It’s a supernatural work that he must perform. The good news is that he wants to perform it through you and me.
So, engage in the hard work of racial reconciliation. Lean into the pain. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations and awkward moments. We won’t always get it right. But as we learn to love one another, we gain a bigger vision of what it means for heaven to meet earth.
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A version of this article originally appeared here.