Given the title, take into consideration that I’m a Christian black man living in the USA. I’m married to but one wife, with whom I have three beautiful children, and we belong to a diverse church home. And I am active in my community as a somewhat successful junior executive in corporate America, mentoring others in that role and in the church. Yet, even I have some racist tendencies, believe it or not. To be perfectly honest, before my conversion to Christ I viewed the white race in very negative ways. Some twenty plus years back when I was a teenager, one of my good friends (also African American) asked me this question:
“Was Jesus Black?”
This question hurled us down a shallow rabbit hole as we began to swiftly blame “the white man” for all the propaganda of a white Jesus. Fast forward to 2020, and I’m honestly humbled to consider my current situation. Beset with recent social injustice, pandemic woes, and political strife, I’ve wrestled to keep my faith in Christ as the center of my life. As much as I strive to love my neighbor, I still fight off that bitter root when it comes to many aspects of Western culture. Perhaps some of you can relate, or you at least may be able to understand a bit of my struggle described in this article.
When I was 18 years old, I began to study the Holy Bible. This led to me deciding to get much more serious about this whole Christian thing, and soon after I found myself repenting and getting baptized into Christ. At once I became overwhelmed with this unquenchable thirst for knowledge, wanting to know more about God’s Word, the history of Israel, and even what the deal was with Islam and Judaism. The more I studied, the more I learned. And one day a memory struck me, a memory from that pro-black Jesus dialogue was stirred as I viewed a DreamWorks movie called The Prince of Egypt.
What a fantastic movie! And I could not help thinking to myself, “Wow. These people are actually brown!” For the first time perhaps, I had a strong yet uneasy feeling in my gut telling me that something was wrong. Something was wrong with me! First off, whenever I had pictured mentally characters like Moses, or Jethro, or even the Egyptian Pharaoh, from childhood had always imagined these Biblical characters as being white. Certainly not brown – I mean they are Hebrews and Egyptians, right? Why were they brown? All the images I had ever seen of Biblical characters in every book, painting, play and movie up to that point were, well, white.
Then an opposite thought hit me soon afterwards. Thank God for geography and good ol’ ancient world history that pointed me to a map. I realized again (even though I had learned this in high school), that Egypt and Israel, along with many other countries listed in the Old Testament were located (and still are) in the Middle East and North-Eastern Africa. Another shocker hit me: Jesus and the Hebrew people were probably not black either! I asked myself a strange question: was Jesus (and all those other Biblical heroes) Middle Eastern? What???
Now at this time in college, I had a handful of Arab and Israeli friends. Most were Muslim or Jewish (by religion), and to be honest, I respected their spiritual discipline. Most of them prayed and fasted way more than I did or any of my Christian friends did. Most of them also served the poor right in their own communities more than I did as well. In a way, I admired their spiritual fervor, although I held fast to my Lord Jesus Christ and my faith in Him being the Son of God – sent to the world so that the manifold grace of God could be given freely to mankind. The means to salvation was our key difference, yet I could not help but love and appreciate my Arab and Israeli friends.
This led me to grow more and more curious about Hebrew heritage – racially speaking. My brown skinned Arab friends would not exactly call themselves black, nor would a handful of my olive-colored Israeli friends (not Jews from America) call themselves white. So, I dove into more Bible study, including both the ancestry and geography of Abraham and the Patriarchs. This connected me to most of the major OT characters right up to the birth of Jesus and his genealogy in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It was truly an eye-opening study that led me to a firmer conclusion that Jesus (and the Hebrew race) of the Bible were indeed closely related to my Arab and Israeli friends, shared their ethnic roots, and were no doubt of Semitic heritage.
Over time, I came to realize just how much Western culture had affected my image of Christ, and my image of the Bible. At one time as a teen, my black friends and I thought Christianity was the “white man’s religion” since all the players in the Bible were white. As a Christian, it disturbs me deeply to think about people of color being turned off to Jesus by the portrayal of Christianity’s roots as being grounded in people with white skin. This is not simply an academic discussion, as I hope you can see.
What a Deceptive and Divisive Concept!
We would have been more accurate in saying Christianity is a “Middle Eastern religion” that spread to Europe, and then to America later! Now much study and analysis of this Hebrew heritage topic has been done and done again. Most objective history, geographic data, and forensic study point to Semitic origins being shared among peoples of Arab and Hebrew descent. The nations of the Middle East are indeed closely related. I had to wonder why then in America and Europe especially, are these Hebrew people most always depicted as Caucasian?
This pointed me to some famous works from the Renaissance period. C’mon, I’m talking about the likes of Da Vinci (The Last Supper) and Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel ceiling) and many others. It’s a paradox to me: the blessing of artistic genius combined with the curse of racial distortion. How bittersweet – yet when I consider the sociopolitical issues dating back to the Middle Ages when Europe and the Middle East were at war off and on for roughly 400 years (the Crusades), I had to ask a nationalistic question:
Would I want my spiritual heroes portrayed as the people of my nation or like those of my enemy’s nation?
The tension aroused by this question seems to be alive and well today. The majority of people will naturally toss aside history, geography, ancestry, and the like for comfort. Comfort is more important than Biblical accuracy even in American Christianity. I, a black guy, have even been conditioned by this comfort. My goal in stating this is not to offend my white brothers and sisters in Christ, but it is to call uncomfortable attention to the issue at hand (still). Most churches continue to don pictures of a Caucasian Jesus, and European-featured Hebrews: Moses, David, Abraham and Noah all shown as fair-skinned, straight brown-haired characters, some aged with long white beards.
I wonder how many souls inside and outside of America could be brought to Christ if he were viewed as a medium brown skinned male with coarse black hair and Middle Eastern features?
Arguably (even objectively) this image of Jesus is more Biblically accurate. Western culture should not define the racial heritage of the Hebrew people of the Bible – the Bible should.
So, to answer the title question: No, Jesus was not black. Nor was He white.
He and his ancestors were indeed Middle Eastern, much closer to an Arabian person than we in the West care to admit. Isaiah still rings in my ears, “He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3).
I hope some who read this long for Unity and I hope many long for Diversity.
But I really hope that we, even us Americans, can learn to embrace the Bible and learn to love this truer image of Christianity. It matters, in more ways than one.
A forensic science CGI-produced image of Jesus Christ (in contrast to Renaissance art)
An Introduction to a New Blog on Racism and Prejudice
Why This? Why Now? Why Me?
During my 45 plus years of ministry, I have served in many roles in many places. When I turned 65, I resigned from my ministry staff role in Phoenix and began a teaching ministry. The advice I received from trusted, wise brothers about my future legacy was that my greatest contribution would come through leadership training and writing. Hence I embarked on the leadership training part, and pursued it vigorously for about seven years. Then we moved to Dallas and I served as a part-time staff person in 2015.
Through these eight years, I wrote only one full length book and did second editions on a couple of others. I was unable to concentrate on writing while still considered even a part-time staff member. It was purely my problem, for the Dallas leadership didn’t put any pressure on me at all. This issue, along with continuing to have friends younger than I am die, led me to end the part-time staff involvement and devote 2016 to writing.
By God’s grace and to my amazement, I wrote three books in four months, and introduced them at the Reach Conference in St. Louis. After this immersion in writing, I came up for air and realized that I didn’t have any other book idea burning in my heart, although I have the ideas for several in a folder on my computer. I felt like I was somehow in a vacuum, not knowing what God had in store for me next.
I thought of the passage in Acts 13:36: “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep…” This question hit me: “Are we done here, Lord?” Maybe my purpose has been fulfilled and it’s my time to die. After all, I did turn 74 on October 27th. I had no desire to sit in a rocking chair awaiting death, and the selfish life most people associate with retirement is repugnant to me.
God Moves in Mysterious Ways
As I was mulling over these things, praying about them, but still feeling like I was in a vacuum, five police officers were shot in Dallas. Some of our African American members were bold enough to state that we were not hesitant to talk about this tragedy, yet said nothing about the continuing killing of unarmed blacks by police officers. Our congregational evangelist, Todd Asaad, sent out an email blast to our membership and apologized for our oversight and seeming indifference, promising that we would seek to be more informed, more involved and more empathetic in the future. It was a very good letter.
Shortly after this, one of our region leaders, Mark Mancini, contacted me and asked if I would speak on the subject of racism and prejudice in his region. Not only does that region have a significant contingent of black brothers and sisters (including one black elder and one white elder, both married to black sisters), Mark’s and Connie’s son was about to graduate from the Police Academy in Los Angeles.
I agreed to preach the sermon, although I had never preached an entire lesson on this subject. I have mentioned it many times in sermons, plus addressed it in written articles, but hadn’t preached an entire lesson on it, surprisingly. Regarding those articles, you can read them on my website (gordonferguson.org). The articles are entitled “The Big Black Brother’s Club,” of which I was a part in Boston, and “Surprise, Surprise: Guess Who’s Been Coming to Dinner,” loosely based on the title of an old movie.
In the latter, I explain how my frequent comment (intended to be humorous) about having too much soul to be a white man led to a challenge by a black friend to take a DNA test. I finally did it and found that I was 12% black (no surprise to me). Although both articles have some humor in them, especially the first, racial issues are serious issues to me and have been for decades. The articles reflect that seriousness.
The sermon in our Southwest Region lasted well over an hour. I could not introduce such a sensitive subject without trying to make myself as clear as possible. Honestly, not many white guys could say some of the things I say about the subject, but somehow I seem to resonate well with both blacks and whites (or so I have been told by those of both races). Being an old guy likely helps, and being raised during the Jim Crow era in Louisiana by non-racist parents exposed me to situations that were very unusual for a white kid growing up in that setting.
Evidently Mark had some good things to say about the lesson, for the other region leaders asked me to preach the same sermon in their regions. The audio lessons were posted on our website, and a black sister in St. Louis, Yolanda Suber, listened to the lesson and asked her church leaders to listen to it. The result was a last minute invitation to come there to deliver the lesson, after which we had a panel discussing the race issue very openly and honestly.
You can see the video version of both the sermon and the panel on this website, the Gateway City Church website or on Disciples Today. Jeff Mannel, lead evangelist at the Gateway City church, told me recently that people from 52 nations had already watched all or part of my sermon – in less than three weeks. Obviously, the subject hit a very sensitive nerve. I suggest you watch both.
The Birth of a New Idea
However unexpected it may have been, God had his way of filling my vacuum. The issue of racism disturbs me greatly, but the prospect of speaking and writing about it excites me. My black friends have not felt totally safe sharing exactly how they feel about life in their world with those of other races. That feeling must end, and my blog is going to be dedicated to helping end it. As per usual, I will be direct and the subjects addressed will cover a broad spectrum. You will find my new blog link on my website, using the title at the top of this page. (I will explain this title in one of my next articles on the blog for those who may not fully understand it.)
With that introduction, I invite you to go to my website (gordonferguson.org) and click on the tab that reads “Black Tax and White Benefits.” Note that my original title used the phrase “white privilege,” but I changed it fairly soon after starting the blog. In a future article about coming to terms with terms, I will explain the reason for the change. I will be praying for God’s Spirit to guide me in what I say and how I say it. My intentions are always to accomplish all of this, but I’m human and will likely make some mistakes of one sort or another. I will depend on feedback from my reading audience to help me deepen my insights and to correct me when I am off base.
I cannot know what it feels like to be black in America, since I was raised white. But I have studied the subject for years, and know more about it than many of my race and I intend to keep learning. I do know that I’ve not seen the amount of racial tension between blacks and whites that I’m seeing now since the Civil Rights days when I was young.
I also know that our Latino brothers and sisters face many race related issues in their lives, along with other minorities in our country, and we will address their issues as well. But right now, the black/white tensions are the most heightened and we will definitely begin addressing them first. Please join us. I plan to post at least one new article each week on the blog. In addition to the blog, I have many articles on the site that you might enjoy reading. For sure, read the two I mentioned earlier in this article. Until we meet at the blog…
Your older brother,
A number of people have looked at the title I’ve chosen for my blog and had the response above, as in “What’s That?” Black tax is a term becoming increasingly popular, and it is one that is very helpful in identifying certain attitudes and actions toward African Americans. In earlier days, it described professional blacks or those with higher incomes feeling the need to help their poorer relatives financially.
Then it came to mean having to work twice as hard or achieve twice as much to be considered equal to white people. It is the second use of the term that is becoming more popular and I will be using it in that way.
I first heard the term in the movie, “Something New.” A black professional woman had climbed the ladder of success in her predominantly white company to eventually become a full partner, but she was at times discounted by high-powered white clients simply because of her race. It is actually a very compelling movie, and a romantic one at the same time. This woman came from a high society black family, and their views and customs were unknown to me before watching the movie.
Of course, as the son of a redneck bricklayer living on the wrong side of the tracks, the views and customs of the white upper crust society is pretty much unknown to me too. But back to the movie. The woman and her family had their own prejudices toward whites, but the young woman’s slowly developing interest in a white guy ultimately brought her and her family to a new place on that front.
If you decide to watch the movie, be warned that you need to fast forward the video through a couple of brief scenes. Other than that, it gives us not only the “black tax” explanation, but provides some good insights into black/white relationships.
I explained the term to a good friend of mine recently, a white guy, and just afterwards we watched “Gifted Hands,” the story of Ben Carson as one of the world’s leading pediatric neurosurgeons. I’ve seen the movie at least half a dozen times and my wife has read the book. Dr. Carson endured much racial discrimination as a child and in his early career.
Every time a scene in the movie depicted that, my friend quickly said “Black tax.” The concept, once understood, makes instances of racial discrimination jump out at you, especially the more subtle ones. Much racial discrimination these days is subtle, as people at least attempt to be politically correct, but it is almost an ever-present reality for our black friends.
Two blatant examples took place within days of each other last month (October) involving black female doctors flying on Delta Airlines. Two medical emergencies occurred, prompting flight attendants to ask for help from medically trained passengers. In both cases, the black doctors reportedly tried to answer the call to help, only to be rebuffed by the flight attendants because they couldn’t picture black women being doctors.
BLACK TAX!!! What embarrassing, shameful situations! There are millions of professional blacks in our country and in our world. To stereotype any race or culture as poor and uneducated is both shocking and sad. As I read about these accounts that took place on airplanes, I was more than ticked off, but I also had a sense of satisfaction thinking about one of my medical specialists. My primary care physician is a young Vietnamese doctor, and he referred me to a specialist for some tests who happened to be black. I didn’t care what color or gender he was; I just cared that he was a trained professional. He’s a great guy and a great doctor. After reading those black tax sickening accounts, I was especially glad that he was black!
Most of you reading this have a much better idea of what this part of the title means. My opinion is that most of you don’t fully understand just how large that benefit is and all of the ways it shows up in contrast to those of other races, especially blacks. One purpose of this blog is to educate whites about the plight of blacks, and to help us understand the breadth of the problem.
We white folks know a bit about slavery (but not nearly enough) and we also know generally what the Jim Crow laws were about. Those laws were designed to enforce segregation under the guise of a “separate but equal” banner. Those laws were deplorable and even the term separate but equal was a contradiction in terms. How can you be considered equal to the very ones that are subjecting you to staying separate from them?
I am now 74 years old as of October 27th. I grew up when the Jim Crow laws were in full force in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Of the many movies I’ve seen involving racism, “The Help” most closely approximates what the society of my youth was like. Unlike the other two movies that I mentioned earlier, this one had little to commend it and much to remind me of the sickness in the society in which I grew up.
As I tell my audiences when speaking about the movie, I only liked three parts of it: the commodes in the front yard of one bigot; the mother of the young white author finally getting enough gumption to kick another bigot off her property in no uncertain terms; and of course my favorite part: the chocolate pie incident!
Where We Are Headed in This Blog
Honestly, I am not quite sure where we are headed. I am quite sure that God put it on my heart to write on the subject, so he knows where we are headed. I want to help those of my race understand much more of what our black brothers and sisters are feeling and what they are facing. As I’ve said in recent lessons, they want us to begin by saying that we understand that we don’t understand what it is like to be black in America, but that we are committed to learning as much as we can and to helping them bear as many of their burdens as we can.
I also want to help both blacks and whites better understand what our Latino and Asian friends are feeling and facing as minorities in our society. Ultimately, I want all of us to understand how God views the different races he created and how he wants us to handle whatever injustices we encounter in a spiritual way ─ as we imitate Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth encountered discrimination of many types, and as we examine what he endured and how he responded to it, we will find our answers for the issues that we and those in our spiritual family face. The real issues are a part of the galactic battle taking place between God and Satan. 1 John 5:19 sums up the problem quite well in these words: “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
That is why Paul could describe our pre-Christian days in this manner: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). The world is a mess and we are in it, but we cannot be of it (John 17:16). The world is not fair nor will it ever be, but in Christ we can cope with the challenges, however intense they are and may become. That ability to cope comes from the Holy Spirit’s power, often finding its way to us through our spiritual family.
With that we begin, and where we stop nobody knows (except God). I foresee sharing many of my experiences from my childhood and adulthood. I sometimes have stronger emotional reactions to historical racial mistreatment than my younger black friends do. They only heard about some of the worst days from their parents and grandparents. I experienced it, but only as a witness. But even from that vantage point, it marked me in some ways for life.
Sometimes I likely have stronger reactions than older blacks, because they had to learn to take what came their way with the attitude of “Oh well, it is what it is. Just smile and keep going.” I admire them for being able to actually do that and maintain a relatively even keel in their world at the time. I hurt for them as I look back to what their race had to endure for hundreds of years.
Although things are much improved in their lot in comparison to what it was like back in my early days, we are far from eliminating bigotry and discrimination. Black tax and white privilege abound, and I pray that my attempts to address it honestly and spiritually can help us all. I want you and me to both pay all of our taxes to King Jesus, and I want us to enjoy the privileges that belong to his children. In the end, our lives must be centered on him and his ways, but we need him and each other in order to do that. May he bless us to focus on the right tax and the right privileges, and not let the world squeeze us into its evil mould (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation). Until next time…
The silence must end; the conversations must begin. I feel like my role in life right now has become the starter of discussions. My final letter regarding the last two chapters in my book, “My Three Lives,” was sent out to encourage more and more discussions about how to help our movement of churches get back on track in ways that we are not. The beginning of my blog about racial issues, primarily focusing on black and white relationships in the church, was designed to promote understanding, and understanding comes through honest dialogue.
The Silence is Real
Racial oriented discussions between races is rare in the church. Isn’t that an odd thing ─ brothers and sisters who share so much about their personal lives and sins not sharing about racial issues? Why are we not sharing? In a word, fear.
Our black friends in the church appreciate our diversity, as do our white members. We (an editorial we) feel accepted by those of other races in ways that we do not feel accepted outside the church. We are afraid (Satan using fear as one of his best tools) that if we were totally honest about how we felt about being black in our society we might not continue to be so accepted. We are afraid of being judged. We are afraid of losing the depth of friendships we have with those of other races.
We are especially afraid because we know that our white friends are woefully ignorant of our history, from the inception of slavery in America in 1619 to the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws in 1954 (to say nothing of life as black persons since then). Our race was enslaved in one way or another way for nearly 350 years. How can our well-meaning, well-intentioned Caucasian brothers and sisters possibly understand our feelings and fears if they don’t know our history? Hence, we talk to those within our race about these matters but not to those without; even brothers and sisters in Christ. The silence must end!
Most whites in the church also avoid the topic. Why? Fear also. Fear of stepping on a mine field of emotions by saying something wrong or hurtful, even with the best of intentions. Fear of exposing our ignorance of black history, feeling embarrassed that we’ve waited so long to start learning. The good news is that we do not have to remain ignorant.
“Wait a minute,” some might be thinking. “I’ve seen at least a half dozen movies about the bad side of black history and read some things too, so I’m not as ignorant as you are saying!” Keep talking ─ you’re proving my point. I’m not just talking to you; I’m talking to me. In spite of the fact that I’ve read more and watched more about racial matters than the large majority of white folks, I’m still in the throes of ignorance. But I am dedicated to learning and willing to expose my ignorance in print as a part of my own learning process. I fully expect to be corrected and guided in love by my black fellow disciples, and I am anxious for this opportunity to keep learning and growing.
Where’s the Proof?
We know that many whites outside of the church are thinking and saying things like this: “”Get over slavery, it was in the past!” “Why do blacks feel the need to boast about their accomplishments every February?” By the way, these two statements came from a young black brother who said that an inner voice prompted these thoughts about how those outside his race are probably thinking. And why would his inner voice come up with these thoughts? Fears of how others might view him, of course. The fear factor is real, and it is often most strongly felt as the fear of rejection.
Black History Month
My friend’s mention of February was in reference to BHM (Black History Month). Actually, there are different views about BHM within both the black population and the white population. Here is my view, and in the context of this article, it’s a pretty dogmatic one. I think both blacks and whites need BHM and much more similar education beyond that one month.
Blacks need to know not just their history of oppression, but much more about black heroes who defied the odds and made their mark; much more about the character of their unknown ancestors who applied more Christian principles to their daily lives than most can even imagine. They would not have survived otherwise.
We white folks need to know about both. “Get over the past” is in one context a very biblical statement. The Bible doesn’t say “obey” unless you have been hurt in the past by society, parents, friends, church folk, or whatever else. It just says “obey.” Okay, I’m good with that, and preach it often in one form or another.
That being said, some things in our past we get over simply by repenting, and other things we have to grow out of after repentance ─ and that takes time, patience, prayer and help from others. But we do have to grow, for God is not pleased with less. Holding on to a victim mindset is contrary to the cross of Christ, no matter what our pain has been.
As an example, suppose a girl was sexually abused almost daily between the ages of 11 to 17 by a family member. Now a half dozen years later, she is at the marriage altar saying her marriage vows. She has been taught in pre-marriage counseling what the Bible says about the beauty of the sexual relationship within the bonds of marriage. Now for the first time she is in bed with someone that God approves.
What happens? Does she just throw an intellectual switch and have a fantastic honeymoon night? Likely not, for that switch doesn’t immediately control our emotional switch. Biblical knowledge of right and wrong is essential, but some things we have to grow in and some things we have to grow out of. Our backgrounds influence us greatly. Repentance of practicing known sins is one thing; Christian growth in difficult areas for us due to our background is yet another.
A Starting Place
Let’s decide to start learning and start talking about the very sensitive area of race. Really, the silence must end. I just received a note last night from a dear brother I hadn’t seen in years, and he told me that the silence on this subject had almost caused him to leave our fellowship of churches. He was not the first one to say that to me, by the way, and it is almost certain that others have already left us. We simply must talk.
Suggested conversation starter for white folks: “Listen, I know that this racial issue has to be really hard for you, and I’ll admit that my understanding of it is certainly limited, but I love you and really want to know what you are thinking and feeling. Can we talk?”
Suggested conversation starter for black folks: “Listen, this is really awkward for me, but our mutual friend Gordon said that we need to talk interracially about racial issues and I think he’s right. I’m feeling a lot these days, and would love to talk in depth about it with you.” If those don’t appeal to you, figure out one that works for you, and let’s start the discussions.
Public Education is Readily Available
I will continue to mention movies, documentaries and written material that I have read or watched, and I have a suggestion about a good way to jump into the deep water on this issue. Go to You Tube and watch a 4 part series by PBS entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.” This one will provide you with some amazing history (much of it gut-wrenching and heart-breaking), and it will also help you to see that the end of slavery was not even close to the end of black oppression.
In fact, many slaves were better off as slaves than as freed men and women. At least under slavery they were valued property; after slavery, their value decreased rapidly and thousands upon thousands were killed for no reason other than the perceived need to “keep blacks in their place.”
When we start delving deeply into black history, it is going to test your emotionality and your spirituality. As I said in the sermon on racism that I hope you have watched by now, seeing certain movies tears my heart out ─ and I’m white (mostly). Watching “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” took me through a whole gamut of emotions. As I said in the panel discussion in St. Louis near the end, I discovered some pretty strong reverse racism in myself, realizing how prejudiced I am toward white supremacist types.
Satan is the enemy here, and we have to focus on him and his schemes and not on the human agents he uses to carry out his agenda. It was in the very context of the need to forgive others that Paul wrote about Satan’s schemes, and helping us feel justified in not forgiving is one of his grandest schemes. “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44) and do good toward them, trusting God to bring about his just vengeance in his ways and in his timing (Romans 12:14-21).
Talk to Me
Some have asked about why I don’t have a section at the end of each blog post a place for reader’s comments. I understand the question, since the practice is common to blogs. I hope you understand my answer. Every article involving the racial issue that allows such comments almost always devolves into racist comments that were common a hundred years ago. I see them and think, “Has this bigot found his way here in a time machine?”
Then I realize that Satan has managed to keep racial hatred alive and well right into the 21st century. We are all tempted to post our strong opinions about sensitive topics like politics and race on Facebook or other forms of social media, and we end up violating God’s commands such as those in this passage: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2). Keep in mind that Nero was the Emperor in power when Paul wrote this.
Therefore, I ask you to email me with your observations, input and suggestions. Please do not post replies to this blog on my regular teaching page. As you write me, I will learn from you or perhaps have an exchange in which you learn from me. Whether your comments are positive or negative, I will use some of them in future blog posts (without identifying you, of course, unless I ask and receive your permission).
A blog by an individual expresses his or her opinions, with which you are free to agree or disagree. I’m not looking for pats on the back; I’m pleading for much broader discussions about a subject that is dividing our nation and has the potential to divide our churches, even if only in subtle ways. Let’s talk. THE SILENCE MUST END! Until the next post…
As I wrote in my last posting, the Jim Crow laws that supposedly supported “separate but equal” status for people of color ended by decision of the Supreme Court in 1954. On May 17 of that year, Chief Justice Earl Warren publicly announced the court’s decision declaring, “We conclude unanimously that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
He further stated that the “separate but equal doctrine rests on basic premise that the Negro race is inferior,” but in considering the intellect and argument of the black councilmen Thurgood Marshall “proves they are not inferior.”
The real purpose of the Jim Crow laws was to “keep black people in their place” (i.e., subjugated to the whims and opinions of the white population). These types of laws came in stages and in various forms, depending on the state in which they were introduced. They were preceded by far worse laws. For example, the Maryland Colony passed in 1638 what later became known as the “Doctrine of Exclusion.”
These laws grew into the “Slave Codes” of 1705, and all of these laws essentially reduced the black population to being viewed and treated as inferior, degraded, and into almost sub-human status. You can Google these two terms if you want to see more of the horrid specifics of these two laws.
The later “separate but equal” period lasted from the 1896 “Plessy vs Ferguson” law, a landmark constitutional law case of the Supreme Court that upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities until the 1954 case mentioned in the above paragraph. Sadly, the Plessy vs Ferguson battle started in my home state of Louisiana, and Ferguson was the judge in the case. I just pray that he wasn’t a part of my family tree.
I do hope that you have at least started watching that four part PBS series that I recommended in my last post. When Chief Justice Earl Warren declared those laws unconstitutional and said that blacks were equal to whites and not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, did the Jim Crow era end? Not by a long shot.
Seen Through My Eyes
I went to segregated schools all of the way through college. 1965 was a big year for me. I got married in January, graduated from college in late May or early June, and started my brief public school teaching as a Junior High School band director in September. Two years later, I became the band director at a new High School and the following school year (1968), racial integration began in Shreveport, Louisiana by bringing a few black teachers into the white schools. In our large High School, we had five black teachers. The following year, black students began being ushered into formerly all-white schools. I had quit teaching by then, having been bitten by the “preaching bug” and didn’t witness it personally.
Hence, the Supreme Court decision ending segregation may have been rendered in 1954, but it was 15 years before the actual integration of schools began in my hometown. Basically, the Court could rule but not enforce. Why in the world did it take that long to even begin practicing some semblance of what the Declaration of Independence itself demanded in 1776? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” You already know the answer to that one.
It is important to note the obvious and not-to-obvious implications of that famous sentence. One, the origin of the statement likely traces back to the philosopher John Locke, of the 17th century, who had the term “property” or its equivalent as the final word in the trio of words ending the sentence ─ instead of the term “happiness.”
Two, Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of America, and primary author of the Declaration of Independence, is credited with making the change to happiness. I’m not sure how much of a change that represents in the 21st century, in that the majority of our citizens seem to have been brainwashed into equating happiness with possessions.
Three, Jefferson himself owned slaves, as a man of his times, but his views about the institution were complex and changed in some good ways as he aged ─ yet he never ceased to own slaves.
What Does This Background Teach Us?
Although the foundational documents of our country contained some wonderful concepts, they were clearly not designed with people of color (all colors not white) in mind. As a nation, we have historically prided ourselves on having a “melting pot” population composition, comprised of all types of people.
Yes, our country was founded as a place for new beginnings and opportunities, but those early inhabitants were mostly white. They may have found their way to our shores even from a prison in some European country, but the true nature of the melting pot was far more limited than we imagine.
Consider the inscription found at the base of the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It should be obvious that this inspirational invitation was not directed toward non-whites, for the blacks arrived as property in slave ships and those already here (Native Americans) were slaughtered and displaced under the rationalization of the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” Our history is not nearly so nice and tidy as most history books would lead us to believe. I love so many of the principles upon which our country is based, but their limitations in application have to end if we are to become “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as our National Anthem words it.
The phrase “Make America Great Again” may appeal to certain white folks, but by now you can surely understand why blacks and other non-whites would say that the phrase is one word too long. “Make America Great” might express a worthy goal, but considering our national history from the perspectives described in this blog, the term again is hollow at best and repulsive at worst.
We Are Still Disciples
This particular article is a heavy one, as have been the ones before it and some of those to follow. Yet, we are still disciples of Christ, set on following his example. Our primary citizenship is a heavenly one, not an earthly one. I keep thinking to myself, “Gordon, why are you writing this?” To restate some of what I have said before, I have several reasons of which I was aware at the beginning and at least one that is dawning on me more as I write.
One, I want my black brothers and sisters to know that their white brothers and sisters want to learn more about the world from their perspective, and become more empathetic and supportive. Two, in order to accomplish that goal, I want to help educate my white brothers and sisters about the broader scope of racism.
It is a systemic American sickness and our society is far from being cured. I chose my blog title mainly to catch people’s eyes and prick their interest in reading, but black tax is the mild form of what many blacks now face in their lives, and their ancestors faced a far, far worse environment.
Three, I want all of us, regardless of race, to get help biblically in order to respond to all of life’s challenges as Christ teaches, and as he lived it when on earth. Perhaps the best description of following Christ in the midst of emotional pain induced by others is this verse: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Four, I do need to get this all in writing in order to help me work through my own pain regarding racism, even if my pain comes simply from observation as a white person. Maybe there are more reasons for writing, but these answer my question to my satisfaction about why I have chosen to write this blog. More to come, soon…
From my perspective as I entered my teen years, nothing had changed. Blacks were expected to keep in their place, and that expectation covered a very broad spectrum. They lived in what many called N______town, separate housing developments that were disgraceful. They avoided at all costs the possibility of offending white people, for it was dangerous to do so. They made little eye contact with white strangers, and they definitely made no eye contact with white women.
Any Excuse Will Do
One of the paranoid claims made to justify treating blacks terribly was the idea that the black men were always planning ways to have sex with white women. As historical fact, many white men, especially slave owners, essentially raped black women with no real possibility of being charged legally. That is one of the big reasons that large percentages of blacks in this country have some white blood in them and many whites in this country have some black blood in them.
I’m living proof of that one, and you might well be too. You could find out with a readily available (and fairly inexpensive) DNA test. I believe that my 12% African mixture came from a great-grandmother “passing” as a Cherokee Indian, which gives me hope that I came by my racial mixture through a consensual situation. But most didn’t, shamefully.
By the way, it might be a good time to restate that my being 12% of African descent doesn’t mean that I understand the experiences of black Americans. I was raised as white. My knowledge of the viewpoints of black people in America is coming from my serious efforts to increase that knowledge, as I am asking you to do if you are white.
Just Stay in “Your” Place!
As I stated in an earlier article, the movie The Help was an accurate demonstration of what life was like for “coloreds” when I was growing up. They sat at the back of the bus, and always said “Yes Ma’am” and “Yes Sir” to white women and men. They were expected to come to your back door, not the front, and ate their food outside if they were working for you. Separate and quite unequal was the order of the day.
They were expected to be servants in almost every way. My father was a bricklayer, and all of the “skilled labor” workers were white, whereas the blacks were mostly the “common labor” who assisted them. More on that situation later as it related to me. They had no ladder of advancement to climb, at least in the South. It really wasn’t much different in most parts of the North, although there were some notable exceptions for at least certain time periods.
Much more could be added to this list, including many specific laws in various states that were totally demeaning to the black population and flagrant violations of our very Constitution. Their living conditions would be hard to imagine by younger people in America today, particularly white young people. But all of that was the order of the day, and fear for one’s life and safety kept blacks from crossing the line as it had been drawn by the white population. Of course, there were many wonderful exceptions of white people who were repulsed by the status quo, but they were a minority.
How Did Blacks Accept Such Injustice?
Most accepted it as simply inescapable, as their lot in life. The remarkable thing to me in looking back at the black men and women I knew was that they appeared to accept it with grace. They had to know about those of their race speaking out and writing about these injustices, but most of them didn’t respond with hatred toward white people. They had little choice about accepting their way of life, for otherwise they could not have made a living, such as it was.
I like to think that most found answers to their challenges in the Bible. During slavery days, the one escape they could often count on was attending church for a few hours on Sunday. This relief was combined with their soulful singing and looking to God for the strength to endure what they faced. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a black atheist. Religion was their only hope of a better life in the Great Beyond, and these men and women clung to it. Undoubtedly, some slave owners used the pulpit to further their own ends, but in the end, African Americans seemed inherently more religiously entuned than whites, at least to me through the years.
Still a Long Way to Go
By the time I was a young teen, the legal aspects of Jim Crow were winding down, but winding down very slowly. In the mid-1950s, the American Civil Rights Movement was beginning. Yet the practical aspects of those laws ingrained into the thinking of both blacks and whites were (and are) very difficult to eradicate.
That is why I love our church so much ─ our diversity. But the challenges in the midst of a nation still torn and divided by racial issues is a challenge for those of us in Christ as well. That is why I am so strongly pushing the idea of interracial discussions. By the way, our black brothers and sisters need to talk first and whites need to simply listen and ask questions for clarification.
Then it should become a two-way discussion as we share our perspectives, with an open mind to one another’s viewpoints. Parents have to provide a safe place for their children if they expect them to be honest with the true feelings. White folks have to provide that same safe place for our black brothers and sisters if we expect them to be honest with their true feelings.
Hence, the suggestion just mentioned how about how to approach the initiation of discussions that close the understanding gap. We are not as much on the same page in racial matters as outward appearances would lead us to believe, and the reasons are mostly ignorance and lack of communication. But by God’s grace, we can close the gap inch by inch until we are on the same page or hopefully close to it.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
I do see light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a long, long tunnel, but with each generation, progress is being made. My hopes for many aspects of the future lie in our young people. Whatever evils the internet offers, it has also given our young people a global view. They are not confined to nor restricted by the views of the older generation, which is both good and bad. Regarding racial issues, it’s good.
I talk to black and white young people about race, and am encouraged. There is light at the end of the tunnel for them, and for us as well, if we will grasp it with God’s help. Most people of color have progressed away from relentless fear of outward harm (the fear of police being an exception for black males especially), but the attitudes as demonstrated through the concept of black tax is yet to change, and may never change in the world. It has to change in the church where it has not yet, leaving in its place trust and the lack of any type fear.
Again, Why Am I Writing?
As I write, it continues dawning on me that one reason I am writing lies in making an attempt to cleanse my own soul from what I observed and have learned about the racial struggles in our national past. I want to drink deeply of this passage about the church as Christ’s Body, and practice it fully: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). I want to understand and be understood; I want to help bear the burdens of my brothers and sisters, and I need them to help me bear mine.
We are one in Christ, and that oneness is not found in color and culture; it is found in heart connection through Christ connection. The world is a mess and it always will be until Christ comes and ends the nightmares. But the church for which he died is a beautiful thing by design, and dedicating ourselves to making it that in practice is a beautiful pursuit. Jim Crow laws were a curse (for blacks and whites) forced upon the inhabitants of the United States; Jesus Christ laws are a precious blessing to those in his kingdom, delivered only by his precious blood.
How Much Sad Background Information Do We Need?
I’m not quite sure, but I know I’m not finished with it yet. I admit that my need to purge my own soul is a part of it, but the need to help my white brothers and sisters feel the heaviness and horror of the past is real. I’m not trying to create sympathy or guilt in whites nor self-pity in blacks, but I am trying to help create genuine empathy in all of us, the ability to feel for another by feeling what others feel ─ as much as possible. If we are to “Carry each other’s burdens,” (Galatians 6:2), we must know what they are, and we cannot know without honest discussions.
Please do this: if you are a black disciple, initiate such a discussion (about your racially related feelings) this week with a white disciple; if you are a white disciple, initiate such a discussion (about this subject) with a black disciple. If they know me, tell them I asked you to do it if you think that might help. I would strongly suggest that you avoid allowing your conversation to slip into the area of current politics.
We need a starting place and we need it now. I talk to my black friends about these matters regularly, and I talk to total black strangers about them almost as regularly. Most of the time, I just ask questions. I want to know what others think and feel. I, along with nearly all of the blacks with whom I speak, see this as a HUGE issue. We must talk. Please join me. If we can enter into that discussion process, we will have started walking along a noble path. Until my next post…