Written by: Olayiwola S’-Olayinka
Racism as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is “the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another”. In the same dictionary, another definition of racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized”. God created every nation and determined their boundaries (Act 17v26). Despite the corruption and perversion in the world, we all represent a part of the earth by our birthplace. This includes the continent of Africa which is my continent of origin. The cause of all perversion is the fall of man preceded by deception from the devil as recorded in the Bible in the book of Genesis. This same devil is still busy walking to and fro the earth deceiving people and destroying lives. Included in this deception is the feeling and belief that one set of people are superior to another either because of their skin colour, geographical location, hair type, accent and so on. The truth though is that God created humans by creating one man and later, one woman. Everyone on earth, therefore, is connected to this first people. This should dispel the lie that a group of people are more special than another and bring unity and love founded in God’s creation story (Genesis 1 & 2).
Racism is fundamentally rooted in the feeling of superiority and it is as old as the world. The feeling of superiority and not wanting another man to be better led to the first murder recorded in the Bible (Genesis 4 v 1 – 9). Here are some other examples of racism in the Bible. In Exodus 1:1-22, we read of the account of post-Joseph days when a new king arose and made up his mind to make life miserable for the Israelites. They were racially profiled, made to do hard labour, treated harshly, denied social security and even their male children were set up to be killed. This sounds very much like what some races have faced and are still facing today. In another account after the kingdom of Israel was divided under King Jeroboam (1st king 12), Israelites from Jerusalem regarded Samaritans from Samaria the former headquarters of Israel as inferior people, who are problematic and should be avoided. (John 4 v 9). In yet another record, Peter the foremost apostle after being baptized by the Holy Spirit and becoming a leader in the Church of Christ avoided relating with gentiles when the brethren came from Jerusalem to Antioch. He acted hypocritically by not eating and relating with those he considered as inferior gentiles (Galatians 2 v 11 – 16). Apostle Paul confronted Peter’s hypocrisy that had drawn some of the brethren including Barnabas away from the truth. This reveals that we need to be careful that we do not become racists ourselves by our actions in a bid to impress other people.
There is a tendency for human beings to lean towards racism because of the sin nature referred to earlier. Pride of life which is sin can make one human feel he is superior to another human being. Racism shows up in a variety of ways. At the family level, it is called favouritism. Loving one child preferentially above another is evil and may destroy families. Many parents have treated one child preferentially to the others and sown the seed of hatred and bitterness among their children (Genesis 37 v 3 – 4). A case in point is Isaac, Rebecca and their two sons Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27 v 1 – 41). At the tribe level, it is called tribalism, at the national level, it is nationalism and racial prejudice. Other forms of racism are discrimination, bigotry, inequity, racial injustice and intolerance, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, bigotry, apartheid, and chauvinisms. The anti-dote to this big issue is a life filled with and submitted to the Holy Spirit of God. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to put the desires and works of the flesh to death and get us to a place of humility that acknowledges and accepts that every human is created by God and no one is preferred by Him based on looks, nationality, or race (1 Samuel 16 v 7).
Focusing on the issue of “Black Lives Matter” (BLM), I believe that sin is the main reason humans have treated one another badly. Sins like selfishness, greed, pride, manipulation, unforgiveness are amongst the ones that come to mind readily. Not realizing these are sins makes us pursue dangerous paths with the intention to self-protect and (or) self-enrich. In every country of the world, there are people who are tribalistic to one another. In Africa for example, we have stories of atrocities that some leaders have committed against some of their people just because they are from a different tribe or speak a different language. In North America also we have issues of gang conflicts amongst brothers of the same colour trying to prove superiority over another group. Therefore, I have concluded that the issue of racism is a human and global issue. I have chosen to tow the path of history and reason not to undermine the BLM movement but to analyze the issue from its foundation where it can be dealt with rather than some low hanging stems or fruits.
Speaking of foundations, I cannot ignore the history of what brought black people whose origins are in Africa and parts of Asia to Europe and North America. The history of slave trade that began in the 16th century brought millions of Africans to Europe forcefully. According to Wikipedia “the Atlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, or Euro-American slave trade involved the transportation by slave traders of various enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade regularly used the triangular trade route and its Middle Passage and existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries”. Slavery was widespread in the ancient world found in almost every other ancient civilization such as the Greek and Roman Empires. Many developed nations also had their people enslaved by other predecessor kingdoms. While studying the history of slave trade at the library of the University of Lagos, Nigeria, I discovered it was the Kings, Chiefs and other highly influential leaders who were already engaged in slavery of fellow Africans that encouraged the selling of their brothers and sisters to European slave traders who had come to exploit the continent for various other reasons. The study revealed that slavery in Africa was only less brutal than what was faced in the Americas.
“Black Lives Matter” is certainly a valid statement and struggle in the context of North America, especially the United States of America (USA). The USA made the repression of freed slaves unwritten (though written initially but later was abolished) but an integral part of their system of Governance, especially in the legislature and judiciary. This was a deliberate attempt to continuously subjugate freed slaves forever and make them lower-class citizens. This eventually transformed into “red zones” and “law and order” programs targeted at the black community to keep them imprisoned and provide cheap labour for the government and Caucasians. Over the years there have been attempts to fight for a permanent change for black people in North America. It is obvious that other races have made significant progress to be accepted for who they are but the struggle of the black man to prove him or herself above and beyond is still obvious today.
In the media, we hear news of arrests, imprisonment, and killings of blacks in the United States of America (USA) sometimes for reasons that can only be racial prejudice. We then sometimes see a white person who does the same or worse things and the case it treated with soft hands. It is almost like the mere sight of a tall, black male speaks threat to the average Caucasian in the USA. Fathers and mothers of black boys often have to teach their children a certain way to behave when they come in contact with a white police officer for example.
My first opportunity to visit downtown New York City sometime in 2007 left me depressed for days and made me decide never to live in the United States. The broken life and depravity of the “Boys in the Hood” was a reminder of black histories that I have read about. I could not imagine raising my kids in such downtrodden communities filled with violence, lawlessness, and disrespect for each other. From personal experience and the news, it is a known truth that blacks are facing different sorts of racial prejudice in every continent and many known nations of the world. I faced some terrible forms of it when we lived in the United Arab Emirates, it was in my face. With the high population of blacks in the United States though and the treatment many of them have received as seen in the news and stories from family members and friends who live there, it is almost like, despite a constitution that seeks to protect every American irrespective of background and race, there is a demon that continuously challenges their constitution and ensures racism is firm and standing irrespective of the institution in question. Unfortunately, this includes the church.
The church played a leading and vital role in the slavery and post-slavery eras in North America. This has caused a lot of pain and even led to some blacks deciding to never have anything to do with Christ. An example is my colleague and first non-Nigerian black friend that I made in Canada. I would like to call her KV for the sake of this write-up. KV was born and raised up in the church. Reading about slavery and the role the church and some Caucasians played during slavery made KV decide to leave the church and deny her faith. She does not see any reason why a black person would accept the Faith of the white people or love their God. I still pray the Lord will encounter her one day and bring her back to the Faith. Sadly, politicians and church leaders used the scriptures to justify slavery and the continual subjugation of black people. Some renowned and influential White clergy have refused to publicly speak against this black repression and rather choose to behave like Peter the Apostle who does not want to lose the endorsement of his fellow Jews and refrained from interacting with the gentiles in Antioch. Racial injustice as it is will continue until the end of this world if those who should speak against it and act choose to keep quiet and do nothing.
As a church, Waterloo Pentecostal Assembly (WPA) must be acknowledged for the efforts of the Board and Pastoral team who are willing to engage discourse around the topic of race with an intention to engage her members and speak up to enable change in the right direction. It is my hope that WPA will continue to defend the oppressed and speak out for the freedom of those who are oppressed (Act 6 v 1 – 7, Luke 4 v 17 – 21). Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ showed us in many of his works how to respect and treat everyone as a creation of value, cherished and loved by God. John 3:16 reminds us how much the Father loves humanity, this made him send His only Son to save us from the depravity caused by the first people through sin. Though he started his ministry in Jerusalem, he went to Samaria (a marginalized people) and preached there. Jesus did not discriminate against anyone. He related with the sinners, women, racially profiled, poor, rich, politicians and so on. No one was too small or too big for Jesus to associate with. Most importantly, Christ was able to speak up against the attempts of the religious and political leaders of His days. He did not approve of his disciples who tried to prevent some people from receiving His love and salvation based on their race, gender, status, or age (Mark 10 v 14). As the church, we need to take a cue from our head and return to the place of compassion, empathy, and love to those who are racially prejudiced. We also need to speak up against any oppression in the community and be examples of Godly direction on how to receive and relate with people of other races with respect, kindness, and humility as we will any human being.
Every human being is created by God with a clean and blank mind (tabula rasa). The type of education and information passed to us by our parents and those who have authority over us affect the growth of our spirit, soul and body. The family will have to also support the cause of dealing with racism. Parents will have to take up the responsibility of speaking right about other races and acting right to people who are from other races. Kids pick what we do and say and once they feel like they are superior to a particular race, the racism will continue to be carried on from one generation to another. We can put a stop to this menace in our generation if we work hard at it. If we all play our part and the families and church support with playing their parts, the government will be forced to rethink, and change will start one person and one step at a time to ensure justice, equality, and equity for the black and all other races that were subjugated by the state.
In conclusion, every race has a role to play in the journey to reduce and eventually end racism. We all have something to repent of. As black Christians, it will be beneficial to follow Joseph’s example in the scripture (Gen 50 v 15 -21) and choose forgiveness, openness, giving another chance, trust, kindness amongst other things. Joseph did not stop at forgiving his brothers but also reassured them of his love and commitment towards caring for them. He promised that he would not hate them despite what they had done to him. This is the way Blacks should respond to racial injustice, we must teach our children about our history and charge them to forgive and not be bitter towards the Whites but to love them and be committed to caring and peacefully cohabiting with them.
In the same vein and equally or more importantly, Whites Christians should be encouraged to courageously exhibit Jonathan’s Dimension/Grace (1st Samuel 18 v 1 – 4 and 2nd Samuel 1v26). This will include choosing humility, love, compassion, sincerity amongst other things. There will be a need to willingly share their “robe” of honours and privileges with the blacks in their neighbourhood and be willing to stand out and defend the cause of the racially oppressed and prejudiced blacks just as Jonathan did in 1st Samuel 19 v 1 – 7 and 1 Sam 20. The time for change to ensure that black people in our communities feel like every other race does is now. In the eyes of our God who created all humans, all lives matter, and I acknowledge this. In the context of the reality of this write up I dare say, BLACK LIVES TRULY MATTER too.
Written by: Olayiwola S’-Olayinka
Information was retrieved from the following online sources and articles: 1. Definition of Racism from Oxford Dictionaries.
3. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Slavery in Britain.
6. United nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Slavery and Remembrance – A guide to sites, museum, and memory. Oyo Empire.
7. The Organization of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Yorubaland, The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 41, No. 1 (2008), pp. 77-100 (24 pages) Published by: Boston University African Studies Center. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40282457?read now=1&seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents
8. Project MUSE, African Economic History, The Atlantic Slave Trade and Local Ethics of Slavery in Yorubaland, Volume 41, (2013) pp. 73-100, Olatunji Ojo. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/565350
9. South African History Online (SAHO) https://www.sahistory.org.za/about-us , The Atlantic Slave Trade, Causes and results of slavery. November 2011. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/atlantic-slave
10. British Broadcasting Corporation BBC, History, Atlantic Slave Trade, Roles played by leaders of African societies in continuing the trade. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zxt3gk7/revision/7#:~:text=African%20rulers%20la rgely%20maintained%20and,eliminated%20as%20well%20as%20strengthened