Tag Archives: race as social construct

A 3- Minute Lesson on Race

You’ve got time for this class and it is brought to you by Jenée Desmond Harris.  It is a lesson that must be learned and that bears repeating.  Harris starts from the beginning of race and no, she does not begin in the book of Genesis.  Lie #1 struck down.  Race is not that old.

Race is a lot of things but biological, biblical or original to our being are not to be included.  Still, the misrepresentation of who we are continues and so does the cycle of hatred.  Race wars are plotted against places of worship for African Americans and Jews.  Protests seem unending, CNN describing last year as “a year of outrage.”  The hashtag Black Lives Matter has become a movement.  Right now, the University of Missouri has been added to the list and to the ongoing conversation on race after accusations of racism on campus. Consequently, this class is always in session.

And while it won’t lead to an advanced degree, these truths concerning race as a social construct are certain to advance our understandings of self and our neighbor.  I’ve devoted my life to teaching about race and to the eradication of the racial category for human identity.  Week after week, I look for ways to say this because it is so much easier and less painful to accept this superficial existence.  I want us to go deeper and pray that this video and my words would peel away another layer of race’s deceptions.

Believing Race

Racism+the+belief+that+all+members+of+each+race+possess+_5e464c48b7e2ff36b66cbfd88287ecf1Recently, I have been considering the meaning of belief as it relates to the Christian faith.  My readings and writings have been led by this desire to understand more fully what I mean and in turn, what others are saying when we confess, “I believe.”  For the past couple of months, I have led a small group study of Kyle Idleman Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, which left me with this pressing question: “How do we know the difference between a screaming fan of Christ and a follower of Jesus?”

This past Sunday, I delivered a sermon concerning the nature of belief and the various interpretations of belief.  I began the sermon with statements that I had heard Christians say concerning their faith like “I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church.”  “I am Christian but I’m not religious.”  “I am a Christian but nobody’s perfect.”  Frankly, they sounded more like disclaimers and they, too, leave me with questions.

On Tuesday, I led a workshop titled “Shoes Required: Walking out the Gospel of Peace” and the group discussion quickly revealed that there are several layers to our meanings, that peace practiced is very different from peace talked about.  So, what do we mean when we say that we believe in peace?  I know.  More questions.

However, questioning is a natural part of belief.  So, it seems only natural to question my belief in race.  What do we mean when we identify ourselves by socially constructed races?  What are we saying when we call ourselves colors and why do we believe?

What is the nature of this faith and our commitment?  How is that God gives us free will to confess Christ or not but we have no choice as it relates to this social construct?  And if our skin is really not beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow/ white, then what are we really saying about ourselves, our neighbor and our God?

Do we believe in race or in the natural inferiority and superiority of people?  Do we believe in race or the sovereignty of societies and cultures?  Do we believe in race or natural privileges and disadvantages?  Proven not to be a biological reality but a social invention, what do we believe and does it really have anything to do with race?

I believe that race is nothing more than a concoction, a cover up, which prevents us from truly seeing and consequently, believing who we really are: all God’s children.  So, for that  reason, I don’t believe race at all.

Understanding Race

I am continuing to explore the varied definitions and understandings of race in hopes of getting to the root of our tensions concerning it.  I want to disprove them all.  Ultimately, it is my desire to rid the social construct of its illusions and mystery by pinning it down with concrete descriptors.  It is important to know what race is not so that we can more fully understand who we really are.

Accompanied by the wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou and others, this video is another resource to aid in such an unpacking of history and hopefully, will aid us in carrying on in our human relationships without it.


Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

imagesThere are some things that bear repeating.  The Apostle Paul thought it was profitable to do so and I agree with the church father and martyr (Philippians 3.1).  In order for us to rid ourselves of the social construct of race, we will have to repeat why it is not good for our identity to be left alone with it or its progeny, that is prejudice and stereotypes.

The California Newsreel produced a documentary series, Race: The Power of Illusion, that should be viewed by all of humanity and of course, more than once.  Here are some notes from their research that should be apart of our daily meditation as we work to change our sight not to colorblindness but race-lessness.  I pray that this prescription helps.

Our eyes tell us that people look different. No one has trouble distinguishing a Czech from a Chinese. But what do those differences mean? Are they biological? Has race always been with us? How does race affect people today?

There’s less – and more – to race than meets the eye:

1. Race is a modern idea. Ancient societies, like the Greeks, did not divide people according to physical distinctions, but according to religion, status, class, even language. The English language didn’t even have the word ‘race’ until it turns up in 1508 in a poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings.

2. Race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.

3. Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.

4. Skin color really is only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you anything else about him or her.

5. Most variation is within, not between, “races.” Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.

6. Slavery predates race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics.

7. Race and freedom evolved together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that “All men are created equal.” But our early economy was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.

8. Race justified social inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became “common sense” in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

9. Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.

10. Colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending race doesn’t exist is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others.

©2003, California Newsreel

Additional Resource

“Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race,” PDF


urlI wish that I had the time to share all that I read and learn with you, all of the stories– historical narratives and personal testimonies alike.  I wish that you would be fully persuaded that God does not love you like race does or as race says.  Perhaps, this would aid in your understanding my conclusions regarding race.  Nevertheless, I depend on the spirit of Christ within you to move you  to this race- less faith.  If you believe that the spirit of Christ does not work in such matters, then maybe this article might move you closer to my side.

Often persons speak about the biological reality of race as if the physical reality of the social coloring of skin somehow means that race is real.  But, while the social coloring of skin is real, the reality of race is socially constructed.  The values that we assess and the judgments that we make are all our own.  Our skin does not come with a key or a legend or a hierarchal ladder to determine its meaning and measure.  It’s all make believe.

The article that I alluded to earlier was featured in The Atlantic and says, “Genes Don’t Cause Racial- Health Disparities, Society Does.”  Billions of dollars in research and the findings were nonexistent.  There’s nothing there.  I have spent years reading and researching race and let me save you the trouble, stop looking at your skin as if it is a problem or a solution.  There’s nothing there.